Commentary Magazine


Hamas Knows It Is Losing

Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

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Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

The network of tunnels Hamas has built underground has been at the center of the conflict’s escalation. The discovery of the planned Rosh Hashanah mass terror attack utilizing those tunnels has only reinforced to Israel’s leaders that the tunnels must be destroyed or rendered inoperative. Israel has also shown its determination to get a full picture of those tunnels, and has resisted efforts to let Hamas cover its tracks. The rockets are certainly a threat against which Israel has the right to self-defense. But because of Iron Dome, the rockets pale in comparison to the tunnels in terms of sophistication and the danger to Israel’s civilians. So why would Hamas fighters use the tunnels now?

According to what we’ve learned about the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, they were a grand accomplishment–a city under the sand in the 21st century. They were also to be used for the kind of concerted terror attack that would, to Hamas and its backers, make them worth the investment. The Rosh Hashanah attack certainly would appear to fit that bill. It’s unclear whether the goal would be to take entire kibbutzim hostage, to kill everyone in range and all at once, or to kidnap large numbers of Israelis from all over the country and take them back to Gaza. It could, I suppose, have been a combination of the three.

But there are no indications the tunnels were constructed for desperate jihadis to lure Israel into playing whack-a-mole. It certainly doesn’t make much sense to do so now, anyway. Israel and Hamas are currently at war. Israel is taking this fight very seriously–too seriously for the chuckleheads in Turtle Bay and Foggy Bottom, in fact. The nation is at high alert, the reserves have been called up, and the IDF knows the tunnels are there and are intended to be used for an attack on Israeli territory.

This is, then, easily the worst time for Hamas to start using those tunnels in relatively ad-hoc attacks. Doing so now puts them at a distinct disadvantage, with the IDF ready for them to pop out of the ground. It risks exposing the existence of tunnels the IDF may not have found, and thus expanding the mental map the IDF is piecing together of this underground city.

It reduces if not completely erases the element of surprise, and it ensures the IDF is staffed up enough to respond immediately and forcefully to any breach of its territory. One isolated attack may or may not be considered a casus belli–Hamas is surely aware of just how hesitant Benjamin Netanyahu was in committing ground troops at all–but an attack during a war guarantees a response.

There is always some risk in trying to explain the behavior of a barbaric terrorist organization with logic and reasoning. So maybe Hamas looks like it doesn’t know what it’s doing because it doesn’t know what it’s doing. But even if that’s the case, Hamas’s recent behavior is a tell. Hamas believes Israel means it this time. The Israeli leadership is united, as is much of the Israeli public, and they have resisted pressure from the U.S. to let Hamas off the ropes. Hamas, then, is in “use it or lose it” mode with the tunnels. They expect Israel to leave them no avenue of cross-border attack, so they’re utilizing them while they can.

The U.S. even stepped aside this week to let the UN take a swing at Israel. According to Foreign Policy’s Column Lynch, one expert, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Danin, even “suggested that the United States may be seeking to leverage its position by playing on Israeli fears of being left to fend for itself at a United Nations that appears to be universally opposed to the current offensive.”

Israel is at war, and the American president wants to send a message by playing on Israel’s fears of being abandoned. How nice. And yet, Israel still insists on protecting its civilians instead of begging forgiveness for insulting the magnificent stupidity of the American secretary of state’s attempt to force Israel to appease the terrorists currently popping out of the ground in Israeli territory firing anti-tank shells.

Hamas was expecting the Jews to tie themselves to the tracks and save them the work. When that failed, they expected John Kerry to take care of it, preferably with sturdy Qatari rope. But they are now realizing that Israel intends to win, and that it is well on its way to doing so. And they are acting with evident recklessness, because it might be all they have left.

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Laying Off the Army in a Dangerous World

Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

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Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

That’s right: a new terrorist state has been established in the heart of the Middle East but it’s not getting the media attention it deserves because there are so many other conflicts going on at the moment. And that’s not even to mention the potential conflicts all around China’s borders where it is pushing aggressively to expand its boundaries.

And what should the policy be of the United States when the world is becoming more dangerous? The tried and true answer is to keep our powder dry and prepare for trouble. But that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. Instead we are in the process of a willy-nilly downsizing of our military capabilities driven by the inability of lawmakers and the White House to turn off the sequestration process which will result, along with other budget cuts, in a roughly 30 percent cut in the size of our military—and an even larger cut in military capability since an increasing share of the budget is devoted to health care, pensions, and other personnel costs.

It is a sign of the times that the army is sending “pink slips” to 1,100 captains, some while they are actually deployed in combat zones. These are men and women who have devoted the last decade of their lives to defending America from the threats we face. Many have deployed multiple times to combat zones. These are front-line leaders; many of them former platoon leaders, now in many cases company commanders.

Now they are headed for unemployment and an uncertain future. The social contract they thought they had—they would deploy in harm’s way, move their families multiple times, accept multiple risks and discomforts, in return for the security of a 20-year career and a safe retirement—has been unilaterally breached. From the front line to the unemployment line: not an edifying spectacle.

The army is arguing it has no choice and in some sense that’s true. Mindless budget cuts are forcing the army to reduce from a wartime peak of 570,000 active duty personnel (itself insufficient to fight two wars at the same time) to a low, if sequestration remains in effect, of perhaps 420,000. The cuts could have been better handled–the army could have waited for captains to get back from deployments to tell them they were being “separated.” But the larger problem is not with the army. It’s with the mindset in Washington that insists on foolish budget cuts that will eviscerate our military capability to deal with an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

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Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

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Obama and Ceasefire: A Little History

As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues—featuring the headshaking warning from the National Security Adviser that op-ed pieces critical of Kerry published in Israeli newspapers may damage the bilateral relationship between two countries—we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

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As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues—featuring the headshaking warning from the National Security Adviser that op-ed pieces critical of Kerry published in Israeli newspapers may damage the bilateral relationship between two countries—we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

On November 21, 2012, Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that concluded the eight-day Operation “Pillar of Defense,” which Israel began after a day on which Hamas launched 100 rockets at Israel. President Obama made a phone call to Bibi Netanyahu that day. This is part of the White House “readout” of that phone call:

The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians….The President commended the Prime Minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the President recommended the Prime Minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself. The President said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza. [emphasis mine]

Well, that went well, didn’t it? Between the ceasefire in 2012 and the outbreak of hostilities in 2014, Hamas made or smuggled in thousands of new rockets and went even more hog-wild with the tunnels. And how did Hamas go hog-wild with the tunnels? With cement that the United States, among others, insisted Israel allow into Gaza for humanitarian reasons in January 2014. That’s not America’s fault, but it’s worth noting that the president made an explicit promise to “intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs,” and clearly did not follow up on that promise.

The last sentence of the phone-call readout from 2012 was this: “The President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.” And indeed, in 2014, the United States did authorize $235 million over three years for Iron Dome. The administration deserves commendation for that, but Iron Dome money is a no-brainer—Iron Dome is effectively a real-world testing ground for American missile defenses, and would be cheap at twice the price.

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Cuomo, Ethics, and a One-Party State

Anyone who wants to know what happens when the two-party system collapses in a state need only have read the New York Times’s astounding report published last week about the way Governor Andrew Cuomo sabotaged a state ethics commission investigation. In a competitive state, the story would have doomed Cuomo’s chances for reelection. But if the bringing to light of this corruption won’t stop Cuomo in November, it does give us a case study in how low the Empire State has sunk under unchallenged Democratic rule.

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Anyone who wants to know what happens when the two-party system collapses in a state need only have read the New York Times’s astounding report published last week about the way Governor Andrew Cuomo sabotaged a state ethics commission investigation. In a competitive state, the story would have doomed Cuomo’s chances for reelection. But if the bringing to light of this corruption won’t stop Cuomo in November, it does give us a case study in how low the Empire State has sunk under unchallenged Democratic rule.

Cuomo broke several days of silence about the investigation to deny that his administration had ordered the Moreland Commission not to issue a subpoena to a media buying firm that had placed millions in ads for state Democrats including Cuomo. The governor’s top aide reached out to quash the subpoena and it swiftly complied with the demand. Instead of the independent inquiry into Albany’s pay-to-play culture the governor promised when he rolled it out last year, the commission turned out to be a mere show that Cuomo disbanded halfway through its intended 18-month tenure.

But the best the governor could do in defense of this indefensible record was to claim that since he created the commission, he shouldn’t be accused of interfering with it. This is the sort of lame excuse that would make even absolute monarchs blush. But Cuomo is unashamed. Not satisfied with pulling this sort of “L’Etat C’est Moi” routine out of the Louis XIV playbook, Cuomo channeled George Orwell when he told the Times today that the commission was a “phenomenal success” and completely independent.

It’s not clear that anyone, even his biggest supporters, believes Cuomo. But the only conclusion to be drawn from this shabby exercise in bald-faced lying is that with polls showing the governor holding a 33-point lead over Republican challenger and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, he thinks it doesn’t matter that even the Times—the bible for New York liberals—has labeled him a corrupt charlatan.

Perhaps he’s right. Though Astorino gives the GOP a credible alternative to Cuomo, it’s hard to envision the circumstances whereby a bankrupt state Republican Party can do much to put a dent in Cuomo’s reelection drive. New York is one of the bluest states in the union and though it had a three-term Republican governor as recently as only eight years ago in the person of George Pataki (who first gained office by ousting Cuomo’s father Mario in the 1994 Republican landslide), the state’s GOP is now in ruins. Republicans haven’t run a competitive race for governor or U.S. senator in New York since Pataki’s last victory in 2002 and there’s no sign that even an able politician like Astorino can change that.

There are a lot of reasons why New York’s GOP has lost its way and Pataki’s uninspiring reign in Albany is part of the answer, along with the demographic decline in the more conservative upstate regions and the shift of the suburbs from red to blue as has happened in many other places. But let’s leave aside the explanation for how New York became, for all intents and purposes, a one-party state with the exception of a strong GOP presence in the State Senate. It is the consequences of this situation that should concern liberals as well as the conservative minority in the state.

The problem is accentuated by the fact that in the past, an independent attorney general might have helped keep the governor and his gang honest. But the current New York AG Eric Schneiderman is a left-wing extremist more obsessed with hounding the state’s economic engine on Wall Street than in chasing white color criminals in Albany.

A government that cannot be held accountable is one that is indistinguishable from tyranny. Cuomo’s cavalier dismissal of the scathing Times report about his laughable foray into ethics should remind its readers of the kind of crackpot politics that New Yorkers tend to associate with less sophisticated constituencies in the deep south like Louisiana. But comparing New York to that ethically challenged state is an insult to the home of the Big Easy. Baton Rouge or any other historic cesspool of corruption in this country has nothing on Albany, and Cuomo’s empty show of reform only adds insult to injury for state voters. But if New Yorkers are not prepared to draw conclusions about Cuomo, then they shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves overtaxed and underserved by a government led by a man more interested in pandering to the far left on guns and abortion than in keeping New York competitive.

The memory of this story may haunt Cuomo should he ever be so foolish as to attempt a quixotic presidential candidacy. But in the meantime, he’s probably right not to worry about New Yorkers paying attention to his misdeeds. Yet New Yorkers would do well to ponder whether liberal ideology should be prioritized over good government. When you have a one-party state the latter is impossible.

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Kerry v. Israel: Why It Gets Personal

The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

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The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

After delivering demands to Israel that amounted to an American surrender to Hamas, in a speech delivered this morning Kerry said that “demilitarization” of Gaza was a necessary element of hopes for peace. He’s right about that, but after seeking to hamstring Israeli efforts to halt Hamas rocket fire and to eliminate the tunnel network they use to store their arsenal and to launch cross-border attacks on Israeli targets, the umbrage that administration figures are expressing about the reaction to the secretary’s behavior is unjustified.

The fact that it has become personal between Kerry and Israel does neither country any good and that is why even though the anger in the Jewish state at the secretary was universal, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., rightly sought to disassociate his government from any personal attacks on Kerry today. But as with previous tiffs in which the administration expressed anger about criticism of the secretary, the focus on defending Kerry’s honor or good intentions is beside the point. Though he continues to pose as the tireless worker for peace that is being unfairly targeted for his even-handed approach, it’s time to realize that Kerry actually deserves a not inconsiderable share of the blame for the situation.

Even if we are to credit Kerry, as Dermer suggests, for his good intentions, the secretary deserves every bit of the opprobrium that has been leveled at him by Israelis from the right to the left.

Kerry’s disastrous intervention in the current fighting demonstrated the utter and complete incoherence of the position that he has carved out for the United States. On the one hand, Kerry has prioritized the effort to create a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But by seeking to save Hamas by granting it concessions in the form of open borders rather than forcing the demilitarization that he belatedly endorsed, Kerry is making such a peace deal impossible.

The depth of the contradictions here are hard to comprehend. On the one hand, following President Obama’s lead, Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas endlessly as a true partner for peace even though the PA chief has repeatedly turned down chances to negotiate seriously. But by seeking to place constraints on Israeli military actions directed at degrading Hamas’s capability to launch terror attacks, Kerry is actually undermining Abbas. His cease-fire proposal wasn’t so much an insult to Israel as it was to the PA. Though publicly condemning Israeli actions, it’s no secret that Abbas is hoping that the Jewish state will remove his on-again-off-again rival/partner in the Palestinian government from the scene. By endorsing the proposal for a cease-fire that came from Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, Kerry stabbed Abbas in the back.

But the incompetence didn’t begin with one ill-considered piece of diplomatic ineptitude. It must be understood that nothing that is going on today—including the grievous casualty toll inside Gaza—would have happened had not Kerry single-handedly forced both Abbas and the Israelis into a negotiation that both knew would only lead to disaster. Throughout the nine months during which the secretary orchestrated a new round of peace talks between Israel and the PA, the administration was warned that the problem wasn’t just that the effort couldn’t succeed so long as the Palestinians were divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. It was that once the failure occurred, it would provide a justification for a new round of violence in the same manner that past such efforts had done. Kerry not only ignored those warnings but raised the stakes by personally speaking about a third intifada happening if the two sides didn’t do as he bid. Those who pointed out that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy were denounced as insufficiently supportive of peace. But the reality is that Kerry not only set the stage for this new outbreak, he more or less gave Hamas a green light to go ahead and start shooting.

The only common threads in Kerry’s diplomatic endeavors have been his enormous self-regard and a clear animus for the Netanyahu government. Either of these foibles would be forgivable if Kerry were focused on actions that would advance a two-state solution. But by pushing for a settlement when Abbas was unable to comply and then disingenuously blaming his failure on Israel, Kerry hurt the PA and set back any chance for peace. Once Hamas escalated the current fighting, he again took his eye off the ball and focused entirely on pushing for a cease-fire that would enhance the Islamists’ prestige and marginalize the Palestinians that he had championed.

Israelis who are forced to seek refuge in bomb shelters from Hamas missiles or await terror attacks from Gaza tunnels may be forgiven for losing patience with Kerry’s self-righteous lectures about casualties and human rights. But the attention given the anger he has generated there ought not to divert us from his record of failure. On Iran, Syria, and Russia, Kerry has done little to advance U.S. interests or to protect human rights. But with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has done worse than that. Having set the region up for conflict, he is now doing everything possible to ensure that the violence will continue at some point in the future by allowing Hamas to survive and even claim victory. Seen from that perspective, his good intentions and the insults being thrown his way from Israelis are mere footnotes to a historic legacy of failure.

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When It Comes to Israel, Liberals Can’t Handle the Truth

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

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Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

ROSE: I think I just heard you say — and this — we will close on this — you believe in the coexistence of peoples, and, therefore, you believe in the coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East?

MESHAAL (through translator): I can’t coexist with occupation.

ROSE: Without occupation, you can coexist?

MESHAAL (through translator): I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and with the Arabs and non-Arabs and with those who agree with my ideas and those who disagree with them. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers, and those who…

ROSE: It’s one thing to say you want to coexist with the Jews. It’s another thing you want to coexist with the state of Israel. Do you want to coexist with the state of Israel? Do you want to represent — do you want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MESHAAL (through translator): No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers. I do coexist with other…

ROSE: I’m assuming they’re no longer occupiers. At that point, do you want to coexist and recognize their right to exist, as they would recognize your right to exist?

MESHAAL (through translator): When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you. But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation. In natural situations, they can decide policy vis-a-vis others.

So there you have it. The leader of Hamas says, point blank, it does not want a two-state solution. Yet scores of liberal commentators continue to make arguments like this: “We have to get a solution. And it has to be a two-state solution. And it has to be basically encouraged, if not imposed, I think, from without.”

This is an example of what social scientists call “motivated reasoning.” It refers to when people hold to a false belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this instance, the Hamas charter and the Hamas leader don’t accept Israel’s right to exist. And yet liberals don’t seem to care. They appear to be content to live in world made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust. A world of make believe. And so in the context of Israel’s war with Hamas, they continue to revert to arguments that simply don’t apply–for example, arguing that Israel needs to “end the occupation” despite the fact that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza nearly a decade ago.

Israel, on the other hand, has to live and survive in reality. Israelis know the nature of the enemy they face–implacable, committed, ruthless, malevolent. Given all this, and given that Israel itself is a nation of extraordinary moral and political achievements, you might think that the United States government would be fully supportive of the Jewish state in its war against Hamas. But you would be wrong.

The Obama administration is racheting up pressure on Israel. Hamas’s war on Israel, combined with its eagerness to have innocent Palestinians die as human shields in order to advance its propaganda campaign, is pushing America (under Obama) not toward Israel but away from her. Mr. Obama and the left perceive themselves as reality based and their critics as fantasy based. It’s a conceit without merit. And in no case is it more evident than in the left’s stance toward Hamas and Israel.

This is a case where reality and all the arguments, including all the moral arguments, align on one side; and yet Obama and the left are on the other.

They live in a fantasy world. In this instance, doing so has diabolic consequences.

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New Dem Strategy: Say the Word “Impeachment” Over and Over

A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

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A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

The comparisons became particularly specific when the two sides threatened, and then went through with, a government shutdown. The parallel was invoked: Clinton is perceived to have won the battle for public opinion over the 1995 shutdown, when the president sparred with Newt Gingrich and a reenergized conservative faction in the House. Now a similar comparison is cropping up again: impeachment.

Although Republican congressional leaders are not remotely taking the idea of impeachment seriously, this issue has the very same plot twist as the debate over the government shutdown. Because history declared Clinton the victor in 1995, top Democrats in the Obama era actually wanted the shutdown, convinced it would play to their political advantage. Republican leaders were unenthusiastic about shutting down the government precisely because they agreed. (There was even a “hot stove” theory as to why Speaker Boehner eventually let it proceed: the backlash would teach the conservative supporters of the shutdown–some of whom had presidential aspirations–a lesson they’d remember.)

That’s the backdrop to Rich Lowry’s headline-question at NRO today: “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” The answer, I think, was revealed during a bizarre back-and-forth at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing on Friday. Earnest was sent to the podium to convey the Looney Tunes notion that the GOP leadership was considering impeachment. Because this is flatly and demonstrably false, Earnest was challenged on his assertion.

“I think that there are senior members of the Republican political party or certainly prominent voices in the Republican Party who are calling for exactly that,” Earnest said. The reporters were slightly confused by an obviously untrue charge coming from the president’s chief spokesman. There ensued an argument that has to be seen to be believed. Via the White House transcript:

Q    And who is that?  Sarah Palin is one.

MR. EARNEST:  She mentioned it.  Somebody mentioned earlier that –

Q    She would be a prominent voice in the Republican political –

Q    Anybody in the Republican leadership seriously talking about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Sarah Palin considers herself to be a leader –

Q    Hang on, Jon, it’s my question.

Q    Sorry.  (Laughter.)

Q    There’s been a lot of fundraising emails from the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it.  This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing.  You don’t really think the President is going to be impeached, do you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping they can get into office so that they can impeach the President.  That is apparently a view that they hold, because it’s one that they have repeatedly expressed publicly.

I think what’s really important –

Q    Is the White House Counsel’s Office looking at this?  Are you studying the possibility of being impeached?

MR. EARNEST:  Here’s the thing that I think is important about this.  And again, we’re coming up on a pivotal week.  Next week will be the last week that Congress is in session before Labor Day.  There are at least two items of business that members of Congress themselves have identified as important priorities.

The mention of the Democratic Party fundraising emails about impeachment hits the nail on the head. As the world burns, and as his secretary of state piles on the firewood, the president spends his time at fundraisers. Each issue can be measured not according to bedrock principles but by its monetary value with regard to raising campaign funds.

That’s how we get the White House’s “war on women” and the left acting as though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits–nay, requires, if the GOP has its way–the Talibanization of American life. The president’s grand vision for reelection boiled down to Big Bird and birth control. Big Bird seems to be out of the woods, so now it’s almost exclusively birth control, though this requires the left to simply make stuff up, since the truth is not offensive enough to rile the Democratic base.

And that’s how we get a fundraising scheme designed by Democrats pushing the idea of impeachment with Republicans pushing back against the idea. It would otherwise seem strange, no doubt, to see the president and his spokesmen gleefully push the idea of impeachment with Republicans trying to talk Democrats down from that ledge. Which is where we are now in this farcical saga of presidential self-pity.

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Pictures Don’t Justify Anti-Israel Media Bias

Most talking heads and foreign-policy pundits as well as the Obama administration are united on one proposition. They say that while Israel’s efforts to defend its people against Hamas rockets and terrorist attacks are justified, it cannot continue to do so if their counter-attacks continue to result in terrible pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza. But letting such pictures dictate policy or to excuse media bias against Israel does nothing to promote peace or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

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Most talking heads and foreign-policy pundits as well as the Obama administration are united on one proposition. They say that while Israel’s efforts to defend its people against Hamas rockets and terrorist attacks are justified, it cannot continue to do so if their counter-attacks continue to result in terrible pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza. But letting such pictures dictate policy or to excuse media bias against Israel does nothing to promote peace or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

National Journal’s influential Ron Fournier spoke for many today when he wrote that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s arguments in favor of his country’s positions were both “accurate and archaic.” He believes they are accurate in the sense that any country has the right to stop people from shooting rockets at their cities or digging tunnels whose purpose is to allow terrorists to commit atrocities against their citizens. But Fournier believes the prime minister’s position—one that is backed by the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people—is untenable. That’s because he believes the pro-Israel consensus in the West that once would have sanctioned a campaign against Gaza is rapidly disappearing because a new generation of leaders and journalists has arisen that has no patience with Israel and sympathizes with the Palestinians. Since this generation thinks Israel is oppressing the Palestinians regardless of recent events in Gaza and denying them independence, they are no longer willing to support the Jewish state’s efforts.

The pictures of suffering Palestinians and the lopsided casualty figures dovetail with Fournier’s analysis. His point, shared by many others speaking out on the issue, is that the terrible images of Palestinian casualties are feeding a narrative in which Israel is increasingly viewed as the bad guy in the conflict regardless of the justifications put forward by Israelis and their supporters.

Fournier’s conclusion that the solution is for Israel to be more accommodating to the Palestinians shows a disregard for logic that isn’t normally to be found in his cogent analyses of domestic political issues. His attempt to use the distorted coverage of the conflict—of which his facile conclusions about peace are a part—as evidence of a festering problem that Israelis are not addressing fails to take into account the fact that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of media figures and an administration that doesn’t grasp the realities of the situation. Just as important, his claim that a new hostility to Israel in the American media is something new and therefore a herald of a decline in general U.S. support for the Jewish state is simply unfounded.

Let’s address the basic assumption of Fournier’s analysis, which also seems to be the foundation of the administration’s policy: the Middle East conflict is complicated but the real reason for the failure to attain peace is the decision of Israel’s government to not fully embrace a two-state solution or to make it possible for the Palestinians to achieve independence. This is simply not true. Israel’s offers of an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008 may be ancient history in our 24/7 news cycle. But their rejection by the Palestinians and the continued refusal of even the “moderate” Palestinian Authority to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn gives the lie to this off-repeated fallacy about Israel’s guilt.

Fournier’s belief that the outrageous anti-Israel bias on the part of U.S. journalists covering the current conflict for MSNBC and CNN is a new development also demonstrates that he hasn’t been paying much attention to the coverage of Israel over the last 40 years. The assumption that most Western journalists were inherently sympathetic to the efforts of the small Jewish state to resist efforts by the Arab and Muslim world to destroy it went out the window in the 1980s during the First Lebanon War and was buried during the first two intifadas. That journalists are now willing to publicly label Israelis as “scum” is a function of the way social media has changed the way the news business works. But these sentiments have been on display in much of the mainstream media—especially important outlets like NBC News or the New York Times—for decades. Nevertheless polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans still sympathize with Israel and rightly view groups like Hamas as terrorists that must be defeated. This illustrates the disconnect between much of the liberal mainstream media and the American people, not the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.

The problem is the willingness of much of the international media to buy into Palestinian propaganda while ignoring the plain facts about the culpability of Hamas for the fomenting of the current conflict and the casualties that have resulted from its launching of the latest round of fighting. A media that isn’t willing to place the video of Palestinian suffering in a context of Hamas decisions to build shelters in the form of a vast tunnel network for their fighters and rocket arsenal while staking out civilians as human shields to be killed when Israel responds to rocket and tunnel attacks is one that can’t then turn around and advise Netanyahu that his country’s public-relations problems are its own fault. To the contrary, the willingness of much of the international media to whitewash Hamas and vilify Israel has only convinced Israelis that this is not the moment to hazard their lives on promises from the Palestinians or the Obama administration.

Asymmetrical warfare between a nation state and a terror movement that operates for all intents and purposes as an independent state in Gaza does generate problems for Israel. But if the goal is peace, then the only answer for Israel and the United States is to crush Hamas, not allow the pictures of the suffering that the terror group has orchestrated to force–as Kerry’s proposals have indicated–the West to grant them concessions. If both the administration and journalists like Fournier don’t understand this, the fault lies with them, not Netanyahu.

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The Fabled Non-Anti-Semitic Gaza Protests

Last week, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy released an unusual joint statement. They banded together, they explained, to denounce their own countries. Specifically, they wanted to denounce the rank anti-Semitism that has exploded throughout Europe, where the public used the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a pretext to rally in support of the destruction of the Jewish state and in some cases the extermination of the Jewish people on the whole. The main source of disagreement among Europe’s pro-Hamas demonstrators is the desirable extent of the anti-Jewish genocide.

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Last week, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy released an unusual joint statement. They banded together, they explained, to denounce their own countries. Specifically, they wanted to denounce the rank anti-Semitism that has exploded throughout Europe, where the public used the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a pretext to rally in support of the destruction of the Jewish state and in some cases the extermination of the Jewish people on the whole. The main source of disagreement among Europe’s pro-Hamas demonstrators is the desirable extent of the anti-Jewish genocide.

It’s a difference in degree, not in kind. And while at first glance the foreign ministers’ joint statement might appear to be laudable, such goodwill evaporates when you realize that they are talking instead of doing. Anti-Semitism is often a lagging indicator of state rot, and it is no different here. The foreign ministers are essentially pleading with the world to withhold judgment for their states’ respective failures. In France, the state has given up on protecting its Jews; “France’s Jews are staying indoors for fear of their lives,” a resident of Paris told the Algemeiner recently. In Germany–in Germany–protesters called for the Jews to be gassed. And the best the German state can come up with is to sign a joint letter denouncing such hateful barbarism.

The joint statement is a white flag. European governments have no idea what to do. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, took to the pages of the New York Times on July 10 to declare: “France Is Not an Anti-Semitic Nation.” Three days later, an attempted pogrom broke out in Paris. The France of Laurent Fabius’s imagination is clearly a wonderful place. The one that actually exists is descending into madness.

All this is drawing attention to another aspect of the world’s discomfort with Jewish self-defense. We are constantly told that you can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic; this is undoubtedly true. Israeli officials are criticized in Israel as much as anywhere else. But the demonstrations claim to be in protest of Israeli policy or in the name of peace. That sounds awfully nice in theory. In practice, the demonstrators aren’t keen on making such distinctions.

It’s not just in France, Germany, and Italy, of course. A pro-Gaza protest in London called for the elimination of Israel. Here’s the Daily Beast on how protests in the Netherlands have become outright rallies in support of ISIS, the too-violent-for-al-Qaeda terrorist offshoot carving up Iraq:

Many of the demonstrators covered their faces with Palestinian scarves or balaclavas. “Anyone who doesn’t jump is a Jew,” someone shouted as the whole group started jumping in a scene that might have been ludicrous if it weren’t for the hateful message. “Death to the Jews!” the crowd shouted in Arabic.

This scene last Thursday came in the wake of an earlier demonstration supposed to defend the Palestinians suffering in Gaza, which turned quickly into a hatefest targeting Israel, with people carrying placards that screamed “Zionism is Nazism.” But while the comingling of pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment has become all too common in European protests in recent weeks, that the battle flag of the Islamic State waved in the streets of The Netherlands on July 24 is something new and particularly dangerous.

Read that last sentence again: “the battle flag of the Islamic State waved in the streets of The Netherlands.” I’m sure behind that black flag is just genuine concern for the humanitarian needs of Gaza City. America has not been immune to this phenomenon, in which protesters insist they care about Palestinian statelessness so they can push thoroughly disgusting anti-Jewish blood libels. Here is a picture our own Abe Greenwald took at a rally in Manhattan. Above scenes of blood-soaked children are the words “This is Bloody Israel! These are Bloody Jews!” And then, if you still didn’t get the point, in parentheses: “Blood Suckers.”

It’s not subtle, and it’s not about humanitarianism. The anti-Israel rallies around the world have been marked by consistency. We are told of the existence, or of the possibility at least, of pro-Palestinian rallies or protests against Israeli policy that are not about pushing a medieval hatred of Jews. We should not have to take it on faith, or make do with Laurent Fabius’s deepest apologies.

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No, Israel Isn’t Losing a War It’s Winning

One of the oddest tropes of the past week has been too-clever-by-half theorizing that Israel is losing its war against Hamas even if, from all accounts, it is winning the war against Hamas—by knocking out Hamas’s missiles from the air, destroying its tunnels on land, killing its terrorists, and going after its weapons depots. The only way it can be deemed to be losing is if you think the war is primarily a public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of people who already have a fixed opinion of who the good guys and bad guys are in this struggle. It’s not.

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One of the oddest tropes of the past week has been too-clever-by-half theorizing that Israel is losing its war against Hamas even if, from all accounts, it is winning the war against Hamas—by knocking out Hamas’s missiles from the air, destroying its tunnels on land, killing its terrorists, and going after its weapons depots. The only way it can be deemed to be losing is if you think the war is primarily a public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of people who already have a fixed opinion of who the good guys and bad guys are in this struggle. It’s not.

If reports are true, over the past week Israel managed to uncover and disrupt a plot for the mass killing of Jews inside Israel on Rosh Hashanah. Forget the missiles; for that reason alone, the war has already been won.

So how is Israel losing? Oh, it seems Israel is getting bad press.

What else is new? What else is new about any of it?

Is Israel isolated in Europe? That isolation has been deepening for a decade. Has Barack Obama turned unfriendly? Well, his unfriendliness is far from new, as this piece of mine from July 2009 would suggest. Has the incursion led to an increase in overt anti-Semitism? Well, if so, any effort to excuse away such monstrousness by citing this war is nothing less than an act of blaming-the-victim. If Israel were to restrain itself from countering a mortal threat because it feared the promulgation of documents like this, it would be betraying its own reason for existence: a homeland for the Jewish people that needed and needs to exist precisely because of sentiments that help create documents like these—sentiments that are then turned into action, and into Kristallnacht, and into gas chambers.

The one deeply troubling fact that has emerged over the past week, in a Gallup poll, is that Americans under the age of 30 believe Israel’s action in Gaza is unjustified by a margin of 51-25 (24 percent have no opinion). Every friend of the Jewish state should be troubled; every enemy should rejoice. But then, why should it be otherwise, exactly? There is a man in the Oval Office who has spent five and a half years effectively preaching that extrication from conflict is a noble act. Is it any wonder that the age cohort most supportive of Obama—the cohort, by the way, that knows and cares the least about the world outside the borders of the United States—would be discomfited by a country that makes unapologetic use of its military in its own defense?

UPDATE: A new Pew poll suggests the views of Americans 18-30 are more favorably disposed toward Israel than Gallup–38 percent say Israel’s response has either been appropriate or hasn’t gone far enough, compared to 29 percent who say it’s gone too far.

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Ukrainians Get the Gaza Connection; Why Doesn’t the West?

Much of the world appears to view the current fighting in eastern Ukraine as totally unconnected to the fighting in Gaza. And since the Ukrainian government is desperately seeking support from both Europe and the Obama administration, neither of which is enamored of Israel’s Gaza operation, one could have forgiven Ukrainian officials for seeking to nurture this illusion. Instead, they have repeatedly gone out of their way to dispel it.

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Much of the world appears to view the current fighting in eastern Ukraine as totally unconnected to the fighting in Gaza. And since the Ukrainian government is desperately seeking support from both Europe and the Obama administration, neither of which is enamored of Israel’s Gaza operation, one could have forgiven Ukrainian officials for seeking to nurture this illusion. Instead, they have repeatedly gone out of their way to dispel it.

Three weeks ago, Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, compared eastern Ukraine’s situation to what Israel faces and warned that terrorists would likely adopt similar tactics in other countries if the West didn’t take a firm stance against them.

“We, of course, studied the experience of both Croatia and Israel, but here a lot of new features are added,” Parubiy said. “And, if Russia sees that this experience is successful, this experience can very easily be used in any Baltic countries, and even in Belarus and Kazakhstan.”

Yesterday, Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Henadii Nadolenko made both the comparison and the warning even more explicit in an op-ed in Haaretz. Unambiguously titled “Ukraine and Israel: Together in fighting terrorism,” it declared, “We, the representatives of Ukraine, have, together with the people of the State of Israel, personally felt the totality of the threat posed to civilians by the criminal activities of the terrorists.”

After enumerating the losses both countries have suffered, Nadolenko continued, “I am convinced that the huge loss of civilian and military life might have been avoided had the activities of terrorist organizations had been condemned by the international community.” Then, citing the recent downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine, he drove the point home:

I would like to emphasize once again that the crime, which killed 298 innocent civilians from around the world, is another confirmation of the fact that today’s terrorism is not constrained by borders…

In this regard, once again I would like to appeal to the thinking and caring people of the world to demonstrate their support for these peoples, who came upon a fight with an evil that threatens the security of everyone, regardless of nationality or place of residence.

I believe that the countries that are faced with terrorism and who try to fight this evil should support each other, and should join their efforts in order to draw the world’s attention to our cause. We must begin to receive real help and support from international organizations in order to combat this threat.

Clearly, Nadolenko understands what too many European and American officials seem to have missed: The West’s fine shades of distinction–under which some terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda, are utterly shunned; others, like Hamas, are denounced but deemed to have “legitimate grievances that must be addressed”; while still others are positively feted, like Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, whose Gaza branch boasts of its contribution to the rocket fire at Israel–are meaningless. All terrorists are equally enemies of the civilized world, and all of them learn from each other’s tactics. Thus if the West rewards a given tactic in one location, terrorists in other countries will soon replicate it.

For Hamas, launching rockets at Israel has so far paid handsome dividends: No less a personage than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged that if it ceases its fire, he will personally see to it that all its economic demands are met–including opening the border crossings, paying Hamas employees’ salaries, “ensuring the social and economic livelihood” of Gaza residents and providing “major humanitarian assistance”–while not insisting that it forfeit any of its military capabilities (all Kerry offered Israel was a vague promise to “address all security issues”).

Kerry clearly hasn’t grasped that if targeting Israeli civilians with rockets pays economic and diplomatic dividends for Hamas, this will encourage other terrorists worldwide to adopt similar tactics. Nadolenko and his fellow Ukrainians, in contrast, understand this very well. The question is whether anyone in the West is listening to them.

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Obama: Intervening to Save Hamas?

So the president called the Israeli prime minister today and, in that phone call, called for an “immediate ceasefire” with Hamas—and he said he wanted that ceasefire to work toward “ strengthening the Palestinian Authority.” It’s very possible everything the president said was disingenuous; he knows Israel isn’t going to accept an immediate ceasefire, in part because Hamas won’t either and in part because the latest Channel 10 poll says an astounding 89 percent of Israelis want the war to continue. So he gets to be for something nice without having to deal with the consequences of its actually happening.

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So the president called the Israeli prime minister today and, in that phone call, called for an “immediate ceasefire” with Hamas—and he said he wanted that ceasefire to work toward “ strengthening the Palestinian Authority.” It’s very possible everything the president said was disingenuous; he knows Israel isn’t going to accept an immediate ceasefire, in part because Hamas won’t either and in part because the latest Channel 10 poll says an astounding 89 percent of Israelis want the war to continue. So he gets to be for something nice without having to deal with the consequences of its actually happening.

For if it did happen, it would be a disaster for the United States—America would be pulling Hamas’s chestnuts out of the fire and implicitly accepting the legitimacy of the use of terror against civilian populations as a bargaining tool in international negotiations.

But it’s also very possible the president isn’t being disingenuous. In which case he has really crossed a—do I dare—red line here no other American leader ever has. Obama doesn’t like the pictures he’s seeing, he doesn’t like Bibi, he doesn’t like the fact that even Israel’s liberals are in a belligerent frame of mind after weeks of missile attacks against population centers, he isn’t running for reelection, he doesn’t care about donors or Jewish voters, he believes in his heart of hearts that the root cause of regional instability is Israel’s gains in the 1967 war, and in service of all these feelings and beliefs, he’s decided Israel is in the wrong and that Hamas needs to be saved from Israel’s might. In which case, he is personally intervening against an American ally with a legitimately elected and deeply fractious coalition government on behalf of a terrorist organization.

I report. You decide.

 

 

 

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‘The Biggest Political Mistake of the War So Far’

On Friday, the always perceptive Walter Russell Mead termed the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel last week “the biggest political mistake of the war so far.Mead was referring to the decision’s impact on a cease-fire, but it actually has far larger political implications. In one fell swoop, it destroyed the main diplomatic return the Obama Administration hoped to earn on its years of generous support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system: increased Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. 
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On Friday, the always perceptive Walter Russell Mead termed the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel last week “the biggest political mistake of the war so far.Mead was referring to the decision’s impact on a cease-fire, but it actually has far larger political implications. In one fell swoop, it destroyed the main diplomatic return the Obama Administration hoped to earn on its years of generous support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system: increased Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. 

While Congress’s motive in supporting Iron Dome was mainly to save Israeli lives, the Obama administration always had an additional motive: countering Israeli fears that ceding the West Bank would lead to “rockets from Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin onto Ben-Gurion Airport,as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon put it, just as leaving Gaza resulted in massive rocket fire on Israel’s south. If Iron Dome could protect Israel from rocket fire, the argument went, then Israel needn’t fear a West Bank withdrawal.

Until last week, that argument might have had a chance: True, Hamas was sending rocket barrages all over Israel and forcing Israelis into shelters several times a day, but the combination of Iron Dome and civil defense measures kept Israeli casualties negligible.

Last week, however, Israelis learned that even Iron Dome can’t keep their main airport open when their neighbors are launching rockets at it. No anti-missile system is foolproof, and one intentionally missed rocket proved enough for most of the world to suspend flights to Israel. 

As Mead correctly noted, the discovery that Hamas’s rockets can threaten its main transportation link to the outside world makes it much harder for Israel to end the fighting without eliminating Hamas’s rocket capabilities. But it also makes it much harder for Israel to quit the West Bank as long as there’s any chance of it turning into a rocket launching pad like Gaza has.

The vast majority of Israel’s foreign investment and trade comes from the West, and Israel’s geographic distance from the West means this commerce depends on aerial traffic. With its airport shuttered, investors can’t come in and time-sensitive exports can’t go out. Thus Israel simply cannot afford to have its air links with the West at the mercy of a terrorist organization. Its economy wouldn’t survive.

Whether the FAA’s decision was actually political I don’t know. Perhaps the agency was merely spooked by the previous week’s downing of a commercial airliner over Ukraine. Yet the fact that the ban was reversed two days later even though the security situation hadn’t changed, combined with the fact that major airlines like British Airways never suspended flights to begin with, support the contention that the decision, as Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel put it,had no substantive professional basis,” and was intended primarily to browbeat Israel into accepting Secretary of State John Kerry’s completely unacceptable cease-fire proposal. 

If so, to quote Harel again, it reflected “a fundamental lack of understanding of the Israeli mindset”–and not just about the cease-fire. That single FAA decision did more than any political argument ever could to ensure that Israel won’t be leaving the West Bank anytime soon. 

Having long argued that such a withdrawal would be untenably dangerous, I’m certainly not sorry. But for the Obama administration, it was definitely an own goal.

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A Revolution Betrayed

Talk about humiliations.

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Talk about humiliations.

In 2011 U.S. forces, acting with NATO allies, helped Libyans to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Moammar Gaddafi.

On Saturday, the situation in Libya had gotten so bad that the State Department felt compelled to evacuate all of the U.S. Embassy staff from Tripoli. The decision was probably a prudent one, given that rival militias have in recent days wrecked much of Tripoli’s airport with their internecine fighting. But the fact that Tripoli is becoming Mogadishu-on-the-Mediterranean is a pretty damning indictment of the Obama administration’s approach to the country.

Obama was willing, largely for humanitarian not strategic reasons, to have the U.S. take part as one ally of many in an anti-Gaddafi coalition. This was called by one of his own aides “leading from behind.” But Obama was not willing to lead from behind or from anywhere else when it came to providing aid to the new government of Libya to gain control of its own territory. No peacekeepers, no trainers, no nothing. So intent was he on avoiding “another Iraq” that, ironically, he actually repeated the mistake of Iraq, which was overthrowing a dictator in the Middle East without having a plan to replace him.

The result of this neglect was already paid by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Steven and three other Americans killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi in 2012. Now the cost is being paid by Libyans in general who are seeing their revolution betrayed. Instead of freedom, they have anarchy. And the Obama administration has yet another object lesson in what happens when America retreats from the Middle East in particular and the world in general.

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Kerry’s Unacceptable Ceasefire Seeks to Appease Hamas

Reports have emerged that Israel’s security cabinet is unanimously opposed to Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest ceasefire proposals. Much has changed since Israel unilaterally accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire last week, before the discovery of the extent of Hamas’s underground terror tunnels and the massive terrorist attack planned for September. The Egyptian proposals—which had the backing of the Arab League—offered an immediate cessation of the violence without handing Hamas either a public-relations victory or any practical rewards for its latest terror outburst. Kerry’s half-baked plan, as reported, has none of those virtues.

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Reports have emerged that Israel’s security cabinet is unanimously opposed to Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest ceasefire proposals. Much has changed since Israel unilaterally accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire last week, before the discovery of the extent of Hamas’s underground terror tunnels and the massive terrorist attack planned for September. The Egyptian proposals—which had the backing of the Arab League—offered an immediate cessation of the violence without handing Hamas either a public-relations victory or any practical rewards for its latest terror outburst. Kerry’s half-baked plan, as reported, has none of those virtues.

Kerry’s proposals have two glaring flaws. The first is that while they would seek to halt the missiles being fired into Israeli population centers, and likewise Israel would hold its fire, it’s not clear that the plan would allow for Israel to continue to destroy the warren of cross-border terror tunnels that Gazan militants have dug into Israel, some stretching directly beneath Israeli homes. These tunnels represent an immediate and critical threat to the lives and safety of Israelis and it’s inconceivable that Israel be expected to agree to anything that impairs its ability to counteract this breach of its security borders.

The other problematic element of Kerry’s plan is that it seeks to establish a week within which all of Hamas’s demands would be put on the table for negotiation. This just takes us back to where the parties were in the 2012 negotiations when there was also an effort to grant Hamas concessions. There cannot be a situation whereby whenever Hamas wishes to issue fresh demands it does so by instigating successive rounds of rocket warfare against Israel. And besides, several of Hamas’s complaints are against the Egyptians and the closure of the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border.

Hamas is now demanding a total lift of the so-called blockade on the Gaza Strip. But back in 2012 the restrictions on imports—and indeed exports—for Gaza were dramatically eased so as to only prevent materials that could be used by Islamists in their terror activities. For instance, any concrete brought into the strip was supposed to be done under the auspices of United Nations-approved projects. But just as UN facilities have been used for the storing of rockets, we’ve seen how that concrete, supposedly brought in for approved civilian purposes, has in fact been used to create a sprawling network of terror tunnels.

It is vital that Hamas is not rewarded for causing this latest round of violence; the Egyptians no doubt had this at the forefront of their minds when they drew up their proposals. But this seems to be beyond Kerry. President Obama has of course joined the chorus of voices calling for the “underlying issues” in Gaza to be addressed, thus buying into the notion that Hamas’s terrorism is fundamentally driven by a legitimate set of objectives which put the needs of the people of Gaza first. Nothing could be further from the truth and the very notion that Hamas has a set of negotiable demands is delusional. They want to kill Jews and end Israel, and no amount of pandering to “underlying issues” is going to change that.

If nothing else, the fact that the Egyptians came up with a ceasefire that Israel could accept, whereas Kerry has come up with something that Israel appears poised to reject, certainly says something about just how far down the rabbit-hole the Obama administration has gone with its foreign policy.

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Seeking the Welfare of the City

Representative Paul Ryan yesterday released a 73-page plan aimed at reforming anti-poverty programs and increasing social mobility.

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Representative Paul Ryan yesterday released a 73-page plan aimed at reforming anti-poverty programs and increasing social mobility.

The deficit-neutral plan would consolidate nearly a dozen federal anti-poverty programs into a single funding stream for states (called the “Opportunity Grant”); expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless workers; streamline federal grant, loan, and work-study programs and give more educational programs access to accreditation (thereby increasing more access to technical careers); revise the mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programing; and roll back “regressive regulations” that are particularly injurious to low-income people while easing licensing requirements to enter the workforce. Thoughtful analyses of Ryan’s plan can be found here, here, and here.

There are several features of Ryan’s “Expanding Opportunity in America” plan that are worth highlighting. The first is that his core reform requires and rewards work for those states that would opt in. It would do so by expanding one the best features of the 1996 welfare reform bill, in this case implementing work requirements for people receiving non-cash welfare assistance. States would have flexibility in terms of how they spend federal dollars, so long as it’s spent on programs that require work. This is a way for government to promote not simply work over idleness, but the dignity and self-sufficiency that often result from work.

Representative Ryan is also showing Republicans the importance of structural reforms, which are more important even than only cutting spending. (This applied to his Medicare reform proposals as well.) Mr. Ryan is demonstrating through his proposal that he wants to strengthen the social safety net, not undo it. And by supporting EITC, an effective federal program that promotes work and reduces poverty, Ryan is showing an empirical-minded rather than ideological approach to governing. He’s interested in championing what works.

I’m also encouraged by the fact that Ryan proposes reducing corporate welfare (such as subsidies for agriculture and energy). I’ve argued before that Republicans should be visible and persistent critics of corporate welfare–the vast network of subsidies and tax breaks extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to wealthy and well-connected corporations–since such benefits undermine free markets and undercut the public’s confidence in American capitalism. “Ending corporate welfare as we know it” is a pretty good mantra for Republicans.

In the wider context of things, Ryan has shown that he is–along with Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and others (including governors and former governors like Jeb Bush)–helping the GOP to be both conservative and constructive. They are able to present not just a governing vision but also a governing agenda–one that is designed to meet the challenges of this moment, this era, this century. This contrasts rather well, I think, with modern liberalism, which is increasingly reactionary and exhausted.

One other thing: Paul Ryan’s effort to combat poverty and increase social mobility is important and impressive because great parties and political movements will care about those in the shadows of society. “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you,” Jeremiah writes, “and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper.”

Politics involves many things, including rather mundane and even distasteful ones. But it also involves, at its best and at its highest, seeking the welfare of the city. That is something worthy of our attention and energies, as Paul Ryan and other prominent figures in the conservative movement understand.

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Iran’s Diplomatic Quagmire

The Iranians have been loudly boasting about their role in arming Hamas for its latest war against the Jewish state. And now Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been using his lively Twitter account to call for the West Bank to be armed against Israel, much as Gaza is. Given that this is the man whose regime is responsible for the bulk of the weaponry that is currently being turned on Israelis, it would seem prudent to take such calls seriously. But if nothing else, this latest conflagration in Gaza has provided a wonderful distraction for the Iranians, ensuring that the world’s attention is elsewhere, while its own dubious agenda slips beneath the radar of public consciousness.

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The Iranians have been loudly boasting about their role in arming Hamas for its latest war against the Jewish state. And now Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been using his lively Twitter account to call for the West Bank to be armed against Israel, much as Gaza is. Given that this is the man whose regime is responsible for the bulk of the weaponry that is currently being turned on Israelis, it would seem prudent to take such calls seriously. But if nothing else, this latest conflagration in Gaza has provided a wonderful distraction for the Iranians, ensuring that the world’s attention is elsewhere, while its own dubious agenda slips beneath the radar of public consciousness.

Indeed, last weekend, the date by which Iran and the P5+1 nations were supposed to have reached an agreement on ending Iran’s illegal nuclear enrichment program was extended by another four months, all without much comment or notice. In part the lack of reaction can be attributed to the fact that this turn of events was already widely anticipated. After all, the EU’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton was talking about an extension to the talks before the first six months of negotiations had even started. But of course, events in Israel-Gaza have provided the perfect diversion for both the Obama administration and the Iranians to keep these talks going.

Extending the negotiations through to November suits almost everyone–everyone apart from those who are most concerned about the nuclear threat from Iran, that is. For the Obama administration in particular, reaching the July deadline empty-handed would have been a disaster. Obama’s only strategy on Iran’s nuclear program is now to try and talk the Iranians out of going for the bomb. If forced to walk away from the talks now Obama has left himself with no plan B. It seems clear that for this administration, the military option was never really on the table. What’s more, the sanctions regime painstakingly put in place by the international community has already begun to unravel as part of the P5+1 interim arrangements. It is hard to imagine that it would be possible to put the sanctions strategy back together again now, and at this late stage, when Iran is already on the cusp of nuclear breakout, putting sanctions back in place is unlikely to effectively deter the Iranians nor significantly slow them down at all.

After six months of trying to reach an agreement on Iranian nuclear enrichment it seems unlikely that another four months of talks are really going to make any difference. The sides seem about as far apart on the issue of Iran’s centrifuges as they were when talks began. The Iranians were always eager to have the negotiation period extended–hardly surprising, since an extension means further relief from sanctions and all the while Iran can push ahead with expanding its nuclear infrastructure. Under the terms of the interim agreement Iran is obliged to keep its enrichment at a lower level than before and must allow a continuation of the inspections of its facilities. But with Iran having successfully hidden major nuclear sites from Western intelligence in the past, it’s perfectly conceivable that in such a large country, inspectors could miss some of the most crucial areas.

The major sticking point is the issue of the number of centrifuges that the international community will permit Iran to keep. Those in Iran’s immediate firing line—Israel and the Gulf states—would like to see an Iran that has no enrichment capabilities whatsoever. They’ve been told by the Obama administration that that’s “unrealistic.” Of course, it is unrealistic as long as Obama is unwilling to genuinely put all options on the table, but realistic or not, the fact is there are six United Nations Security Council resolutions in place that very clearly prohibit all nuclear enrichment by Iran.

What the powers seem to be haggling over now is how close to the nuclear precipice Iran should be allowed to step. Under such a strategy, whatever happens, the Iranian nuclear dagger is left hovering over the West and its allies; it’s just a question of how high. Watching all of this one can’t help but be reminded of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. Strict controls had been set on limiting any German military build-up and with the rise of Hitler those controls became all the more warranted. Unwilling to take a concrete stand against the German breaches of international law, the British argument at the time essentially went: better to reach an agreement with the Germans that allowed them some limited rearmament than to have no agreement and for the Germans to simply pursue unlimited rearmament. British officials dismissed French disquiet at all this as being “short sighted.”  Or as you might say in the parlance of  Obama administration; “unrealistic.”

When it comes to a nuclear Iran, the Obama administration doesn’t expect America’s allies, Congress, or the public to swallow this hog whole. But the prolonged negotiation period, discussing just how many centrifuges the mullahs can keep, is a process of softening us up. We’re being fed the hog bit by bit.

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Israeli Ambassadors and the Media War

Israel has long struggled with the PR challenge of fighting terrorist groups like Hamas whose strategy is based on putting their own citizens in harm’s way and counting on a sympathetic (or easily duped) media to play along. But it’s been clear that Israel has made some headway in recent conflicts. An indication of this improvement in the information war is one aspect of Gallup’s latest poll on American attitudes toward the current conflict in Gaza.

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Israel has long struggled with the PR challenge of fighting terrorist groups like Hamas whose strategy is based on putting their own citizens in harm’s way and counting on a sympathetic (or easily duped) media to play along. But it’s been clear that Israel has made some headway in recent conflicts. An indication of this improvement in the information war is one aspect of Gallup’s latest poll on American attitudes toward the current conflict in Gaza.

Of those who are following the news “very closely,” 71 percent say Israel’s actions are justified. Gallup notes: “A majority of Americans interviewed July 22-23 say they are following news of the conflict very (22%) or somewhat (37%) closely. The more closely Americans are following the news about the Middle East situation, the more likely they are to think Israel’s actions are justified.”

Why might that be? Certainly the mainstream media has maintained its traditional bias against Israel, and alternative sources have in many cases been even worse. One explanation, then, for Israel’s support among those who are actually following the conflict could be that Hamas’s conduct is so inhumane and grotesque that even a broadcast slanted against Israel could not rehabilitate Hamas’s genocidal behavior and use of human shields.

Another is that trust in traditional media is falling. This might make consumers of news more careful readers. No one who knows about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would think they are getting the full story from these traditional news organs. That doesn’t mean they won’t read them, but they’ll supplement them with other sources or do their own limited fact checking.

Another explanation has to do with the current Israeli prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu speaks fluent English and has cultivated relationships with American politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades. When a conflict happens, Netanyahu happily goes on the Sunday shows to make Israel’s case. He understands not only English but American politics and society far better than most foreign heads of state or government.

But, crucially, it’s not just Netanyahu. His first ambassador to the U.S. was Michael Oren, a brilliant historian and U.S. citizen who had been teaching at Georgetown before his appointment as ambassador. Oren is also the author of the definitive history of America in the Middle East. He made for an erudite and universally respected advocate for Israel’s strategic and political actions.

Oren has been succeeded in that post by Ron Dermer, who was also born in America and even worked in American politics earlier in his career before becoming an advisor to Netanyahu. Dermer offered a great example of his effectiveness as a spokesman for Israel yesterday on CNN with host Erin Burnett. The Right Scoop has the video, which is well worth watching.

The pattern throughout the interview is of Dermer not only rebutting accusations against Israel but of filling in missing information from previous CNN broadcasts and interviews–all in the four-minute interview. When Burnett admits that information Dermer is providing is relevant for CNN’s viewers, Dermer says:

But Erin I’ve been listening for two hours of reports on CNN. I have seen split-screens, horrible pictures. Horrible pictures that any decent human being would be horrified by, [and] I have not heard a single person say what I just said to you now. And I think that that does a disservice to your viewers to not give them the context they need to make these judgments. Hamas is placing missile batteries in schools, in hospitals, in mosques, and there must be outrage by the world at Hamas to end it.

There’s nothing groundbreaking in the words themselves. But viewers tuning in at home will see an Israeli ambassador not back on his heels meekly explaining how Israel is doing its best or stumbling over his words. And they won’t have to decipher heavily accented English. During the Netanyahu years, when Americans see Israeli representatives they see not just people who could have been their schoolmate in Florida or their professor at Georgetown, but people who, in some cases, actually were their classmates and their teachers. So the familiarity probably adds a dimension to the Gallup results.

And there is also the fact that war is messy, complex, and rarely presents easy answers. It’s one thing to have an instinctive opposition to war and to be horrified, as Dermer concedes, by the images war produces. But when you then drill down and try to get a sense of what the conflict is about and how it all came to pass, you realize that Israel did not choose war over peace or death over life–but that Israel’s enemies did.

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‘Maximum Restraint’

Please listen and watch this. It’s by a folk-rock artist named Peter Himmelman, who writes uncommonly literate and sophisticated songs both for adults and children. This is the first work of popular music in America inspired by the Gaza war, and it will come as a deep (and I expect) extraordinarily heartening surprise to you. And here’s something he just published on the Huffington Post.

Please listen and watch this. It’s by a folk-rock artist named Peter Himmelman, who writes uncommonly literate and sophisticated songs both for adults and children. This is the first work of popular music in America inspired by the Gaza war, and it will come as a deep (and I expect) extraordinarily heartening surprise to you. And here’s something he just published on the Huffington Post.

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