Commentary Magazine


Will ISIS Votes Haunt 2016 Contenders?

The country seems firmly behind President Obama’s belated decision to use force against ISIS terrorists and to arm some of the Syrian rebels who will oppose them on the ground. But this seeming consensus isn’t affecting the votes of some Republican presidential contenders. Though even a libertarian neo-isolationist like Senator Rand Paul now says he favors carrying the fight to ISIS, he and some others will be voting no on the Syrian component of the president’s plan. That appears to be the safest course for anyone who fears being tarred with support of an Obama initiative or what may prove to be another unpopular war in a future Republican presidential primary. That will make today’s vote an interesting test of character for those 2016 contenders who may have serious qualms about the president’s strategy but know that advocating standing aside would be a dereliction of duty.

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The country seems firmly behind President Obama’s belated decision to use force against ISIS terrorists and to arm some of the Syrian rebels who will oppose them on the ground. But this seeming consensus isn’t affecting the votes of some Republican presidential contenders. Though even a libertarian neo-isolationist like Senator Rand Paul now says he favors carrying the fight to ISIS, he and some others will be voting no on the Syrian component of the president’s plan. That appears to be the safest course for anyone who fears being tarred with support of an Obama initiative or what may prove to be another unpopular war in a future Republican presidential primary. That will make today’s vote an interesting test of character for those 2016 contenders who may have serious qualms about the president’s strategy but know that advocating standing aside would be a dereliction of duty.

That’s the quandary for Senator Marco Rubio, who stands second to none in the Senate as a critic of the president’s foreign policy. Rubio has rightly denounced the president’s failures in the Middle East and, in particular, his abandonment of Iraq and dithering on Syria that allowed ISIS to become a dominant force in both countries on Obama’s watch. Like other conservatives as well as a not insignificant number of liberal senators, he’s also rightly worried that the president’s plans for this conflict are woefully inadequate to the situation. More than that, along with many Republicans, he believes the president is wrong not to seek an explicit authorization from Congress to fight ISIS rather than to merely pretend, as the administration wrongly contends, that the 2001 vote granting President Bush the right to use troops against al-Qaeda also applies to the rival, and now more powerful, group.

But Rubio has indicated that he will vote yes for the authorization on Syria. The question now is whether this will haunt him or anyone else planning on running for higher office or reelection.

Rand Paul seemed to be saying as much when he said yesterday that members of Congress were petrified by a possible vote to authorize force. Senator Ted Cruz, whose views on foreign policy are a lot closer to those of Rubio than they are to Paul, seems to agree. Cruz said he would oppose arming the Syrian rebels because the administration doesn’t really have a clue as to which groups opposing the regime of Bashar Assad are “good guys” and which are “bad.”

It’s difficult to argue too strenuously with those qualms. The president’s adamant refusal to act on the growing catastrophe in Syria not only enabled ISIS to fill the void but also undermined the chances that genuine moderates might be able to replace the despotic Assad regime and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Moreover, there are, as the New York Times noted today, ominous precedents for senators who swallow hard and vote to authorize the use of force but later have that decision thrown in their face by primary opponents. Hillary Clinton, who voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while in the Senate, found herself outflanked on the left by Barack Obama in 2008. The question facing Rubio and the rest of the Senate is one that juxtaposes the certainty that voting for an expanded conflict will be viewed by many voters as a mistake against the certainty that the failure to act will allow ISIS to prevail in the fighting.

As I noted yesterday, as the U.S. prepares to step up the fight against ISIS, the country’s main problem is not the lack of a strategy but the seeming inability of the president to play the part of a wartime leader. Supporting operations in the Middle East under such circumstances is a perilous undertaking. So, too, is any effort to finally aid those Syrian forces that are not linked to Islamists or Assad and the Iranians.

But Rubio is right to worry more about the danger of inaction than any possible political repercussions. Were the U.S. to stand aside in Syria, especially with the president foolishly taking the threat of a direct intervention on the ground off the table, the consequences would be grave. If, as most Americans rightly now understand, ISIS is a serious threat to U.S. security, any counterattack undertaken now, whether well led or not, is bound to improve the situation. More to the point, the failure to act would be a potential catastrophe and might make all the difference in the ultimate outcome of a conflict in which U.S. success is not assured, notwithstanding the braggadocio being heard to that effect in Washington these days.

There is no way of knowing today whether votes on Syria or Iraq will be major liabilities in the winter or spring of 2016 or, indeed, if the ISIS threat will still be an issue at that time. The year and a half between now and the presidential primaries is a lifetime in politics. But Paul and Cruz are probably right in reckoning that any vote that can be construed as insufficiently anti-Obama is a safe bet and that those who vote yes are giving up a valuable hostage to fortune, whether or not they run for president.

Just as it is simple to second guess those who voted for war in Iraq without thinking what dangers would have resulted from doing nothing, it will be easy to take pot shots at those who vote yes today. But Rubio is still in the right here. The costs of doing nothing in war are usually higher than those of boldness. Even with an inadequate leader who is not prepared to do everything to achieve victory, the situation will be better off if the U.S. finally starts to do something to alter the correlation of forces in Syria and Iraq against both Assad and the terrorists. Voting no may eventually be popular, but it won’t be the right thing to do.

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Clinton’s Leftist Critics: Still Irrelevant

Imagine the following scenario. The Democratic Party continues to push Hillary Clinton as its nominee for 2016. The women of the party who could challenge her, like Elizabeth Warren, continue showing deference and bowing to reality by staying on the sidelines and supporting Hillary, knowing their turn may yet come. But then, word gets to Warren that an activist with Occupy Wall Street is put off by Clinton’s cozy connections to Wall Street, and wants someone like Warren to challenge her, to be the conscience of the party. Game changer, right?

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Imagine the following scenario. The Democratic Party continues to push Hillary Clinton as its nominee for 2016. The women of the party who could challenge her, like Elizabeth Warren, continue showing deference and bowing to reality by staying on the sidelines and supporting Hillary, knowing their turn may yet come. But then, word gets to Warren that an activist with Occupy Wall Street is put off by Clinton’s cozy connections to Wall Street, and wants someone like Warren to challenge her, to be the conscience of the party. Game changer, right?

Of course not. Elizabeth Warren is not going to take her career advice from pseudoanarchist trustfunders who defecate on police cars and shield rapists from legal trouble. Neither is Hillary Clinton, or anyone running the Democratic Party. And so it is in that light that we read about the latest anti-Hillary grumbling from the economically illiterate perpetual freshmen on the populist left. According to The Hill, there is an email group called “Gamechanger Salon,” consisting of about 1,500 liberal journalists, activists, and campaign strategists. Someone leaked the contents of the emails to The Hill. The “Gamechangers” are, of course, reveling in blissful unawareness of their own irrelevance to the 2016 presidential election:

“[A] Clinton presidency undos [sic] all our progress and returns the financial interests to even more prominence than they currently have,” Melissa Byrne, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said in a November 2013 email.

The progressives expressed an appetite for an alternative to Clinton to teach her — and those from the centrist wing of the party — a lesson.

Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has repeatedly said she won’t run for president, but some on the left aren’t convinced.

“The establishment Dems need to be punished, and the best way for that to happen is for Warren to beat Hillary in the primary on a populist message,” Carl Gibson, a progressive activist and writer for Occupy.com, wrote in one email.

Even though months have passed since the emails were sent, the sentiment remains.

Mike Lux, a prominent strategist and an active member of the group, told The Hill that the concerns haven’t changed and operatives “are probably more worried at this point rather than less.”

Well sure, naturally they’d be more worried now than less, since Hillary Clinton is closer to her party’s nomination. She’s not just incredibly wealthy herself, with help from her Wall Street speaking clients, but she’s even asking them to help shape her talking points on economic inequality, as the New York Times reported last week:

Fledgling efforts to develop a message are quietly taking place, said the people close to Mrs. Clinton. Without discussing her 2016 plans, she has talked to friends and donors in business about how to tackle income inequality without alienating businesses or castigating the wealthy.

Certainly one can imagine why left-wingers aren’t thrilled to read that Hillary is outsourcing her policy and campaign communications to the people she’s asking for money. And they wouldn’t be alone in that uneasiness were Hillary a Republican. The ads would write themselves, as would the New York Times editorials. (Though to be fair, the Times editorials have already been written; they’d just be recycled with the name changed.)

Speaking of Republicans, what did Hillary’s benefactors and influence seekers tell her to say about economic policy? This might sound familiar:

That message would likely be less populist and more pro-growth, less about inversions and more about corporate tax reform, less about raising the minimum wage and more long-term job creation, said two people with firsthand knowledge of the discussions.

She’s running as Mitt Romney, in other words, but with less management experience and greater dependence on her donors. You can imagine why leftists are just thrilled.

Part of the story, according to The Hill, is lingering discontent over Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq war. She has since apologized, seeking proper absolution. But all is not forgiven. One activist told The Hill he wants to see people like Clinton “punished at the ballot box” over the war. But didn’t that already happen? Hillary did, after all, lose in 2008 to Barack Obama, whose campaign really did get a lift from his opposition to the Iraq war.

On the other hand, you can see where these activists are coming from, since Clinton was a more interventionist and hawkish proponent of force in Obama’s Cabinet. The presumption on the part of these activists is that Clinton’s regret over the Iraq war vote is disingenuous to the extent that it hasn’t altered her worldview or her faith in American firepower. They don’t care as much that she regrets the last Iraq war because they think she’d jump right into the next one.

And maybe that’s true. But again, it doesn’t really matter. The “Gamechangers” are anything but. There is still no serious opposition to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party, and there does not appear to be any on the horizon. And a progressive email list isn’t going to change that.

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White House Wages War on One Woman

For the past three years, Democrats have been talking a lot about a supposed war on women being waged by Republicans. But while that charge has been partisan fear mongering, one particular woman has good reason to complain about the war that is being waged on her. As anyone who reads today’s story in Politico knows, the woman is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the folks attacking her are fellow Democrats and, in particular, the White House, which is looking for a convenient scapegoat for an anticipated Democrat defeat this year.

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For the past three years, Democrats have been talking a lot about a supposed war on women being waged by Republicans. But while that charge has been partisan fear mongering, one particular woman has good reason to complain about the war that is being waged on her. As anyone who reads today’s story in Politico knows, the woman is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the folks attacking her are fellow Democrats and, in particular, the White House, which is looking for a convenient scapegoat for an anticipated Democrat defeat this year.

The Politico feature comes on the heels of a similar piece  just published in Buzzfeed that is also highly critical of the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Both articles appear to be the result of a calculated campaign of leaks from DWS critics in the White House and senior levels of the Democratic Party. She is accused of being a lousy DNC chair, of getting the party into needless controversies, of being hyper-ambitious and solely interested in feathering her own nest (a shocking accusation about any politician), and even—shades of Sarah Palin—buying expensive clothes and then trying to get the party to pay the bill.

I am no fan of Wasserman Schultz, who is, in my opinion, one of the most repellent figures in contemporary politics. But no matter what you think of her, this orchestrated attack on her position by people she has served ably and loyally is Washington politics at its worst and a rather obvious illustration of the misogyny that is part of the culture of this White House. Rather than reminding us of her numerous faults, it is a cowardly attack that tells us far more about the vile nature of her associates and allies than anything about DWS.

It’s impossible to read either story without walking away thinking that DWS is deeply disliked in the highest echelons of her party. But, of course, this isn’t news to anyone who’s followed Washington politics in recent years. The same people who dished on her to Politico and Buzzfeed have been doing the same thing since 2012 when most people assumed President Obama would can her at the DNC. But unlike that election year, which brought victory to the Democrats, this midterm is shaping up to be a disaster for the president’s party. If there is any national factor that can be blamed for this, the most obvious candidate is the president. Obama’s job approval ratings are now down to George W. Bush levels and his calamitous handling of foreign affairs and indecisive war leadership, as well as his handling of a lackluster economy and immigration, are helping to sink Democrats. But rather than admit that his second-term blues are, unsurprisingly hurting the party in power, the White House is looking to put the goat’s horns on Wassermann Schultz.

This is, to put it mildly, more than a bit unfair. DWS took over the DNC in the spring of 2011 in the wake of the Democrats’ shellacking in the 2010 midterms. Since then her handling of the two major tasks any party chair must do—fundraising and being the party’s attack dog—has been nothing short of brilliant. The DNC has flourished under her leadership as Democrats have matched or exceeded their Republican counterparts in fundraising throughout the last two election cycles. Just as importantly, DWS has been a ubiquitous partisan battler, regularly engaging in the most outrageous and often mendacious attacks on the GOP.

But almost from the start of her term at the DNC, it’s been clear that she isn’t exactly the president’s cup of tea. While Republicans have good reason to despise her, the snark thrown in her direction in the last three years has been just as likely to come from Democrats as it has from her partisan antagonists. Indeed, the personal nature of the jibes, including derogatory remarks about her personal appearance and voice (both perhaps too New York and too Jewish-sounding for the tastes of some highly placed Democrats) speaks more about a clash of individual tastes than the ideological divide between DWS and her Republican opponents.

How has she managed to stay on so long in a job where she serves at the pleasure of the president? It mostly has to do with that war on women Democrats are always yapping about. Having campaigned so hard on the issue of the mistreatment of women, it was difficult for the president to take down one of the most highly placed women in Washington for what appears to be nothing more than the sin of being an obnoxious partisan. That’s especially true since, as we know, this is a White House where women are scarce in top positions and are paid far less on average, than men. Though DWS appears to be the bête noire of the boys club in the West Wing, they were sufficiently cognizant of the bad optics of firing her after so much partisan blather about women being treated unfairly, so she survived.

But with an election defeat looming, the knives are out and it appears that the DNC chair is being set up for the fall. To do that, the West Wing boys club is pulling out all the stops, including circulating the story about Wasserman Schultz spending months trying to get the party to pay for the fancy clothing she wore to its 2012 convention and then the 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner. According to Politico, numerous sources attest to the truth of the allegations despite DWS’s denials.

Let me confess that, without any direct knowledge of the matter myself, I’d bet that DWS is not telling the truth. After all, she has a well-earned reputation for being an adept barefaced liar. But does anyone really think such practices are unique to Wasserman Schultz? And, like the similarly unscrupulous leaks attacking Sarah Palin for the same offense, would anyone leak embarrassing stories to this effect if the object of the leaks were not someone the White House was setting up to take the fall for the midterms?

The same applies to stories being recycled now about DWS turning her coat during the 2008 primaries and embracing Obama after being a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton. There truly is no honor among thieves in the Democratic Party.

DWS is tough to take. She is an aggressive, nasty partisan brawler who will say or do anything to get her way or to further her career. But while Republicans should be forgiven for disliking the DNC chair for her outrageous attacks on them and her success at their expense, the only reasons Democrats have to hate her are strictly personal. Though it is difficult to sympathize with Wasserman Schultz, it is impossible not to feel her allies are treating her unfairly. This is a genuine war on a woman who deserved better from her party. They ought to be ashamed.

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Biden’s Apologists Do Him No Favors

Joe Biden got into some trouble over the last few days, as he tends to do, by making inappropriate or offensive comments. Because Biden has a long career of gaffes marked with seemingly racist pronunciations, this can lose some of its news value. So when Biden used an anti-Semitic term to refer to bankers on Tuesday, it was generally passed off as Joe being Joe. Yet while this disturbs the offended parties, the way Biden is treated by the media should really bother the vice president most of all.

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Joe Biden got into some trouble over the last few days, as he tends to do, by making inappropriate or offensive comments. Because Biden has a long career of gaffes marked with seemingly racist pronunciations, this can lose some of its news value. So when Biden used an anti-Semitic term to refer to bankers on Tuesday, it was generally passed off as Joe being Joe. Yet while this disturbs the offended parties, the way Biden is treated by the media should really bother the vice president most of all.

To recap, Biden called predatory bankers “Shylocks” in a speech. He then called former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew “the wisest man in the Orient,” confirming both that Biden rarely has any idea what he’s talking about and that he’s several hundred years old. According to the Washington Post, Biden made a third gaffe yesterday, contradicting President Obama on the possibility of additional ground troops in Iraq. That last gaffe, being interpreted as neither racist nor anti-Semitic, flew under the radar, but to those who care about actual defense policy it should still be worth considering.

The reaction from the groups offended by Biden’s casual use of terms considered both racist and anti-Semitic were, in my opinion, also wide of the mark. The use of “Shylock” does deserve pushback, since Biden was using it in a derogatory way and of course it refers to Jews–though it’s doubtful Biden was truly familiar with the word’s original use since it was in a work of classic literature and not a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He surely didn’t mean to insult Yew, though I suppose he should have known better anyway. Either way, the RNC’s reaction that “His comment is not only disrespectful but also uses unacceptable imperialist undertones” is just bizarre.

But the criticism of Biden played into the same stereotype of Joe being Joe as did those who brushed aside or ignored the controversy. Here’s the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman:

When someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden, uses the term “Shylocked” to describe unscrupulous moneylenders dealing with service men and women, we see once again how deeply embedded this stereotype about Jews is in society.

So it’s society’s fault Biden makes offensive comments? I’m sorry, but he’s the vice president of the United States, and I don’t think “society” needs to take the blame for this one. After Biden called to apologize, Foxman followed it up with this:

There is no truer friend of the Jewish people than Joe Biden. Not only has he been a stalwart against anti-Semitism and bigotry, but he has the courage and forthrightness to admit a mistake and use it as an opportunity to learn and to teach others about the harmful effects of stereotypes. He has turned a rhetorical gaffe into a teachable moment.

“Teach others.” The only lesson Biden taught anybody here is the same one we’ve been learning for years: if you’re a prominent Democrat, you can say basically whatever you want.

That’s a lesson Biden may think works to his advantage. Certainly many conservatives feel that way. But they’re wrong. The media’s decision to treat Biden not as a latent logorrheic bigot but as a dimwitted ward of the state has virtually assured he will never be elected president.

When Biden was running for president earlier in his career, it was revealed he was a plagiarist. That truly was a “teachable moment.” Biden stopped–to my knowledge, at least–plagiarizing. Had Biden’s propensity toward cultural insensitivity been similarly addressed, he certainly would have gotten a second (and third, no doubt) chance to refine his ability to hide his apparent disregard for ethnic minorities.

Now, it’s possible this would have made no difference. Perhaps Biden is unfixable. But Americans consider the thought of Joe Biden being president to be ridiculous. This does not speak well of Barack Obama, who nominated him to be a heartbeat away, or the electorate who put him there. And it does not speak well of the media who constantly gave him a free pass, allowing him to be a jovial sidekick or a mascot when the American government probably needs someone with more gravitas than Mr. Met playing understudy to the president.

But in the end, this works against Biden getting elected president. Having turned Biden into the crazy but loveable uncle, the press forever doomed him to be a walking punch line. What he needed were his own teachable moments. He never learned how to be a serious political figure thanks to the kid-gloves treatment he received. He was able to ride that wave all the way to the vice presidency–and that’s pretty impressive. But as far as the national electorate is concerned, that’s where it ends.

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The Vietnamization of the War on ISIS?

Shades of LBJ. The comparison may be unfair, but it is also inevitable when one reads that “the U.S. military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria is being designed to allow President Barack Obama to exert a high degree of personal control, going so far as to require that the military obtain presidential signoff for strikes in Syrian territory.”

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Shades of LBJ. The comparison may be unfair, but it is also inevitable when one reads that “the U.S. military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria is being designed to allow President Barack Obama to exert a high degree of personal control, going so far as to require that the military obtain presidential signoff for strikes in Syrian territory.”

This is reminiscent of the way that Lyndon Johnson controlled air strikes on North Vietnam from the Oval Office in what has come to be seen as classic example of how trying to carefully ratchet up the use of force to “send a message” to adversaries doesn’t work in the real world. At least Johnson had good reason to limit air strikes in North Vietnam–he was worried about drawing China into the war as had occurred during the Korean War. In the case of Syria, it’s hard to see a similar imperative to limit air strikes on ISIS. If Obama is worried that the Assad regime will take advantage of U.S. attacks on ISIS, the obvious solution would be to bomb Assad’s forces too–in short, more air attacks, not fewer. But that clearly is not what the president contemplates; he seems to envision a few pinprick air strikes in Syria and a few more in Iraq.

How this is supposed to succeed in his ambitious goal of first degrading and then destroying ISIS is hard to see. His own top generals–Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff–have warned in recent days that it may be necessary to send at least a limited number of U.S. troops to work alongside friendly forces in order to enhance their combat effectiveness. Yet Obama keeps insists this will not happen. At Central Command on Wednesday, he said: “The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission. I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”

It’s possible that Obama can wiggle out of his seemingly firm commitment as David Ignatius suggests: by reflagging Special Operations Forces under Title 50 covert-action authority and sending them to work alongside indigenous forces under CIA command. It would be easier and more effective not to go through this subterfuge, however, so as to commit the full resources of the U.S. military to support advisers and air controllers in harm’s way.

Comparisons have been drawn to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 but in that case a large number of Special Forces teams operated openly alongside more covert officers from the CIA. That’s a good model to replicate in Iraq and Syria. But whatever the legal niceties, it is vitally important, as his own generals are signaling, for Obama to put at least a limited force of U.S. personnel on the ground where they can work alongside indigenous forces and accompany them into battle, as occurred in Afghanistan. It is important also to step up air strikes on ISIS beyond what is currently contemplated because the projected, low-level of strikes will not be enough to break the back of the most powerful terrorist movement in the world. It may in fact simply result in ISIS being able to claim a victory by posturing as the jihadists who withstood an American offensive. That would be pretty much the worst scenario imaginable–yet with his commitment to gradualism in warfare Obama is making it more likely.

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Blame Braveheart and Bonnie Prince Charlie

Tomorrow Scots will vote on independence from the United Kingdom in a historic referendum that looks right now as if it may actually lead to the division of Britain. The reasons for this have been debated ad nauseam in recent days, but though the critics of the independence movement have the far stronger arguments in terms of the interests of both Scotland and the UK, they seem, if polls are to be believed, to be failing to convince a majority of Scots to vote against independence. But the focus on economic arguments, however cogent, on the part of the measure’s opponents seems to miss the point about why the unthinkable may be about to happen.

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Tomorrow Scots will vote on independence from the United Kingdom in a historic referendum that looks right now as if it may actually lead to the division of Britain. The reasons for this have been debated ad nauseam in recent days, but though the critics of the independence movement have the far stronger arguments in terms of the interests of both Scotland and the UK, they seem, if polls are to be believed, to be failing to convince a majority of Scots to vote against independence. But the focus on economic arguments, however cogent, on the part of the measure’s opponents seems to miss the point about why the unthinkable may be about to happen.

Our Tom Wilson described independence as an idea that is “almost insane” in a recent piece. This movement similarly baffles historian Niall Ferguson. Writing earlier this week in the New York Times, Ferguson debunks the notion that Scotland is England’s last colony. The 1707 Act of Union was, he rightly notes, a merger of equals, not an act of English aggression. If anything, he says, the accession of James I (James VI of Scotland) as the successor of England’s Elizabeth I in 1603 can be seen as Scotland acquiring England, a transaction that was made formal a century later during the reign of his great-granddaughter Queen Anne. Lest anyone think that formulation became outdated when Anne was followed by the succession of Hanover (now Windsor) kings and queens, it should also be pointed out that 11 of the prime ministers of the UK have been Scots.

Scotland has benefited enormously from being part of the country that became Great Britain under the Scottish Stuart dynasty. Indeed, as Ferguson notes, the fact that he and liberal economist Paul Krugman both agree about the disastrous impact of independence amply illustrates the consensus across the political spectrum about its implications.

So why are they on the verge of doing it? Ferguson puts it down to an outbreak of petty nationalism that ought to be beneath the nation that produced a slew of enlightenment philosophers like David Hume and Adam Smith. Tom Wilson blames it largely on the ideology of the left. The left has eroded British identity and sought to break down a once great nation, as Tom notes, in which all too many of its citizens no longer believe. By contrast, British writer Tom Devine writes in the Guardian to blame it on Margaret Thatcher and the end of heavy manufacturing that is wrongly blamed on her government.

But these explanations don’t really answer the question of why a rational people would embrace such a mad leap in the dark. Thucydides diagnosed the reasons for waging war as being rooted in fear, honor, and interest. But those who argue against Scottish independence by only citing the fear that Scots should have of the consequences of going it alone and their obvious interest in remaining in a country that largely subsidizes them make a mistake by dismissing or ignoring the fact that the independence movement is largely rooted in a sense of national honor. Identity and the myths that build up around it will always be more powerful than the pound sterling or any other financial currency.

Though Ferguson is right to say that Scots have been, almost from the beginning of the union, net winners in their relationship with England, that has never been how most of his countrymen perceived the relationship. The romantic myths enshrined in music and literature about the 18th century Jacobite rebellions against the Hanover dynasty helped forge modern Scottish identity as being a separate people from the oppressive English even, as Tom notes, as their distinctive Celtic language died out. That is ancient history that is not even cited by the giddiest and least sensible of independence advocates—such as actor Alan Cummings who writes in today’s New York Times about the condescension of Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Cameron as being good reasons to leave the UK. But to act as if the brutal suppression of the Highland clans and other English indignities, let alone the struggles of earlier generations of Scots immortalized in Mel Gibson’s hyperbolic Braveheart film, were not factors still rattling around the Scottish attic waiting to be brought out is myopic.

The point isn’t that modern Scots are oppressed or looked down upon by English masters, as Cummings seems to think. Though it was, at best, a mixed blessing for Scots in the 18th century, the Act of Union was the best thing that could have happened to their 20th and 21st century descendants. But though Marxists continue to believe that money can explain everything, that was proved false a long time ago. Whether it is true or not, a great many Scots believe themselves to have been oppressed by the English and to have had their nation stolen from them. They may not be mad enough to wish to bring back a descendant of the Stuarts, but the longing for the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the last Stuart Pretender who led the Scots to disaster at Culloden in 1746 and then was forced to flee to European exile, left its mark on the country’s national consciousness. That fueled the romance of a separate Scots identity that was never entirely extinguished even during the heyday of Scottish involvement in the enterprise of the British Empire. So long as these myths are influential and can be buttressed by modern grievances, however insubstantial, independence will always have a constituency that will consider it worth a great deal of inconvenience if not hardship.

Friends of Britain may look on this with dismay and hope that in the end the “no” forces prevail. But as any student of the Greek historians could tell you, honor will trump interest every time.

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The Ever-Expanding 2016 GOP Field

The nature of the GOP’s nominating race for 2016 is such that good polls for some potential candidates are also tempting for others not yet included in the polls. For example, the most recent polling on Iowa, which Jonathan wrote about last week, showed Mike Huckabee with a healthy lead. Early polls are about name recognition, so they can only be taken so far. Nonetheless, candidates who have already built name recognition by running in the past can’t help but notice the value of such recognition when some of their strongest competitors are, theoretically, relative unknowns nationwide.

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The nature of the GOP’s nominating race for 2016 is such that good polls for some potential candidates are also tempting for others not yet included in the polls. For example, the most recent polling on Iowa, which Jonathan wrote about last week, showed Mike Huckabee with a healthy lead. Early polls are about name recognition, so they can only be taken so far. Nonetheless, candidates who have already built name recognition by running in the past can’t help but notice the value of such recognition when some of their strongest competitors are, theoretically, relative unknowns nationwide.

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Other than those two, the potential candidates who had run presidential campaigns in the past tended to score higher than those who haven’t yet run–a quite logical finding. If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). Walker was involved in a high-stakes national issue: the fight over public unions. And thanks to that, he was subject to a recall election that saw national press and mobilized national liberal groups. Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–the human résumé–was at just 38 percent. Huckabee was at 54 percent, higher than previous candidate Rick Santorum (but lower than Rick Perry) as well as all the non-previous candidates except Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who was at 55 percent. Huckabee also tied Christie for the highest favorability rating in that poll.

And that poll didn’t even include Mitt Romney, who shows up leading New Hampshire polls for the same reason Huckabee polls well in Iowa. And while a Romney candidacy would certainly have its cheerleaders, Huckabee is talking openly about testing those polls:

The Republican told a group of reporters on Monday over coffee at a restaurant just outside of D.C. that he learned from his failed 2008 bid that he can’t take money and fundraising for granted, even though he is leading in GOP early primary state polls.

Huckabee says he will make a decision early next year about another presidential run but noted he’s in a “different place than I was eight years ago,” due to a lucrative career as a Fox News and radio show host.

That career has also opened the door to meetings with donors he said he wouldn’t have gotten in 2008. Then, they’d say, “Who are you? How do you spell your name?”

In fact, Huckabee said he’s in talks with donors, and, “with a lot of people, it’s [going] pretty good.” He pointed to the nonprofit, America Takes Action, which he recently set up that, he says, has already raised seven figures.

“Not a single person I’ve asked [to contribute to the group] has said no,” he told reporters.

Huckabee had a decent run for an underdog in 2008 and he has a natural constituency, as well as an amiability that translates into votes. The same cannot be said for another retread who is the subject of speculation: former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman has a few things going for him: he’s got gubernatorial experience as well as foreign-policy chops from his time as ambassador to China, and he has considerable financial resources at his disposal. But unlike Huckabee, outside of the media Huntsman has no natural base (and the reporters who love him will vote for Hillary anyway in the general). And also unlike Huckabee, Huntsman is almost shockingly unlikeable for a politician.

Huntsman has a general disposition that is about as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard. He does not like Republican voters, and he does not want them to think otherwise. The feeling is mutual: Huntsman’s numbers from 2012 suggest the pool of Huntsman voters is made up entirely of people who are either named Huntsman or owe him money.

And then there is Jindal, a smart, wonky conservative with executive experience and a strong command of the issues. Jindal’s name recognition is so low that he’s forced to be less coy than others about his possible presidential ambitions:

“There’s no reason to be coy,” Jindal said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I am thinking, I am praying about whether I’ll run in 2016. I said I won’t make that decision until after November.”

Jindal has certain strengths: he’s as smart as Huntsman pretends he is, for starters. And he’s far from insufferable about it: he doesn’t project arrogance, just competence. He’s been twice elected governor of Louisiana, so he has experience on the campaign trail. He’s proved himself in a crisis. And he seems to genuinely like interacting with voters.

But his competition would include another impressive, reformist conservative governor in Scott Walker; other young conservatives with poise and presence, like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and possibly Ted Cruz; and more experienced social conservatives such as, potentially, Huckabee, Rick Perry, and perhaps Mike Pence. The question, then, is whether Jindal could find some way to stand out from the pack. And with polls like those we’ve seen so far, that roster of rivals is likely to keep expanding.

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The Problem with Obama and His Generals

One of the key narratives of the American Civil War was President Abraham Lincoln’s long search for a general who could fight and win battles and put a war-winning strategy into action. But when historians look back on the country’s current conflicts in the Middle East, that formula may be reversed. Instead of lacking generals who wish to engage the enemy and defeat them, what the nation may need more is a president who is as committed to victory as his soldiers. That’s the conclusion many observers are drawn to after listening to the testimony of General Martin Dempsey yesterday when he told a Senate committee that he may yet recommend the use of U.S. ground forces against ISIS even though that is something that President Obama has explicitly rejected.

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One of the key narratives of the American Civil War was President Abraham Lincoln’s long search for a general who could fight and win battles and put a war-winning strategy into action. But when historians look back on the country’s current conflicts in the Middle East, that formula may be reversed. Instead of lacking generals who wish to engage the enemy and defeat them, what the nation may need more is a president who is as committed to victory as his soldiers. That’s the conclusion many observers are drawn to after listening to the testimony of General Martin Dempsey yesterday when he told a Senate committee that he may yet recommend the use of U.S. ground forces against ISIS even though that is something that President Obama has explicitly rejected.

The president repeated his vow that American troops would not fight the terrorists on the ground today when he spoke to an audience of soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. While trying, not always successfully, to sound appropriately belligerent, the president made it abundantly clear that that his vow to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terror group is conditional on finding local proxies to fight the war he has been dragged into by circumstance and the shifting tides of public opinion. The purpose of the speech and, indeed, a rare all-out lobbying push in Congress by a normally diffident White House, was to convince the country of the need to fund American participation in the conflict. But the contrast between the recommendations he has reportedly been getting from his military advisors and his adamant refusal to even leave the door open to U.S. action on the ground makes it hard to believe that he is really serious about winning this war.

As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report today in the Daily Beast, Dempsey’s statement is not the only instance of military men urging the president to keep an open mind about how best to win the war. Other advisers, including General John Allen, who has been appointed to lead the anti-ISIS effort, not only criticized the administration for its foolish decision to abandon Iraq that gave ISIS the opening it needed but has been calling for a “robust” effort against ISIS for months.

Some may interpret this disconnect as a standoff between trigger-happy generals and a thoughtful president who thinks carefully before acting (Obama’s cherished self-evaluation of his leadership style that he never tires of extolling). But that is both inaccurate as well as misleading. Generals and admirals are always the last ones to wish to see their cherished institutions and infrastructure hauled into a fight whose outcome is always uncertain. Rather, it is the fact that having found themselves tasked with the winning of a war against a terrorist threat that the American people now rightly think essential, the military understands that this requires a war-winning strategy.

The president embarrassed himself earlier this month when he said that he was still searching for a strategy to defeat ISIS, a position he reversed last week when he announced his order for the campaign. But by setting absolute limits on the willingness of the United States to actually fight and win the conflict, he sent ISIS a signal that he was not as committed to battle as they were.

The point here isn’t necessarily to advocate that the use of American troops in Iraq or Syria is a good or necessary thing. It is to note, as General Dempsey did in a rare moment of complete candor in congressional testimony, that it is not possible to rule their use out if the U.S. actually wants to win rather than merely manage the conflict. You don’t have to be another Lincoln, let alone a Napoleon or Alexander, to understand that when a political leader telegraphs the enemy that his country won’t commit to fighting them on the ground, it will encourage that foe to hang on. If the fight with ISIS is as vital to U.S. security as Obama now says it is—and he’s right about that—it’s fair to ask why he isn’t willing to keep all options on the table.

Pretending that the U.S. can beat ISIS by leading from behind with foreign proxies doing the hard slog on the ground is a formula for stalemate at best and possibly defeat. U.S. air power can influence the outcome of the battle and even do serious damage to ISIS. But such wars are won with troops on the ground pursuing counterinsurgency tactics.

President Obama is burdened with serious political constraints in a war-weary country and untrustworthy and often unsavory allies who are also opposed to ISIS. But even as we make allowances for the handicaps that he is laboring under, there is no disguising his lack of enthusiasm for the task as well as his lack of commitment to victory. What America lacks is not a strategy but a president who is ready to lead the country to victory. That will have to change if U.S. forces are to have any hope of success.

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Dem Senate Comeback May Be Fool’s Gold

Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

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Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

The need to frame the midterms in terms of a wave is understandable. Journalists love a story that they can wrap up in a neat unifying package that explains everything. That’s why so many political pundits are so eager to try to interpret any national election—even a congressional midterm which is really dozens if not hundreds of separate races piled together—through a single lens. The problem is that even when such elections produce a big victory for either party, the reason for all these results often is more the product of a host of local factors rather than a national tide sweeping the nation.

That’s an important lesson for pundits to remember in 2014. Within the last couple of days, the New York Times’s Upshot, the Washington Post’s The Fix, and Nate Silver’s Five-Thirty-Eight all reversed their previous findings showing the GOP as the big favorite to take the Senate and now say it is a tossup. They didn’t agree as to the reason for this momentum swing. Silver believes the decisive factor is a Democratic edge in campaign fundraising with liberal and Democratic Super PACs outspending conservative and Republican ones. He may be right about that. Now that the campaign has begun in earnest, Democrats are using their considerable resources, with the aid of their reliable cheering section in the mainstream press, to paint GOP opponents as either extremists (as they are trying to do to Joni Ernst in Iowa) or sexist fools (as they seem to have done with Thom Tillis in North Carolina who is still dealing with the “mansplaining” charge lodged against him).

Moreover, the more you break down the 2014 races, the more apparent that national trends can be irrelevant to Senate races. That’s certainly true in deep-red Kansas where incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts finds himself in deep trouble because he is considered out of touch with a state that he doesn’t live in much anymore. The willingness of his Democratic opponent to pull out of the state in favor of a Democrat-leaning independent has transformed Kansas from a GOP lock to a possible loss.

Indeed, as much as money, political pragmatism seems to be the best weapon in the Democrat arsenal this year. Wherever Democrats are doing better or holding their own, it is largely because they are seeking to distance themselves from both President Obama and the national Democratic Party. Both North Carolina incumbent Kay Hagan and Georgia challenger Michelle Nunn have been adept in fleeing the president’s embrace. Viewed in isolation, these races not only confound any thought of a Republican midterm wave but also remind us that elections are principally decided on the basis of the ability of the candidates more than the party labels they wear.

But even if we concede that the last week has provided a great deal of comfort for Democrats, they shouldn’t get too cocky. As the party in charge of the White House, they are still laboring under tremendous disadvantages this fall that provide their GOP opponents with a safety net that could cushion the impact of any surge in Democrat fundraising as a result of these new more favorable predictions. National surveys, such as the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, show President Obama’s job approval ratings still heading south. Just as important, Republicans are gaining crucial advantages with the public on the economy, foreign policy, terrorism, and immigration.

While those who would extrapolate from these numbers the seeds of a genuine Republican wave are probably exaggerating the impact of national polls on local races, the Democrats are still dealing with some very unfavorable electoral math. In order to hold the Senate, they need to take one or two Republican seats (Kansas and Georgia representing their best chances), preserve the seats of one or two of their endangered red-state incumbents (North Carolina’s Hagan being their best chance of that), win some of the tossup states like Iowa, while also avoiding losing any of the seats that they thought were not endangered like that of New Hampshire’s Jean Shaheen.

Is that doable? Yes. Is it likely? The answer here is still no.

As much as the outlook has brightened for Democrats, Stuart Rothenberg’s prediction last week that Republicans will win at least 7 seats and possible more is still the more reasonable conclusion about an electoral map and a national political atmosphere that is heavily slanted toward the GOP. Democrats may be able to stop the bleeding and stay competitive by constantly reminding voters that their name isn’t Barack Obama. But doing so also reminds the electorate why midterms trend against the party in power.

Even more to the point, unlike in the past when Republicans came up short in efforts to win back the Senate, this time they don’t appear to be burdened with a roster of terrible candidates. Weak incumbents like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska, and Mark Prior in Arkansas might have survived against equally weak challengers but they didn’t get that lucky. And strong GOP candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire have put seats in play that many thought to be safe for the Democrats.

So while the pundits should forget about waves, the notion of a big Democrat comeback may be more a case of them finding fool’s gold than a real path to victory in November.

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Rand Paul Wants to Know Why All These Straw Men Are So Mean to Him

Rand Paul, in danger of getting tagged with the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, is pushing back on critics who claim he’s been inconsistent on foreign policy. Specifically, the issue revolves around Syria, where he once opposed intervention and now supports it to battle ISIS. On this, Paul is right: the situation has changed, and many of those disinclined to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels–several of us here at COMMENTARY among them–believe the emergence of ISIS presents a threat that must be defeated, or at the very least contained. So why is Paul meeting such a tough audience?

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Rand Paul, in danger of getting tagged with the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, is pushing back on critics who claim he’s been inconsistent on foreign policy. Specifically, the issue revolves around Syria, where he once opposed intervention and now supports it to battle ISIS. On this, Paul is right: the situation has changed, and many of those disinclined to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels–several of us here at COMMENTARY among them–believe the emergence of ISIS presents a threat that must be defeated, or at the very least contained. So why is Paul meeting such a tough audience?

Indeed, interventionists have reason to cheer Paul’s about-face: he will drag anti-interventionists, kicking and screaming if necessary, along with him because there is no more libertarian first-tier GOP candidate than Paul. But for those who have paid attention to Paul over these last few years, it’s actually quite easy to understand why he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt more often, and why, specifically, Paul’s previous opposition to intervention was treated as an ideological marker. It’s because Paul has always chosen to present his views in starkly ideological terms while being thoroughly dishonest, repeatedly and unapologetically, about those with whom he disagrees.

In fairness to Paul, here’s his side of the Syria story from an interview he gave to the Federalist:

The thing that I in some ways laugh at, because nobody seems to get this, is that I spent the past five years in public life telling everyone that “hey, I’m not an isolationist” … and when they find out I’m not, they say I’ve switched positions, because I’m not the position they were saying I was. You know what I mean? So for five years they’ve been accusing me of being something that I say I’m not. And then when they find out I’m really not, they say I’ve changed my position. You can see how it’s a little bit frustrating for me.

In the same interview, he also explains his support for striking ISIS as a defense not only of American interests but primarily of America itself:

With ISIS, they’re beheading American citizens, they’ve actively said that if they can, and when they can, they’ll come to New York. They’re within, I think a day’s march or a day’s drive of Erbil and the consulate there. I think that they probably would be repelled in Baghdad, but they could be a threat to Baghdad. I think ultimately if left to their own devices, they could organize the same way Al-Qaeda organized in Afghanistan, and if given a safe haven that they could be a real threat to us at home.

All fair enough, though if anything Paul understates the case for intervention here. But there was an earlier line in his answer that caught my attention. He said: “In general, if you look throughout the Middle East, you’ll find it’s a complicated area with complicated movements on all sides ….” Ah, complexity. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It is complexity that has been absent from the way Paul so often describes his colleagues and ideological opponents. Paul is perhaps the one Republican who can compete with Barack Obama for the obsessive use of straw men. Paul is an intelligent man, but he has written some ostentatiously unintelligent things. Here is how he opens a piece he wrote for National Review Online defending his foreign-policy outlook:

The knives are out for conservatives who dare question unlimited involvement in foreign wars.

In one sentence, Paul deploys the warmongering straw man and displays a petulant sense of victimhood. But it actually gets worse. Here’s the next sentence:

Foreign policy, the interventionist critics claim, has no place for nuance or realism. You are either for us or against us. No middle ground is acceptable. The Wilsonian ideologues must have democracy worldwide now and damn all obstacles to that utopia. I say sharpen your knives, because the battle once begun will not end easily.

Holy moly, that’s some sandwich-board sloganeering right there, sliding into the redemptive politics of messianic paranoia. If only that were the rare outlier. Unfortunately, it’s not. Even after coming around to the fact that the interventionists are right about ISIS, Paul offers this childish dig at those who were right before he realized it:

There’s no point in taking military action just for the sake of it, something Washington leaders can’t seem to understand.

Yes, Rand Paul wants to take military action against ISIS. Many of his colleagues in the Senate want to do exactly the same thing. But Rand Paul, alone among them, has good reasons for it. Everyone else simply likes to bomb things because of how much they love war. Only Rand Paul has a reasonable justification for the war he and his colleagues want. Even when he agrees with other Republicans, Paul just can’t avoid assuming the worst intentions on the part of his colleagues.

He’s also shown a tendency toward indefensibly credulous thinking. At times, this just shows poor judgment, such as the fact that he apparently still buys into a completely debunked rumor about John McCain and ISIS. Other times, it’s conventional anti-interventionist groupthink about what “neocons” are doing with “your money.”

If Rand Paul has begun opening up his worldview to embrace the complexity of global politics, all the better. It might one day prevent him from sanctimoniously attributing the worst intentions even to those he agrees with while maniacally setting fire to fields of straw men. Until that day arrives, his wounded victim act will remain utterly unconvincing.

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Ally with Assad Against ISIS? Not So Fast

In yesterday’s New York Times, Palestinian academic Ahmad Samih Khalidi argued that to defeat ISIS in Syria, the U.S. should ally not with “moderate” opposition groups–whom he claims are nonexistent–but with the Bashar Assad regime and its Iranian patrons. This is a popular argument and has a certain “enemy of my enemy” logic to it. There are only two minor problems with this proposal. First, it won’t work. Second, if it does work, it would produce a catastrophe.

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In yesterday’s New York Times, Palestinian academic Ahmad Samih Khalidi argued that to defeat ISIS in Syria, the U.S. should ally not with “moderate” opposition groups–whom he claims are nonexistent–but with the Bashar Assad regime and its Iranian patrons. This is a popular argument and has a certain “enemy of my enemy” logic to it. There are only two minor problems with this proposal. First, it won’t work. Second, if it does work, it would produce a catastrophe.

The strongest part of Khalidi’s argument is the assertion that in Syria “the most effective forces on the ground today–and for the foreseeable future–are decidedly nonmoderate.” That’s true, in large part I would argue (contrary to his view) because the West did let down the more moderate Free Syrian Army. Having failed to arm and train it three years ago, as some of us advocated at the time, we have watched the more nationalist resistance be sidelined by jihadists. Now it will be much more difficult than in the past to try to create an effective opposition that will fight both the jihadists (of ISIS and Al Nusra, primarily) and the Assad regime.

But allying with the Assad regime, however alluring, is not an effective alternative. In the first place Assad has shown minimal interest in fighting ISIS. There is, in fact, plentiful evidence that Assad has tacitly cooperated with ISIS in order to buttress his argument that all of his opponents are Salafist fanatics. Even if Assad were truly interested in fighting ISIS, the U.S. should have nothing to do with his way of warfare which involves dropping barrel bombs and chlorine gas on innocent civilians and leveling entire neighborhoods with artillery and airpower. This is a monstrous way of fighting which has driven the death toll above 200,000.

Aside from its immorality, Assad’s way of war–conducted with advice and support from the Iranians and their Lebanese proxies in Hezbollah–is not effective. For all of Assad’s brutality, he has not succeeded in defeating the opposition, because his indiscriminate attacks only drive more Sunnis into opposition against his minority Alawite regime.

A similar situation exists in Iraq, another place where many argue the U.S. should ally with Shiite extremists under Iran’s direction. There, too, Shiite atrocities only reinforce ISIS’s appeal among Sunnis as their defenders. The way to beat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq is to ally with the Sunni tribes: if they flip against ISIS the group will be defeated in short order, as its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq was defeated in Anbar Province during the Awakening in 2007-2008.

But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s suppose that Assad can in fact kill enough people to regain control of all of Syria’s territory and to defeat ISIS. And let’s say the Shiite militias in Iraq are equally successful. What would be the upshot? The result would be Iranian domination of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon–at a minimum. Let’s recall that Iran is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world–a regime that has been waging war through terrorism against the U.S. from the days of the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 to the days of Iranian-supplied EFPs (explosively formed projectiles) in Iraq as recently as 2011.

Khalidi claims that Iran is preferable to ISIS: “It bears noting that neither Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite movement based in Lebanon,” he writes, “nor Iran has declared a global war on the West and non-Muslims, unlike Saudi-inspired salafists and their jihadist brethren.” You could have fooled me. Certainly Iran and Hezbollah have been responsible for heinous acts of terrorism abroad such as the 1992 and 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina, the 2012 bus bombing in Bulgaria which killed five Israeli citizens, and numerous other attacks, actual and attempted. All such attacks have undoubtedly had a large element of Quds Force involvement. The Quds Force has also carried out other attacks on its own, such as the attempted assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington in 2011.

In short the U.S. would be foolhardy in the extreme if it were to take actions that would result in expanding the Iranian sphere of influence. That would simply be promoting one group of anti-American terrorists at the expense of another group of anti-American terrorists. Because we must avoid that outcome, we have to tread carefully in Iraq and Syria, mobilizing more moderate Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites against the extremists of both sides–both the Quds Force and ISIS. That may not be easy to do but there is no realistic alternative.

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The Only Refugees in the World Denied the Right of Resettlement

The news that hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza drowned last week when the boats in which they were trying to reach Europe sank once again highlights the hypocrisy of the world’s attitude toward the Palestinians. After all, the “international community” has designated two-thirds of all Gaza residents as bona fide refugees, even though the vast majority of them were born in Gaza and have lived there all their lives. And as bona fide refugees, they shouldn’t have had to board rickety smugglers’ boats in a desperate attempt to reach Europe; they should have been able to apply to the UN for orderly resettlement right from their refugee camps, just as thousands of other refugees do every year. But they can’t, because Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who are denied the basic right of resettlement.

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The news that hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza drowned last week when the boats in which they were trying to reach Europe sank once again highlights the hypocrisy of the world’s attitude toward the Palestinians. After all, the “international community” has designated two-thirds of all Gaza residents as bona fide refugees, even though the vast majority of them were born in Gaza and have lived there all their lives. And as bona fide refugees, they shouldn’t have had to board rickety smugglers’ boats in a desperate attempt to reach Europe; they should have been able to apply to the UN for orderly resettlement right from their refugee camps, just as thousands of other refugees do every year. But they can’t, because Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who are denied the basic right of resettlement.

Granted, they are also the only “refugees” in the world for whom refugeehood is an inheritable status that can be passed down to one’s descendants in perpetuity, generation after generation. Under the definition used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which deals with all the world’s refugees except Palestinians, only a few thousand elderly Gazans who were personally displaced in 1948 would be considered refugees today, rather than the 1.2 million actually on UN rolls. So if the “international community” were to argue that Gazans don’t deserve a right to resettlement because they aren’t really refugees, that would be perfectly legitimate.

But it doesn’t. In fact, not only has the world adopted the unique definition of refugeehood promulgated by the Palestinians’ personal refugee agency, UNRWA, but it actively supports this definition by funding UNRWA’s ever-expanding budget to keep pace with its ever-expanding number of “refugees.” And once having accepted the claim that these born-and-bred Gazans are actually refugees from an Israel they’ve never seen, the international community is morally obligated to ensure that they enjoy the same rights as all other refugees.

Instead, Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who are denied the right of resettlement. Whereas UNHCR resettles tens of thousands of refugees every year, UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single refugee in its 65 years of existence. On the contrary, the schools it runs for Palestinian refugees indoctrinate them from kindergarten on that there is one, and only one, way for them to end their refugee status: by “returning” to the towns or villages in Israel that their ancestors fled–which most of them have never seen, and some of which no longer even exist. In short, since Israel would never voluntarily accept all five million “refugees” on UNRWA’s rolls, it’s telling them that the only solution to their refugeehood is Israel’s destruction.

According to a poll taken in late August, a whopping 43 percent of Gazans would like to emigrate. Many of these would-be emigrants are presumably among the two-thirds of Gazans registered as refugees, meaning they ought to be entitled to resettlement aid. So here’s a modest proposal: Western countries, which are UNRWA’s main donors, should take a big chunk of the over $1 billion a year they give UNRWA and spend it instead on resettling those Gazans who want to leave. Not only would that help the Gazan refugees themselves, but it would save money in the long run by significantly reducing the number of refugees under UNRWA’s care.

Alternatively, they could tell UNRWA they’re no longer willing to go along with the fiction that its five million “refugees” are really refugees, and from now on will provide funds only for those refugees who actually meet UNHCR’s definition. The remaining money would go to the governments under which most of UNRWA’s registered refugees live–primarily Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon–to help them provide the services UNRWA now provides.

But to continue defining Palestinians as refugees while denying them the basic right to resettlement is unconscionable. And all those Westerners who claim to be so concerned over Palestinian rights should be the first to protest this hypocritical and discriminatory practice.

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Miracle at Philadelphia

On this day in 1787, delegates to the Federal Convention voted to approve a new Constitution, which was submitted to the states for ratification (which occurred on June 21, 1788).

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On this day in 1787, delegates to the Federal Convention voted to approve a new Constitution, which was submitted to the states for ratification (which occurred on June 21, 1788).

How this event came to pass is among the most extraordinary stories in human history. “It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle,” Washington wrote to Lafayette on February 7, 1788, “that the Delegates from so many different States (which States you know are also different from each other), in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices, should unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well founded objections.”

Catherine Drinker Bowen’s 1966 book Miracle at Philadelphia is among the best accounts of what occurred. She captures the drama and suspense, the intense arguments and the despair, and the moments of high purpose and nobility. She also captures superbly well the voices of the delegates–including some of the most notable names in American history (Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Dickinson, Wilson, and Morris)–who gathered in secret sessions from May through September, not to revise the Articles of Confederation, which was the stated purpose, but to write a new constitution. “The situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth,” is how 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin described it.

And what a political truth they found. The governing charter they created has become the oldest written national constitution in the world and among the greatest political achievements ever.

But it was not just human intellect that carried the day in Philadelphia; it was the product of a certain kind of human character. Ms. Bowen describes it this way:

The Federal Convention, viewed from the records, is startlingly fresh and “new.” The spirit behind it was the spirit of compromise, seemingly no very noble flag to rally round. Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pact with the devil, a chipping off of the best to suit the worst. Yet in the Constitutional Convention the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood – South against North, East against West, merchant against planter. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride, and when the moment comes, admit their error. If the story is old, the feelings behind it are new as Monday morning. “If all the tales are told, retell them, Brother. If few attend, let those who listen feel.”

The Founders were imperfect men and the Constitution an imperfect document. But all things considered what happened at Independence Hall was little short of a miracle. And for a group of fiercely proud and independent individuals to rise above such deep difference for the sake of the public good, to comprise in order to advance justice and human dignity, was a rare and wonderful thing. It’s something worth aspiring to in our time, when excellence and high-mindedness in public life seem to be hidden away on distant hills.

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The NFL and the Sum of our Sins

It’s open season on the National Football League this week as politicians, pundits, activists, and celebrities are venting their outrage about the misdeeds of some of its athletes. All of this anger about the behavior of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson is justified. But as this wave of indignation flows over the NFL and its embattled commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s worth pondering just how much good will come of an effort to pin responsibility for all the evils of society on a sports business that is being excoriated all over the dial for only wishing to make money rather than doing good. But as much as the sport deserves a good beating, this is a moment when cooler heads might do well to observe that the sudden willingness to see football as synonymous with domestic violence makes no more sense than the league’s pretense to stand for all that’s good in American culture.

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It’s open season on the National Football League this week as politicians, pundits, activists, and celebrities are venting their outrage about the misdeeds of some of its athletes. All of this anger about the behavior of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson is justified. But as this wave of indignation flows over the NFL and its embattled commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s worth pondering just how much good will come of an effort to pin responsibility for all the evils of society on a sports business that is being excoriated all over the dial for only wishing to make money rather than doing good. But as much as the sport deserves a good beating, this is a moment when cooler heads might do well to observe that the sudden willingness to see football as synonymous with domestic violence makes no more sense than the league’s pretense to stand for all that’s good in American culture.

Let me confess that I find the NFL’s present discomfiture somewhat amusing. As much as I like to watch football (and have wasted countless hours every autumn of my adolescence and adult life being disappointed and infuriated by the New York Jets, a team that can always be counted on to invent new ways to humiliate itself and its faithful fans) the league’s smug, corporate conceit of itself as “America’s Game” is insufferable. The elevation of the Super Bowl to an endless and boring secular rite of winter that all of us, even those of us that despise the teams that are playing in the championship, feel compelled to watch so as to be able to comment on the commercials lest we appear out of touch with the zeitgeist, is similarly obnoxious.

The NFL surpassed baseball in terms of television ratings and general popularity (as opposed to actual attendance) largely on the basis of the fact that it is the perfect sport to watch on television (as the small minority of fans who attend games can attest, you can actually see more of the game at home than at the stadium) and the popularity of the largely illegal gambling on the point spreads on each week’s schedule of games. That has given the league and its teams an income stream that has allowed it to do pretty much anything it liked.

The conundrum about the NFL is that the more violent the game has become and the more atrocious the injuries that are inflicted on a regular basis on its players (a function in part of the fact that those who now play in the NFL are far bigger, stronger, and faster than those who strapped on leather helmets in the sport’s pre-World War Two ice age), the more the league has tried to present itself as the embodiment of community service do-gooding. The league’s ubiquitous United Way commercials were just the tip of an iceberg of public-relations baloney intended to portray a game predicated on, in George Will’s memorable quip, “violence punctuated by committee meetings,” as something more public spirited if not elevated.

The point is, you can love football without buying into the NFL’s conception of itself. But having foisted this airbrushed NFL Films image on the country, neither Goodell nor any of its teams are in any position to ask that their players be judged by the same standards as anyone else. If you ask people to treat you as gods, you can’t complain when they find out you have feet of clay and start talking about tearing down the altars where false deities are worshipped.

But even though there’s something slightly satisfying about watching NFL owners squirm, the notion that this league is uniquely responsible for domestic violence or abuse of children is a bit much.

Goodell opened himself up to this sort of treatment when he gave Rice a mere slap on the wrist with a team game suspension after he was found to have knocked his then fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. When the surveillance tape of the events was publicized months later, the world got to see just how tough the Ravens running back could be when facing up against a defenseless woman. Goodell’s problems grew when it became clear he might not have told the truth when he claimed not to have seen the video before his initial ruling.

That was made even worse when news broke about Peterson’s indictment for child abuse in Texas after he was observed beating and injuring his son with a tree branch. Peterson was held out of this past Sunday’s game but, since he is innocent until proven guilty, will apparently be allowed to play until his case his decided. The same is true for some other football players accused or found guilty of a violent crime. Like the initial lenient treatment accorded Rice, this is all seen as further evidence of the NFL’s whitewashing of a record of violence for which it should be held accountable and justification for pontifications about how the violence of the game is somehow responsible for the private behavior of its players.

But though it’s hard to sympathize with Goodell or any of the other rich people that arrogantly preside over the sport, the rage against the league is as disproportionate as the league’s swaggering image. Like other industries, including other forms of popular entertainment, the NFL employs its share of thugs. But contrary to the pop psychology being spouted on the networks about football and domestic violence, this might be a good moment to point out that criminal louts were beating their wives, girlfriends, and children, long before Yale’s Walter Camp sketched out some of the key rules that differentiated American football from rugby and Princeton played the sport’s first college game against Rutgers.

I’m entirely sympathetic to the notion that an entertainment business should not employ or help glorify criminals. No one, and especially not someone who has become notorious for violent behavior, has a right to play professional football so if Rice, Peterson, and anyone else labeled as a bad actor never play again, so much the better. And it sends a good message to the nation that such behavior is disqualifying for inclusion in the country’s top sports TV shows. But banning them or firing Goodell won’t fix this country’s social pathologies to which football has only the most tenuous connection. Nor will any amount of soul searching by the game’s leaders or hearings at which members of Congress might grandstand on the issue (the next, almost inevitable step). Football is, after all, a game, albeit a rough one, and not, contrary to the invocations of countless coaches, a metaphor for life, the embodiment of the American way, or any other such superannuated nonsense. The NFL is not the sum of our sins any more than it is the embodiment of our virtues as a nation.

The intense focus on the NFL is just another symptom of the 24/7 news cycle which will move on to something else once there are no more developments or something else comes along. But as much as that shouldn’t mean less attention should be paid to domestic violence, no one should be under the illusion that the current anger at Goodell or any of his players is anything more elevated than any other pop culture feeding frenzies.

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About That Iran Talks Deadline?

Last year when the United States and its allies signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear to the world that the subsequent round of talks to arrive at a final resolution of the problem would not be allowed to go on indefinitely. Unlike past diplomatic exchanges with Iran, the negotiations would be limited to a period of six months after which there would either be a satisfactory agreement to end the nuclear threat or Iran would face serious consequences. But a low-key announcement from the European Union about a diplomatic assignment demonstrates that what Kerry said would never be allowed to happen is exactly what will occur.

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Last year when the United States and its allies signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear to the world that the subsequent round of talks to arrive at a final resolution of the problem would not be allowed to go on indefinitely. Unlike past diplomatic exchanges with Iran, the negotiations would be limited to a period of six months after which there would either be a satisfactory agreement to end the nuclear threat or Iran would face serious consequences. But a low-key announcement from the European Union about a diplomatic assignment demonstrates that what Kerry said would never be allowed to happen is exactly what will occur.

The announcement concerned European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton who will, we are informed, continue on in her role as chief negotiator for the P5+1 talks with Iran even after her term on the EU Commission expires in November. Rather than her designated successor, current Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, assuming the responsibility for leading the Western delegation in the negotiations, Ashton will soldier on in this thankless task. But aside from any qualms about Ashton’s past performance in the role, which inspires little confidence in either her willingness to press the Islamist regime or her commitment to ending the danger of an Iranian bomb, there is one other little problem.

If the final round of the P5+1 talks were only supposed to last six months, why will Ashton’s services still be required more than a year after the interim accord was signed?

The answer is all too obvious. Despite the pious promises from Kerry and all of the other defenders of the interim accord that the West had learned its lesson about being strung along by the Iranians, they have in fact fallen for the same trick again. Having been suckered into an interim deal that weakened sanctions on Iran just at the moment when the enormous economic and military leverage over the regime seemed to provide an opportunity to pressure it to come to terms without the use of force, Western negotiators have now found themselves trapped in a device of their own making. They gambled everything on the belief that Iran was ready to sign a final accord that would allow President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to stop Iran. But after several months of talks that demonstrated anew that the Iranians will never give up their nuclear program or agree to any terms that will effectively prevent them from building a bomb, the U.S. and its allies feel they have no choice but to keep talking even if there is no end in sight.

The announcement about Ashton is significant because even when the P5+1 group formally extended the Iran talks after the six-month mark was passed this summer (Iran had already been allowed to delay the start of the clock), Congress and the public were assured that this would not mean they would go on indefinitely. But with the Iranians digging in their heels recently on a variety of issues, including inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and their uranium refinement and stockpile of nuclear fuel, there seems no chance that the next round of negotiations to be held in New York during the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations will be anything but a continuation of past frustration for the West and delaying tactics by the Iranians.

The notion of Iran running out the clock in these talks has always been crucial. That’s because for the last decade it’s been obvious that doing so merely gives them more time to reach their nuclear goal after which it will no longer be possible for the West to take meaningful action. That was the case when similar prevarications worked to allow the North Koreans to pass the nuclear threshold, something that should be painfully familiar to Wendy Sherman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks Ashton chairs, who was performing the same role with the North Koreans.

It is apt to remember that when critics of the interim accord raised questions about its lenient terms, the loosening of sanctions, and the Iranians’ stalling the West again, they were labeled “warmongers.” Attempts by a majority in both houses of Congress to enact new, tougher sanctions on Iran that would go into effect only when the next round of negotiations would be declared a failure were denounced by the administration as an unwarranted interference in what they considered to be a productive diplomatic stream.

Had those sanctions been enacted last winter rather than being spiked by procedural maneuvers by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama’s veto threats, Ashton and the P5+1 negotiators would have some real leverage over the Iranians at this point. But instead of allowing diplomacy to flourish, the defeat of sanctions was a gift to the Iranians who now feel empowered to return to the dilatory tactics of the past.

Iran’s position is further strengthened by the situation in Iraq and Syria where the rise of ISIS (due in no small measure to other foreign-policy blunders by the administration) has made the administration even more loath to offend Tehran. Having a common foe with the United States seems to have empowered the Iranians to think they have nothing to worry about. They also benefit from the conflict between the West and Russia over Ukraine, as Moscow now seems inclined to offer the Iranians an outlet that will render sanctions less effective.

Seen in that light, Ashton may have reason to believe that she will have more or less permanent employment in a P5+1 process that could drag out well into the future. But this admission not only gives the lie to Kerry’s promises about the interim accord’s time limits. It also gives the ayatollahs confidence that the West no longer is serious, if indeed it ever was, about preventing them from realizing their nuclear ambitions.

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Media Bias and the Benghazi Scandal

Former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, writing in the Daily Signal, tells the story of former State Department official Raymond Maxwell, a well-respected 21-year diplomat who personally contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Mr. Maxwell has told lawmakers that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest aides–including her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan–privately removed politically damaging documents before turning over files to the Accountability Review Board, the independent board investigating the Benghazi terror attack.

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Former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, writing in the Daily Signal, tells the story of former State Department official Raymond Maxwell, a well-respected 21-year diplomat who personally contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Mr. Maxwell has told lawmakers that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest aides–including her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan–privately removed politically damaging documents before turning over files to the Accountability Review Board, the independent board investigating the Benghazi terror attack.

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz confirmed to Fox News that last year, in a private interview, Maxwell told him and other lawmakers that Hillary Clinton’s aides oversaw the operation, which allegedly took place on a weekend in a basement office of the State Department.

“What they were looking for is anything that made them look bad. That’s the way it was described to us,” Chaffetz said. (State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach has denied the allegations.)

Ms. Attkisson sets the scene this way:

According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story. …

When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’”

This charge needs to be fully examined and Mr. Maxwell’s account needs to be corroborated or refuted. (The House investigation into this matter begins tomorrow and will hopefully shed more light on it.) But if Mr. Maxwell’s report is true–and on the surface he appears to be a credible witness–it would amount to a very serious coverup and evidence of widespread corruption that would almost surely have to involve Mrs. Clinton.

The elite media’s indifference to this story continues to be quite telling. The vast number of journalists decided a long time ago that they were utterly indifferent to the Benghazi story, regardless of the facts, and for reasons that undoubtedly have to do with their political bias. Among many reporters the bias is so pronounced and endemic they aren’t even aware of their blinding double standards. But the rest of us are.

I can promise you that if the details of the Benghazi story were identical but it had happened in the Bush, Reagan, or Nixon administration, there would be a fierce, relentless, around-the-clock investigation led by the major media outlets. There would be a gleam in the eye of every political reporter who lives in the Acela Corridor. Journalists would be eager to afflict the comfortable, speak truth to power, hold politicians accountable, and seek to wipe misconduct from the face of the political earth. Every managing editor would want to emulate Ben Bradlee; every reporter would want to be Woodward and Bernstein.

It would be a feeding frenzy in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

But not in this case. Not with the Obama administration. Not with Hillary Clinton. Because many in the elite media have a narrative–the truth about what happened about Benghazi doesn’t really matter–and they’re sticking to it. Some reporters may go through the motions now and again, but that’s all. There’s no driving ambition to get to the bottom of this story. They would really rather not know. And the fact that they would really rather not know tells you a very great deal of what’s wrong with American journalism today. Elite journalists are as infected by ideology and motivated reasoning–in this case, by motivated reporting–as members of the DNC or the Obama White House. But at least those being paid by the DNC and the White House don’t pretend to be objective.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback: Interventionism Was Hiding in Plain Sight

A spate of stories in today’s news offers a convincing answer to those asking how a war-weary nation–as we are told we are, again and again–is suddenly on the verge of multifront military intervention. The first story is that the U.S. is committing troops to the fight to contain Ebola in West Africa. This seems a fairly sensible, better-safe-than-sorry approach to an epidemic spreading rapidly.

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A spate of stories in today’s news offers a convincing answer to those asking how a war-weary nation–as we are told we are, again and again–is suddenly on the verge of multifront military intervention. The first story is that the U.S. is committing troops to the fight to contain Ebola in West Africa. This seems a fairly sensible, better-safe-than-sorry approach to an epidemic spreading rapidly.

As the New York Times reports, the troops will help with the construction of medical treatment facilities, distribution of aid, and will take the reins in coordinating a regional response. The administration expects to deploy as many as 3,000 to Africa in the effort. Some health experts are calling for an even greater response from the U.S., saying the focus on Liberia is not enough; Sierra Leone and Guinea are also in dire need.

If the crisis worsens, so will disorder, border chaos, and perhaps even a refugee crisis of sorts, not to mention the need to protect all these treatment centers and medical storage facilities. This is not an overnight mission, nor a relatively quiet one like sending forces to help track down African warlords, as we have also been doing.

So that’s one kind of military intervention–to fight a disease epidemic across the ocean. The other major story today was on the administration’s shaky attempts to wrangle support for military intervention in Iraq and Syria to combat ISIS.

The plan is to use airpower to hit ISIS from above. But there are a couple of ways this could escalate. First is the possibility that since the U.S. is not coordinating attacks in Syria with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Assad’s forces could target U.S. aircraft. As the AP reported, “The United States would retaliate against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air defenses if he were to go after American planes launching airstrikes in his country, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.”

Another complication is the fact that no one seems to believe airstrikes alone would be enough to accomplish the mission–though the mission itself isn’t quite clear enough for some of the members of Congress on the fence about the plan. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked about mission creep and said success may, in fact, require boots on the ground in Iraq. “My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” Dempsey said. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

We should also not forget that on his recent trip to Estonia attempting to counter Russian aggression, “Obama also announced the US would send more air force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia’s Amari air base an ideal location to base those forces.” The U.S. has since repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to protecting NATO allies in the region, but it hasn’t stopped Russia from sending veiled threats it may test that promise.

So to sum up: we’re sending troops to one, and possibly three or more, African countries to deal with Ebola; we’re sending the Air Force to the Baltics, with promises to confront Russia with more troops if need be; and we’re contemplating the possibility of sending troops to Iraq while striking at one, possibly two sides in a three-way Syrian civil war while arming the third side, which may or may not have agreed to a truce with one of the sides we’re bombing.

How is it that the American public can be war-weary and also quite clearly interventionist at the same time? The answer is: piece by piece. Americans are tired, in an abstract way, of “policing” the world and fighting open-ended military campaigns. But the individual issues here scramble that message.

According to Rasmussen, half the country is worried about Ebola. According to the Washington Post/ABC poll, most are concerned about ISIS, and thus by clear majorities support airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. That same Post/ABC poll finds more than 40 percent think Obama has been “too cautious” on countering Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. That might be because, according to Pew, Americans see Russia as the country’s top looming threat.

In other words, when Americans’ retrenchment instincts clash with real-world crises, their concern for the latter tends to win out. And that’s also why we suddenly see a diverse coalition of hawks, at least on the right. Those who prefer less intervention may be learning from the Obama administration’s bungled retreat from the world stage that there is such a thing as a power vacuum, and nature does indeed abhor it.

A stable world order promoted by American power can in many cases make later military intervention unnecessary. Intervention is sometimes the most rational response from noninterventionists.

And as the Ted Cruz-IDC dustup has shown, Americans tend to be a diverse country full of people who strongly believe the United States has a responsibility to protect various at-risk populations around the globe. Here, for example, is the closing sentence of Ross Douthat’s column on the controversy from Sunday:

The fact that he was widely lauded says a lot about why, if 2,000 years of Christian history in the Middle East ends in blood and ash and exile, the American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share of responsibility for that fate.

This is, I find, a strong argument for intervention. It’s also an argument, however unintended, for intervention that never materialized in Darfur, and perhaps the consideration of such in Burma, where the Rohingya Muslims might very well be the target of such a campaign. And it’s an argument for intervention in a broad array of crises. It is, in fact, a neat summation of Samantha Power’s foreign-policy philosophy. Douthat sounds about as much a realist here as John McCain is.

And Douthat’s not wrong about the need to save the besieged Christians of the Middle East! That’s the point. There are times when the United States is treaty-bound to intervene on behalf of allies. And there are times when the United States must intervene out of strategic interest. And there are times when the United States seems obligated to intervene out of sheer moral responsibility.

It all adds up to an active, interventionist American role in the world. And the support for that foreign policy goes on periodic hiatus, but it always returns.

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Why Scots Leader Compares Israel to ISIS

It might have been assumed that among Scottish nationalists, there would be a certain sympathy for Israel. Perhaps they would see some parallel between Zionism and their own efforts to regain sovereignty after many centuries without it, to revive an almost unspoken language long after most people in Scotland had lost the ability to so much as string together a sentence of Scots Gaelic. But, as a matter of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Scottish nationalism appears to have aligned itself with a radically anti-Israel impulse, one that enjoys substantial popularity with the wider public. And if there was any doubt about just how extreme that reflexive hostility toward Israel really is, we need only observe Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, comparing Israel to ISIS.

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It might have been assumed that among Scottish nationalists, there would be a certain sympathy for Israel. Perhaps they would see some parallel between Zionism and their own efforts to regain sovereignty after many centuries without it, to revive an almost unspoken language long after most people in Scotland had lost the ability to so much as string together a sentence of Scots Gaelic. But, as a matter of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Scottish nationalism appears to have aligned itself with a radically anti-Israel impulse, one that enjoys substantial popularity with the wider public. And if there was any doubt about just how extreme that reflexive hostility toward Israel really is, we need only observe Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, comparing Israel to ISIS.

During a BBC television interview that took place yesterday, Alex Salmond was discussing the latest ISIS beheading, this time of a British national. Salmond pointed out that British Muslims shouldn’t be held responsible for ISIS. Well, leaving aside the fact that many British Muslim families have members off on jihad in Iraq and Syria, Salmond’s point stands. But what he went on to say reveals just how second nature negativity toward Israel has become among Scottish nationalists. For, having referred to ISIS’s actions as “unspeakable barbarism” for which British Muslim’s shouldn’t be blamed, the first minister went on to add: “I mean, just like a few weeks ago, the Jewish community of Scotland wasn’t responsible for the policies of the State of Israel.”

First of all, that will come as news to many in Britain. During the war in Gaza, British Jews experienced a tremendous rise in anti-Semitic attacks, many of which in some way referenced Israel, and Scotland was no exception in this. But the comparison was clear; two evils in the Middle East, and two religious minorities in Britain who are not to be blamed for those evils.

Breathtakingly, some in Britain’s Jewish leadership have actually defended Salmond’s remarks, arguing that he had not intended any direct comparison between ISIS and the Jewish state. Well, yes, no doubt if questioned Mr. Salmond would not maintain that Israel and ISIS are morally indistinguishable. Yet the casual throwaway categorization was entirely evident. Quite simply Salmond’s point was that ISIS’s actions are “unspeakable barbarism,” and so were Israel’s in Gaza. There was no hint that Israel’s war might have been justifiable; Salmond’s remark makes clear that that’s beyond question. But as an enlightened and tolerant man, he simply asks that Scotland’s Jews not be held responsible.

Such attitudes are the norm among Scottish nationalists. Salmond’s second in command–and prominent face in the campaign for independence–Nicola Sturgeon was recently the headline speaker at Glasgow’s “Women for Gaza” rally. Also on the line-up was Yvonne Ridley, a prominent convert to Islam who has often voiced her support for terrorist groups, Hezbollah among them. Ridley recently called for a “Zionist-free Scotland.” So with the leading lights of the Scottish nationalist movement sharing a platform with those advocating a Scotland free of “Zionists,” one has to wonder just how serious they really are about not extending their antipathy for the Jewish state to Jews in general.

Mercifully, Scotland’s devolved government has no authority over foreign policy. Yet during the recent war in Gaza, the nationalists, who dominate the Scottish parliament, released eight separate condemnations of Israel. Salmond’s government even called for an arms embargo against Israel as the Jewish state attempted to halt the barrage of rockets and maze of tunnels directed against its civilians. And such sentiments are shared by much of the Scottish public. During the referendum campaign nationalists have reminded Scots that if they left the union they could be free of David Cameron’s pro-Israel stance. It was, after all, with considerable public approval that Glasgow city hall recently flew the Palestinian flag as an act of solidarity with Scotland’s Palestinian cousins.

And that is how one senses Scottish nationalists view the Palestinians; as Arab cousins. The same attitude is visible in Ireland, and among Welsh nationalists—the founder of the Welsh nationalist party was said to have hated the Jews as much as the English and harbored sympathies for European fascism. But to understand why these parts of the United Kingdom have become particularly hostile to Israel, one should look to Belfast. There the Catholic and Republican neighborhoods fly the Palestinian flag, but the Protestant and Unionists are more likely to be flying the Israeli one. The Celtic parts of Britain, rather bizarrely, seem to have conceived of themselves through the lexicon of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with the English firmly framed as the Israelis. It’s only disappointing that the rest of England doesn’t identify accordingly.

On reflection, perhaps it’s not surprising Scottish nationalists couldn’t identify with Zionism, the national liberation movement of a people persecuted and destitute in the world. Scottish nationalism has in no small part sustained itself on a diet of anti-English rhetoric; they have done well out of the politics of jealousy and resentment. No wonder it’s the Palestinians that Salmond feels a certain kinship with.

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U.S. Credibility and the Anti-ISIS Coalition

Last week a congressman asked me: Should I support President Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy even though it is likely to fail? Good question. And it’s not only lawmakers who are asking themselves that question. So are actual or potential U.S. allies from Europe to the Middle East. The most important people to be asking themselves that question are Sunni tribes in Iraq and Syria whose support is vital to defeat ISIS. But should they risk their lives in what could well be a losing cause?

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Last week a congressman asked me: Should I support President Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy even though it is likely to fail? Good question. And it’s not only lawmakers who are asking themselves that question. So are actual or potential U.S. allies from Europe to the Middle East. The most important people to be asking themselves that question are Sunni tribes in Iraq and Syria whose support is vital to defeat ISIS. But should they risk their lives in what could well be a losing cause?

That, unfortunately, is the issue that will confront retired General John Allen, who has been tasked with assembling an anti-ISIS coalition. American credibility reached a low point a year ago when Obama threatened air strikes against Syria but then lost his nerve. Obama’s credibility has never recovered either with American voters or American allies. As one analyst in the UAE (one of the countries Obama is relying upon for help), recently told the Washington Post, “We have reached a low point of trust in this administration. We think in a time of crisis Mr. Obama will walk away from everyone if it means saving his own skin.”

The president does nothing to enhance his own credibility when he overrules the best advice of his own military commanders by refusing to commit U.S. “boots on the ground” to help anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria became a more credible military force. Most serious military analysts believe a substantial force of American advisers and Special Operations Forces will be required. Kim and Fred Kagan, for example, argue for 25,000 personnel in Iraq and Syria. I have suggested a figure of 10,000 to 15,000. By limiting the entire U.S. presence to 1,600 personnel so far, and by refusing to let U.S. advisers operate with units in the field, Obama has made it much less likely that the U.S. could achieve the objectives he set out.

And those objectives are themselves problematic. Obama said he is out to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. If his objective is really to destroy the group, why include the word “degrade”? Did FDR commit the U.S. after Pearl Harbor to “degrade and ultimately destroy” German and Japanese power? No, he committed the U.S. to do whatever was necessary to achieve he unconditional surrender of the enemy–the “degrade” part was assumed as being necessary on the road to ultimate victory. Because, however, Obama makes clear that his immediate objective is only to “degrade” ISIS–and because Pentagon officials have been leaking that the administration envisions a multiyear effort that will be handed off to the next administration–he raises the suspicion that he is intent only on “degrading” not on “destroying” ISIS.

Secretary of State John Kerry does not help matters, either, when he denies that the U.S. is at war with ISIS–he says it’s simply a “major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.” That kind of language hardly inspires men to risk their lives.Kerry had to backpeddle on Sunday, saying that, yes the U.S. is “at war” with ISIS but the damage had been done–it shouldn’t be a matter of debate whether the U.S. is or is not at war.

This exquisitely nuanced and cerebral president needs to understand that war is, above all, a matter of willpower–that, especially when you are engaged in a conflict against an adversary utilizing guerrilla or terrorist tactics, the winner is usually the side with the greatest will to win. Alas, the president is doing little to convince anyone that he has committed every fiber of his being to crush ISIS. And until allies are convinced of our seriousness they are not likely to hazard much to help us.

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Obama Was Right Not to Ransom Foley

In our era of a bifurcated media, it’s not every day that both the New York Times and Fox News take up the same cause with almost equal fervor. But that’s the case with the efforts of the family of slain hostage James Foley to castigate the Obama administration for their handling of the negotiations with ISIS over the captive’s fate. The natural sympathy felt by all Americans for the Foleys combined with a story of government indifference and hypocrisy makes an irresistible story for both liberal and conservative media. But as much as any parent can identify with the sorrow and frustration of the family, in this case criticism of the administration is not justified.

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In our era of a bifurcated media, it’s not every day that both the New York Times and Fox News take up the same cause with almost equal fervor. But that’s the case with the efforts of the family of slain hostage James Foley to castigate the Obama administration for their handling of the negotiations with ISIS over the captive’s fate. The natural sympathy felt by all Americans for the Foleys combined with a story of government indifference and hypocrisy makes an irresistible story for both liberal and conservative media. But as much as any parent can identify with the sorrow and frustration of the family, in this case criticism of the administration is not justified.

The Foleys’ complaints revolve around both what they consider the duplicitous handling of the affair by the government as well its hypocrisy. When ISIS reached out to them with a ransom demand for their son, they contacted the FBI but what followed gave them little satisfaction and ended in tragedy. The Bureau not only informed them that paying ransoms was against U.S. policy. They also threatened them saying it was a crime to send money to terrorists even if the motivation was saving a hostage. What’s more, they also kept secret from them the fact that their governments were ransoming Europeans that were also held by ISIS. It was only after they learned that some of Foley’s fellow hostages were being freed after ransoms were paid that the family defied the government and began the process of raising money to gain their son’s release.

Yet the moment that convinced them that the administration had abandoned them was when news broke that the U.S. had obtained the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdhal from the Taliban in exchange for five Taliban members that were being held at Guantanamo Bay. Releasing terrorists under any circumstances is, at best, controversial, even if it means ensuring that no U.S. soldier is left behind. But given Bergdhal’s questionable conduct—there are allegations that he deserted his post and may have surrendered to the enemy voluntarily that have yet to be resolved—the exchange was widely criticized and left the Foleys and other hostage families believing they had no choice but to act on their own.

Even the government’s July 3 effort to rescue the hostages comes in for criticism from the Foleys. They believe its failure was due to lack of sufficient resources being devoted to surveillance of possible ISIS sites which caused delays that led to the victims being moved before U.S. forces arrived.

In the end, James Foley was murdered by ISIS to send a message to the U.S. about the price of intervention against their efforts to overrun all of Syria and Iraq. That left the Foleys grief stricken but also angry with they way they were treated by the Obama administration. They were, they say, consistently ignored and believe their son’s death is the direct result of the callous indifference to his plight displayed by American officials from the top down.

Is their anger justified?

Let’s state upfront that the Foleys, and every other hostage family, deserve our complete sympathy. Even if one is inclined to view the behavior of anyone like Foley or the other hostages who ventured into Syria the past few years as reckless, that is not something for which his family need apologize. Any parent would seek to move heaven and earth to save their child. Just as important, any parent would damn any government official, no matter how principled their behavior, if they did not do everything in their power, including breaking every rule in the book, to save that child.

But this illustrates the difference between personal priorities and those of the nation. However much we may sympathize with the Foleys, the administration did exactly the right thing by refusing to pay ransom to ISIS whether it was the reported $130 million they demanded or a lower amount.

It should be understood that ISIS’s military success this year was largely funded by the ransoms paid by Europeans for their hostages. Paying that money merely ensured that more people would be kidnapped, thus endangering more lives as well as worsening an already terrible situation in the Middle East. If you want to stop the kidnapping as well as to stop the onslaught of bands of murdering fanatics, the only way to begin is to stop paying ransoms and to start making the terrorists pay a price for their crimes.

The Foleys are right to complain about the hypocrisy of the Bergdahl deal. But, as much as its terms were disgraceful, that soldier was in harm’s way as a result of his army service. Exchanging POWs—even when the price is too high—is not the same thing as paying ransoms to kidnappers. Foley was in Syria of his own accord and as much as we would all have liked to see him saved, his desire to pursue freelance journalism in a war zone with terrorists did not give him, or his parents, the right to alter U.S. foreign or defense policy in order to bail him out of trouble or to endanger other Americans who would then be even more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

The dynamic of hostage families influencing governments to pay off terrorists is a familiar one. It led President Reagan to trade arms with Iran. And it has repeatedly caused Israeli governments to make decisions that would free thousands of terrorists—many of whom ultimately return to terrorist activity—to free a handful of captive Jews. But while these decisions are understandable and maybe even inevitable (especially in Israel where the question of captured soldiers transfixes the nation), they are not wise and almost always do more harm than good.

There is much in President Obama’s conduct and policies on Iraq and Syria that is worthy of condemnation and I have often written here to articulate those concerns. The current alarming situation there is largely due to the president’s poor decisions that led him to delay action on Syria and to bug out of Iraq. But when he upheld existing policy against paying ransom for hostages, he was right. And, though it did not succeed, the president did the right thing when he ordered a rescue mission.

So while Fox and the Times may be assisting the Foleys in their campaign to blame the president for their son’s death, this is not a cause the media should embrace. While we grieve with the Foleys for their son, the best way to ensure that other families will not suffer in the future is to defeat and wipe out ISIS, not to pay them off.

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