Commentary Magazine


Venezuela’s Election to UN Security Council Can’t Hide Its Weakness

The good news is that Turkey didn’t manage to get itself elected to the UN Security Council. The bad news is that Venezuela did, as was expected. So come January, the chavista regime will have an unprecedented say in world affairs for a two-year term as one of the Security Council’s non-permanent members.

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The good news is that Turkey didn’t manage to get itself elected to the UN Security Council. The bad news is that Venezuela did, as was expected. So come January, the chavista regime will have an unprecedented say in world affairs for a two-year term as one of the Security Council’s non-permanent members.

This marks the fifth time in the UN’s brief history that Venezuela will serve on the Council. The last occasion was in 1992-93, when its representative was Ambassador Diego Arria, who distinguished himself by highlighting the genocide then raging in Bosnia, and by speaking out on behalf of human rights more generally. Two decades later, the situation has flipped entirely–the current crop of genocidaires, rogue states, and terrorists, particularly in the Middle East, will discover to their satisfaction that there are few friends more loyal than Venezuela’s present rulers.

As Arria himself pointed out in a recent Miami Herald op-ed, Venezuela’s presence on the Security Council couldn’t come at a worse time. The country retains close links with terrorist groups both in the neighborhood, such as the Colombian FARC, which receives logistical support and cooperation in its illicit narcotics trading, as well as those further abroad, like Hezbollah, which has benefited from banking facilities and Venezuelan passports. And there are few tyrants who haven’t been embraced by President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, among them various Iranian mullahs, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and the Syrian leader, Bashar al Assad.

Along with other Venezuelan democrats, Arria is scathing about the indifference and cowardice among the other Latin American states, none of whom voiced opposition to Venezuela’s nomination, thus allowing it to be the sole Security Council candidate from the Latin American and Caribbean region. Two points underlie this: First, many of these same countries, like Brazil, Argentina and Chile, themselves have recent experience of living under dictatorial regimes and should therefore be more sensitive to Venezuela’s predicament; second, the chavista state has been penetrated by the Cubans to such an extent that Venezuela is virtually a vassal of the communists in Havana. Consequently, it is as if Cuba itself had been elected to the Security Council.

Notably–though not surprisingly, given the overall thrust of the Obama administration’s foreign policy–the U.S. has not voiced any disquiet over the prospect of a close ally of Iran and Russia gaining a voice on the Council. Last week, a bipartisan group of six senators–Marco Rubio, Robert Menendez, Bill Nelson, Richard Durbin, John McCain, and Mark Kirk–urged Secretary of State John Kerry to actively lobby against Venezuela’s nomination. In addition to Venezuela’s global antics, such as its alliance with states like Belarus and Iran to block condemnation of Assad at the UN, the letter to Kerry cited critical considerations for the American hemisphere. It specifically noted Maduro’s undermining of “the democratic commitments of the Organization of American States” and his abuse of opposition figures at home. Yet, as AP reported, after the Venezuelan success was announced, the U.S. would not even disclose how it voted.

Still, anyone looking for a silver lining in all this might reflect that Venezuela’s participation in the Security Council will provide a much-needed reminder that its burning desire to confront the United States, Israel, and the West in general has not ebbed since the death of Chavez in March 2013. As NBC noted earlier:

One of the people representing the fervently anti-American administration of President Nicolas Maduro in the 15-member body will be Maria Gabriela Chavez, the daughter of the late Hugo Chavez, who, in a 2006 UN speech, famously referred to George W. Bush as “the devil.”

Despite no prior known work experience of any kind — unless you count maintaining a popular Instagram account featuring her father, her pet Pomeranian, and the occasional manicure shot — the 33-year-old socialite was recently appointed Venezuela’s deputy ambassador to the UN.

However fiery Ms. Chavez’s speeches at the UN may turn out to be, they will be voiced from a position of grave weakness. Venezuela is not like Qatar, an ultra-wealthy Gulf emirate that enjoys full American support while backing terrorist groups like Hamas. Indeed, in economic terms alone, Venezuela is rapidly developing the characteristics of a failed state. With oil prices now tumbling to their lowest point in four years, and OPEC  ignoring Venezuelan pleas for an emergency meeting to tackle the slump, the Maduro regime is going to find itself woefully short of the dollars it needs to pay off its external debt; its foreign currency reserves are at an 11-year low of $19.8 billion. As Alberto Ramos of Goldman Sachs pithily told Bloomberg: “They have to either adjust spending or print more money, and if they print more money that means their hyper-inflation gets even more hyper. Inflation is already running at a very high level and completely unanchored, so this is like a wildfire.”

Venezuela also faces a political crisis. The country is as radically polarized now as it was in April 2013, when Maduro defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a wafer-thin margin, during a presidential election widely regarded as flawed and corrupt. Seizing on the opposition’s reluctance to escalate post-election protests, Maduro arrested senior opposition figures Leopoldo Lopez, Enzo Scarano, and Daniel Ceballos earlier this year; all of them remain incarcerated.

Maduro also faces unrest within his ruling Socialist Party over the brutal murder of a young and popular Socialist deputy, Robert Serra, whose bound, beaten, and stabbed body was discovered at his residence in Caracas on October 1. Given his famous accusation that the CIA was behind the death of Chavez, it was predictable that Maduro would blame Serra’s murder on “hired killers” working for the opposition. Yet in a nation with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, such rhetoric falls on skeptical ears. Evidence continues to mount suggesting that Serra was killed by members of the colectivos, criminal gangs who work as enforcers for the government.

Over the next two years, we can expect the Venezuelan regime to leverage its new-found status at the UN as camouflage for its offenses at home. But the export of chavista propaganda will do nothing to prop up an economy that stands a 75 percent chance of defaulting on its external debt within five years. And with the possibility of conflict between the government and the colectivos looming as a result of Serra’s murder, it’s not fanciful to imagine that by the time Venezuela’s Security Council term ends, Maduro will have left the scene.

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Reform Conservatism: The Future of the Republican Party?

Earlier this month I appeared on a panel at Harvard’s University’s Kennedy School of Government/Institute of Politics. The topic was “Reform Conservatism: The Future of the Republican Party?”

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Earlier this month I appeared on a panel at Harvard’s University’s Kennedy School of Government/Institute of Politics. The topic was “Reform Conservatism: The Future of the Republican Party?”

The event was hosted by Kristen Soltis Anderson and featured Ramesh and April Ponnuru, all of whom were excellent and all of whom played a role in the publication of what’s been called the “manifesto” of the reform conservative movement, Room To Grow: Conservative reforms for a limited government and a thriving middle class.

During the discussion we covered a fair amount of ground, including substantive policies, the politics of reform conservatism, and the future of the GOP. For those who are interested, here’s the link.

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Selective Memory and the CIA

Talk about politicized intelligence. At least that’s what it would be called if the president in office were a Republican.

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Talk about politicized intelligence. At least that’s what it would be called if the president in office were a Republican.

At the request of the White House, in 2012 or 2013, the CIA did a review of the agency’s long history of supporting insurgencies abroad and found “that it rarely works.” Now, as Seth noted, the result has been leaked to the New York Times. Would it be cynical on my part to imagine that CIA analysts are telling the president what he already thinks–that the U.S. shouldn’t do much to back moderate Syrian rebels?

As a historian, I’m all for studying history. But let’s not cherry-pick historical examples to support a predetermined conclusion. Because based on the Times’s reporting of the CIA study (which needless to say I have not seen) the “dour” conclusions need a lot of qualification.

It’s true that in its early days the CIA failed in supporting would-be rebels in places like Poland, Albania, North Korea, and Tibet. But that’s because they were fighting against totalitarian police states that had great intelligence on U.S. plotting thanks to the information provided by traitors such as Kim Philby. The Bay of Pigs operation was similarly hare-brained and ill-fated.

But there have also been notable successes such as the U.S. support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s–one of the CIA’s biggest coups ever even if there was a lack of follow-up which allowed the Taliban to rise out of the succeeding vacuum of authority. The U.S. had just as much success backing the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11 and, earlier, helping the KLA to overthrow Serbian authority in Kosovo, in both cases with American air support. Croatia also succeeded in rolling back a Serbian offensive in the early 1990s with informal American help. Let’s remember too that the U.S.-backed rebels in Libya succeeded in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi with NATO airpower. As in post-Soviet Afghanistan, there was nothing inevitable about the resulting chaos, which occurred because President Obama failed to support the governmental forces attempting to impose order.

The CIA’s support for the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s was also successful, contrary to the CIA report and despite the halting nature of the program (due to congressional opposition), because even though the contras didn’t seize power at gunpoint, they pressured the Sandinistas into holding elections, which they lost. U.S. support for anti-Communist rebels in Angola and Mozambique was less successful but at least tied down Cuban and other Soviet bloc forces in defending those regimes. During the Vietnam War, too, the CIA had considerable success supporting anti-Communist fighters in Laos who prevented for a decade a takeover by the Communist Pathet Lao at low cost to the U.S.

The U.S. has had even more success in supporting governments fighting communist insurgencies in countries such as Greece, the Philippines, El Salvador, and Colombia.

So the historical record of U.S.-backed insurgencies (to say nothing of counter-insurgencies) is certainly not one of unalloyed failure. But while it’s good to learn from history it’s also important to understand differences between historical examples and present-day dilemmas. And the situation in Syria today is nothing like the situation the U.S. confronted in the Communist bloc in the early Cold War days. The Free Syrian Army is not fighting a powerful totalitarian regime. It is fighting a multi-front struggle against a weak dictator (Bashar Assad) who has already lost control of two-thirds of his country and against Islamist insurgent groups, the Nusra Front and ISIS, which have filled some of the succeeding vacuum but are a long way removed from the Stalinist or Maoist states in their ability to control their terrain. In such circumstances U.S. backing for the Syrian rebels was–and is–the best available option for the U.S. even though the Free Syrian Amy’s odds of success decline the longer we refuse to provide them with serious backing such as American airpower to impose a no-fly zone and take away Assad’s murderous air force (Which even the CIA study seems to concede would raise the odds of success).

Ultimately responsible policymakers cannot retreat into inaction by citing studies of historical examples where support for insurgencies has failed, while seemingly ignoring contrary examples. The relevant question to ask in Syria or any other hard case is: What is the least bad option? Sure it’s possible that serious support for the moderate rebels would have failed–but what’s the alternative? Actually we’re seeing the alternative today: letting ISIS and Assad run wild, slaughtering tens of thousands of people and destabilizing neighboring countries. Obama made a horrible decision by taking a hands-off attitude toward Syria and he can’t take refuge in a slanted view of the historical record to justify his inaction.

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Historical Memory and the Rosenbergs

The belated announcement of the death of David Greenglass has renewed discussion of the notorious spy case in which he played a principal role. Greenglass was, of course, the brother of Ethel Rosenberg and it was his testimony that led in no small measure to the conviction and ultimately the execution of his sister and her husband Julius on charges of nuclear espionage against the United States on behalf of the Soviet Union. But even 61 years after their deaths and decades after even almost all of those who wrongly asserted their innocence have conceded that they were spies, Greenglass and not the masterminds of the Communist spy ring remains the villain of the story as far as most of the chattering classes are concerned. That was the upshot of Greenglass’s obituary in today’s New York Times. Though correcting the record on this point may seem a futile exercise, the willingness of liberals to carry on with the pretense that Greenglass’s evidence was somehow worse than the Rosenberg’s’ treason remains insufferable.

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The belated announcement of the death of David Greenglass has renewed discussion of the notorious spy case in which he played a principal role. Greenglass was, of course, the brother of Ethel Rosenberg and it was his testimony that led in no small measure to the conviction and ultimately the execution of his sister and her husband Julius on charges of nuclear espionage against the United States on behalf of the Soviet Union. But even 61 years after their deaths and decades after even almost all of those who wrongly asserted their innocence have conceded that they were spies, Greenglass and not the masterminds of the Communist spy ring remains the villain of the story as far as most of the chattering classes are concerned. That was the upshot of Greenglass’s obituary in today’s New York Times. Though correcting the record on this point may seem a futile exercise, the willingness of liberals to carry on with the pretense that Greenglass’s evidence was somehow worse than the Rosenberg’s’ treason remains insufferable.

Greenglass apparently died in July at 92 while living under an assumed name in a nursing home. But, as the Times points out, his willingness to cut a deal with prosecutors that enabled his wife to avoid incarceration in exchange for evidence about his sister and her husband, has become a symbol of family betrayal. But as historian Ron Radosh writes in his column in the New York Sun, the effort to treat Greenglass as beyond the pale stems from the lingering desire to diminish the guilt of the Rosenbergs if no longer to exonerate them.

The Times obituary did not recycle the old canards about the Rosenbergs’ innocence that were always transparent fictions but which were conclusively debunked by the publication of Soviet records after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the evil empire the spies served. But its main conceit was to harp on Greenglass’ post-trial statement that he was unsure whether it was his sister or his wife Ruth, another dedicated Communist, who typed the document sent to the Soviets containing the data he had stolen from the U.S. nuclear research facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico. This was treated in the piece as somehow evidence that Ethel, if not Julius, was actually innocent of espionage. Citing the ground breaking work of historian Ron Radosh, co-author along with Joyce Milton of the seminal The Rosenberg File, the Times attempts to bolster this bogus point as well as the claim that the material Greenglass and other members of the ring passed to Moscow was worthless.

But as Radosh writes today, these assumptions are completely false. Ethel Rosenberg was an integral member of the Soviet espionage operation who helped recruit her brother and sister-in-law to join her husband’s spy ring. Nor are there any grounds for assuming that the information they passed to Stalin’s henchmen was worthless. Greenglass’s description of the U.S. uranium bomb was highly useful to the Russians. So was the data about the lens mold of the bomb described at the Rosenberg trial and other material such as a detonator and a proximity fuse. The opprobrium directed at the Rosenbergs during their trial may have been in part a product of Cold War hysteria but there is no question of the depth of their betrayal and the damage they did to their country.

At the heart of all of these attempts to mitigate the justified anger of the American people at persons who spied for the Soviets is the lingering leftist illusion that what they did was a product of idealism. Though faith in the “socialist motherland” has long since faded, its vestigial elements still act to rationalize the actions of American communists who are thought to have been merely mistaken in their loyalties rather than having chosen to align themselves with evil against the cause of freedom. This attitude of tolerance toward communism is one that his still based not only on myths such as that of the Rosenberg’s innocence but also on the belief that those who backed Moscow’s cause did not irretrievably compromise themselves.

But even if this is among the last rounds to be fired in an old argument, these lies should still be refuted.

As Radosh writes, the Rosenbergs didn’t die because of McCarthyite intolerance or judicial misconduct but because they were, unlike Greenglass, dedicated communists who refused to cop a plea or even admit a modicum of guilt. They choose death so that they could be martyrs for the cause of the world’s greatest anti-Semitic power at the time and the homicidal maniac who ruled it. Doing so served Stalin’s cause and distracted the world from the anti-Semitic purge trials going on in Czechoslovakia even if it meant orphaning their children.

Greenglass may have been a villain to liberals like Woody Allen whose line about the spy in one of his movies closes the obits. But contrary to the conclusion of the Times, history shows that the real villains were all those, like the Rosenbergs, who served Stalin’s kingdom of death and oppression and those who sought to rationalize or lie about their crimes. To argue to the contrary is to dishonor the memory of the tens of millions murdered by the communists and the many brave people who resisted them during the course of a long and ultimately successful Cold War against evil.

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Euros Bet on Obama Appeasing Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry spent several hours yesterday closeted in a Vienna hotel room with Iranian negotiators as he sought to reach a new nuclear agreement. The Iranians are sticking to their insistence on retaining their right to enrich uranium as well as to keep the rest of their infrastructure while Kerry seems to be focused on face saving measures that will allow President Obama to claim that he kept his pledge to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But while there is still a chance that the U.S. won’t cave in to Iran, a conference of European business figures meeting in London was betting heavily on the Americans continuing on their path to appeasement.

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Secretary of State John Kerry spent several hours yesterday closeted in a Vienna hotel room with Iranian negotiators as he sought to reach a new nuclear agreement. The Iranians are sticking to their insistence on retaining their right to enrich uranium as well as to keep the rest of their infrastructure while Kerry seems to be focused on face saving measures that will allow President Obama to claim that he kept his pledge to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But while there is still a chance that the U.S. won’t cave in to Iran, a conference of European business figures meeting in London was betting heavily on the Americans continuing on their path to appeasement.

What was billed as the “1st Europe-Iran Forum” convened Wednesday morning and was touted in breathless fashion on the website of The Iran Project, a leading American advocate of appeasement of the Islamist regime as a way for European businesses to get the latest information about Iran. But the purpose of the event, which was officially endorsed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and various members of the European foreign policy establishment was two fold.

On the one hand it is an effort to help prepare Western enterprises for a return to the Iranian market after international sanctions on Iran are lifted in the event of a new nuclear agreement. But it is actually more than just a prudent bet on appeasement. The point of the conference is also to help manufacture more pressure on the Americans to back down from their initially strong positions demanding the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure that would ensure that it would never be able to build a bomb. With Europe already chafing at the existing sanctions, the push to weaken the restrictions on economic activity with Iran is removing what little leverage Kerry has left in the talks.

The conference is but the latest effort touted by Iran appeasement advocates to ease the way toward reintegrating Iran into the global economy. The assumption behind the blithe talk about doing business in Iran is that the loosening of the sanctions that took place last year in the interim deal signed by Kerry began an inevitable process that will end with their complete unraveling.

The push for appeasement has gained strength in recent months as Iran’s equivocal role in the fight against ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria has both diverted the administration from the nuclear issue and also caused it to believe that détente with Tehran offers a solution to all of the West’s problems.

Of course, Iran’s fight with ISIS stems from its desire to prop up its ally Bashar Assad in Syria and on maintaining the power of its Shiite allies in Iraq not a desire to protect the world against the group’s Islamist beliefs. Its disagreement with ISIS is not about Islamism or terrorism but which Islamist terrorists should dominate the Middle East.

The push to dismantle sanctions treats the nuclear threat from Iran as a theoretical problem that need not trouble the West much. That’s why the administration appears willing to agree to measures that at best delay the nuclear quest but do nothing to actually prevent Iran from achieving its dangerous ambitions.

The discussion of the post sanctions environment encourages Iran to refuse to budge not only on enrichment but also on a whole range of issues including inspections of research sites like Parchin and its construction of ballistic missiles. Nor is Kerry even bothering to push Iran to end its support of international terrorism.

The only pressure on Kerry appears to come from the November deadline set for negotiating with Iran that is actually an extension of the earlier time frame that was extended over the summer. Continuing to negotiate in perpetuity would give critics of this appeasement process more ammunition to push for renewed and stronger sanctions on Iran. Last winter the administration was able to brand advocates of tough diplomacy as “warmongers” and, with the help of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid head off measures that would have strengthened Kerry’s hand in the talks. President Obama and his team preferred not to offend the Iranians with increased sanctions but what they have learned is that in doing so they stripped themselves of the only tool that might have produced an acceptable agreement. Iran’s position in the negotiations is now so strong that Kerry has been reduced to offering to allow them to keep their centrifuges for uranium enrichment while asking them to disconnect them.

Under the circumstances, its hard to argue with Europeans and others who believe it is only a matter of time before Washington surrenders to Iran and effectively end sanctions without getting anything more than unenforceable nuclear promises in exchange. Barring a last minute change of heart on the president’s part or a renewed drive for sanctions if the Senate changes hands, the drift toward appeasement appears inexorable.

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NY Times Partially Vindicates Bush on WMD

The New York Times has just published a story by C.J. Chivers that makes some explosive claims about chemical weapons found in Iraq between 2004 and 2011. It’s a complicated article that sets out to do several things:   Read More

The New York Times has just published a story by C.J. Chivers that makes some explosive claims about chemical weapons found in Iraq between 2004 and 2011. It’s a complicated article that sets out to do several things:  

1. reveal that “American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs” in Iraq during this period;

2. document the six American injuries that resulted from dealing with these weapons;

3. make the case that because these were “old chemical munitions,”  and not new ones, they reveal the pre-war intelligence failures and false claims of the George W. Bush administration;

4. expose a Bush administration cover-up that led to the mishandling of found weapons and to insufficient care for the American troops exposed.

What to make of all this? First, the report neither broadly vindicates nor broadly refutes Bush’s WMD arguments for invading Iraq. Yes, many of Saddam Hussein’s old undeclared chemical weapons were found (as has been public knowledge for about a decade). No, the U.S. did not uncover active WMD programs (which has also been squarely acknowledged throughout this period).

The article does, however, vindicate some administration claims. Chivers goes bizarrely wrong in writing, “The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.” In truth, Saddam’s old chemical weapons were always cited as a danger in the run-up to the war. Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 UN speech making the case against Saddam is explicit on this point. Powell said:

If we consider just one category of missing weaponry–6,500 bombs from the Iran-Iraq war–UNMOVIC says the amount of chemical agent in them would be in the order of 1,000 tons. These quantities of chemical weapons are now unaccounted for. Dr. [Hans] Blix has quipped that, quote, ‘Mustard gas is not (inaudible) You are supposed to know what you did with it.’ We believe Saddam Hussein knows what he did with it, and he has not come clean with the international community. We have evidence these weapons existed. What we don’t have is evidence from Iraq that they have been destroyed or where they are. That is what we are still waiting for.

The Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988. Colin Powell was obviously talking about the danger of old weapons.

What Chivers fails to relay is that it was the antiwar side of the debate that downplayed Saddam’s old weapons as any kind of problem. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, one of the most outspoken anti-invasion voices at the time, had said, “Even if Iraq had somehow managed to hide this vast number of [chemical] weapons from inspectors, what they are now storing is nothing more than useless, harmless goo.” In the years immediately following the invasion, antiwar figures and media outlets continued to dismiss found chemical weapons as pathetic war trophies.

This makes it hard to credit Chivers’s claim of the Bush administration’s embarrassment. The 5,000 undeclared chemical weapons constitute one of the administration’s few intelligence victories in Iraq. Why, then, the secrecy? Perhaps because Iraq was a leaderless country swarming with jihadists and roiled by civil war, and advertising the amounts and whereabouts of chemical weapons would have made things much worse.

As for the injured Americans, they are first owed our bottomless gratitude. If there is reason to believe that they were unnecessarily exposed to chemical agents or insufficiently treated for that exposure, there should be an investigation and, if necessary, restitution. But six non-fatal injuries in the course of handling 5,000 chemical weapons doesn’t immediately strike me as evidence of gross leadership incompetence.

Here’s what does: Barack Obama withdrew all American troops from Iraq knowing that degraded but dangerous chemical weapons would be left behind. If recent reports are accurate, ISIS has stumbled upon them. Yet Obama’s name appears nowhere in the 10,000-word article.

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Separationists Run Amok in Milwaukee

Americans are rightly afraid of radical Islamists who seek to subjugate, behead, and enslave non-believers in the Middle East in the name of their faith. Ours, however, is a country where religious freedom is at the core of our identity as a nation. But many of us are so obsessed with separating religion from the state that we are prepared to go to any lengths to make it harder for individuals to practice their beliefs even when doing so threatens neither our liberties nor interferes with the rights of others. A classic example of this separationism run amok is to be found in Milwaukee where, of all things, the Jewish Federation supported the effort to prevent Jewish students at a local public high school from erecting a sukkah where they hoped to eat their lunch so as to comply with religious law about observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. In doing so, these liberal extremists taught us a lesson about how fear of religion can be almost as destructive of liberty as religious extremism.

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Americans are rightly afraid of radical Islamists who seek to subjugate, behead, and enslave non-believers in the Middle East in the name of their faith. Ours, however, is a country where religious freedom is at the core of our identity as a nation. But many of us are so obsessed with separating religion from the state that we are prepared to go to any lengths to make it harder for individuals to practice their beliefs even when doing so threatens neither our liberties nor interferes with the rights of others. A classic example of this separationism run amok is to be found in Milwaukee where, of all things, the Jewish Federation supported the effort to prevent Jewish students at a local public high school from erecting a sukkah where they hoped to eat their lunch so as to comply with religious law about observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. In doing so, these liberal extremists taught us a lesson about how fear of religion can be almost as destructive of liberty as religious extremism.

The eight-day festival of Sukkot is one in which Jews are instructed by the Torah to eat their meals in temporary huts called sukkahs in commemoration of those used by their ancestors wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Such small structures are, as Tablet magazine points out in their piece about this story, to be found at the corporate headquarters of Google as well as at places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the small Sukkah erected at Milwaukee’s Nicolet High School that had existed in previous years was forced off campus in no small measure because the local Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Council considered it a violation of the separation between church and state.

The reasoning behind this seeming example of cognitive dissonance is that liberal true believers see any accommodation of belief on public property or in a public education setting as the thin edge of the wedge of theocracy. To their thinking, the mythical wall of separation must be erected so high that government institutions should exhibit no hint of faith. While the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to ensure that there would never be a state religion in the United States, modern-day liberals have distorted this sensible restriction. Instead of the constitutional prohibition of government favoring one religion over another, contemporary liberals have sought to redefine the Constitution as being hostile to the expression of religious faith in public settings.

This misguided sentiment stems from some real concerns that were dealt with in the past. State-run schools ought not to be promoting religion in the classroom as they used to do, especially when that usually was done at the expense of marginalizing religious minorities. But that justified opposition to state prayers at schools has morphed into an obsessive desire to ban Christmas trees or carols. Rather than seek to ban discrimination against their faith, many liberal Jews wish to marginalize all faiths, a divisive effort that undermines the good communal relations they purport to support as well as creating a naked public square with respect to faith that does far more harm than good. Their fear of faith leads them to invent restrictions against its expression instead of protecting religious freedom.

That is the twisted logic that led the Milwaukee Federation to push for the elimination of the Jewish students’ inoffensive sukkah.

That a group that pretends to represent all Jews would seek to prevent Jews from practicing their faith is more than ironic. It is a travesty. That travesty is only exacerbated when the person responsible for this outrage happens to be Hannah Rosenthal, whose last job before joining the federation was as the Obama State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Rosenthal was the person that Americans would have looked to for leadership and outrage were sukkahs banned by some foreign government. But instead of being an advocate for more religious freedom, in her new guise as communal leader Rosenthal has adopted the liberal separationist faith as her new Torah and led the charge to expunge even the most harmless expression of Jewish practice at a local high school.

Sadly, one Jewish student interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said she felt “a little awkward” because if Christians “put up a Christmas tree or a crèche, we’d feel uncomfortable with that, so why put up a sukkah?”

That, in a nutshell, tells you not only what’s wrong with separationism but also with a Jewish community that is raising its children to fear other religions and to “feel awkward” when they see other Jews practicing their faith in a manner that does no harm to others.

This is, in part, a legacy of a past in which Jews did feel threatened and marginalized by the majority. But at a time when Jews are free to not only express their identity in any place or profession in the United States but to actually practice their faith unhindered by prejudice, such attitudes are not only outdated; they are highly destructive.

The problem here is that liberal Jews fear conservative Christians far more than they do ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Taliban (as Tablet points out, it is unlikely that the federation would have opposed accommodations of Muslim practices). And they are so paranoid about it that they are ready to restrict examples of Jewish faith in the public square in order to forestall any manifestation of Christian faith there.

Hard as it may be for many liberal Jews to accept, Christians don’t threaten Jewish life in this country. But such extreme separationism is a symptom of the indifference to faith and Jewish identity that has created the demographic disaster that does threaten the Jewish future in the U.S. that was revealed by last year’s Portrait of Jewish Americans produced by the Pew Research Center. While some may have hoped that Jewish Federations would provide the leadership to help the community respond to the survey’s results, we find in Milwaukee that they are part of the problem, not the solution.

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Harvard Law Pushes Back

Last summer Harvard University adopted a new policy for how to handle charges of sexual harassment, following the demands of the U.S. Department of Education. As at most schools, the new policy is grotesquely slanted in favor of accusers and against the accused. That is not surprising. With the government using the club of possible loss of federal funding, most schools feel they have no choice but to knuckle under. And, of course, on many, perhaps most, college campuses uber-feminist misandry is as thick as fog.

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Last summer Harvard University adopted a new policy for how to handle charges of sexual harassment, following the demands of the U.S. Department of Education. As at most schools, the new policy is grotesquely slanted in favor of accusers and against the accused. That is not surprising. With the government using the club of possible loss of federal funding, most schools feel they have no choice but to knuckle under. And, of course, on many, perhaps most, college campuses uber-feminist misandry is as thick as fog.

But a strange thing has happened at Harvard. It seems that 28 members of the faculty at the Harvard Law School think that due process and basic fairness have a place in academia after all.

They have published an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe: “As members of the faculty of Harvard Law School, we write to voice our strong objections to the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures imposed by the central university administration and the Corporation on all parts of the university, including the law school.” Among their objections are:

Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation. Here our concerns include but are not limited to the following:

■ The absence of any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing.

■ The lodging of the functions of investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review in one office, and the fact that that office is itself a Title IX compliance office rather than an entity that could be considered structurally impartial.

■ The failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused, particularly for students unable to afford representation.

They also fault “Adopting rules governing sexual conduct between students both of whom are impaired or incapacitated, rules which are starkly one-sided as between complainants and respondents, …” In other words, they’re both drunk, but she gets a pass and he gets hanged

It will be most interesting to see how this plays out. My guess is that the powers-that-be at Harvard, such as President Drew Faust, will respond with “thanks for your input,” and drop the subject.

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Syria: What Might Have Been

The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has used strategic leaks to the press to buttress arguments in which officials are (theoretically) hamstrung by secrecy laws. Usually the Obama administration has done so in order to look tougher than critics give the president credit for being, but in today’s New York Times they’ve taken the opposite tack: a leak designed to support the president’s instinctive caution on Syria. Unfortunately for Obama, the attempt to spin his Syria policy merely reveals just how little the president understands about military strategy and the Middle East.

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The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has used strategic leaks to the press to buttress arguments in which officials are (theoretically) hamstrung by secrecy laws. Usually the Obama administration has done so in order to look tougher than critics give the president credit for being, but in today’s New York Times they’ve taken the opposite tack: a leak designed to support the president’s instinctive caution on Syria. Unfortunately for Obama, the attempt to spin his Syria policy merely reveals just how little the president understands about military strategy and the Middle East.

The story in the Times recaps a classified report from the CIA to the president analyzing the success rate of arming rebels in past conflicts. The report, according to the story, greatly contributed to Obama’s reluctance to help the Syrian rebels. But there are two problems with this approach. The first, and obvious, one is that Obama has already given the green light to arming the rebels the administration considers sufficiently moderate. If the CIA report was the reason not to arm them sooner, what’s the reason to arm them now?

The answer to that appears to be: Obama wants to fight ISIS more seriously than he wanted to defeat Bashar al-Assad–though that still doesn’t account for the fact that the president believes it’s a policy with very low odds of succeeding. Indeed, the story itself eventually points out that Obama nonetheless chose the least effective method of helping the rebels:

The C.I.A. review, according to several former American officials familiar with its conclusions, found that the agency’s aid to insurgencies had generally failed in instances when no Americans worked on the ground with the foreign forces in the conflict zones, as is the administration’s plan for training Syrian rebels.

So this arguably raises as many questions as it answers. But the other aspect of this is about the dishonesty with which the administration seeks to push back on its critics, especially those who recently left the administration–Leon Panetta most prominently, but also Hillary Clinton, Michele Flournoy, and former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. The Times mentions Clinton, Panetta, and David Petraeus:

The debate over whether Mr. Obama acted too slowly to support the Syrian rebellion has been renewed after both former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta wrote in recent books that they had supported a plan presented in the summer of 2012 by David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, to arm and train small groups of rebels in Jordan.

But the tone and nature of this argument coming from the administration is just a repeat of a classic Obama tactic: setting up a straw man and then knocking him down. The administration wants to paint Syria intervention as simply a gunrunning operation, with some foreign training. But the idea that it was either CIA gunrunning or nothing is what the president, were he on the receiving end of this argument, would call a false choice. And it goes to the heart of why Obama’s foreign policy has been so unnerving: he doesn’t seem to really understand the issues at play.

Arming and training the Syrian rebels was indeed a key part of interventionists’ early argument. But it wasn’t the whole argument. A more comprehensive intervention that still stopped shy of an American ground war included territorial carve-outs to secure parts of the country in the hands of certain rebels; a no-fly zone (or more than one) to enforce the boundaries of the new carve-outs; large on-site training programs; and humanitarian corridors to those territories from neighboring friendly countries, like Jordan and perhaps Kurdish positions in Iraq and Turkey.

This would also allow intelligence from Israel to be better coordinated and utilized, at least for air support and the tracking of enemy forces, and would improve and streamline recruitment efforts. And it would protect segments of the disappearing borders of these countries, to make it more difficult (though far from impossible) for Islamist terrorist groups to take advantage of porous borders, especially between Iraq and Syria. It would also go some way toward protecting at-risk minorities from groups like ISIS, and it would force ISIS to either defend more territory (instead of almost always being on offense) or leave forces behind in territory through which it marches virtually unopposed to hold that territory, spreading its resources thinner and disrupting its communications and supply lines.

Obama seems to think that the fragmented nature of the Syrian rebels and the weakness of the Syrian state and the Iraqi army vindicate his reluctance to help the Syrian rebels. But the opposite is the case. There were better options available to the president than simply gunrunning in Syria. Had he taken those options, it’s likely the situation would be better today than it is. But that would require the president to first admit that those options even exist.

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The Settlements Dodge

Responding to Monday’s Palestinian statehood vote in Britain’s parliament, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz penned an op-ed provocatively titled “It’s the Settlements, Stupid.” Horovitz argues that the erosion of Israel’s diplomatic standing that made Monday’s vote possible has in large part been on account of Israel’s settlement policy. If true, then we live in strange times, where building homes for Jews can cause more outrage than Hamas stockpiling rockets and Iran developing nuclear weapons with which to murder those same Jews. And yet the following day, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s envoy to Yemen and Oman, gave a shocking speech asserting that those endorsing settlements should be considered on par with racists and hounded from Britain’s public life. The reality is, it is not the settlements that have eroded Israel’s standing, but rather the completely warped narrative that now surrounds them. And what’s worse, many Israelis have in no small part helped to create that narrative.

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Responding to Monday’s Palestinian statehood vote in Britain’s parliament, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz penned an op-ed provocatively titled “It’s the Settlements, Stupid.” Horovitz argues that the erosion of Israel’s diplomatic standing that made Monday’s vote possible has in large part been on account of Israel’s settlement policy. If true, then we live in strange times, where building homes for Jews can cause more outrage than Hamas stockpiling rockets and Iran developing nuclear weapons with which to murder those same Jews. And yet the following day, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s envoy to Yemen and Oman, gave a shocking speech asserting that those endorsing settlements should be considered on par with racists and hounded from Britain’s public life. The reality is, it is not the settlements that have eroded Israel’s standing, but rather the completely warped narrative that now surrounds them. And what’s worse, many Israelis have in no small part helped to create that narrative.

As Horovitz points out, settlement building was referenced some 40 times during the Westminster debate. That is certainly testament to the extent to which this issue has been turned into the weapon of choice for those looking to pour scorn on Israel. Horovitz also gives examples of the kind of talk about settlements that he’s referring to. One Conservative MP, who began by professing his deep friendship for Israel, went on to say that the recent “annexation” by Israel of 950 acres of West Bank land had outraged him more than anything else in his entire political life. He explained that, given all his support for Israel in the past, this move had made him appear the fool. But the truth is, many people had been fooled by the way that this event was willfully misrepresented, first by the Israeli left, and then by the international media. For as Eugene Kontorovich pointed out here at the time, there had in reality been no annexation whatsoever. Israel had simply come to a factual administrative finding about the status of the land in question (much of it purchased by Jews before Israel’s founding), but the world was encouraged to imagine privately owned Palestinian property being appropriated for colonization.

This sense of alien colonization of Palestinian land sits at the core of what many feel about the settlements. That was certainly the notion promoted in the other statement referenced by Horovitz, this time from Labor’s Andy Slaughter. “Who can defend settlement building — the colonization of another country? We are talking about 600,000 Israeli settlers planted on Palestinian soil,” declared Slaughter. But this is pretty astounding stuff. Would Slaughter describe an Arab living in Israel as “planted on Jewish soil”? Indeed, he’d cause a minor crisis within British politics if he started describing Pakistani immigrants to Britain as colonizers “planted on English soil.” Presumably, Slaughter’s belief that the very soil of the West Bank is somehow intrinsically and exclusively Palestinian stems from his equally misguided view that the West Bank is a foreign country.

There is of course an argument for turning the West Bank into a Palestinian state one day, but like the misbelief that the green line holds some sacrosanct status under international law, it is hard to understand why the territory seized and occupied by Jordan for just 19 years represents the precise boundaries for any future Palestinian state. Besides, long before anyone starts trying to determine exactly which areas should constitute a Palestinian state, someone has to come up with a model for making the land-for-peace transaction workable. So far this exchange has proved catastrophic. Gaza is the most obvious example, although there are several others. But in Gaza the Israeli experience has been one of removing settlements and getting a security nightmare in return.

If British parliamentarians are going to make an issue of settlements, then they at least owe it to Israelis to explain what they think would happen to Israel’s security if it reversed its settlement policy and evacuated the West Bank just as it did Gaza. But then the prevailing narrative on this subject, as conveyed by the international media, is supplied by Israelis themselves. For years large parts of the Israeli establishment have dismissed the realities of Palestinian intransigence and convinced themselves that ending the conflict is within Israel’s grasp, if only it can rein in Netanyahu and the settlements. By ignoring the need for–and indeed lack of–genuine Palestinian moderation, these Israelis inhabit a far more comforting paradigm, in which Israel can solve everything just as soon as it chooses. So tenaciously do some cling to this view that we recently saw how the far-left Peace Now group was even willing to manufacture a mini diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Israel relations just as Netanyahu was about to meet with Obama, inducing the media and state department into condemnation of a new settlement announcement … that wasn’t a new settlement, and had actually already been announced months previously.

Writing about the Westminster vote, Jonathan Tobin questioned what kind of Palestinian state British lawmakers imagine they are supporting. This is where the popular narrative about settlements really becomes twisted. Any Palestinian state worthy of being brought into existence, and that could be trusted to live peacefully alongside Israel, would be capable of tolerating a Jewish minority, just as Israel safeguards its Arab minority. If that was the Palestinian state the world was aiming for then settlements would hardly present an obstacle. But if that’s not the state being aimed for, well then peacemakers face a far greater headache than settlements.

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Academia’s Islands of Authoritarianism

As a history professor, Doron Ben-Atar might have had some frame of reference for the creepy and alarming campaign of censorship and intimidation waged against him by fellow faculty at Fordham University. But those historical parallels would only have made the episode all the more disturbing.

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As a history professor, Doron Ben-Atar might have had some frame of reference for the creepy and alarming campaign of censorship and intimidation waged against him by fellow faculty at Fordham University. But those historical parallels would only have made the episode all the more disturbing.

Ben-Atar told his story yesterday in Tablet magazine. It’s worth reading the whole story, but the essential facts are these: Ben-Atar was, as most right-thinking people were, staunchly opposed to the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, which the group voted on last December. He joined a steering committee to fight the boycott and, as a member of Fordham’s American Studies executive committee, pushed to cut ties with the ASA until it rescinded the boycott. Here’s what happened next:

It was this stand that led Fordham’s Title IX officer to launch the proceedings. During an emotional meeting convened to discuss the appropriate response to the measure, I stated that should Fordham’s program fail to distance itself from the boycott, I will resign from the program and fight against it until it took a firm stand against bigotry. The program’s director, Michelle McGee, in turn filed a complaint against me with the Title IX office, charging that I threatened to destroy the program. (As if I could? And what does this have to do with Title IX?) This spurious complaint (the meeting’s minutes demonstrated that I did not make such a threat) ushered me into a bruising summer that taught me much about my colleagues, the university, and the price I must be willing to pay for taking on the rising tide of anti-Zionism on American campuses.

The following Monday, Coleman appeared in my office to conduct her investigation. Alas, she refused to explain what I was accused of specifically or how what I supposedly did amounted to a Title IX violation. Remaining vague, she hinted that others, including perhaps Fordham College’s dean, who chaired the fateful meeting, supported the complaint. Who are the others, I asked? Is there anything beyond that supposed one sentence? She would not disclose. I told Coleman that I took the complaint very seriously, but at the advice of my attorney I needed to think things through. Coleman told me she’d be in touch with my attorney, and we parted ways.

He was cooperative, though he was treated as hostile. He was eventually cleared of the absurd charge of religious discrimination–for opposing religious discrimination!–and learned a hard lesson about the place of Jews in American higher education in 2014:

Administrators and colleagues failed to protect my First Amendment rights, and fed the assault on my character. A person utterly unqualified to understand anti-Semitism sat in judgment of a scholar who publishes on and teaches the subject. A report has been issued without letting me even defend myself. My choice to have legal representation has been cited as proof of my guilt. Most painful was realizing that my commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, so central to who I am, has been used against me in a most unethical manner not only by the member of the faculty who filed the baseless charge, but also by the office of the University Counsel.

Ben-Atar was merely expressing his opposition to bigotry against his own people, and for that he found himself trapped in a Yuri Dombrovsky novel within a prestigious university in the city with the largest number of Jews outside of Tel Aviv. Aside from the obvious presence of anti-Semitism among the American universities in charge of shaping the minds of the next generation, there are a couple of important lessons here.

The first is that the academic boycotts of Israel are not about Israel. Most of us know this, of course, and those leading the boycotts almost certainly know it. But they have been able to claim limited targets, and thus try and dispute the accusations of anti-Semitism. They are boycotting Israel, they say, a sovereign state. And they are doing so because of the state’s policies, they say.

What Ben-Atar’s case exposes to the light of day is that these boycotts are not simply about preventing collaboration with academics in Israel. They are about regulating and restricting the speech and the behavior of Americans, and specifically Jews in America. Ben-Atar endured not just character assassination but the threat of the kinds of charges that could follow him throughout his academic career. It was a warning shot, and not a subtle one.

The other lesson is that there is a burgeoning crisis in higher education in which universities are roping themselves off from the basic right of due process. In September, KC Johnson explored the “crusade against due process for college students accused of sexual assault” in COMMENTARY. That crusade has only continued, with colleges removing due process from the accused and, in California, a law inserting the government into the bedrooms of college students and which critics fear will criminalize much sexual contact. (Encouragingly, the crusade has its vocal critics on the left as well.)

The larger picture, then, is one in which American universities, issue by issue, are walling themselves off from American constitutional rights and general principles of law and order in order to create islands of authoritarianism and institutions of enforced groupthink. That groupthink is no longer an emptyheaded anticapitalism. It now includes the threat of torpedoing careers for opposing anti-Semitism and bureaucratizing human contact. That there is a crisis brewing can no longer be denied. The question is, what will American academia do about it?

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GOP’s Hawkish Turn Rewarded in the Polls

Republicans can take heart from public opinion polling showing that when it comes to dealing with both the economy and national security they have taken a big lead over Democrats, erasing the deficit they had labored under during the last years of the Bush administration and the early years of the Obama administration. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib notes: “In the September Journal/NBC News survey, Americans gave Republicans a whopping 18-point advantage, 41% to 23%, as the party better able to handle foreign policy. And Gallup’s new survey found the GOP with a 19-point advantage on handling Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.”

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Republicans can take heart from public opinion polling showing that when it comes to dealing with both the economy and national security they have taken a big lead over Democrats, erasing the deficit they had labored under during the last years of the Bush administration and the early years of the Obama administration. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib notes: “In the September Journal/NBC News survey, Americans gave Republicans a whopping 18-point advantage, 41% to 23%, as the party better able to handle foreign policy. And Gallup’s new survey found the GOP with a 19-point advantage on handling Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.”

That swing in public opinion could well deliver the Senate into GOP hands–and it will likely make the next presidential election anything but a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton. But before gloating too much, Republicans should reflect that this swing in public opinion actually has very little to do with them. It’s all about President Obama’s mistakes, which are monumental. Naturally, as ISIS and Vladimir Putin run wild, the public has lost confidence in him and his party. But that doesn’t mean that the GOP is worthy of respect or that the newfound popularity of the Republicans will last long.

Happy Republicans should reflect on how decisively they lost their traditional edge, in particular, on national security issues during the bungled years of President Bush’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Luckily for both Bush and the country, he managed to oversee an impressive recovery in Iraq in 2007-2008 whose gains, unfortunately, have been dissipated by Obama’s pullout–for which the president is now paying a price in the polls.

To sustain public confidence in their national-security credentials it would be helpful for Republicans to have a unified line as they mostly did during the Cold War, at least since Dwight Eisenhower beat Robert Taft (the standard bearer of Midwestern isolationism) in 1952. That kind of unity has been in large part lacking since the Iraq War turned south, with some in the GOP advocating a more interventionist foreign policy while others preached non-interventionism.

The rise of ISIS has temporarily inspired a return to more hawkish attitudes even among neo-isolationists like Rand Paul. But it remains to be seen if this is a passing fad or whether leading Republicans are finally getting serious about embracing their Teddy Roosevelt-Ronald Reagan heritage of global leadership. If Republicans succumb once again to the non-interventionist temptation, as President Obama did, their newfound popularity will not last long. Because if the latest polls show anything, it is that the public demands strong leadership on national security even if it is uncertain about the particulars of this or that policy.

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2014’s Most Cringe-Inducing Moment

Yesterday when writing about Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s bizarre attempt to avoid admitting that she voted for Barack Obama for president, I expressed the hope that the Democrat and her political consultants would come up with a more coherent answer than her previous attempts to dodge the question. Those hopes were misplaced. At her sole debate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes doubled down on her refusal to say she had voted for Obama. In doing so, she may toss away whatever is left of her own hopes for upsetting her Republican opponent. But she also gave us what is likely to be the most cringe-inducing moment of American politics in 2014 and will, no doubt, give future political historians plenty of fodder for analysis of what makes seemingly smart people do dumb things.

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Yesterday when writing about Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s bizarre attempt to avoid admitting that she voted for Barack Obama for president, I expressed the hope that the Democrat and her political consultants would come up with a more coherent answer than her previous attempts to dodge the question. Those hopes were misplaced. At her sole debate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes doubled down on her refusal to say she had voted for Obama. In doing so, she may toss away whatever is left of her own hopes for upsetting her Republican opponent. But she also gave us what is likely to be the most cringe-inducing moment of American politics in 2014 and will, no doubt, give future political historians plenty of fodder for analysis of what makes seemingly smart people do dumb things.

As Fox News’s Chris Stirewalt wrote yesterday, Grimes’ position on her vote for Obama puts her in the running for what he dubbed the Todd Akin Prize for the worst political gaffe of this election cycle. Akin produced a whopper of historic proportions in 2012 when he produced a strange and ignorant theory about rape and pregnancy that not only ensured that he would fail to topple a vulnerable Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race but also hurt Republicans around the nation who suffered from guilt by association with Akin. Stirewalt believes Texas Democrat Wendy Davis is the favorite for the 2014 prize because of her astoundingly bad judgment in releasing an attack ad that drew attention to her opponent’s being confined to a wheelchair. He also gives honorable mention to Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley for mocking the state’s Senator Charles Grassley for only being “an Iowa farmer.”

But I think Grimes has the edge here. Grimes was an Obama-supporting delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But her sanctimonious cant about ballot box privacy after having already said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primaries is both absurd and an indication that she thinks voters are idiots. Yet it also, like Akin’s gaffe, speaks to a national trend that affects other elections. Like many other Democrats running for office in 2014, Grimes’s biggest problem is the head of her party, not her opponent.

Running away from an unpopular incumbent president is an age-old problem for politicians, but there are ways to finesse the issue. Yet instead of addressing it honestly and saying she voted her principles, Grimes believes not saying the words that everyone knows is the truth (unless, as our John Podhoretz speculated on Twitter yesterday, that she didn’t vote at all!) will be enough to deceive the public. While it may be no more stupid than deriding farmers in Iowa or attacking a man in a wheelchair, it nevertheless made a moment that had to leave even some of her sternest critics feeling embarrassed for her.

What makes supposedly smart people do such stupid things?

We can blame Grimes’s political consultants or her father, a former politician who is widely believed to be the person calling the shots in her campaign. But I think what wins her the Akin Prize is actually the polar opposite of what led to his blunder. Akin blabbed his moronic theory that pregnancy can’t result from a rape because he had such confidence in his beliefs that he didn’t know enough to show some caution when discussing a delicate topic. But Grimes is so afraid of being attacked that she cannot bring herself to admit a fact that is not really in dispute. While Akin showed naïve arrogance as well as stupidity, Grimes demonstrated a lack of guts that is equally fatal. While McConnell is not perfect and had his own difficult moments in last night’s debate when discussing ObamaCare, he can never be accused of lacking the courage of his convictions. If Grimes’s silly willingness to bet her political future on this point induces a degree of pity, we should also be glad if it ensures that the ranks of Senate cowards won’t be increased.

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First Rule of the Anti-ISIS Club Is: You Do Not Talk About the Anti-ISIS Club

President Obama’s habit of self-consciously guiding public policy not according to the best plan but according to what will allow him to take veiled shots at George W. Bush has caught up to him–and America–on yet another issue. In explaining how the war against ISIS “will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the president repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. will be “supporting partners on the front lines” in order to rely on a “broad coalition” of frontline allies taking the lead instead of American troops. Yet right away Obama began undermining that coalition.

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President Obama’s habit of self-consciously guiding public policy not according to the best plan but according to what will allow him to take veiled shots at George W. Bush has caught up to him–and America–on yet another issue. In explaining how the war against ISIS “will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the president repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. will be “supporting partners on the front lines” in order to rely on a “broad coalition” of frontline allies taking the lead instead of American troops. Yet right away Obama began undermining that coalition.

It was not too surprising that Obama’s highly-touted “broad coalition” was in fact far less than meets the eye. After all, among Obama’s many weaknesses in foreign affairs, international diplomacy is arguably at the top of the list. And that’s how Obama has not only put together a coalition that has thus far struggled against ISIS but also bungled the coalition’s cohesion. In wanting to prove he wrangled a broad coalition of allies his administration has forgotten the first rule of the Anti-ISIS Club: Don’t talk about the Anti-ISIS Club.

As Foreign Policy reports:

The latest row concerns the key question of whether Turkey, which hosts a sprawling American air base, will let U.S. warcraft fly from it into Iraq and Syria to batter the militant group. U.S. officials said Sunday that Ankara had given the green light. Less than a day later, Turkish officials categorically denied that they’d agreed to allow their bases to be used against the terror group.

The conflicting versions of events from the two allies have one of two causes. One is political: The White House is eager to show a war-weary American public that the United States won’t be fighting alone, but many Middle Eastern countries don’t want to rile up their own populations by advertising their roles in the coalition. The other is a more basic and troubling one: that Washington may be consistently misreading its partners and overestimating just how committed they are to the fight.

Turkey’s behavior has been the subject of much debate. If they are an ally, they have an awfully funny way of showing it. As Jonathan Schanzer wrote in Politico Magazine last week, it may be time to kick Turkey out of NATO. Aside from Ankara’s unhelpful attitude toward the anti-ISIS effort, Schanzer notes that Turkey supports the Hamas terrorists of Gaza and even allows leaders of the group to operate out of Turkey; it has refused to take antiterrorism seriously, undermining NATO’s global efforts as well as regional stability; and it has helped Iran evade sanctions intended to curb its illicit nuclear program.

In addition, after waffling on the anti-ISIS coalition Turkey turned around and resumed bombing Kurdish militant positions, the first such strikes since the two-year-old peace process began in earnest. This comes after Kurds in Turkey protested Ankara’s refusal to help aid the anti-ISIS effort (thus further endangering their Syrian Kurdish brethren), resulting in riots and the deaths of more than thirty people.

As with the possible fall of Kobani to ISIS, which Max Boot wrote about yesterday, Turkey’s behavior is reprehensible but no excuse for American incompetence. Turkey may have had a more extreme reaction, but it is not the first country to be “outed” as part of Obama’s broad coalition that didn’t want to be identified as such. As the Foreign Policy report pointed out:

In September, when Foreign Policy reported details of a secret offer by the nation of Georgia to host a training camp for anti-ISIS fighters, the story prompted a strong public backlash in Tbilisi due to security concerns for the tiny Caucasian nation of 4.5 million. Within 24 hours, Georgian officials denied having made any such offer.

“I categorically rule out any military participation or training base in Georgia,” Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said.

Last month, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said his government opposed terrorism, but expressed annoyance that his country was included in the U.S. government’s official list of anti-ISIS partners without being informed.

“I am bothered by the fact that we have been placed on the list without the government’s knowledge,” he said. “We will have to voice some sort of protest; it is not appropriate to consent to our country being placed anywhere without our knowledge and consensus.”

Placing European countries on an anti-ISIS list and hoping they wouldn’t notice is truly amateurish behavior. But it also demonstrates a recurring problem for this administration, which I’ve written about before: President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the rest of those responsible for the conduct of American foreign policy simply don’t listen.

And they are far more interested in the sloganeering of bumper-sticker diplomacy and vapid politics than in actually accomplishing what they’re supposed to, causing an already shaky coalition to crumble further.

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Teach-in on Klinghoffer Opera at Lincoln Center Tonight

The Metropolitan Opera will debut its new production of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer next week. I have written several times here about the way the opera treats the war on Israel and the Jews as a debatable concept rather than an immoral manifestation of Jew hatred. Tonight, I will be joined by an all-star panel of scholars and writers to discuss both Klinghoffer and the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the globe at a teach-in just across the plaza from the opera house at New York City’s Lincoln Center.

The event is sponsored by The Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP.org) and will be held at 7:00 PM at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, 165 West 65th Street in Manhattan. Other speakers will include Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Phyllis Chesler, COMMENTARY contributors Omri Ceren and Ben Cohen, Sudanese Human Rights Activist Simon Deng, playwright Dahn Hiuni, the World Jewish Congress’s Betty Ehrenberg, and ISGAP executive director Charles Asher Small.

To RSVP, email Marion@isgap.org or call 212-230-1840.

The Metropolitan Opera will debut its new production of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer next week. I have written several times here about the way the opera treats the war on Israel and the Jews as a debatable concept rather than an immoral manifestation of Jew hatred. Tonight, I will be joined by an all-star panel of scholars and writers to discuss both Klinghoffer and the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the globe at a teach-in just across the plaza from the opera house at New York City’s Lincoln Center.

The event is sponsored by The Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP.org) and will be held at 7:00 PM at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, 165 West 65th Street in Manhattan. Other speakers will include Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Phyllis Chesler, COMMENTARY contributors Omri Ceren and Ben Cohen, Sudanese Human Rights Activist Simon Deng, playwright Dahn Hiuni, the World Jewish Congress’s Betty Ehrenberg, and ISGAP executive director Charles Asher Small.

To RSVP, email Marion@isgap.org or call 212-230-1840.

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Obama’s Strategy to Defeat ISIS Collides with Reality

In his September 10 prime-time address to the nation, President Obama said, “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy,” ISIS. At the same time, the president said something he’s repeated a number of times since: American forces will not have a combat mission. So this conflict will be conducted strictly through the air. Some of us were concerned at the time that this strategy simply could not work.

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In his September 10 prime-time address to the nation, President Obama said, “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy,” ISIS. At the same time, the president said something he’s repeated a number of times since: American forces will not have a combat mission. So this conflict will be conducted strictly through the air. Some of us were concerned at the time that this strategy simply could not work.

More than a month after the president’s pronouncement that our strategy is to destroy ISIS, and more than two months after the first American air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq, it’s worth assessing how the Obama strategy is faring and to review what leading military figures who served under President Obama are saying about it.

ISIS’s Military Gains Since the U.S. Air Campaign Began

“Islamic State militants have gained territory in Iraq and Syria despite weeks of bombing by the U.S. and its allies, raising questions about the coalition’s strategy of trying to blunt the jihadists’ advance while local forces are being trained to meet the threat on the ground. In Syria, fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have taken large sections of the city of Kobani in recent days… This comes despite a week of heavy airstrikes around the city to help local Syrian Kurdish fighters keep Islamic State forces from the city center. In Iraq, militant forces operating in a swath of territory the size of California have extended their control of the roads and commercial routes in strategically vital Anbar Province, which connects the capital Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.” – “Militants Advance Despite Airstrikes”, Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2014.

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“Islamic State militants are threatening to overrun a key province in western Iraq in what would be a major victory for the jihadists and an embarrassing setback for the U.S.-led coalition targeting the group. A win for the Islamic State in Anbar province would give the militants control of one of the country’s most important dams and several large army installations, potentially adding to their abundant stockpile of weapons. It would also allow them to establish a supply line from Syria almost to Baghdad and give them a valuable position from which to launch attacks on the Iraqi capital.” – “Islamic State fighters are threatening to overrun Iraq’s Anbar province”, Washington Post, October 9, 2014.

* * * *

“Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged the Syrian border town could fall to the militants despite the bombings. ‘Air power alone is not going to be enough to save Kobani,’ he said Wednesday. The fighting in Kobani comes amid mounting worries about the effectiveness of the U.S.-led air campaign, which has failed to loosen the militants’ hold on territory in Iraq and Syria or prevent the Islamic State from taking new areas.” – “U.S. steps up airstrikes as Kurds cling to Syrian town”, USA Today, October 7, 2014.

* * * *

“U.S.-led airstrikes designed to serve notice on Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria have also delivered a sobering message to Washington and its allies: Breaking the militants’ grip will be every bit as difficult as they feared…. Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began. ‘The strikes are useless so far,’ said Mohammad Hassan, an activist in eastern Syria battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad. ‘Most of the training camps and the bases were empty when the coalition hit them.’” — “U.S.-led Airstrikes Disrupt Islamic State, But Extremists Hold Territory”, Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2014.

* * * *

“After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country, in part because many critical Sunni tribes remain on the sidelines.” – “Weeks of U.S. Strikes Fail to Dislodge ISIS in Iraq”, New York Times, September 22, 2014.

What Military Experts Are Saying About the Obama Strategy

“Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship… a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.” – “Rift widens between Obama, U.S. military over strategy to fight Islamic State”, Washington Post, September 18, 2014.

* * * *

“I don’t think the president’s plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.” — Retired Marine General James Conway, who served as commandant of the Marine Corps under President Obama, September 19, 2014.

* * * *

“You just don’t take anything off the table up front, which it appears the administration has tried to do … Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility. We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.” – Retired Marine General James Mattis, who served as commander of United States Central Command under President Obama, September 18, 2014.

* * * *

“Responding to a White House request for options to confront the Islamic State, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that his best military advice was to send a modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants, according to two U.S. military officials. The recommendation, conveyed to the White House by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was cast aside in favor of options that did not involve U.S. ground forces in a front-line role, a step adamantly opposed by the White House.” – “Countering Islamic State will be hard in Iraq and harder in Syria, officials say”Washington Post, September 10, 2014.

* * * *

“The reality is, they’re not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the Peshmerga or the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won't be troops on the ground], the president in effect traps himself.” – Robert Gates, secretary of defense under President Obama, September 17, 2014.

* * * *

“No, Chuck. This is very early days of the strategy. The strategy’s very clear. We’ll do what we can from the air…. But we are not going to be in a ground war again in Iraq. It’s not what is required by the circumstances that we face and even if one were to take that step, which the president has made clear we’re not going to do, it wouldn’t be sustainable. We’ve got to do this in a sustainable way.” – Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor, responding to a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd on whether the administration is reassessing its strategy against ISIS, October 12, 2014. (On the same program Ms. Rice declared that Turkey had made a commitment to allow the United States to use its bases for operations against ISIS. Turkey immediate contradicted Ms. Rice and denied such a deal had been made. This comes a week after Vice President Biden apologized to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for comments he made that Middle Eastern allies are partly to blame for the strengthening of ISIS.)

* * * *

“We don’t do stupid [stuff]” – President Obama describing his foreign policy doctrine in private conversations to reporters, “Obama Warns U.S. Faces Diffuse Terrorism Threats”, New York Times, May 28, 2014.

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Who Disturbs the Peace of Jerusalem?

United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.

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United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.

Palestinians are angry about the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount and in particular that of Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing member of the Knesset who is a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Feiglin’s appearance helps fuel Palestinian claims that Israel intends to demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount, a lie that has served to incite anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in the past. Arabs were doubly angered when Israeli police entered the area and discovered supplies of gasoline bombs, rocks, bottle rockets, and fireworks intended for more violence directed at Jews, including worshippers at the Western Wall. The police wound up locking some of the Arabs involved in this activity inside the Al-Aksa Mosque in order to forestall exactly the kind of riot and bloodshed they intended to ignite.

But the international community, in the person of the UN Secretary General, has no interest in protecting the right of Jews to worship at the Wall or to visit the Temple Mount (where they are forbidden to pray). Instead, he chided Israel to maintain the status quo there while also throwing in his condemnation of Jews who move into homes in Eastern Jerusalem.

In reply, Netanyahu rightly noted that Israel has defended free access to the holy places for all faiths. That is something that was unheard of before Jerusalem was unified under Israeli rule in June 1967.

But there is more beneath the surface of the story than the usual misunderstandings or the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations. The battle over Jerusalem’s holy places is a microcosm of the one over the fate of the entire country.

For Palestinians, the notion of sharing the Temple Mount or even Jerusalem remains anathema. To them, Israel’s decision to let the sacred enclosure remain in the hands of the Wakf, the Muslim religious authority, after the city’s unification means nothing. The supposedly moderate Palestinians, in the form of the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Mahmoud Abbas, claimed the Israelis are trying to expel Arabs and Muslims from the Mount and the mosques.

That is the same lie Palestinian leaders used in 1929 to foment pogroms that killed dozens of Jews. Their purpose is to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims. But it also is a thin cover for their own agenda that involves expunging the Jewish presence from both the city and the country.

After all, it is not Israel that is demanding that Arabs be expelled from any part of Jerusalem that would remain in its hands after peace. But Palestinian leaders treat the eviction of Jews from all of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem that they hope to control in a divided city. They would, in fact, like to return to the “status quo” that existed in the city before 1967 when Jews were forbidden not only to visit the Temple Mount but also the Western Wall.

Though the international community and the UN pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution that would end the conflict, any such resolution must involve sharing the holy city and places. But that is precisely what Palestinians refuse to do in Jerusalem. They treat Jewish worship and Jewish life as inherently illegitimate anywhere Palestinians reside.

Lest this be put down as merely heightened sensitivity about a particular spot, it is very much of a piece with the positions of Hamas, which remains more popular than Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip they already rule. Hamas still demands the eradication of Israel and the expulsion/slaughter of its Jewish population. So why should we be surprised that the PA and its official media dismiss any Jewish claims to the city or its holy spots and seek to gin up more religiously inspired violence over the fact that some Israelis took a walk on the Temple Mount?

It would be one thing if only Hamas or those Palestinians that can be dismissed as “extremists” sought to inflame passions over the Temple Mount. But when Abbas’s PLO does this, it illustrates the way all Palestinian factions—moderate as well as extreme—routinely attempt to hype blood libels about the mosques in order to keep the political temperature at fever pitch.

We don’t know yet whether this latest incident is a repeat of the PA’s exploitation of Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount that was the excuse for setting off the second intifada violence that Yasir Arafat had already planned to incite. But whether the harbinger of a third intifada or just routine violence, the real provocations on the Mount are not about Jews with nationalist views taking walks but rather about Arabs that seek a Jew-free Jerusalem.

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Which Palestine Do Euros Recognize?

Today the British Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution that recognized Palestine as a state. The 274-12 vote in favor of the symbolic gesture doesn’t affect the actual foreign policy of the United Kingdom but, like the announcement by the new Swedish prime minister earlier this month of his intention to also recognize it as a state, it does constitute more momentum for a Palestinian effort to bypass peace negotiations. This says a lot more about the willingness of Europeans to pressure and even demonize Israel than it does about their supposed support for peace. But as long as they’re talking about recognition, it’s fair to ask which Palestine they are ready to welcome into the family of nations: The weak, corrupt, and undemocratic Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or the terrorist Hamas state in Gaza? Or both?

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Today the British Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution that recognized Palestine as a state. The 274-12 vote in favor of the symbolic gesture doesn’t affect the actual foreign policy of the United Kingdom but, like the announcement by the new Swedish prime minister earlier this month of his intention to also recognize it as a state, it does constitute more momentum for a Palestinian effort to bypass peace negotiations. This says a lot more about the willingness of Europeans to pressure and even demonize Israel than it does about their supposed support for peace. But as long as they’re talking about recognition, it’s fair to ask which Palestine they are ready to welcome into the family of nations: The weak, corrupt, and undemocratic Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or the terrorist Hamas state in Gaza? Or both?

The vote in London was something of a farce as Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear that it will not influence his nation’s actions. Pushed by rank-and-file members of the opposition Labor Party it appears to be driven by a desire to embarrass its leader Ed Milliband more than anything else. But the inability of Labor’s leaders to quash the vote and in the absence of a strong stand against it by Cameron, who, along with the rest of his government and its supporters, abstained on the measure rather than risk his government by actively opposing it, it’s fair to say that the measure reflects public sympathy for the Palestinians.

Yet like the “Free Gaza” demonstrations that rocked European cities this past summer while Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli cities, one has to wonder what exactly those advocating the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state think they are doing?

At its most basic level, recognizing Palestinian statehood seems to be an expression of sympathy for those who bore the brunt of Hamas’s decision to launch another war against Israel: the people of Gaza. Pictures of Palestinian civilians who were killed, wounded, or made homeless by Israeli counter-attacks against Hamas missile launches and terror tunnels generated a wave of revulsion against the Jewish state as well as a desire to beat one’s chest on behalf of the cause of “Free Palestine.”

But which Palestine are we talking about?

Is it the Palestine of the Palestinian Authority that currently rules most of the West Bank, albeit under the security blanket of the Israel Defense Forces? Undoubtedly, that’s the Palestine the Swedish prime minister thinks he’s backing. That’s a Palestine that is supposedly ready to make peace with Israel but which requires the economic and political support of the West in order to survive.

But, in truth, that Palestine is a corrupt kleptocracy run by Mahmoud Abbas, a man currently serving the 10th year of a four-year presidential term. The Fatah-ruled West Bank is a petty tyranny that oppresses and robs Palestinians while raking in billions in economic aid from Europe and the United States. Its leader frequently tells Western and Israeli audiences that he is ready make peace on the basis of a two-state solution, but he also is adamant about being unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

But since so much of the anger at Israel is about Gaza, the fact is all too many Europeans seem willing to overlook their usual abhorrence of terrorism and think of Hamas as a legitimate government of the strip, if not as partners with the PA. That Palestine is a brutally repressive Islamist regime that is allied with those seeking to overthrow moderate Arab governments. Like Fatah in the West Bank, it is not interested in bettering the lives of its people. But unlike the PA, which seems mostly interested in profiteering off of foreign aid, Hamas’s sole obsession is in replenishing its stores of rockets and ammunition and rebuilding its terror tunnels so as to be ready the next time it feels another round of fighting with Israel will be to its advantage. Hamas, which is more popular in the West Bank than Abbas and his party, is dedicated to ending the “occupation” but by that term they are referring to pre-1967 Israel, not forcing it to remove Jews from the West Bank or Jerusalem.

Nor is there much use pretending the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement is the basis of a pro-peace government. The show put on this week for international donors for the reconstruction of Gaza did nothing to bolster confidence in the ability of the so-called government of technocrats of the PA that is allegedly going to supervise the rebuilding of Gaza. In a sign of the contempt that the Palestinians have for the suckers who continue to shovel money into their coffers, the PA would only promise that half of the $5.4 billion pledged would pay for the rebuilding of Gaza. What happens to the other half? We’re told that it will support the PA’s budget until 2017. Which means that it will be divided among the PA’s factions or indirectly shared with Hamas for its own nefarious purposes. But either way, the Swiss bankers who handle the private accounts of PA leaders should get ready for some heavy-duty deposits.

Were Europe’s governments or its pro-Palestinian demonstrators truly interested in peace, they would understand that unilateral recognition of independence is a way for the PA to avoid having to talk with Israel. Whatever they may think of Israel or the Netanyahu government, it has stated its willingness to negotiate a two-state solution. But that outcome can only happen when the Palestinians stop waiting for their foreign friends to hand Israeli concessions—or Israel itself, as Hamas is frank about demanding—to them on a silver platter. If they wanted to support peace, they would tell Abbas to go back to the table with Netanyahu and to be prepared to recognize a Jewish state. They might also encourage him to get rid of Hamas, not become its partner.

Seen in that light talk about recognition of Palestine without first requiring it to make peace with Israel must seen as not merely moral preening at Israel’s expense but a political manifestation of the same anti-Semitic invective that was so common during the “Free Gaza” demonstrations.

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Marylanders to the Rest of the Country: Beware Martin O’Malley

What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Although, in the interest of basic compassion, it might be unkind to claim Maryland residents–or anyone, really–deserve to get two terms of Martin O’Malley.

And, to their immense credit, Marylanders don’t want the rest of the country to bring Martin O’Malley upon themselves. The message from Marylanders to the nation at large is: Don’t let our years governed by O’Malley be in vain; let something good come out of all of this. And that something good appears to be a national future unencumbered by Martin O’Malley as the nation’s chief executive.

But there are worse numbers in the poll for O’Malley than Democratic voters’ resounding declaration that they don’t want him representing their party in the next presidential election. That at least can be spun away. After all, if Democrats are asked to pick one politician to be their next presidential nominee, it’s no surprise that so many–63 percent–chose Hillary Clinton. (Although it is somewhat humorous that “Other/no opinion” polls nearly five times as well as O’Malley. They say you can’t beat something with nothing, and O’Malley appears to be the exception that proves the rule.)

No, the most unflattering portion of the poll is probably when registered voters are asked “Do you think Martin O’Malley would make a good president, or not?” The response: 14 percent said yes; 70 percent said no. The poll contrasts that with the result when the same question was asked in October 2012. At that time, the numbers were only slightly better–22 percent said yes; 62 percent said no–but still so far underwater as to be invisible from the surface.

There are more bad numbers–really, the whole poll is just an opportunity for Marylanders to unload on their horrendous governor. As the Post reported in an accompanying story, his “job-approval rating has fallen to an eight-year low of 41 percent, with his biggest defections coming from fellow Democrats.” What happened? The Post offers some suggestions:

Although O’Malley is not on the ballot this year, his policies in Maryland — particularly a string of tax increases during his tenure — have come under heavy fire from other candidates. Months of attacks, including some from fellow Democrats, appear to have taken their toll, some analysts say.

Other observers suggest that the time O’Malley has spent crisscrossing the country, seeking to gain national exposure, has alienated some constituents in Maryland.

Plausible. But it might be worth delving a bit more into his policies. The lesson might not be one national Democrats want to learn:

His legacy will include legalization of same-sex marriage, a sweeping gun-control bill, repeal of the death penalty, several measures expanding immigrant rights and an increase in the minimum wage. He has also overseen multiple tax hikes during his tenure, including increases in personal income taxes paid by high earners, the corporate income tax, sales tax, gas tax, tobacco tax and alcohol tax.

All politics is local (though not as local as it ought to be), so I doubt it’ll worry Democrats too much. Some of this might be personal; O’Malley is, after all, deeply unlikeable. But his agenda is also very liberal in a pretty liberal state, and voters don’t seem to love the results. It’s a common feature in American politics: there’s only so much liberalism even liberals can take.

And part of that could be the impression of the stereotype come to life. Reread that list of O’Malley tax increases, and you not only understand the O’Taxey nickname but get the sense the governor is to taxes what Bubba Blue is to shrimp.

Democrats may counter all this by pointing out that O’Malley is terrible at his job, and Democrats who aren’t terrible at their jobs will not suffer the same poll numbers. That’s true. But an element of O’Malley being terrible at his job is that, when it comes to issues like taxes, he cranks his liberalism up to eleven.

The other phenomenon here is just how “Ready for Hillary” national Democrats are. They don’t want a divisive nomination fight, and they don’t want a battle over ideas, in part because they want to nominate Hillary instead of a candidate who has ideas. So they’re not much interested in even having this conversation. And you almost can’t blame them: O’Taxey, a Vermont socialist, Joe Biden–the alternatives to Hillary aren’t exactly a sparkling A-team of Democratic leaders.

And that’s what might actually concern Democratic Party leaders more than O’Malley’s unpopularity: the prospect that there is no A-team. There’s just Clinton. They may get the nominee they want, but as far as Democrats see it, that’s not because she’s their best choice as much as that she’s their only choice.

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UKIP and the Return of Popular Conservatism in Britain

Over the weekend Britain’s political class has been reverberating from the latest upsurge in support for the anti-European Union UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). In the early hours of Friday morning it became apparent that UKIP had just won its first member of parliament, while on Sunday the papers released a new poll claiming that UKIP now has the backing of 25 percent of voters. This apparent surge also comes in the wake of UKIP winning Britain’s European elections back in May. Nowhere is the shock being more acutely felt than in the Conservative party; for it has been Conservative MPs, Conservative party donors, and, most significantly, Conservative voters who have been defecting to UKIP. Yet now growing numbers of working-class Labor voters are also being converted. Not since Thatcher has this section of British society been galvanized by a right of center platform.

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Over the weekend Britain’s political class has been reverberating from the latest upsurge in support for the anti-European Union UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). In the early hours of Friday morning it became apparent that UKIP had just won its first member of parliament, while on Sunday the papers released a new poll claiming that UKIP now has the backing of 25 percent of voters. This apparent surge also comes in the wake of UKIP winning Britain’s European elections back in May. Nowhere is the shock being more acutely felt than in the Conservative party; for it has been Conservative MPs, Conservative party donors, and, most significantly, Conservative voters who have been defecting to UKIP. Yet now growing numbers of working-class Labor voters are also being converted. Not since Thatcher has this section of British society been galvanized by a right of center platform.

For some time now the UKIP-base has been characterized as a bunch of Shire Tories in exile. The average UKIP voter was pictured as some ruddy faced ex-colonel still ranting about the empire. Yet since the 2010 election, when UKIP received just 3 percent of the vote, the party has expanded significantly. Today UKIP’s strongest support comes from the Thames estuary region: once working-class areas of Kent and Essex that switched to the Conservatives for Mrs. Thatcher. It is here, in Rochester, that a Conservative MP recently abandoned his party and will seek reelection on a UKIP ticket in November. A little to the north in Essex is the by-no-means affluent coastal town of Clacton. There the Conservative MP Douglas Carswell also switched to UKIP and last week gave the party its first parliamentary seat.

In Clacton the transition from Tory to UKIP was dramatic. Carswell won 60 percent of the vote for his newly adopted party, whereas he had won 53 percent of the vote for the Conservatives back in 2010. But last week there was a second by-election taking place in England, and this one was in many ways far more significant than the result in Essex. In the Labor stronghold Heywood and Middleton–a northern district in Manchester–UKIP surged to second position with 38 percent of the vote, despite having received only 2.6 percent at the last election. Indeed, Labor managed to beat UKIP by just six hundred votes.

Plenty of excuses have been found for this result. Some have suggested that the Rotherham sex abuse scandal may have helped UKIP’s popularity in the North. Undoubtedly, many Labor supporters have been alienated by Ed Miliband’s woefully unpopular leadership and see Labor as still dominated by the liberal metropolitan elite that took over with Tony Blair. Similarly, many Conservative voters are turned off by their party elite and suspect David Cameron of not being truly committed to the party’s traditional core principles. But the ongoing attempt to frame UKIP as a mere party of protest isn’t convincing, for in reality UKIP is succeeding by speaking to a popular, and essentially conservative, public sentiment.

Yes, UKIP is first and foremost a party that opposes mass immigration and the undemocratic/big government EU that makes that mass immigration inescapable, but UKIP also taps into something far deeper. The party’s leader Nigel Farage, ever eager to be photographed in village pubs, pint in hand, is the self-styled politician of the common man. At the same time, his taste for dressing as if off for a hunting weekend on a country estate seems intentionally evocative of an older England. The phrase that Farage uses to sum up his party’s worldview is “patriotic capitalism” and he has been quite unabashed about claiming the mantle of being the heir to Thatcher for his party. With an emphasis on tax cuts for low earners and clamping down on welfare cheats, his party has immediate appeal for the aspirational working class and the small trader.

Much of UKIP is anathema to Britain’s political consensus. The party provoked a frenzy of gleeful outrage by being the only one to voice ambivalence about the introduction of same-sex marriage. Furthermore, Farage and others in UKIP have suggested that Britain’s nationalized health service would function better if run by businessmen, and several senior figures in the party openly refer to themselves as libertarian. Indeed, while UKIP backs expanding the country’s armed forces it is also decidedly isolationist and has opposed much of the Middle East intervention of recent years.

With UKIP’s support growing, figures on the right of the Conservative party such as Daniel Hannan and Jacob Rees-Mogg have been advocating the Tories make an electoral pact with UKIP. So far Cameron’s primary response has been to somewhat up the rhetoric on Europe and immigration and to warn conservative voters that if they vote UKIP then they risk splitting the center-right and helping Labor to power. The problem is, as seen in Heywood and Middleton where the Tories polled just over 3,000 votes, while Labor and UKIP both received over 11,000, UKIP now appears the party best able to challenge Labor in the North. Similarly, with the collapse in support for the left-leaning Liberal Democrats, who have their stronghold in the rural West Country, UKIP could become the primary challenger there too.

If the latest opinion poll putting UKIP on 25 percent is accurate, and depending on how that vote distributes itself, some are predicting UKIP could take over one hundred seats at the next election. UKIP appears to be good news for popular conservatism, but if Cameron won’t get serious about immigration, Europe, and intrusive government, then it could be bad news for the Conservative party.

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