Commentary Magazine


Jennifer Rubin: COMMENTARY Is a Treasure Trove of Rational Thinking

If you are like me, there are times when you think the political world has gone insane. The left indulges in constant Israel-bashing and believes if America retreats from the world, wars will “end.” The free-market system, the best antidote to poverty the planet has ever known, is being systematically dismantled. And without naming names, too many conservatives have taken a holiday from reality. While there are many reasons to love COMMENTARY, the most critical for me is that it provides a treasure trove of rational thinking, clearheaded analysis—and even some optimism about the future of America, the conservative movement, and the West.

We all need an intellectual refuge now and then and access to respected, honest voices trying to make sense of the world. Most of all we need perspective that is rarely available in the 24/7 news environment. Does democracy work in the Arab world? What’s the future of free-market capitalism in the U.S.? Is the American Jewish community self-destructing? It is for answers to these and a hundred other questions that we can turn to COMMENTARY.

COMMENTARY helps ground us in reality and lifts our spirits in very troubled times. I couldn’t survive without it.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

If you are like me, there are times when you think the political world has gone insane. The left indulges in constant Israel-bashing and believes if America retreats from the world, wars will “end.” The free-market system, the best antidote to poverty the planet has ever known, is being systematically dismantled. And without naming names, too many conservatives have taken a holiday from reality. While there are many reasons to love COMMENTARY, the most critical for me is that it provides a treasure trove of rational thinking, clearheaded analysis—and even some optimism about the future of America, the conservative movement, and the West.

We all need an intellectual refuge now and then and access to respected, honest voices trying to make sense of the world. Most of all we need perspective that is rarely available in the 24/7 news environment. Does democracy work in the Arab world? What’s the future of free-market capitalism in the U.S.? Is the American Jewish community self-destructing? It is for answers to these and a hundred other questions that we can turn to COMMENTARY.

COMMENTARY helps ground us in reality and lifts our spirits in very troubled times. I couldn’t survive without it.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

Read Less

Pakistan: Incubator of Evil

Jihadist terrorist attacks are, sadly, not a rarity these days. They are, in fact, a daily occurrence. So it takes a special kind of depravity to break through the numbness that repeated atrocities induce. The Pakistani Taliban have done just that by sending their gunmen into a military-run school for the children of Pakistani military personnel. The result was an eight-hour gun battle which apparently left 145 people dead, most of them school children. There are few parallels to such an atrocity beyond the Beslan school massacre in 2004 in which Chechen separatists struck a Russian school, leaving a reported 385 hostages dead, including 186 children.

Read More

Jihadist terrorist attacks are, sadly, not a rarity these days. They are, in fact, a daily occurrence. So it takes a special kind of depravity to break through the numbness that repeated atrocities induce. The Pakistani Taliban have done just that by sending their gunmen into a military-run school for the children of Pakistani military personnel. The result was an eight-hour gun battle which apparently left 145 people dead, most of them school children. There are few parallels to such an atrocity beyond the Beslan school massacre in 2004 in which Chechen separatists struck a Russian school, leaving a reported 385 hostages dead, including 186 children.

It is hardly surprising, of course, that in both cases the perpetrators of these horrifying outrages were killing in the name of Islam. That is not because Islam is a religion uniquely conducive to this sort of evil. Recall that in the 17th century massacres every bit as vile were routinely carried out in Germany in the name of Christianity during the Thirty Years War. In more recent years Serb Orthodox extremists murdered Muslim Bosnians in similar fashion during the wars of Yugoslav succession in the early 1990s. And of course the most costly conflict of modern times, the civil war in Congo, has nothing to do with Islam–it is, rather, all about tribal antagonisms.

But there is no doubt that Islamism–not Islam, per se, but the extremist variant practiced by groups such as the Taliban and ISIS–has become the most important animating philosophy for terrorism today and Pakistan has established itself as one of the centers of this violent faith. For this development Pakistani leaders have no one to blame but themselves: They have been promoting violent Islamism as a state policy since the early 1980s when then-President Zia al Huq was supporting the most extreme elements of the Afghan mujahideen.

More recently Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency has emerged as one of the two leading state sponsors of terrorism in the world (the other being the Iranian Quds Force). It is directly responsible for a long string of atrocities carried out in Afghanistan and India by ISI proxies such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. In short, the Pakistani state has a lot of blood on its hands–not only Indian and Afghan blood but a lot of American blood too, because a lot of Americans have died in Pakistani-sponsored attacks in Afghanistan. And not just in Afghanistan: There is also good cause to think the ISI consciously gave Osama bin Laden shelter in Pakistan after he had to leave Afghanistan in a hurry.

Unfortunately for Pakistan it cannot control where extremists strike. The old adage holds that if you keep snakes in your backyard you can expect to be bitten. Pakistan proves how true that is–and now it has been bitten especially hard by monsters who deliberately set out to kill children. True, these particular monsters are from the Pakistani Taliban (the TTP) which is not exactly the same group as the Afghan Taliban. But the two in fact share an ideology, among other things. Both, for instance, acknowledge Mullah Omar as their spiritual leader.

Sooner or later the Pakistani army must learn that it cannot fight some Islamist extremists while making common cause with others. My fear is that after decades of cooperation with these fanatics, the army itself may be so sympathetic to this extremist ideology that significant elements of it have essentially gone over to the enemy. Aside from an Iranian nuke, it is hard to imagine a scarier scenario in the world today than these Pakistani extremists-in-uniform getting access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

For too long America has tended to look away from the problem or pretended that Pakistan is really our friend. I don’t know what the solution is to this enormous menace, but at a minimum we need to stop lying to ourselves and recognize Pakistan for what it is: an incubator of evil.

Read Less

PolitiFact’s Ebola Distortions

On October 19 on Fox News Sunday, with the debate over the U.S. response to the spread of Ebola in full swing, George Will quoted a University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy report that challenged the conventional wisdom. The center claimed that “there is scientific and epidemiological evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients.”

Read More

On October 19 on Fox News Sunday, with the debate over the U.S. response to the spread of Ebola in full swing, George Will quoted a University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy report that challenged the conventional wisdom. The center claimed that “there is scientific and epidemiological evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients.”

This was controversial. But it wasn’t made up out of whole cloth; Will quoted a center for infectious disease report. And what it most certainly was not was a lie. According to any reasonable definition of the word, there’s no way to legitimately argue that Will was lying. The accusation doesn’t even make sense. And yet, Will’s comment is the central plank in the liberal opinion column PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year.”

To be fair to PolitiFact, it wasn’t only Will’s comment. But that’s not much of a defense, really. Different statements being grouped together into one “lie”–especially when they’re not lies, even if they’re mistaken–will not do wonders for PolitiFact’s already rock-bottom credibility. But in fact it’s really worse than that. Here’s PolitiFact’s explanation for their choice of “Lie of the Year,” demonstrating beyond any semblance of a doubt that those who run PolitiFact don’t understand the concept around which they’ve supposedly built their business model:

Yet fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America this fall, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits. They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.

The claims — all wrong — distorted the debate about a serious public health issue. Together, they earn our Lie of the Year for 2014.

You’ll notice right there that PolitiFact engages in its own bit of shameless dishonesty. Grouping those who worried it was easily communicable with those who claimed it was all a government conspiracy is far more deceitful than anything Will or others said. PolitiFact can argue Will was wrong to rely on that particular report, or that he might have misread the report. But PolitiFact is equating statements it knows are completely different.

And yet:

Fox News analyst George Will claimed Ebola could be spread into the general population through a sneeze or a cough, saying the conventional wisdom that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids was wrong.

“The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” False.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Mostly False.

Internet conspirators claimed President Obama intended to detain people who had signs of illness. Pants on Fire. Bloggers also said the outbreak was started in a bioweapons lab funded by George Soros and Bill Gates. Pants on Fire.

You get the point. Why group them all together? Because “When combined, the claims edged the nation toward panic.” We can rate that one Pants on Fire. First and foremost, there was no national panic. You can add “panic” to “lie” in the list of words PolitiFact’s writers and editors cannot define. But what actually happened was the reverse: the disease seemed to be spreading more easily than previously thought, and commentators were reacting to it by wondering if U.S. officials were wrong about some aspects of the disease. (It’s also worth noting that in PolitiFact’s supposed debunking of Will’s claim, PolitiFact also got what he said wrong.)

But the other aspect of this is that officials were losing their own credibility, inviting such questions. People were told that if certain precautions were taken, Ebola would not be transmitted from one person to another. Then a nurse treating an Ebola patient claimed to follow those precautions and yet caught the disease. The CDC, for its part, permitted a nurse who treated an Ebola patient and had a fever to fly from Dallas to Ohio to visit family. She was soon diagnosed with Ebola. The CDC later said it erred in letting her fly.

So mistakes were made. There were those who violated quarantines, and medical professionals exposed to Ebola acted irresponsibly on top of the governmental agency’s mistakes. This was not a great moment for figures of authority. They lost some of the public’s trust, and invited the kinds of questions that PolitiFact scoffs at.

The country didn’t “panic.” People started asking questions, and were shouted down. The wacky statements from conspiracy theorists invited their own ridicule, sure, but they had no serious impact on the national conversation. That alone means they shouldn’t even be considered for “Lie of the Year.” I’m sure there were better choices, but it doesn’t matter: it’s clear PolitiFact wasn’t looking for them.

Read Less

Walker’s Drug Test Move Is a Mistake

During his successful reelection fight, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker let the public know that in his second term, he intended to challenge federal rules about eligibility for food stamps and unemployment insurance. In the month since his victory, Walker’s determination to see that those seeking this aid should be tested for drugs is undiminished. The measure is, as Walker proved again at the polls, very popular. But as he begins the process of deciding whether a 2016 presidential run is in the cards, Walker ought to think twice about picking a fight that would ultimately be fought on unfavorable ground for conservatives and which will probably be thrown out by the courts anyway.

Read More

During his successful reelection fight, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker let the public know that in his second term, he intended to challenge federal rules about eligibility for food stamps and unemployment insurance. In the month since his victory, Walker’s determination to see that those seeking this aid should be tested for drugs is undiminished. The measure is, as Walker proved again at the polls, very popular. But as he begins the process of deciding whether a 2016 presidential run is in the cards, Walker ought to think twice about picking a fight that would ultimately be fought on unfavorable ground for conservatives and which will probably be thrown out by the courts anyway.

Walker’s plans are, as the Wall Street Journal reported today, part of a series of similar moves by Republican governors across the nation seeking to create a new wave of welfare-reform measures to help people rise above poverty while also providing accountability for the taxpayers. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has already tightened restrictions on assistance and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, whom some also see as a potential presidential candidate even though he seems far less eager than Walker, wants Medicaid recipients to give back some of what they get to the state as a condition for their participation.

All of these ideas are, in theory, quite reasonable. Requiring people to stay off drugs while they are seeking work or getting extra assistance makes sense. The worst aspect of the welfare state is the way it subsidizes and even encourages destructive behavior. It’s also usually good politics since most citizens think of welfare as a privilege rather than a right and believe those who get it should give up a bit of their right to misbehave since such activities are, almost by definition, being conducted on the public’s money.

But Walker, who has to this point moved steadily if not flawlessly from a Milwaukee county executive unknown outside of his state to the status of a conservative folk hero on the strength of his epic fight with public employee unions and their Democratic allies, should rethink any emphasis on this issue if he really wants to run for president. This is not because he’s wrong—he’s not—but because what works politically when you’re running for governor can come across very differently when the presidency is the goal.

The problem with drug testing is twofold. The first is the legal obstacle to implementing such measures. Federal laws about such tests are fairly clear and have consistently been upheld by the courts. While states have rightly sought to gain the right to carry out assistance plans according to their own lights rather than being forced to follow rules designed by out-of-touch D.C. bureaucrats, such battles tend to end in the same way. While the fight for drug testing goes on all across the nations, the legal battles this idea has engendered don’t usually end well for conservatives.

Either the states give up and concede that this isn’t a fight they can win or they are slam dunked by the courts.

But the problem goes further than legal technicalities. Though the issue polls and often tests well at the local or statewide ballot box for conservatives, running for the presidency on the strength of denying aid to poor people may be a different story. The reason why these laws are usually overturned by judges is that they presuppose guilt in a manner that singles out the needy for treatment not afforded other Americans. Drug testing may be a good incentive to keep the poor out of trouble but it also can be portrayed as a form of discrimination. Even worse, it can be blamed for denying help to the poor, especially minorities.

Rightly or wrongly, this is a time when Americans are becoming more focused on racial issues because of the Ferguson, Missouri shooting and the choking death of Eric Garner. That’s why Republican presidential candidates need to remember that the liberal press will interpret any move on their part that relates to large numbers of minorities as an excuse to justify tearing them apart.

The reason Walker has been so successful is that his conservative activism has focused on public-employee unions and their members who often receive better pay and far more benefits than ordinary citizens in the private sector get. Though the unions worked hard in three elections in four years to convince Wisconsin voters that Walker was a villain, he won each time because the object of his wrath was a class of people most citizens despise.

Walker has as good an argument to be made for his presidential candidacy as anyone else in the field including figures like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who have more establishment support but can’t rouse the enthusiasm of the Tea Party or the GOP base as Walker can. But that doesn’t mean he is immune to liberal efforts to smear him as a racist because of his welfare reform fight.

Welfare recipients aren’t terribly popular but measures that can be distorted to portray Walker as not only insensitive but responsible for taking away food stamps or unemployment from the poor won’t help elect him president. While welfare reform is the right thing to do, Walker and other Republicans should avoid picking fights with people who are far more sympathetic than union fat cats and their thuggish storm troops. This is a battle that he can’t win and will damage his political brand.

Read Less

Why Warren Is a Threat to Clinton

In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

Read More

In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

[Hillary] Clinton is obviously tough, but she just can’t speak with a clear voice against Wall Street and Washington insiders. [Elizabeth] Warren’s wing shows increasing passion and strength, both in opposing certain Obama nominees and in last week’s budget fight.

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.

That strikes me as right. Senator Warren has a hold on the hearts of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in a way that Mrs. Clinton does not. And one can imagine that Warren’s anti-Wall Street stand will be in 2016 what Barack Obama’s anti-Iraq war stand was in 2008–an issue that ignites a political fire that consumes Hillary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, of course, and it remains to be seen if Senator Warren–if she decides to run–has anything like the political skills Barack Obama possesses. That’s highly unlikely. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton is quite an average political talent–inauthentic, often stiff and uninteresting, not at all a natural campaigner (as her husband was). And if there’s a compelling rationale for her to run, it’s not clear to me what it is. As President Obama’s longtime political adviser David Axelrod put it, “What happened in 2008 was that Hillary’s candidacy got out in front of any rationale for it. And the danger is that’s happening again. You hear Ready for Hillary — it’s like, Ready for What? And now Hillary’s task is to find what it is she’s running for and running about, and what would the future look like under another President Clinton. … She has to answer that question.”

Mrs. Clinton couldn’t do that in 2008; it’s an open question if she can in 2016.

The current political climate is unusually unstable for both political parties. We’re seeing populist anger from both the left and the right. At this moment it looks to be more on the rise among Democrats than Republicans. And that can’t be good news for Hillary Clinton.

Read Less

Obama’s ISIS Boasts Ring Hollow

President Obama went to New Jersey yesterday to speak to troops at a military base to thank them for their service, as is appropriate for the commander in chief. But the president used the occasion to tout the campaign against the ISIS terror group he began at the end of the summer as a success. Comparing this effort to America’s encounters with al-Qaeda, the president boasted of “hammering” ISIS and having “put them on the defensive.” But as the year heads to a close, there is no sign that the group’s grip on much of Iraq and Syria is slipping. Though Americans must hope that Obama’s optimism about ISIS’s certain doom is well founded, given the half-hearted nature of the U.S. commitment to the fight and the paucity of results, it may be that the group’s continued strength is doing more to undermine confidence in the U.S. commitment to the fight than bolstering it.

Read More

President Obama went to New Jersey yesterday to speak to troops at a military base to thank them for their service, as is appropriate for the commander in chief. But the president used the occasion to tout the campaign against the ISIS terror group he began at the end of the summer as a success. Comparing this effort to America’s encounters with al-Qaeda, the president boasted of “hammering” ISIS and having “put them on the defensive.” But as the year heads to a close, there is no sign that the group’s grip on much of Iraq and Syria is slipping. Though Americans must hope that Obama’s optimism about ISIS’s certain doom is well founded, given the half-hearted nature of the U.S. commitment to the fight and the paucity of results, it may be that the group’s continued strength is doing more to undermine confidence in the U.S. commitment to the fight than bolstering it.

As our Max Boot wrote last month, the administration has only been taking small steps toward assembling the forces needed to defeat ISIS, let alone implanting a war-winning strategy. The few troops and air crew being used to hit ISIS may have done some hammering of the Islamists, but to date there is nothing indicating that either the U.S. or its allies in this battle are anywhere close to being able to start rolling back ISIS’s massive territorial gains of the past year.

The comparison between past American campaigns in both Kosovo and Afghanistan is apt. When those commitments began, the U.S. deployed the kind of force and began bombing the foe on a scale that soon crumpled the resistance of the Serbs and the Taliban respectively. Though the Afghan war continues to this day, the offensive to rout the Islamists out of control of most of the country was successful. But what the U.S. has done so far in the fight against ISIS are pinpricks by comparison. Given the vast territory it has gained on Obama’s watch, the notion that three months of combat have merely “blunted its momentum” is hardly comforting to those suffering under its murderous rule or neighboring countries that were hoping the U.S. would act decisively.

The president was dragged into this fight reluctantly after years of refusing to take action in Syria as the situation there worsened along with the options available to the U.S. The U.S. is paying a high price for Obama’s Hamlet-like dithering before the decision to fight ISIS was taken. But it is also going to be paying a price for the half-hearted nature of the efforts against ISIS going on now.

It’s not just that it is appalling that the world’s sole superpower finds itself either unable or unwilling to muster sufficient force to be able to defeat a group that Obama continues to speak of with contempt. Nor can he use the excuse that it is a guerrilla group hiding out in the mountains that can’t be defeated by the conventional military tactics and airpower that the U.S. military excels in using. ISIS has, in fact, conducted its own conventional war and has managed somehow to go on fighting on two fronts in two countries with no signs that it is cracking.

That was bad enough when the administration was still able to pretend that this wasn’t their fight. But once the beheadings of American citizens forced Obama to act, he has continued to treat this as a minor affair that the U.S. can conduct on the cheap. But wars fought on the cheap tend to be very expensive in the long run. So far, all this campaign has gotten Washington is a closer relationship with an equally dangerous Iranian regime and the loss of trust in American power on the part of its allies.

Though the temptation to speak is obvious, it is a mistake for the president to be running his mouth about desultory achievements that do more to highlight the shortcomings of his strategy than proving their value. So long as it stays in the field in control of the bulk of the territory of two countries while fighting the U.S., ISIS is winning and showing the people of the region that they would be fools not to back the “strong horse” that is standing up to the Americans. Until he can announce some real victories against ISIS, President Obama should stop drawing attention to his failures with foolish boasts that do more to undermine U.S. security than to enhance it.

Read Less

The Sydney Siege and the Lone-Wolf Copout

The phenomenon of “lone-wolf” terrorism is vexing to policymakers because it is so hard to predict and prevent. But it also has too often provided an excuse–a way for the political class or security forces to avoid any blame for a successful domestic attack. Even worse, anti-anti-terrorism commentators use lone-wolf attacks to cast doubt on the whole war on terror enterprise as doing more harm than good, or at least not doing much good. Something similar seems to be taking shape in the wake of the Sydney, Australia siege this week.

Read More

The phenomenon of “lone-wolf” terrorism is vexing to policymakers because it is so hard to predict and prevent. But it also has too often provided an excuse–a way for the political class or security forces to avoid any blame for a successful domestic attack. Even worse, anti-anti-terrorism commentators use lone-wolf attacks to cast doubt on the whole war on terror enterprise as doing more harm than good, or at least not doing much good. Something similar seems to be taking shape in the wake of the Sydney, Australia siege this week.

Iranian immigrant Man Haron Monis took a Sydney café full of customers hostage for about sixteen hours; Monis and two of the hostages were killed before the café was cleared. Monis reportedly had recently converted from Shia to Sunni Islam and professed his desire to hang an ISIS flag during the siege (he displayed a more generic Islamic flag while demanding to be brought an ISIS flag). He holds extremist views and has what appears to be a violent history.

And yet, the narrative forming is one of failed antiterror legislation. As the New York Times reports:

The laws, which passed the Australian Parliament with wide support, made it an offense to advocate terrorism, even on social media; banned Australians from going to fight overseas; allowed the authorities to confiscate and cancel passports; and provided for the sharing of information between security services and defense personnel. The government also deployed hundreds of police officers in counterterrorism sweeps across the country.

None of these measures prevented a man known to both the police and leaders of Muslim organizations as deeply troubled and with a long history of run-ins with the law from laying siege to a popular downtown cafe in Sydney, Australia, this week and holding hostages for 16 hours. The attacker, Man Haron Monis, an Iranian immigrant, and two of the 17 hostages were killed early Tuesday amid the chaos of a police raid. …

The case, like recent lone-wolf jihadist attacks in Brussels, Ottawa and New York, raises troubling questions about the ability of governments to monitor homegrown, radicalized would-be jihadists and prevent them from doing harm.

That’s true as far as it goes … but it doesn’t go very far. There was, in fact, plenty that could have been done and the authorities knew it. As the Times notes, Monis was charged last year as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife (she was apparently stabbed and then burned alive). He was out on bail. Then in April he was charged in an older sexual assault case. And here’s the kicker: “Forty more counts of sexual assault relating to six other women were later added to that case.”

So here’s what we have: a Muslim extremist whose current charge sheet includes accessory to murder and more than forty counts of sexual assault who was granted bail. He was free until trial, despite all this. So here’s one obvious measure the authorities could have taken: deny him bail, or even rescind bail once the assault charges started getting counted by the dozen. You shouldn’t have to wave the ISIS flag to get attention; murder and sexual assault over a period of more than a decade should be enough.

According to the L.A. Times, Australia’s bail laws were amended to make such action easier, but not in time to stop Monis. That may or may not be a dodge, but it certainly makes clear that there is something that could have been done to keep Monis off the streets. Throwing up your hands and sighing “lone wolf” is just a copout.

What else can governments learn about domestic extremists from the case? Here’s one more clue, from the New York Times:

In Australia, the government even had information that the Islamic State sought to recruit just such an attacker to carry out a bold attack in Sydney. “All that would be needed to conduct such an attack is a knife, a camera-phone and a victim,” Mr. Abbott warned Parliament in September.

Mr. Monis, who was reported to be armed with a gun, did not appear to have put a great deal of planning into his attack at the Lindt Cafe. Lacking an Islamic State banner, he demanded one in exchange for several hostages, local news media reported.

ISIS and groups like them are thus a domestic threat in two ways. First, the obvious: they can plan attacks on the homeland and try to attract jihadists to a war zone who have Western passports. They can provide training and contacts for someone looking to go back home and cause trouble.

And second, they can plan terrorist attacks from abroad without ever having to enter the target country and without the domestic attacker ever having to leave. This is the intersection of foreign policy and domestic security. If ISIS is seeking to turn disaffected radicals into one-man sleeper agents then the “lone wolf” tag isn’t very edifying–or accurate. And it points to a lesson about the futility of shortcuts: There is no substitute for actually defeating the enemy.

Read Less

Obama Falls For Iran’s ‘Good Cop’ Routine

Since winning election in 2013, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been accorded sympathetic treatment in the foreign press. That his moderation was largely a fictional construct didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Iran had replaced a cartoonlike villain—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—with someone who could be called a moderate. That was bad enough when it came to whitewashing the regime he fronted before the nuclear talks began. However, Rouhani’s fake identity is crucial to the effort to sell the West on the need to appease Iran by signing a deal that would fail to prevent it from becoming a threshold nuclear power. The key to Iran’s success in the talks is for the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s pose as the good cop resisting the evil influence of the “bad cop” hardliners.

Read More

Since winning election in 2013, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been accorded sympathetic treatment in the foreign press. That his moderation was largely a fictional construct didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Iran had replaced a cartoonlike villain—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—with someone who could be called a moderate. That was bad enough when it came to whitewashing the regime he fronted before the nuclear talks began. However, Rouhani’s fake identity is crucial to the effort to sell the West on the need to appease Iran by signing a deal that would fail to prevent it from becoming a threshold nuclear power. The key to Iran’s success in the talks is for the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s pose as the good cop resisting the evil influence of the “bad cop” hardliners.

Rouhani was the least extreme of the set of loyal Islamists who were allowed to run for president but his victory served the purposes of the country’s radical rulers. His pose of moderation has always been more about the need to sell the world a narrative about Iran being on the cusp of change. It didn’t matter that the election that he won was hardly democratic or that he has no real power, which remains firmly in the hands of the country’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nor did anyone care that Rouhani has a long record as a faithful servant of the radical Islamist regime, including a stint at diplomacy after which he boasted of his ability to deceive the West on the nuclear issue. Indeed, the secret talks conducted by the Obama administration that led to the interim nuclear deal signed last November preceded Rouhani’s victory.

Rouhani’s election hasn’t moderated Iran’s behavior either at home or abroad. The country remains a brutal tyranny that punishes dissent, either political or religious, without mercy and spews anti-Semitic hate. It has not ceased to support terrorism abroad and has used its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as the regime’s own forces to help ally Bashar Assad defend his reign of terror in Syria by slaughtering opponents. And it has continued to defy the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who want to find out what’s going in its nuclear military research sites.

It is true that there are competing factions within Iran and some of them would like to see Rouhani and his friends fall. That has allowed credulous foreign journalists to buy into the narrative about the moderate Rouhani championing accommodation with the West while the hardliners seek to shut down the nuclear talks. This leads to articles like the one published in today’s New York Times that centers on Rouhani’s pledges to resist his opponents and fight for a nuclear deal that would end sanctions on Iran. Some within the regime are so distrustful of the West that even the sham of a détente with the United States is unacceptable to them.

But the problem with this narrative is that the two sides have the same goal: a nuclear Iran and a U.S. retreat from the region allowing the regime to exercise hegemony in a way that would destabilize and endanger U.S. allies.

Appeasing Iran sufficiently in order to allow Rouhani to tell his opponents that he had bested the U.S. would give President Obama an agreement that he could attempt to portray as a badly needed foreign-policy triumph. But what the president and his foreign-policy team miss in their zeal for a deal is that lifting sanctions and making Rouhani a hero in Iran won’t make that nation less murderous either at home or abroad. Iran’s failing economy and plunging oil prices give the president an opportunity to press the regime to make real concessions on the nuclear issue that would truly end the threat. But rather than risk a confrontation that would force it to give up their nuclear infrastructure, the president, with his press cheering section aiding his cause, seems more worried about helping Rouhani.

The good Iranian cop may have his differences with the bad ones that are closer in many ways to Khamenei. But the U.S. ought to be indifferent as to which Islamist faction rules in Tehran. Rouhani won’t bring freedom to Iran or give up its deadly foreign ambitions to undermine moderate Arab governments and to destroy Israel. Rather than worrying about his factional fights, U.S. negotiators should not be fooled by this transparent charade. But so long as Rouhani can count on Obama and friendly outlets like the Times to make his case for him, the chances that any deal reached will actually prevent Iran from eventually getting a bomb seem small.

Read Less

Cheney’s Critics and Moral Clarity in War

As far as America’s political left is concerned, Dick Cheney isn’t merely a wrong-headed Republican; he’s the spawn of the devil. The liberal mainstream media always treated Cheney as George W. Bush’s whipping boy during his administration and this week he’s been continuing that tradition by being willing to get out in front of the cameras after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Cheney’s unrepentant and unapologetic defense of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques during his appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, where he was closely questioned by host Chuck Todd, has sent his detractors over the cliff into heights of rhetorical excess and rage that make this debate take on the appearance of a Medieval theological disputation. But while Cheney may be accused of sounding insensitive about some of the very nasty things that were done to al-Qaeda prisoners, he nevertheless seems to posses a degree of moral clarity that few of his critics seem to have.

Read More

As far as America’s political left is concerned, Dick Cheney isn’t merely a wrong-headed Republican; he’s the spawn of the devil. The liberal mainstream media always treated Cheney as George W. Bush’s whipping boy during his administration and this week he’s been continuing that tradition by being willing to get out in front of the cameras after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Cheney’s unrepentant and unapologetic defense of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques during his appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, where he was closely questioned by host Chuck Todd, has sent his detractors over the cliff into heights of rhetorical excess and rage that make this debate take on the appearance of a Medieval theological disputation. But while Cheney may be accused of sounding insensitive about some of the very nasty things that were done to al-Qaeda prisoners, he nevertheless seems to posses a degree of moral clarity that few of his critics seem to have.

The discussion about torture reminds us of the qualities that always annoyed his opponents most about Cheney. It’s not just that he does things they hate, it’s his air of defiance in which he doesn’t even accept the premise of the questions posed to him that makes them think he is evil. One example comes from New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait who commented on an earlier appearance by the former vice president on Fox News during which he wouldn’t budge from his stance even when asked about some particularly brutal conditions imposed on the terror suspects:

The host, Bret Baier, asked Cheney about Bush’s reported discomfort when told of a detainee’s having been chained to a dungeon ceiling, clothed only in a diaper, and forced to urinate and defecate on himself. “What are we supposed to do? Kiss him on both cheeks and say ‘Please, please, tell us what you know’?” Cheney said. “Of course not. We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack, and we were successful on both parts.”

Here, finally, was the brutal moral logic of Cheneyism on bright display. The insistence by his fellow partisans on averting their eyes from the horrible truth at least grows out of a human reaction. Cheney does not even understand why somebody would look away. His soul is a cold, black void.

Chait’s argument rests on the notion that even if you thought torture might be necessary, the decent thing to do is to act shocked or horrified by the ill treatment of even the bad guys of al-Qaeda. Cheney won’t play that game and that makes him not only infuriating to liberals but a poster child for the necessity of prosecuting Bush administration figures involved in the practice because, as the New York Times’s Juliet Lapidos wrote, he is “among those looking forward—to a time when, under a different administration, it might be possible to “do it again.” They believe his steely resolution that the right thing was done and lack of qualms about these admittedly tough measures show he lacks a soul that even people like Chait are willing to concede Bush might have possessed.

But while in private life the characteristics Cheney is exhibiting might seem egregious, they are also evidence of exactly what we need from wartime leaders.

What Cheney remembers and all of those who are carrying on about the one-sided and often misleading Senate report forget, is that the Bush administration’s primary responsibility after 9/11 was ensuring that another atrocity didn’t occur and that the U.S. didn’t lose the war that al-Qaeda was waging against it. Throughout the history of this republic, wartime leaders have always been forced to do some things that don’t look too good outside of the context of the time and the situation. As I wrote last week after the report was released, war is, at best, a morally ambiguous affair and always involves brutality and bloodshed even waged for moral causes.

When pressed about specifics about torture, Cheney stands his ground and answers that the real definition of torture is what happened to the victims of 9/11, not the temporary discomfort of their murderers. That can rightly be put down as sophistry. As Chait writes, there is a difference between mass murder and torture. But to those charged with the responsibility of defending America, the only real bottom line is whether the enemy is stopped and defeated. According to most of those in the know, the committee’s report is wrong to assert that the controversial interrogations did not provide useful intelligence. As long as that is true, Cheney won’t be squeamish or play the hypocrite. He believes it was the right thing to do and won’t avert his gaze from the behavior that helped achieve this result.

That may not strike most people as the sort of public attitude they want our leaders to display since Americans have always clung to the notion that they never had to stoop to the level of their enemies to win wars even if that was always a myth. But is Cheney’s attitude really any different from the defiant defense of drone attacks that we hear from the Obama administration? In the last several years, America has fought the war against Islamist terror mainly by waging remote-control war with bombs that kill civilians along with the bad guys. Everyone knows this, but somehow this preference for killing rather than capturing and then interrogating prisoners is somehow considered more moral.

Dick Cheney’s soul isn’t any less than that of Barack Obama because he was willing to unflinchingly defend torture to extract intelligence while the latter prefers to order strikes that kill rather than merely harm civilians along with terrorists.

This quality may not make Cheney likeable but it was the reason why he was the right man for the job at the time. It may not be easy for liberals to admit, but he helped keep us safe and ensured that al-Qaeda would be beaten. The tactics aren’t easy to look at, but as he can rightly assert, the only thing in war that counts in the long run is the results. That’s all the moral clarity history ever asks of wartime leaders.

Read Less

How Many Snowden Documents Are Fake?

The 2014 Pulitzers gave supporters of NSA leaker and defector Edward Snowden an opportunity to spike the football. And they would do so. “The Pulitzer Prizes Just Demolished The Idea That Edward Snowden Is A Traitor,” crowed the Huffington Post. The Pulitzer is indeed a prestigious award, though I would doubt that the Huffington Post would claim that the 1932 Pulitzer Prizes demolished the idea that Stalin was a murderous tyrant. Even after the award, Snowden’s actions have given his critics more reason to doubt him. And now we have another.

Read More

The 2014 Pulitzers gave supporters of NSA leaker and defector Edward Snowden an opportunity to spike the football. And they would do so. “The Pulitzer Prizes Just Demolished The Idea That Edward Snowden Is A Traitor,” crowed the Huffington Post. The Pulitzer is indeed a prestigious award, though I would doubt that the Huffington Post would claim that the 1932 Pulitzer Prizes demolished the idea that Stalin was a murderous tyrant. Even after the award, Snowden’s actions have given his critics more reason to doubt him. And now we have another.

Last year, the German publication Spiegel, which had been publishing some of the leaked Snowden documents, alleged that the NSA was bugging Angela Merkel’s phone. I say “alleged” rather than “revealed” because the credibility of that story just took a major hit. The story caused ripples of consternation throughout Europe and threatened to rupture U.S.-German relations, and President Obama apologized, though he denied knowing anything about it. The denial seemed implausible at the time; it turns out the president was probably telling the truth.

The German government began an investigation into the allegations this year, and they have come to some preliminary findings, as Reuters reported:

Germany’s top public prosecutor said an investigation into suspected tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by U.S. spies had so far failed to find any concrete evidence.

Revelations by former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden that Washington carried out large-scale electronic espionage in Germany provoked widespread outrage — particularly the allegation that the NSA had bugged Merkel’s phone.

Harald Range launched an official investigation in June, believing there was enough preliminary evidence to show unknown U.S. intelligence officers had tapped the phone, although there was not enough clarity on the issue to bring charges.

On Wednesday he said however, “the document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database.

“Not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA” is an extremely important detail. If that’s true, here’s what appears to have happened: an American defector to Russia (Snowden had been granted asylum in Russia just a couple months before the Spiegel story was published) passed along a fake document designed to throw a wrench in U.S.-German (and U.S.-European) relations.

But we don’t know that either. In fact, this episode raises more questions than it answers. We already know Snowden isn’t trustworthy, and we know his story has changed. We know he has embraced a role as a Putin propagandist. We know that, according to Snowden himself, he doesn’t know everything that’s included in the trove of documents he stole and released on his way to Russia.

So there’s much we already know about Snowden. But if this document is fake, there’s a lot we don’t know about the leaks. First and foremost, we don’t know how much is fake. This is important, because careers were made and Pulitzers were won on the backs of this document trove. NSA reform efforts took shape based on the supposed revelations (many of them surely actual revelations; no one should think all the documents are false).

And it’s also why Snowden’s credibility is so crucial to sorting all this out. The debate that raged in the aftermath of the first disclosures and the news that Snowden had taken much more, which would amount to a steady drip-drip of American secrets, took for granted that the United States government did what Snowden said it did.

In this, Snowden was aided by two things: first and foremost, the journalists who essentially worked as his secretaries. And second, the overwhelming amount of documents he took.

If it’s true that the NSA order regarding Merkel was a fake, why didn’t the NSA show it to be at the time? One possibility is that the size of the bureaucracy of America’s intelligence apparatus makes such a denial a bit like proving a negative: how could the entire organization be sure it never came from NSA? The president’s initial denial suggests the top leaders at the organization truly didn’t recognize the order. But if you redact names and other essential information from such a document, it’s not so easy to trace it.

And who has the resources to conduct such an investigation? Remember, the documents were not handed back to the government. Clearly some of the information released by Snowden’s secretaries was accurate, the rest believable. Snowden seems to have been relying on this.

And he also seems to have been relying on the media. The public doesn’t have access to Snowden’s haul. They trust reporters to sift through them and present them accurately. This is not exactly the golden age of ethics in media, but the public doesn’t really have a choice. They now know that their faith in the media was misplaced. The press isn’t qualified to interpret massive amounts of national-security documents. That doesn’t mean there’s another option; there isn’t. The press still does a great service when correctly reporting on government malfeasance. It would just be nice if the press got the story right far more often than it does.

Read Less

No UN Palestinian Veto? Obama’s Tempted.

This week push may come to shove on the long-simmering feud between President Obama and the Israeli government. With the Palestinians pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would unilaterally recognize their independence in the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the administration must decide whether it is truly in its interests to facilitate an end run around the peace process it has sponsored by refusing to veto the measure just to demonstrate its pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu and or undermine his chances for reelection in the March elections. But while the stakes here are high for both Israel, whose isolation could be greatly increased by passage of such a resolution, and Netanyahu, the danger to Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. interests from such a vote is high as well. Just as important, the notion that passage of this resolution has anything to do with promoting peace is farcical.

Read More

This week push may come to shove on the long-simmering feud between President Obama and the Israeli government. With the Palestinians pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would unilaterally recognize their independence in the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the administration must decide whether it is truly in its interests to facilitate an end run around the peace process it has sponsored by refusing to veto the measure just to demonstrate its pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu and or undermine his chances for reelection in the March elections. But while the stakes here are high for both Israel, whose isolation could be greatly increased by passage of such a resolution, and Netanyahu, the danger to Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. interests from such a vote is high as well. Just as important, the notion that passage of this resolution has anything to do with promoting peace is farcical.

The Palestinian Authority’s motives for seeking to gain a Security Council vote on recognition of their independence are clear. They claim that the peace negotiations promoted by the U.S. over the years has not brought them closer to their declared goal of gaining a state and that only by having the international community force its hand will Israel ever be willing to retreat to the 1967 lines and let Palestinians enjoy sovereignty and self-determination. That is the argument behind the decisions of several European parliaments to adopt resolutions endorsing Palestinian statehood.

But it must be understood that this campaign is about avoiding a negotiated end to the conflict, not finding a shortcut to one. The Palestinians have, after all, been offered statehood in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem three times by the Israelis in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Even Netanyahu’s government arrived at the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry in the last year prepared to offer another two-state solution with a prominent advocate of this plan, Tzipi Livni, as their negotiator. But PA leader Mahmoud Abbas blew up those talks just as he fled the table in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he had asked for. The obstacle wasn’t Israeli settlements or intransigence, but the fact that Abbas knows it would be political suicide for him to sign any deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one, no matter where its borders were drawn.

What the Palestinians want, in other words, is a way to avoid negotiations that would obligate them in one form or another to end the conflict with Israel as the price of their independence. The problem with negotiations isn’t that the Israelis, even Netanyahu, have been intransigent, but that no matter how much Obama and Kerry tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, a solution must in the end require them to make peace. The UN resolution they want would merely obligate the Israelis to retreat from more territory without any assurances that what happened when they gave up every inch of Gaza in 2005—the creation of a terrorist Hamas state—would not happen again in the more strategic and larger West Bank.

Obama would savor the embarrassment this would cause Netanyahu, whose chances for reelection might be damaged by an open breach with the United States and the country’s increased isolation as the world demanded it give up land without offering it peace. But this would also mean the effective end of a major portion of the president’s foreign-policy focus: the achievement of a Middle East peace agreement. It would also mark the end of U.S. influence over either side to the confrontation as both Israelis and Palestinians would no longer need or have any desire to gravitate to the U.S.

The surge in Palestinian violence and the growing support for their statehood among European governments may cause Obama to feel more pressure to go along with Western European allies. Just as important, he may be dismayed by the thought that another veto that backs up a negotiated path to Palestinian statehood will be interpreted by Israelis as proving that Netanyahu has, contrary to his critics, not destroyed the alliance. The irony that a decision by the prime minister’s bitter American enemy would help undermine arguments for Netanyahu’s replacement has to worry Obama. But he should also be worried by the blowback from a failure to order a veto.

The president’s hard-core left-wing supporters might defend such a decision but it would be widely condemned by most Democrats, who will rightly see it as a cynical betrayal of principle motivated more by personal grudges than the national interest. It might also backfire in Israel since voters there would be entitled to say the non-veto was proof of Obama’s irremediable hostility to the Jewish state and might motivate many to back Netanyahu so as to demonstrate their unwillingness to be intimidated into accepting measures that would undermine their security and rights.

The optimal scenario for Obama is to avoid any vote on Palestinian independence in the Security Council that would destroy the peace process. But if he is in this difficult position, it’s largely the fault of his own efforts. After spending the last few years bending over backwards trying to demonstrate daylight between the positions of Israel and the United States, the Palestinians have come to believe that sooner or later the president will hand them the diplomatic victory they long for without being forced to pay any price for it. Doing so will be as much a blow to U.S. interests as it will be to Israel, but it’s hard to blame either the Palestinians or the Europeans for thinking that this time, Obama will really betray the Israelis simply in order to harm Netanyahu. If he does, it will mark a new low for an administration that has already turned undermining allies into an art form.

Read Less

Sydney Siege and Monitoring Extremists

In the annals of terrorism, 2014 will be notable for two trends: the rise of ISIS, eclipsing al-Qaeda, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorists carrying out heinous attacks with little if any help from anyone. The two trends are, in fact, related, because ISIS is now becoming as much an inspiration for violent fanatics as al-Qaeda once was.

Read More

In the annals of terrorism, 2014 will be notable for two trends: the rise of ISIS, eclipsing al-Qaeda, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorists carrying out heinous attacks with little if any help from anyone. The two trends are, in fact, related, because ISIS is now becoming as much an inspiration for violent fanatics as al-Qaeda once was.

Both trends are evident in Australia which saw a 16-hour siege of a cafe in Sydney carried out by a 50-year-old Iranian immigrant calling himself Man Haron Monis, a self-styled sheikh who has preached an extremist gospel and recently converted from Shiite to Sunni Islam. His own lawyer calls him a “damaged goods individual” who was apparently on bail in two different criminal cases–he is charged “with being an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, who was stabbed and set on fire” and with “the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney.” In yet another case, he “pleaded guilty in 2013 to 12 charges related to the sending of poison-pen letters to the families of Australian servicemen who were killed overseas.”

What a charmer. A marginal, criminal character, Monis was apparently spurred into taking hostages because he was exercised about Australian military actions, in cooperation with the U.S. and other allies, against ISIS.

There is little that anyone can do to anticipate such random attacks but there is more that can be done to monitor known extremists such as Monis. Unfortunately standing in the way is a misconceived reading of the freedom of religion which is a bedrock of any free society.

It’s absolutely true that anyone should have the freedom to practice any religion–as long as it doesn’t involve advocating or carrying out acts of violence. Extremists should not be able to hide in a mosque any more than in a synagogue or church. That is why it is deeply unfortunate that Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down a New York Police Department program that sent plainclothes officers to mosques, among other locations, to look for signs of terrorist plotting.

Shutting down this surveillance is a politically correct gesture that arises from the same mindset that had Australians tweeting “#IllRideWithYou” after the Sydney siege started to make clear they would accept taxi rides from drivers in traditional Muslim garb–as if the real problem that Australia faces is “Islamophobia” rather than Islamist terrorism. But while silly, the Sydney tweet campaign was also a harmless gesture. De Blasio’s actions are far more significant. They make New Yorkers less safe from the kind of lone wolf attack that just hit Sydney.

Read Less

Kasich’s Amendment Gimmick and 2016

Up until his impressive reelection as governor of Ohio, there wasn’t much national buzz about John Kasich’s hopes for the presidency in 2016. But the former congressman, investment banker, and Fox News commentator’s strong showing in what is probably the most important battleground state in the country placed him squarely in the middle of a large field of potential GOP candidates and with better credentials for high office than most of the others. Yet the problem facing Kasich if he really wants to win his party’s nomination goes deeper than the same allergy to Wall Street types that hurt Mitt Romney and may yet sink Jeb Bush. It’s that his stands on immigration and Medicaid expansion make him look like just another big-government Republican/RINO to the conservative base. Kasich has an answer to those criticisms: a crusade for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. But though the idea appears designed to make him appear to be a candidate the Tea Party can love as well as the establishment, Republicans would do well to give it a wide berth.

Read More

Up until his impressive reelection as governor of Ohio, there wasn’t much national buzz about John Kasich’s hopes for the presidency in 2016. But the former congressman, investment banker, and Fox News commentator’s strong showing in what is probably the most important battleground state in the country placed him squarely in the middle of a large field of potential GOP candidates and with better credentials for high office than most of the others. Yet the problem facing Kasich if he really wants to win his party’s nomination goes deeper than the same allergy to Wall Street types that hurt Mitt Romney and may yet sink Jeb Bush. It’s that his stands on immigration and Medicaid expansion make him look like just another big-government Republican/RINO to the conservative base. Kasich has an answer to those criticisms: a crusade for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. But though the idea appears designed to make him appear to be a candidate the Tea Party can love as well as the establishment, Republicans would do well to give it a wide berth.

As Politico reports, Kasich is currently touring the country promoting the idea and, of course, also boosting his visibility for those Republicans looking for a successful governor to support for president rather than the unelectable candidates of the right or the establishment favorites embraced by large donors and moderates. If viewed solely in that context, it’s a serviceable gimmick and can also help engender much-needed discussions about taxing and spending, as Kasich says is his purpose. However, on closer examination, the balanced budget amendment idea sounds better in theory than it is in practice.

An amendment would seemingly prevent the kind of bloated deficit spending and the dangerous expansion of debt that rightly enrages conservatives. Its advocates can also point to the example of the states that have such requirements in their constitutions to show that such a scheme can work to prevent the excesses that are harming the economy. But, as anyone who has ever covered a state budget process knows, the requirement to balance the ledgers is just as likely to work against conservative principles as it is to favor them.

One problem is that the requirement to balance the budget can be just as easily employed as an argument to raise taxes as to cut spending. Indeed, for all of the revulsion against new taxes, we know that cutting budget items, especially entitlements, is an uphill climb under the best of circumstances.

Even worse, the notion that a mere statutory requirement can actually prohibit deficit spending is something of a myth. As the states have proved, the process by which their budgets are balanced generally involves sleight of hand tactics and deceptions as much as it does transparency and sober judgments. At best, it is a symbolic measure that could help deter some of the worst practices of contemporary Washington. At worst, it will be a false panacea that will facilitate more of the same congressional hijinks that produce the sort of Christmas tree measures that fiscal conservatives purport to hate. In short, if you didn’t like the recently passed Cromnibus, you won’t think much of life under a balanced budget amendment.

As for Kasich’s 2016 chances, they are, to be fair, as good or as bad as anyone else in a crowded field. However, as Politico notes, he’s more likely to make an impact if any or the entire favored establishment trio of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or Mitt Romney stay out of the race. In the meantime, he can go on peddling his amendment idea and perhaps start some necessary conversations about a future in which Americans will no longer demand a government so big that it can’t stop spending. But no one should mistake his idea for an actual solution that problem.

Read Less

Should Obama Care Who Wins Israel’s Knesset Elections?

The latest polls out of Israel show basically a dead heat between Labor and Likud in the upcoming Knesset elections. Likud still has the advantage, because it will likely be easier for Likud to assemble a blocking coalition than for Labor to assemble a governing coalition should they win. But a Labor-Likud race is, in some ways, just like old times. And in the past, when there has been a close left-right election and a Democrat in the White House, the American president tended to dive into the Israeli election and seek to manipulate the outcome in favor of the left. Which raises the question: Will Barack Obama do the same this time around?

Read More

The latest polls out of Israel show basically a dead heat between Labor and Likud in the upcoming Knesset elections. Likud still has the advantage, because it will likely be easier for Likud to assemble a blocking coalition than for Labor to assemble a governing coalition should they win. But a Labor-Likud race is, in some ways, just like old times. And in the past, when there has been a close left-right election and a Democrat in the White House, the American president tended to dive into the Israeli election and seek to manipulate the outcome in favor of the left. Which raises the question: Will Barack Obama do the same this time around?

Actually, the more interesting question is: Should Obama care who wins? Obviously we know he does care. He hates Netanyahu, and Obama and co-president Valerie Jarrett tend to make policy based on personal grievances and petty grudges rather than on basic rationality. So Obama will care who wins, and perhaps even seek to, yet again, influence the results.

But he shouldn’t care. (Even if he did, he shouldn’t meddle, but the days when Obama could be convinced to respect the sovereignty and democracy of allies are over, if they ever existed.) Bibi Derangement Syndrome has caused American politicos and commentators to do very strange things. For Obama, this has meant downgrading the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war. For commentators, this has meant trying to recruit the corrupt and unpopular Ehud Olmert to return to politics.

So, being that the results of the Western left’s interaction with Israeli politics range from terrible to awful, it would benefit everyone involved if Obama gave up on trying to sabotage Israeli governments. And perhaps one way to convince him of that is to explain very clearly why it would be futile for him to meddle anyway.

That’s not because the left doesn’t have a chance to unseat Bibi; indeed it does (though still a longshot). Rather, it’s because the outcome of a Labor victory is unlikely to fundamentally change anything about the peace process.

Obama’s interest in Israel starts and ends with his attempts to get the Jewish state to give away land so he can boost his own presidential legacy. This is in part why Israelis have never come to trust Obama. He doesn’t know much about Israel, and he doesn’t show any interest in learning. For all his mistakes, this was simply not true of Bill Clinton. It was the opposite of true for George W. Bush, who gave moving speeches in Israel that testified to his love of the country and his deep knowledge and appreciation of its people and its history. Obama’s lack of intellectual curiosity is not limited to Israel, of course, but it certainly applies to it.

And so if his interest in Israel starts and ends with the peace process, his interest in Israeli national elections starts and ends there too. Thus Obama might assume that since Labor is traditionally more supportive of the peace process than Likud, and since Labor has added Tzipi Livni, who was Netanyahu’s peace envoy, to its combined electoral slate, therefore this election presents a stark choice between those Obama can manipulate and those Obama cannot. The reality, however, is more complicated, as reality tends to be.

The Israeli right is still benefiting from the collapse in public confidence in the left’s prosecution of national-security policy. Labor has recovered somewhat, but in recent years economic issues have hovered pretty close to the surface for Israeli voters. If Labor wins the election, it almost certainly won’t be seen as a mandate for giving away land to the Palestinians.

This is not only because Labor has less room to maneuver on this issue than the more security-trusted Likud. It’s also because the peace process is at a low point of the modern era, and it’s there because of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. The Clinton administration made some progress on this front, even if the ultimate failure of the Clinton initiative led to a wave of Palestinian violence. The Bush administration made more genuine progress on this front with the Gaza disengagement and the eventual proffer of a generous peace deal from Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas.

The Obama era has seen the resort to a wave of Palestinian violence but no progress leading up to it. In fact, the two sides have been pushed by Obama and Kerry farther apart than they’ve been in decades. When Obama gets involved in the peace process, there is simply no upside, only downside. If Labor wins, there is no room right now for a renewed peace process, and Obama only has two years left in office anyway.

Additionally, Labor would have to do more than just win the election. They would have to put together a governing coalition, and the math is aligned against them. This also mitigates against the Obama agenda; any coalition Labor could put together would probably have to include Avigdor Lieberman and/or the ultra-Orthodox.

It is doubtful that anything significant will change after the Knesset elections in March. That may be disappointing to Obama, but it also might stop him from once again recklessly meddling in the messy world of Israeli politics.

Read Less

Natural Gas Strengthens Israel, But It Won’t End Conflict

Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it. In a story published today, the Times discusses how the development of the offshore Tamar field and the even larger Leviathan site is making the Jewish state energy independent and putting it in a position to become a major source of gas for neighboring Arab nations and eventually Europe. This is an enormous achievement. But despite the implications of this event, the Times is unfortunately exaggerating one aspect of it. While the gas may make Israel even stronger and solidify its ties with moderate Arab nations, it won’t end the conflict with the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

Read More

Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it. In a story published today, the Times discusses how the development of the offshore Tamar field and the even larger Leviathan site is making the Jewish state energy independent and putting it in a position to become a major source of gas for neighboring Arab nations and eventually Europe. This is an enormous achievement. But despite the implications of this event, the Times is unfortunately exaggerating one aspect of it. While the gas may make Israel even stronger and solidify its ties with moderate Arab nations, it won’t end the conflict with the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

The development of the offshore fields turns the old joke about Moses leading the Jewish people to the only country in the region without oil on its head. As Arthur Hermann wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, these new sources of energy have the ability to make an already growing and strong Israeli economy even greater. Though there are serious questions about Israel’s ability to, even with the help of foreign investors and contributors like the Texas-based Nobel Energy Company that runs Tamar, properly exploit this bonanza, there are also reasons to be concerned about whether the rising tide of hate for Israel in Europe and elsewhere will interfere with the ability of global investors to help fund the effort.

But even the most gloomy pessimist about Israel’s prospects must concede that the energy boom has the ability to both further energize the Jewish state’s economy and to provide a basis for solid economic partnerships with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

But some of the optimists quoted in both the COMMENTARY feature and in the Times need to scale back their expectations with respect to the connection between natural gas and peace. Anyone who thinks the prospect of profitable economic partnerships with Israel will convince Palestinians to give up their fight to destroy it have not been paying attention to the history of the conflict.

From the earliest days of the movement that saw the Jews return to their historic homeland, Zionists have dreamed about economic cooperation providing the magic formula that would persuade the Arabs to accept the new reality. In particular, the pre-state Labor Zionist movement was heavily invested in the notion that the Palestinian working class and agricultural laborers would find a common bond with their fellow workers among the Jews and reject the calls for violence from their leaders who came from the local landowners. But this hope went unfulfilled. Far from seeing the obvious benefits to their livelihood that ought to follow from the work the Zionists did in developing the country, Arabs viewed each new economic achievement or infrastructure developed as a threat. The Arabs may have wanted more prosperity but they valued their conception of national honor—which viewed any thought of Jewish sovereignty over even an inch of the country as an intolerable insult and injury—far more than their pocketbooks or the wellbeing of their families.

That trend continued through the period of the pre-state era past the creation of the Jewish state and to the present day. Indeed, were the welfare of individuals or even of plight of the 1948 refugees and their descendants a national priority, the Palestinians would have long ago given up their futile calls for a right of return that would destroy Israel and instead concentrated their efforts on resettlement and acceptance of peace offers that would give them a state on almost all of the land outside of the 1967 lines they claim.

If economic development meant anything to Palestinian public opinion Israel’s retreat from Gaza would have turned out very differently. Though foreign investors purchased the greenhouses to be left behind by departing Israeli farmers, the structures were all torched within hours of the retreat in an orgy of destruction. Nor would former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have found himself a man without a party or even a constituency when he pushed for good government measures and an end to the official Fatah corruption that blights the West Bank.

The natural gas fields do have an indirect impact on the chances of peace. By making Israel stronger, they give the Jewish state the ability to hold on rather than making rash concessions that will only allow the Palestinians to continue the conflict in the future on even more advantageous terms. The “iron wall” that Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote about in the 1920s when he dissented from Labor’s optimism about peace with the Arabs continues to be the only factor that can persuade Arabs to end the conflict as it did with Egypt and Jordan’s governments though most inhabitants of either country are implacably hostile to Israel.

Friends of Israel should be heartened and its foes discouraged by the development of the gas fields. But so long as Palestinian nationalism remains inextricably tied to the cause of eliminating the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, they won’t end the conflict. Nor will they make it easier for Europeans who believe the lies about Israel being a colonial, apartheid state to merely do businesses with it rather than aiding those working for its destruction.

Israel must stand up for its right to its land, not merely its right to security or the possibility that it can help supply Europe with an alternative to Arab or Russian energy sources. If it doesn’t all the natural gas in the world won’t stop the international community from seeking to destroy it.

Read Less

In Nuke Talks, Obama Still Iran’s Best Asset

For the first time since the Iran nuclear talks were extended for the second time last month, the United States and its allies will meet again with Tehran’s negotiators in Vienna on Wednesday. To listen to public statements from the Obama administration, the allied team will be there to insist on a deal that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But the same factors that have tilted these negotiations in Iran’s direction throughout the process still seem to be pushing the outcome toward an agreement that will be touted as a desperately needed foreign-policy triumph for the administration. With both the French becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction with America’s leadership in the talks and the Islamist regime making no secret of their unwillingness to make more concessions, the question facing the negotiators is not so much whether a deal is possible, but whether the U.S. is able to resist the temptation to continue giving ground to the Iranians in order to get a deal at virtually any price.

Read More

For the first time since the Iran nuclear talks were extended for the second time last month, the United States and its allies will meet again with Tehran’s negotiators in Vienna on Wednesday. To listen to public statements from the Obama administration, the allied team will be there to insist on a deal that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But the same factors that have tilted these negotiations in Iran’s direction throughout the process still seem to be pushing the outcome toward an agreement that will be touted as a desperately needed foreign-policy triumph for the administration. With both the French becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction with America’s leadership in the talks and the Islamist regime making no secret of their unwillingness to make more concessions, the question facing the negotiators is not so much whether a deal is possible, but whether the U.S. is able to resist the temptation to continue giving ground to the Iranians in order to get a deal at virtually any price.

As the next round of talks begins, observers need to think back to the allies’ position prior to the signing of the interim deal to understand just how far the U.S. has retreated from its current perilous position. In 2012 when he was running for reelection, President Obama vowed during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal must end Iran’s nuclear program. The allies were similarly united behind a position that Iran had no right to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel under any circumstances and that its plutonium plant at Arak must be dismantled.

Since then, the U.S. has accepted the notion that Iran has the right to a nuclear program and that its infrastructure will remain largely in place no matter what the terms of an agreement might say. It has also tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrichment while claiming that the low levels permitted freeze its progress toward a bomb even though everyone knows these restrictions can easily be reversed. The U.S. has also given every indication it will allow Iran to keep its centrifuges as well as showing no sign that it will press Tehran to give up its plutonium option or stop producing ballistic missiles whose only purpose would be to deliver nuclear warheads. Even worse, the administration seems to be giving up any effort to find out just how much progress the Iranians have made toward weaponizing their nuclear project or to force them to admit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to get the answers to this vital question.

Based on the experience of the last year and a half of talking with Obama’s envoys, Iran’s negotiators know they only have to stand their ground and it’s only a matter of time until the Americans give in to their demands one by one until they get terms that will let them become a nuclear threshold power as well as lifting the economic sanctions that continue to cripple Iran’s economy.

That the Iranian people are clamoring for an end to the sanctions is clear. As the New York Times reported on Friday, anticipation of the collapse of the restrictions is the talk of Tehran. The eagerness of their would-be European trading partners is just as vocal. In theory, this desire to reconnect Iran to the global economy ought to give the U.S. the leverage to make the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions. On top of that, the collapse of the price of oil should have Iran even more desperate and the position of the allies even stronger.

But the Iranians know whom they are dealing with. As has become increasingly clear in the last year in which the talks went into two overtime periods despite administration promises that the talks would be finite in length, President Obama’s goal is not so much to fulfill his campaign promise about the nuclear threat as it is to launch a new détente with the Iran. This is a crucial point since it not only makes him more reluctant to stick to Western demands about nuclear issues but makes it impossible for him to contemplate abandoning the negotiations. That means that the Iranians know the president isn’t even thinking, as he should be, of ratcheting up the economic pressure with tougher sanctions, or of making the Islamists fear the possibility that the U.S. would ever use force to ensure the threat is eliminated.

Under these conditions the chances of the U.S. negotiating a deal that could actually stop Iran from ever getting a bomb are slim and none. Instead, the only question remains how far the Iranians are willing to press the president to bend to their will in order to let him declare a victory and welcome this terrorist-sponsoring regime moving closer to regional hegemony as well as a nuclear weapon.

Rather than the renewed diplomacy being a signal for congressional critics from both parties of the president’s policy to pipe down, the new talks should encourage them to work harder to pass the sanctions the president claims he doesn’t need. Unless they act, the path to appeasement of Iran seems to be clear.

Read Less

John Bolton: COMMENTARY Is Repeatedly Ahead of the Crowd

COMMENTARY has played an invaluable role in American political discourse for decades, offering thoughtful analysis on issues rather than sound bites or bumper stickers. Especially when it comes to U.S. foreign and defense policy, COMMENTARY has time and time again been ahead of the crowd, anticipating trends and developments that others react to only after the fact. I can’t imagine not being a COMMENTARY subscriber.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

COMMENTARY has played an invaluable role in American political discourse for decades, offering thoughtful analysis on issues rather than sound bites or bumper stickers. Especially when it comes to U.S. foreign and defense policy, COMMENTARY has time and time again been ahead of the crowd, anticipating trends and developments that others react to only after the fact. I can’t imagine not being a COMMENTARY subscriber.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

Read Less

Why Do States Choose to Kill Dissidents in Paris?

Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

Read More

Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

Back to Cansiz, Doğan, and Söylemez: At the time, I speculated the Iran might have been responsible. The preponderance of evidence which has emerged since the murders, however, makes it pretty clear I was wrong, and that Turkey’s security service was to blame. The most damning evidence is a leaked, ten-minute conversation in which the alleged assassin discusses the mission and targets with members of the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT), Turkey’s intelligence service. In addition, a leaked MIT document (consistent with MIT paper stock including watermarks) corroborates those who allege MIT complicity. The French daily Le Monde summarizes the allegations.

The French government, however, has gone silent on its investigation and the French Interior Ministry appears to be stopping its investigation so as not to antagonize the Turkish government. After all, should Paris pursue an investigation that might antagonize Ankara, contracts could be at risk. Alas, with France, the same story repeats.

And it will keep repeating—with Paris being ground zero for murders of dissidents and political opposition—until the French government recognizes that putting its own commercial interests above the rule of law makes it not a dream destination for honeymooners but rather a playground for regimes seeking to quiet their oppositions. Rather than deep-six the investigation into the three Kurdish activists, it is long past time for the French government to pursue the investigation quickly and publicly, wherever it may lead and whomever it might implicate.

Read Less

Reveling in the Anti-Israel Double Standard

Speaking at the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic conference on Thursday, Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr told a stunned audience that Israelis should welcome, and indeed expect, the double standard that Europeans apply to the Jewish state. The ambassador spun it as complimentary for Israel to be held to what he described as a European standard, as opposed to the standard applied to Israel’s neighbors. Of course, the truth is that Israel is held not to a “European” standard, but to an entirely unique one. And while Vahr’s suggestion should be considered deeply offensive for what it says about the European view of Arab countries, more concerning still is that this is not the attitude of anyone who wanted to see Israel survive long in such a region.

Read More

Speaking at the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic conference on Thursday, Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr told a stunned audience that Israelis should welcome, and indeed expect, the double standard that Europeans apply to the Jewish state. The ambassador spun it as complimentary for Israel to be held to what he described as a European standard, as opposed to the standard applied to Israel’s neighbors. Of course, the truth is that Israel is held not to a “European” standard, but to an entirely unique one. And while Vahr’s suggestion should be considered deeply offensive for what it says about the European view of Arab countries, more concerning still is that this is not the attitude of anyone who wanted to see Israel survive long in such a region.

During a panel session at the conference, Denmark’s ambassador to Israel argued that when it comes to how Europe judges Israel, “Israel should insist that we discriminate, that we apply double standards, this is because you are one of us.” With regard to how Europe judges neighboring Arab countries, Vahr told Israelis “those are not the standards that you are being judged by. It is not the standards that Israel would want to be judged by.”

The reality is that far from judging Israel by their own standards, Europeans, like the Obama administration, hold Israel to an entirely unique standard. And rather than making allowances for the terrible existential war Israel has found itself trapped in since its birth, Israel is somehow expected to fight this war without causing any harm to civilians or civilian infrastructure on the other side. More than that, Israel often seems to be expected to avoid fighting its enemies altogether. As we saw this summer, the moment that Israel responded to attacks emanating from Gaza, John Kerry joined the foreign ministers of Europe in the clamor to impose an immediate ceasefire before too much damage could be done to Hamas’s terror infrastructure.

Also noticeable this summer was how international news stations maintained round-the-clock updates on the casualty figures for Gaza. Yet when European powers have gone to war in recent years—in Mali, Libya, and Afghanistan—no such 24-hour tally of the dead and injured was kept running at the bottom of every news screen. Similarly, while European politicians speak of ending the Israeli presence in the West Bank as a matter of great urgency, the ongoing Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus (an EU member state) is hardly something European diplomats are frantically engaged in attempting to resolve.

No less unforgivable were Vahr’s insinuations about the Arab world. Human rights are surely something that should be enjoyed universally, presumably by virtue of everyone sharing a certain common humanity. And international law, if it is to have any kind of validity at all, has to be applied to all nations equally. Yet while the ambassador’s comments may well have been a most brazen expression of the bigotry of low expectations, they also end up doing Israel’s enemies a great service.

If people like Jesper Vahr really think as poorly of Israel’s neighbors as they claim, then surely they would grant Israel some allowances when she is forced to confront these neighbors-turned-assailants. By instead holding Israel to an impossible standard, one that she must always necessarily fall short of, while also constantly excusing the most unspeakable crimes of Israel’s adversaries, these aggressors are awarded the appearance of possessing the moral high ground. Worse still, this double standard has practical ramifications for Israel’s ability to survive and prosper.

As already mentioned, this attitude obliges Israel to fight with both arms tied behind her back even while her enemies employ the most barbaric and underhanded tactics, terrorizing Israel’s civilians while hiding among their own civilian population. Furthermore, Europe’s obsessive focus on Israeli shortcomings, while ignoring the infinitely worse crimes of her neighbors, lays the groundwork for Israel being singled out as a pariah state. It is this supposedly complimentary double standard that Vahr speaks of that has persuaded European banks, pension funds, supermarkets, and city councils to implement boycotts of the Jewish state.

It’s puzzling. If European diplomats really think so highly of Israel and so little of her adversaries, then shouldn’t they be doing everything possible to bolster Israel’s standing in the world? But during the panel event Vahr let something else slip. Asked if his position wasn’t actually demeaning to Palestinians the Danish ambassador retorted that Israel was the stronger party, hence the higher standard expected. And here we have the truth about Vahr’s agenda. In the European worldview–shot through with a reflexive leftism–the Palestinians are the weaker party; the downtrodden victims. Israel, however, is the stronger and wealthier party, and so its military advantage must be inhibited so that the two sides are battling on more of a level playing field. The Palestinians aren’t held to the same standard because they are the “vulnerable” party. Israel, on the other hand, is a Western (and indeed Jewish) power, so must be brought down a peg or two.

Given that Israel faces existential threats European countries could hardly imagine, there is a strong case for granting Israel some allowances. At the very least everyone should be held to the same standard. But if Europeans were serious about assisting the survival of a genuinely liberal democracy, or if they cared about the defeat of religious fanatics and tyrannies, then the last thing they would be doing is serving Israel with a disadvantage in the court of world opinion. But then one has to wonder, how much does the question of Israel’s long-term survival really bother the likes Jesper Vahr and his fellow European diplomats?

Read Less

Abandoning the Free Syrian Army

So how’s the administration campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS going? Not so well in spite of some limited success that Iraqi forces have had in pushing ISIS back in a few spots such as Beiji. The core problem remains the outreach, or lack thereof, to Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria. On that score the news isn’t good.

Read More

So how’s the administration campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS going? Not so well in spite of some limited success that Iraqi forces have had in pushing ISIS back in a few spots such as Beiji. The core problem remains the outreach, or lack thereof, to Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria. On that score the news isn’t good.

The New York Times has a report on how the police force in Ninevah Province in northern Iraq is not receiving support from the central government in Baghdad or from the U.S. This is a mostly Sunni force in an area where ISIS has been strong–Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell to ISIS in June, is located in Ninevah. Retaking, and crucially holding Mosul after retaking it, will require the work of local security forces, but they complain that they are not getting arms or equipment. “We are in a camp like refugees, without work or salaries,” the Times quotes one Iraqi SWAT team member wearing a “U.S. Army” T-shirt saying. “ISIS is our target, but what are we supposed to fight it with?”

Some of these officers fondly remember the days when they did raids alongside American forces, but that is ancient history by now. Today the Obama administration refuses to channel aid directly to Sunnis in either Anbar or Ninevah Province because it insists on working exclusively through the central government–and never mind that the central government is so penetrated by Iranian influence that the minister of interior, who is in charge of the police, is a member of the Badr Corps, an Iranian-sponsored militia that is inveterately hostile to Sunnis.

This is a self-defeating policy and yet one in which the Obama administration persists, pretending that sending aid to Sunnis directly would undermine Iraqi sovereignty. In truth the Baghdad government already controls considerably less than half the country and it will never regain any more control unless it can mobilize Sunnis to fight ISIS. The U.S. can be a key player in mobilizing Sunnis, as it was in 2007-2008, but only if it is willing to reach out to them directly.

The situation is even worse in Syria. Josh Rogin of Bloomberg reports that Congress has not passed a $300 million appropriation to fund the Free Syrian Army. The money was apparently held up in the House Intelligence Committee because lawmakers are concerned that the Free Syrian Army is not an effective fighting force.

Rogin writes that “Congress’s disenchantment with the Syrian rebels is shared by many officials inside the administration, following the rebels’ losses to Assad, IS and the al-Nusra Front in northern Syrian cities such as Idlib. There is particular frustration that these setbacks resulted in some advanced American weaponry falling into extremist hands. Reflecting that dissatisfaction, the Obama administration has taken a series of steps in recent weeks to distance the U.S. from the moderate rebels in the north, by cutting off their weapons flow and refusing to allow them to meet with U.S. military officials, right at the time they are struggling to survive in and around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.”

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more that the U.S. refuses to fund the Free Syrian Army, the weaker it will get–and the more its weakness will be used as an excuse not to support it. This dynamic has been plain for years and it continues. And yet despite our neglect, the Free Syrian Army is still battling, as Rogin notes, to hold onto Aleppo. The U.S. has no choice but to help if we are going to support any alternative in Syria to Sunni jihadists (Al Nusra Front, ISIS) and Shiite jihadists (Hezbollah, Quds Force). But it increasingly looks as if the Obama administration is counting on Bashar Assad–who has murdered some 200,000 of his own people–to fight ISIS.

There is a connecting thread between Syria and Iraq: in both places the Obama administration is tacitly acquiescing to Iranian domination. That is a grave mistake for a whole host of reasons, not the least of them being that the more prominent that Iran appears to be in the anti-ISIS coalition, the more that Sunnis afraid of Shiite domination will flock to ISIS and the Nusra Front for protection.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.