Commentary Magazine


Alison Grimes Can’t Hide From Obama

It is to be hoped that by the end of the day, Alison Lundergan Grimes will have, with the help of her political consultants, come up with a coherent answer to the question of whether she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2012. This evening’s debate with Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell is probably the last chance for the Democrat to end the jokes about her going mum about her vote and save what’s left of her chances to win a Kentucky Senate seat next month. But even if we set aside the justified criticisms of Grimes’s foolishness, the flap over this issue illustrates how the president’s boast about his policies being on the ballot in 2014 is very much to the point.

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It is to be hoped that by the end of the day, Alison Lundergan Grimes will have, with the help of her political consultants, come up with a coherent answer to the question of whether she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2012. This evening’s debate with Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell is probably the last chance for the Democrat to end the jokes about her going mum about her vote and save what’s left of her chances to win a Kentucky Senate seat next month. But even if we set aside the justified criticisms of Grimes’s foolishness, the flap over this issue illustrates how the president’s boast about his policies being on the ballot in 2014 is very much to the point.

Grimes raised eyebrows when she ignored a reporter’s question about whether she voted for the head of her party in 2012 a couple of weeks ago. But when she doggedly refused to answer the same simple question during a taped meeting with the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal, even liberals were left scratching their heads. It may be hyperbole to dub her efforts as “The Worst Senate Campaign of the Year,” as the New Republic did in their headline of a report about her, but it’s fair to say that she must be considered the biggest disappointment for Democrats.

As TNR’s Jason Zengerle put it, for a woman who was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2012 to talk about “the sanctity of the ballot box” when asked if she backed the president showed that she thought “voters were idiots.” While Zengerle wouldn’t go as far as NBC’s Chuck Todd, who said the answer “disqualified her” for the Senate, it’s clear that the enormous funds that Democratic donors from both coasts have poured into the effort to unseat the GOP minority leader have been wasted.

Zengerle puts most of the blame for this debacle on Grimes and her father, veteran politician Jerry Lundergan, who has been calling the shots on his daughter’s campaign. Having convinced themselves that McConnell would use anything she said, even the obvious observation that a Democrat voted for her party’s ticket, as fodder for attack ads, the candidate has spent the last year and a half in a “defensive crouch.” While Democratic operatives, including Bill Clinton, touted Grimes as a talented politician with a future when they were doing their best to steer actress Ashley Judd away from a possible run for the Kentucky seat last year, she hasn’t lived up to the billing.

The result of her caution is that she has come across to voters as being almost as unlikeable as the notoriously unpopular McConnell. Indeed, right now some Kentucky Democrats might be wondering if they made a mistake in rejecting Judd. McConnell would have skewered her as a “Hollywood liberal” but she would also have been less obviously scripted, more authentic, as well as more likeable than Grimes.

Nevertheless, some of the backbiting on the left about Grimes seems to stem from the natural instinct of both parties’ bases to criticize candidates that stray from their ideological biases. Grimes has tried, albeit with minimal success to run as a centrist, something for which liberals will never forgive her if she loses in the same way conservatives despise moderate Republicans.

But the focus on Grimes ignores the main problem Democrats are dealing with this fall: Barack Obama.

Two weeks ago, the president boasted that while his name wasn’t on the ballot this fall, his policies were. That was a terrible political error but also a truthful assessment of the situation. Though local issues and the strengths and weakness of Senate candidates are crucial factors in determining the outcome of the midterms, the one unifying theme of this election remains the record of the incumbent president. With growing chaos abroad, economic stagnation, and a myriad of scandals at home, the country is ready to give the president a vote of no confidence after six years. While it is disingenuous of someone like Grimes to pretend that she can avoid being tagged as an Obama supporter, there is good reason for her to fear being identified as someone who will loyally back the president’s agenda should she help the Democrats hold onto the Senate.

The problem for Grimes is the same for every other Democrat not running in a deep-blue state. She can run but she can’t hide from the president. Just as the messianic hopes that Obama engendered helped his party in 2008, dissatisfaction with a failed presidency is bound to doom many Democrats in 2014 whether or not they run terrible campaigns.

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Democrats Turn On Obama

The Washington Post, in a July 30, 2008 story, reported the following:

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The Washington Post, in a July 30, 2008 story, reported the following:

In his closed door meeting with House Democrats Tuesday night, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama delivered a real zinger, according to a witness, suggesting that he was beginning to believe his own hype.

Obama was waxing lyrical about last week’s trip to Europe, when he concluded, according to the meeting attendee, “this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for.”

The 200,000 souls who thronged to his speech in Berlin came not just for him, he told the enthralled audience of congressional representatives. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” he said, according to the source.

Democrats seem rather less enthralled with Mr. Obama these days. In retrospect, Obama’s ascension to the presidency wasn’t quite the moment the world was waiting for. Increasingly that’s the judgment of Democrats. This year, in fact, Democrats have leveled unusually sharp and damaging charges against the president.

Well into the sixth year of his presidency, then, it’s worth considering not what Republicans but what members of Mr. Obama’s own party, and in some cases former members of his own administration, are saying about him.

* * * *

“But these last two years I think [Obama] kind of lost his way. You know, it’s been a mixed message, a little ambivalence in trying to approach these issues and try to clarify what the role of this country is all about… There’s a little question mark to, is the United States going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?” – Leon Panetta, secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama, October 6, 2014.

* * * *

“My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military…. Those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.” — Panetta, October 1, 2014 (published excerpts from his book Worthy Fights).

* * * *

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

* * * *

“With all the talk of coming home, of nation building at home, the perception has grown increasingly around the world that the U.S. is pulling back from the global responsibilities that it has shouldered for many decades. I believe Russia and China, among others, see that void and are moving to see what advantage they can take of it.”– Gates, May 21, 2014.

* * * *

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”– Hillary Clinton, secretary of state under President Obama, distancing herself from how President Obama described his foreign policy doctrine, August 10, 2014.

* * * *

“First of all, [the United States under Obama] waited too long. We let the Islamic state build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria. Then when [ISIS] moved into Iraq, the Sunni Muslims didn’t object to their being there and about a third of the territory in Iraq was abandoned.” – Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, October 7, 2014.

* * * *

“For now [Obama] has been reduced to … an isolated political figure who is viewed as a liability to Democrats in the very states where voters by the thousands had once stood to cheer him…. As November nears, Mr. Obama and his loyalists are being forced to reconcile that it is not only Democrats in conservative-leaning states, like Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who are avoiding him…. Even the slightest injection of the Obama brand into this election seems perilous for Democrats.” – “In This Election, Obama’s Party Benches Him”, New York Times, October 7, 2014.

* * * *

“What Democrats told me today is that President Obama, however much they love him, he is an albatross around their necks right now. His poll numbers are so bad, people not feeling good about the state of the economy even if there economic indicators that things are getting better. Wages are stagnant.” – Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent and anchor for CNN, October 8, 2014.

* * * *

“One prominent party strategist said Obama ‘should take a flamethrower to his office. He needs dramatic change — it’s not even a debatable point,’ the strategist said. ‘The general consensus that the president is surrounded by people who do him more harm than good because they are more focused on pleasing him than they are challenging him or proposing a different course.’ Obama has endured a brutal two years since his reelection, with a legislative agenda stalled and his approval ratings in the dumps. On the midterm campaign trail, he’s mostly been persona non grata, with Democratic candidates wishing he’d stay away.” – “Dems want White House shakeup”, The Hill, October 12, 2014.

* * * *

“I respect the sanctity of the ballot box.” – Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic Senate candidate, refusing to say if she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012, October 10, 2014.

* * * *

“It was a mistake.” – David Axelrod, former White House senior adviser, responding to President Obama’s statement, “I’m not on the ballot this fall … but make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.” October 5, 2014.

* * * *

“It is safe to say that Obama has been a huge disappointment. I really don’t think there’s any comparison between him and Bill Clinton. I don’t think we’re even talking about the same universe.” — Kirsten Powers, Democratic political commentator, October 2, 2014.

* * * *

“This administration has been disconnected from the government it’s supposed to be running. They seem to view the federal workforce as hostile territory. They don’t engage with it…. They don’t have a strong system of getting info from the agencies to the president. They keep getting surprised by stuff. And the surprise is almost worse than anything else. It conveys the sense that the White House doesn’t know what its own government is doing.” – Elaine Kamarck, senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore, October 5, 2014.

* * * *

“Even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities…. ‘I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,’ Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. ‘I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.’” – “The Competitor in Chief”, New York Times, September 2, 2012.

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A “Clinton Democrat” Runs in New York

Democrat Sean Maloney is running for reelection to Congress in New York’s 18th Congressional District. He beat the incumbent, Republican Nan Hayworth, in 2012, and she is now trying to unseat him in turn. He is ahead according to the only poll on Real Clear Politics, released September 17, at 50-40. While undecideds tend to break against incumbents, that’s a fairly comfortable lead, although RCP has it only “leans Democratic.” The district covers some of the exurbs of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley as well as rural areas farther north. (It’s my congressional district, by the way.)

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Democrat Sean Maloney is running for reelection to Congress in New York’s 18th Congressional District. He beat the incumbent, Republican Nan Hayworth, in 2012, and she is now trying to unseat him in turn. He is ahead according to the only poll on Real Clear Politics, released September 17, at 50-40. While undecideds tend to break against incumbents, that’s a fairly comfortable lead, although RCP has it only “leans Democratic.” The district covers some of the exurbs of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley as well as rural areas farther north. (It’s my congressional district, by the way.)

Maloney got into politics as a volunteer in Bill Clinton’s first campaign for president and then worked in the Clinton White House, rising to the position of staff secretary.

The 18th is pretty much a middle-of-the-road district, and Maloney is running as a centrist Democrat. How centrist? Well, consider this. Although New York is one of just five states where President Obama’s approval rating is at or above 50 percent, much of that support is concentrated in New York City. Upstate, as in most of the country, Obama is about as popular as Ebola. No Democratic politician wants to be anywhere near him.

So Maloney’s yard signs—and yard signs sprout like mushrooms in New York State in the weeks before election day—say only, “Maloney: A Clinton Democrat.”

Obama Democrats are pretty thin on the ground these days, even in deep-blue New York State.

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Trouble on Israel’s Northern Border

During Israel’s most recent war with Hamas this summer, relatively little attention was given to the volley of rockets fired into Israel from Lebanon. Yet all the while, the threat of a second front opening with Hezbolah was of critical concern to Israeli strategists. Fortunately, Hezbollah was tied up with events in Syria, as it still is right now. Nevertheless, the possibility of a potentially far more devastating war with Hezbollah remains ever present.

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During Israel’s most recent war with Hamas this summer, relatively little attention was given to the volley of rockets fired into Israel from Lebanon. Yet all the while, the threat of a second front opening with Hezbolah was of critical concern to Israeli strategists. Fortunately, Hezbollah was tied up with events in Syria, as it still is right now. Nevertheless, the possibility of a potentially far more devastating war with Hezbollah remains ever present.

The explosions and incursions into Israeli territory that occurred on the Lebanese border last weeks are a reminder that this ongoing threat could all too easily escalate. With Hezbollah’s Iranian paymasters always looking for distractions from their illegal nuclear program, the recent war in Gaza, like the rise of ISIS, provided just such a distraction. As there is now the possibility of renewed pressure on Iran over its nuclear program–particularly once the congressional midterms are over–the Iranians are no doubt weighing the benefits of diverting the world’s attention through another proxy war with Israel.

Considering the reality of this wider geopolitical context it is extraordinary that parts of the international media have attempted to construe the recent incidents on the Lebanese border as in some way deriving from a land dispute over the so-called Sheba Farms. That was the line taken by the Agence France-Presse recently. It is true that the Lebanese state claims this splinter of the Golan Heights as part of Lebanon, despite the fact that the United Nations has made quite clear that Israel withdrew from all Lebanese territory in 2000. But to imagine that the leaders of a radical Shia group like Hezbollah genuinely lose sleep over whether or not the Lebanese state has sovereignty over the Sheba farms is completely implausible. Yet, during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war even then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was prepared to entertain the notion that Hezbollah might be appeased by an Israeli withdrawal from the Sheba farms.

The idea that Hezbollah’s belligerence toward Israel is on account of a minor territorial dispute is as foolish as the belief that Hamas went to war this summer over Gaza’s lack of an international seaport. Islamist groups such as these do not take to the warpath over these kinds of single-issue grievances. If such disputes were the real cause of their underlying conflict with Israel then peace would have been secured long ago. Rather, these factions initiate hostilities when their ongoing desire to destroy the Jewish state aligns with a geopolitical moment that encourages them to believe that a renewal of the violence could be advantageous.

Israel, however, will also be aware that the volatility along the northern border is yet another manifestation of the turmoil raging throughout the region as Iranian backed Shia forces continue to slug it out with radical Sunni groups. Along with the threat of ISIS infiltrating into Lebanon from Syria, there has also been the ongoing effort by Hezbollah to transfer Assad’s weapons stockpiles to their strongholds in Lebanon. Recalling that southern Lebanon is another territory from which Israel withdrew its military, Israelis will surely be drawing similar lessons to the ones they drew this summer from the war in Gaza. Given those rocket and tunnel attacks, the threat growing along the Golan Heights, the attacks that have come from the border with Sinai, the very real threat of Jordan also becoming engulfed by ISIS, and now the renewed hostilities on the Lebanese border, Israelis will surely be all the more wary about bringing the threat still closer to their population centers by pulling out of strategically vital West Bank areas such as the Jordan Valley.

So while European governments and the Obama administration continue to push the line that there is an urgent need to press on with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, nothing could be further from the truth. The critically fragile situation on the Lebanese border, so intrinsically linked as it is to the present situation in Syria and the ongoing Iranian quest for regional hegemony, should persuade observers that the matter of Israeli territorial concessions is one issue on which the parties should sit tight. With so many parts of the jigsaw on the move, Western leaders ought to be eager to preserve those few areas where relative stability is still being maintained. Finally, in the event that Hezbollah does seek to provoke a further conflagration on the northern border, they should know which forces are really behind it. And its not the Israeli presence in the Sheba farms.

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Colorado and the End of the War on Women

For the last two election cycles, Democrats have been banking on their endless harping on what they termed a “war on women” allegedly being conducted by their Republican foes. The strategy worked like a charm in 2012 against some comically flawed GOP candidates and seemed, at least to Democrats, to be a gift that could keep on giving indefinitely into the future. But like all good gimmicks, the war on women had a limited shelf life. In an unlikely development, even one of the bastions of the liberal mainstream media has noticed that the attempt to use it to batter credible conservatives is not only inaccurate but also evidence that the Democrats have run out of ideas.

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For the last two election cycles, Democrats have been banking on their endless harping on what they termed a “war on women” allegedly being conducted by their Republican foes. The strategy worked like a charm in 2012 against some comically flawed GOP candidates and seemed, at least to Democrats, to be a gift that could keep on giving indefinitely into the future. But like all good gimmicks, the war on women had a limited shelf life. In an unlikely development, even one of the bastions of the liberal mainstream media has noticed that the attempt to use it to batter credible conservatives is not only inaccurate but also evidence that the Democrats have run out of ideas.

Democrats went into 2014 confident about Mark Udall’s prospects for reelection to the Senate. Nor were they daunted when Republicans nominated their strongest possible contender—Rep. Cory Gardner—to be his opponent. Their optimism was based on faith in Colorado’s changing demographics that supposedly made the state more hostile to the GOP. But they were primarily counting on the utility of the war on women tactic. Wrongly thinking Gardner to be a clone of Missouri Republican Todd Akin whose moronic comments about rape and pregnancy handed the Democrats an undeserved Senate victory in 2012, liberals believed any pro-life conservative could be effectively labeled an enemy of women.

Gardner, an able legislator, rightly thought of as one of his party’s rising stars, has not been so easy to smear. But rather than re-think their strategy, Democrats have doubled down on the attacks attempting to convince voters that the personable and thoughtful Republican was troglodyte misogynist. If the polls are to be believed, the fact Udall has little to say about his own tissue-thin record and that the attacks on Gardner are as illogical as they are nasty have helped put Gardiner in the lead. Just as disconcerting for Democrats is the fact that even the leading liberal media organ in the state has also noticed that their one-issue negative campaign is intellectually bankrupt.

The reliably pro-Democrat Denver Post shocked their readers and the state political establishment on Friday when it endorsed Gardner. The paper not only praised Gardner as a source of “fresh leadership, energy and ideas” but also denounced the Democratic campaign against him:

Rather than run on his record, Udall’s campaign has devoted a shocking amount of energy and money trying to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman’s call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives. Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision. His obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince.

The Post rightly thinks their state will be better served by having an influential and bright Republican in the Senate rather than a Democratic dead weight like Udall. It also believes that if the GOP controls both Houses of Congress there will be a better chance of getting things done than the current stalemate with Democrats in control of the upper body, an optimistic evaluation that probably overrates President Obama’s willingness to work with Republicans under any circumstances.

But the significance of the editorial is that it is one more indication that even liberals understand that the war on women smear is nothing more than empty sloganeering.

The country is deeply divided on social issues but, as they always have in the past, most voters are willing to agree to disagree on abortion provided the positions of candidates are rooted in principle and tempered by common sense. Gardner’s support of over-the-counter birth control is not only, as the Post points out, proof that he isn’t out to ban contraception. It’s also a sensible proposal that would eliminate the need for the government to attempt to force religious employers to pay for free birth control coverage in violation, as the Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case, of their First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion.

The paper’s defection from the lockstep liberal smears of Republicans may be a watershed moment in American politics. After years of ignoring their responsibility to govern, Democrats may be belatedly learning that even some of their usual cheerleaders are no longer willing to acquiesce, let alone participate in their ad hominem attacks on Republicans. The war on women had a good run as a bulletproof method for rallying single female voters to the Democrats. But even the best of tactics is no substitute for a coherent economic agenda or a workable foreign policy. Nor can it allow a weak Democrat to beat a strong Republican. The race in Colorado is still close and the ability of Democrats to turn out their key constituencies should never be underestimated. But the Gardner-Udall contest may be the one that proves that liberal lies about a bogus war on women no longer work.

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Ebola Is 1918 Flu, Not AIDS

Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, likened the rapid spread of Ebola to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. While the spread of AIDS scared society—largely because so much about it at the time was unknown—a better analogy to the spread of Ebola may be the infamous influenza epidemic of 1918.

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Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, likened the rapid spread of Ebola to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. While the spread of AIDS scared society—largely because so much about it at the time was unknown—a better analogy to the spread of Ebola may be the infamous influenza epidemic of 1918.

The scariest thing about the 1918 flu was that it killed not simply children, the old, and the infirm, but also those who were healthy and at the peak of physical fitness. In the United States, 99 percent of the flu’s victims were under 65 years old, and half the victims were between 20 and 40.

To be in the prime of life and health is no defense against Ebola, and being in the military may actually increase risk: Anyone who has ever spent time around American soldiers—and those from many other Western nations—knows the commitment each has to physical fitness and working out. On Army bases and on Navy ships, there are often lines for equipment or exercise stations at the gym. This may sound silly, and of course the Pentagon theoretically will put restrictions and regulations in place, but sweat is sweat.

That’s one of the reasons why it seems unnecessarily risky to insert U.S. forces into the heart of the Ebola hot zone. If Ebola is caused by exposure to bodily fluids, including sweat, then troops who sweat a lot in close proximity to each other will be at special risk, even if only a handful of U.S. troops encounter an Ebola victim.

Perhaps a much better strategy would be to use those forces to better protect America’s borders, as well as ports of entry. Security officials screen passengers before they board any flight departing the United States, but perhaps a better plan would be to couple a secure border with Mexico and Canada with mandatory (even if cursory) health screening for anyone boarding a flight to the United States. At this point, febrile individuals or those showing signs of deception when questioned about their previous whereabouts and contacts pose a greater threat to American national security than old ladies and toddlers with bottles of water.

When AIDS exploded, there were specific categories of people at risk: homosexuals who engaged in unsafe sex (and, indeed, anyone who engaged in unsafe sex); those who had blood transfusions with infected blood; and those from Haiti, where the disease was already epidemic. The young and healthy who did not engage in risky behaviors or who were fortunate enough not to need transfusions were largely out of danger. This was not the case with the 1918 flu, and it is not the case with Ebola, which is much easier to spread. It’s important to show support for Africa, but the U.S. military shouldn’t always be on the vanguard of public relations when they could contribute much more to American defense elsewhere and when the risks of so doing far outweigh the costs.

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Deserving Nobel Recipients

The Nobel Peace Prize was easy to lampoon even before Barack Obama won the award at the start of his presidency for doing essentially nothing beyond giving a few grandiose speeches.  It has tended to go to people like French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and Secretary of State Frank Kellogg  (co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war as an instrument of policy), author Norman Angell (who wrote The Great Illusion, claiming that war was obsolete right before the outbreak of World War I), the Quakers, and the Pugwash Conferences—those who dreamed of peace but who did not have much luck in implementing their dreams.

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The Nobel Peace Prize was easy to lampoon even before Barack Obama won the award at the start of his presidency for doing essentially nothing beyond giving a few grandiose speeches.  It has tended to go to people like French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and Secretary of State Frank Kellogg  (co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war as an instrument of policy), author Norman Angell (who wrote The Great Illusion, claiming that war was obsolete right before the outbreak of World War I), the Quakers, and the Pugwash Conferences—those who dreamed of peace but who did not have much luck in implementing their dreams.

Some of the recipients have actually been warmongers, most notably North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won for his failed Sunshine Policy, which included bribing North Korea’s Kim Jong-il into meeting with him.  Few and far in between have been worthy recipients, such as Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin, and Mother Theresa. The U.S. armed forces, the greatest force for good in the world in the past century, have never won the prize.

But occasionally the Nobel committee gets it right—usually once a decade or so. This is one of those times, with the award going to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India. Yousafzai is the 17-year-old girl who had the temerity to campaign for girls’ education in the Taliban-dominated area of Swat in Pakistan. To silence her, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head but she survived and is now reportedly living in Britain. Satyarthi is a longtime campaigner against child slavery in India and is credited with freeing some 50,000 children from quasi-slavery as indentured laborers.

There are lots of heroes like Yousafazai and Satyarthi around the world who are fighting for freedom. Another worthy recipient would have been Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Nobel Committee should stick to recognizing and elevating their efforts instead of awarding prizes, as they have so often done, to Westerners who are big on grand gestures that cost them nothing.

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Faith and Doubt

The New York Times recently published an op-ed by Julia Baird praising Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, for telling an audience at Bristol Cathedral that there are moments in which he asks, “Is there a God? Where is God?”

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The New York Times recently published an op-ed by Julia Baird praising Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, for telling an audience at Bristol Cathedral that there are moments in which he asks, “Is there a God? Where is God?”

When pressed if he harbored doubt, Welby answered, “It is a really good question…. The other day I was praying over something as I was running, and I ended up saying to God, ‘Look, this is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there?’ Which is probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

I’m not so sure. Many people I know, including some very gifted ministers, have struggled with such doubts. So did C.S. Lewis, the greatest apologist for the Christian faith in the 20th century. (The doubts came in the immediate aftermath of the death of his wife Joy Davidman.) And one of the formative figures in my own Christian pilgrimage, Malcolm Muggeridge, told William F. Buckley, Jr., “I rather believe in doubt. It’s sometimes thought that it’s the antithesis of faith, but I think it’s connected with faith – something that actually St. Augustine said – like, you know, reinforced concrete and you have those strips of metal in the concrete which make it stronger.”

“The only people I’ve met in this world who never doubt are materialists and atheists,” Muggeridge added. “But for me, at any rate, doubt has been an integral part of coming to faith.” That is certainly the case for me, which might explain, in part, my early affinity for Muggeridge. The journey to faith was not a neat and tidy affair for me.

The author Philip Yancey points out that the Bible includes many examples of doubt. In some cases, like Job, God honors doubt. And for Christians, of course, there are the words uttered by Jesus on the Cross: “My God, My God, why hast though forsaken me?”

“Evidently God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches,” Yancey writes. He adds that artificially suppressing doubts, you don’t really resolve them. They tend to resurface in a more toxic form.

Here it’s worth inserting a caveat. In our post-modern culture, it’s often fashionable to celebrate doubt, to declare oneself always a seeker and never a finder. Yet there are plenty of people who serve God with faithfulness and joy, who never find themselves struggling with existential and intellectual doubts and spiritual uncertainty. For them faith has always come easily. There’s no reason such people should be viewed in a less flattering light.

It’s important to recognize that faith isn’t a synonym for reason, even though it’s not intrinsically at odds with it. (Pascal said the supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason.) Faith doesn’t rest on logical proofs or material evidence. If it did, there wouldn’t be (as there is) an element of trust involved in it. God’s existence can’t be proved, and wasn’t intended to be understood, like a mathematical equation. It’s the nature of faith, then, to leave room for doubt. And faith itself, a friend recently reminded me, involves a relationship, and there is mystery in any profound relationship.

In the end, however, the cornerstone of faith isn’t doubt. It rests on hope, on believing in an unseen reality, and on what C.S. Lewis called “true myth” (by which he meant ancient pagan myths revealed the natural human longing for a true God). On creation bearing witness to a Creator. On being filled with awe by the starry heavens above us and the moral law within us. And on the materialist explanations of life not being able to explain the most important things about life.

It rests on the belief that we’re part of an unfolding story, a drama, that God is the author of and has entered into. And that when the story is finally written, broken areas of our lives will be repaired and redeemed; that all things will be made right; and that grace will bring us home.

 

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The Unresolved Problem with Boots on the Ground

A growing chorus of analysts, generals, and even cabinet secretaries who served under President Obama suggest that Obama’s stated goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS is not going to occur by means of air power alone. That might be true, although it’s also true that Obama hasn’t used airpower to its full effect. To read a Pentagon press release is to read reports of five, six, or seven airstrikes. Given that an aircraft carrier can launch planes every 30 to 40 seconds, this suggests that the Obama administration is effectively committing the equivalent of three or four minutes of dedicated aircraft carrier time to achieve its goals. And even then, many of the strikes Obama has ordered (and the president has said that he approves every strike carried out inside Syria) attack empty buildings or equipment far away from the fronts of the fight.

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A growing chorus of analysts, generals, and even cabinet secretaries who served under President Obama suggest that Obama’s stated goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS is not going to occur by means of air power alone. That might be true, although it’s also true that Obama hasn’t used airpower to its full effect. To read a Pentagon press release is to read reports of five, six, or seven airstrikes. Given that an aircraft carrier can launch planes every 30 to 40 seconds, this suggests that the Obama administration is effectively committing the equivalent of three or four minutes of dedicated aircraft carrier time to achieve its goals. And even then, many of the strikes Obama has ordered (and the president has said that he approves every strike carried out inside Syria) attack empty buildings or equipment far away from the fronts of the fight.

But even if boots on the ground are necessary with an augmented air campaign, there is one problem that is unsolvable, and that is the personality and lack of commitment of the commander-in-chief. President Obama has the strategic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Despite his September 10 speech, it’s unclear whether he is truly committed to destroying ISIS or was simply reacting to the spike in public outrage following the murder of James Foley.

Now make no mistake: I personally feel that the defeat of ISIS is an overwhelming national interest, and that the goal should not simply be “deradicalization” for its fighters, but rather their death. That said, there is nothing more dangerous to any potential ground troops than to be inserted into a warzone without broad public consensus about their mission and to have a commander-in-chief who has consistently met the requests of forces in the field with indecision and a failure to deliver what ground commanders consider their minimum basic needs.

What can be done? Unfortunately, there’s no good answer with such lackluster leadership in the White House and Congress. But those serving in uniform and placing themselves in harm’s way should not be a political football. At present, however, that is exactly how the president and some members of both parties treat them and the ISIS problem. Until there is focus and responsibility in both the White House and Congress, and recognition that military action cannot be governed by polls or political timelines, it is foolhardy to insert ground forces.  Regardless of how they might be needed and how determined ISIS is to strike the United States, ground troops without serious leadership would be unwise. Never again should there be a deployment of ground forces without political consensus, broad public support. If these are lacking and we have to pay the consequence, then that will be a “teachable moment” for the public about the importance of freedom and the nature of the evil that the United State must confront.

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Keeping America Safe for the Middle Class

“If Republicans win, we know who they’ll be fighting for,” President Obama said on Tuesday. “Once again, the interests of billionaires will come before the needs of the middle class.”

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“If Republicans win, we know who they’ll be fighting for,” President Obama said on Tuesday. “Once again, the interests of billionaires will come before the needs of the middle class.”

Where did he say it? According to the New York Post, in the hyper-exclusive Conyers Farm area of very upscale Greenwich, Connecticut. Conyers Farm has ten-acre zoning. He was speaking at a fundraiser at the $26-million estate of a man named, believe it or not, Rich Richman. His audience consisted of people who had paid up to $32,400 a head to have dinner with him. He had flown up from New York City, where he had earlier attended a fundraiser hosted by George Soros (net worth $24 billion) and Paul Tudor Jones (net worth $4.3 billion). The flight was in a convoy of four helicopters and they landed at the Greenwich Polo Club. Polo, of course, is the most expensive sport you can play on land. (A polo field measures 300 by 160 yards, bigger than nine football fields.)

So the president was telling a bunch of millionaires and billionaires to pony up in order to prevent the country from being run for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires, the one segment of the American socioeconomic spectrum that has prospered exceedingly during the Obama administration.

And politicians wonder why people don’t like them or trust them.

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Obama’s Strategy May Turn the Islamic State into the “Strong Horse”

Those who early on said that President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State — the words and aims are Mr. Obama’s — was ludicrously insufficient are finding those concerns being borne out.

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Those who early on said that President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State — the words and aims are Mr. Obama’s — was ludicrously insufficient are finding those concerns being borne out.

On the front page of Wednesday’s USA Today is a picture with this caption: “ISIL close to seizing strategic Syrian town: Smoke rises from Kobani, Syria, as seen from the Turkish side of the border. Despite U.S.-led airstrikes, Islamic State militants are still encroaching, indicating President Obama’s no-ground-troops strategy may not be working.”

Reporting on the same event, the New York Times puts things this way:

A Kurdish official in Kobani, Assi Abdullah, said that despite the bombing, Islamic State fighters had managed to enter new areas of the town and move north, closer to the border.

That development, along with what could be seen of the fighting from across the border, suggested that two days of intensive airstrikes had failed to turn back the militants. Kurdish fighters, as well as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have said that airstrikes alone will not stop the attackers.

These reports should be combined with this one, a Wall Street Journal story that reports, “Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.”

“The strikes are useless so far,” said Mohammad Hassan, an activist in eastern Syria battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “Most of the training camps and the bases were empty when the coalition hit them.”

(On Saturday Islamic State fighters seized the Iraqi town of Kubaisa, located in western Anbar province, “its latest conquest in the desert region where it has chalked up a string of victories, a military official and people fleeing the scene said.” This comes two days after the fall of Hit and as the Islamic State sought to consolidate control in towns west of Ramadi.)

What’s happening was easy to predict when the president announced his plan to defeat the Islamic State without “boots on the ground”; it’s now being confirmed by facts on the ground.

Mr. Obama is waging this war in a slapdash fashion. (He is reluctant even to refer to this conflict as a war.) His approach is de minimis, a trifling, “defined mainly by its limitations,” according to the Washington Post. Unless he fundamentally alters his approach, the president has no chance to achieve his stated goal. The result may be the Islamic State, having withstood our strikes, will be seen as the “strong horse” in the Middle East. America, thanks to Mr. Obama, will be seen as the “weak horse.” And we know what that led to last time. “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” So said Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11.

Has Barack Obama learned nothing since then?

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Israel’s Critics and the Next Election

The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

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The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

Judging by developments in the last week, Israel is more isolated than ever. A new Swedish government announced that it would grant formal recognition to the Palestinian Authority as a state while the European Union made clear it planned to reevaluate bilateral ties with Israel unless it stopped building beyond the 1967 lines and failed to make progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. But rather than acting as a prod to Israel’s government or its people to rethink their stands on the dead-in-the-water peace process, there is no sign that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is worried about its future or rethinking its actions. The events of the past summer have had the opposite effect on Israelis and that is reflected in the moves the prime minister is making toward moving up the dates of the next scheduled parliamentary election.

Having won a second consecutive term (and third overall) as prime minister in January 2013, no elections need be held in the country until at least 2017. But according to the Times of Israel, the prime minister’s decision to move up the date of his party’s primaries and to change procedures for selecting Knesset candidates all indicate that he intends to call for new elections sometime in the next year.

The reasons for this are obvious. In the wake of the war, what remains of Israel’s left-wing pro-peace camp is more discredited than ever. The centrist faction led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid that did so well in the last elections look to be badly beaten the next time voters have their say. Just as important is that Netanyahu is eager to shed what is left of the merger of his Likud Party with that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael B’Aliya Party that has since been dissolved. Likud will win far more seats on its own next time out while its major right-wing partners Lieberman’s party and Economics Minister Naphtali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party will also likely be a big winner.

While a year is a lifetime in politics, there is little doubt the political landscape is shifting in favor of Netanyahu. While there is plenty of competition for the role of his eventual successor, no one, including Lapid, Lieberman, Bennett or Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the opposition Labor Party, seem to be credible alternatives to Netanyahu as prime minister. Which means that barring some unforeseen cataclysm, the prime minister and his party will be heavily favored to gain a third consecutive term that will place him in the same historic context as the nation’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

In analyzing the reason for this it should be remembered that Netanyahu has never been personally popular and his party remains beset by what sometimes seem like more popular competitors for the votes of right-wingers.

But despite this, Netanyahu represents what is now a centrist consensus about the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. While a majority of Israelis still favor a two-state solution in theory and many would be happy to be rid of much of the West Bank, the Gaza war, they also recognize that in the absence of a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, such moves are impossible.

With the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas still unable and/or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, few believe more talks with the PA will accomplish anything. Moreover the growing popularity of Hamas after its futile war reflects support for its desire to destroy Israel and to go on fighting until that goal is accomplished. Given that the Islamist movement leads Abbas in polls of West Bankers that ensures that the PA will not be holding another election anytime in the near future. But it also signals Israelis that any theoretical deal concluded with Abbas would be meaningless if he is succeeded, either by election or coup, by Hamas.

While Israelis are drawing appropriate conclusions from these events, many American Jews and other erstwhile supporters of Israel are not. They continue to attack Netanyahu and, like the left-wing J Street lobby, think that Israel should be saved from itself. But instead of carping about a government that looks to be in power for the foreseeable future, those who claim to be both pro-Israel and pro-peace should think about the need to respect the judgment of the people who were under fire last summer. Israelis don’t want peace any less than Americans but unlike some of their critics, they have been paying attention to what Palestinians say and do. The terror tunnels and the rockets and the support for those who shoot them, not to mention the Palestinian rejection of peace offers, have convinced them that they have no peace partner. In the absence of proof they are wrong, American critics of Israeli democracy should pipe down.

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Assessing the Iran Appeasement Project

Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

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Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

But though such a pact is not yet signed, Laura Rozen, one of the leading cheerleaders for this effort, writes in Al Monitor today that a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view, belongs to William Luers of the United Nations Association. While future historians probably label Luers as a minor figure among this generation’s Guilty Men who worked to appease a dangerous and possibly genocidal rising power, especially when compared to the central role played by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But Luers’ work to normalize a government that ought to remain beyond the pale for decent people nevertheless deserves thorough scrutiny.

Luers, 85, is a former veteran diplomat who served in Moscow as head of the State Department’s Soviet Affairs desk and later as ambassador to Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Communist empire. In the last decade, however, he has devoted himself to fostering good relations with Iran, and becoming according to Rozen’s sources, the driving force behind a “track 2 dialogue” bringing together members of the Iranian regime with Americans. Luers and those backing his effort have also promoted The Iran Project, a think tank devoted to Iran détente and pooh-poohing concerns about the nuclear threat from Tehran.

The Iran Project is backed by major figures within the U.S. foreign policy establishment and has found an eager audience in the media for its reports downplaying the Iranian threat and promoting the virtues of friendship with the ayatollahs even as the regime’s domestic oppression and promotion of terror abroad has increased. More importantly, it has played a not insignificant role in convincing the Obama administration to abandon the president’s pledges to end Iran’s nuclear program and isolate the rogue regime and to pursue the current diplomatic track that Luers and his friends believe is so close to a happy conclusion.

What was the secret to their success?

First, it must be admitted that they have worked the system perfectly in championing the notion of a newly moderate Iran, a campaign that received a major boost when the seemingly more moderate and reasonable Hassan Rouhani replaced the seemingly irrational Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran last year. Since President Obama came into office determined to pursue a policy of “engagement” with Iran only to be repeatedly rebuffed by the Islamists. But advocates of the notion that Iran was only waiting to be embraced by the U.S. didn’t have to struggle too hard to get both the president and Kerry to try again. Their zeal for a deal overcame their common sense and the West wound up forfeiting the enormous economic and political leverage it had over Iran when an interim nuclear agreement was signed last November. That deal didn’t significantly lessen Iran’s ability to build a bomb but it did start the process of unraveling the international sanctions on the regime that had been so painstakingly built up in previous years.

Second, Luers and company worked hard to cause opinion makers and administration officials ignore the truth about Iran. The idea of Iranian moderation, whether in the form of Rouhani, a veteran regime official who has boasted of deceiving Western negotiators in the past or others taking part in back channel talks sponsored by the appeasers, was always farcical. There has been no change in Iranian policies either at home (where oppression of dissidents is no less fierce than before and official anti-Semitism is rampant) or abroad (as Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries continue to kill and its rogue ally Assad butchers hundreds of thousands of innocents) in the last year. But the point of the Iran Project isn’t to highlight actual change but to promote the idea that the act of diplomacy will itself start the process of making Iran more peaceful.

In Luers’ world Iran is not a hostile power driven by extreme Islamist ideology, bent on regional hegemony and determined to use terror and armed force to intimidate moderate neighbors and support those bent on Israel’s destruction but a reasonable government just waiting for the right offer to be welcomed into the community of nations. In other words, appeasement of this evil government is just a rational response to a difficult problem that can be solved by diplomacy.

This is disturbing enough but what comes across in Rozen’s adoring article about Luers is the diplomat’s indifference to the dangers of the course that he has helped chart. The Iran Project has worked hard to emphasize the downside of confronting Iran over its nuclear effort but done little to point out the hazards of a policy of appeasement.

Interestingly, Rozen points out that Luers befriended Vaclav Havel when the latter was a dissident during the era of Communist rule in Prague. But we hear nothing about a similar effort to support those working to change regimes in Tehran. Indeed, the last thing the Iran Project seems interested in is anything that seeks to undermine the despotic rule of the ayatollahs. As with those who opposed President Ronald Reagan’s labeling of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” the Iran appeasers will hear no evil about their negotiating partners even if it means whitewashing a dangerous theocracy bent on obtaining a nuclear weapon.

If a nuclear deal is signed, it will be a triumph for Luers but it will not mark a new period of understanding between Iran and the United States. Iran’s character is as unchanged as its dangerous strategic goals. The only thing that will be altered is the West’s ability to resist an Islamist regime whose nuclear ambition will, at the very least, signal the start of an era of increased instability in the Middle East and bloodshed that will be worsened by the power the appeasers are handing Tehran.

Instead of celebrating Luers, honest observers should be ignoring his advice and pleading with the president to step back from this course of appeasement before it is too late to reverse the damage to Western security that has already been caused.

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Why Kobani Might Fall

At one level it might seem curious that the town of Kobani in northern Syria–a Kurdish enclave–is in danger of falling to the black-clad fanatics of ISIS even though the U.S. is now bombing them. It is not so hard to figure out why U.S. air strikes have been so ineffective if one compares them with a bombing campaign that began on October 7, 2001–almost exactly 13 years ago–in Afghanistan.

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At one level it might seem curious that the town of Kobani in northern Syria–a Kurdish enclave–is in danger of falling to the black-clad fanatics of ISIS even though the U.S. is now bombing them. It is not so hard to figure out why U.S. air strikes have been so ineffective if one compares them with a bombing campaign that began on October 7, 2001–almost exactly 13 years ago–in Afghanistan.

RAND’s Benjamin Lambeth summed up the Afghan air campaign as follows: “[D]uring the 75 days of bombing between October 7, when Enduring Freedom began, and December 23, when the first phase of the war ended after the collapse of the Taliban, some 6,500 strike sorties were flown by CENTCOM forces altogether, out of which approximately 17,500 munitions were dropped on more than 120 fixes targets, 400 vehicles and artillery pieces, and a profusion of concentrations of Taliban and al Qaeda combatants.”

Now compare with the statistics on the current U.S. aerial bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. According to Central Command, in the 59 days between August 8, when the campaign started, and October 6, the U.S. has conducted 360 strikes utilizing 955 munitions.

That’s a big difference between dropping 17,500 munitions in Afghanistan and 955 in Iraq/Syria. So rare are U.S. strikes today that Centcom has actually taken to issuing press releases to announce the dropping of two 500-pound bombs.

The bare numbers understate the actual difference, moreover, because the U.S. was dropping heavier bombs from heavier aircraft such as the B-52 in Afghanistan which have so far not been utilized in Iraq/Syria. Moreover, the effect of strikes in Iraq/Syria is not as great because Obama has refused U.S. Special Operations personnel permission to go out into the field alongside indigenous forces to call in airstrikes as they did so effectively alongside the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. This is to say nothing of the fact that in neither Iraq nor Syria is there a ground force as effective and organized as the Northern Alliance capable of taking advantage of U.S. airstrikes to attack ISIS on the ground.

The lack of a ground force is a problem that will not be solved for a while because it will take time to train and organize fighters, although the process can be hastened by committing U.S. personnel as combat advisers. But even now there is nothing preventing the U.S. from mounting heavier air strikes as we did in Afghanistan. Nothing, that is, except the lack of will exhibited by the commander in chief who has claimed as his goal the eventual destruction of ISIS but refuses to commit the resources necessary to achieve that ambitious objective.

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Is Kobane 2014 Warsaw 1944?

This summer, after a lecture at Poland’s National Defense University, I was treated to a tour of the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The museum, which commemorated not the Jewish ghetto uprising but rather the uprising of the Polish resistance against the Nazi occupation two years later, should be a mandatory stop on any visit to Warsaw. The story is well-known but, for those who have forgotten, my colleague Marc Thiessen wrote about it here.

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This summer, after a lecture at Poland’s National Defense University, I was treated to a tour of the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The museum, which commemorated not the Jewish ghetto uprising but rather the uprising of the Polish resistance against the Nazi occupation two years later, should be a mandatory stop on any visit to Warsaw. The story is well-known but, for those who have forgotten, my colleague Marc Thiessen wrote about it here.

When the Polish partisans rose up, they expected the Red Army to sweep into the city and liberate it from the Nazis. Instead, the Red Army stayed put while the Nazis gained the upper hand, slaughtered the Polish nationalists, and then razed the city. While the United States embraced Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as an ally in the realpolitik world of World War II, too often whitewashing his racist and murderous proclivities, Stalin himself had a plan for post-World War II Europe, and strong Polish nationalism had no place in it. What I had not known until I had visited the museum was the multiple requests to the United States and its allies to provide air support or airdrop supplies to the partisans who were slowly being starved between Nazis and the Red Army. No air support was forthcoming; the allies did not want to irk Stalin. When it came to other supplies, what came was too little, and much too late.

Fast forward 70 years. The Islamic State (ISIS) is surrounding the majority Kurdish town of Kobane, an enclave which has also taken in thousands of displaced Christians and Arabs. The United States has for months ignored the advance, and only in recent days provided some aerial assistance. Those fighting in Kobane are wedged between ISIS and, just a kilometer away, the Turkish Army. The Turks refuse to provide assistance to the Kurdish defenders, even as they watch hundreds of thousands flee, and thousands killed or wounded.

Many Turkish citizens—both ethnic Turks and Kurds—recognize the cynicism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for whom outreach toward Kurds is consistently just a pre-election ploy. This is why, as the fall of Kobane to ISIS has neared, Kurds have taken to the streets inside Turkey to protest. In the last couple days, this has led to more than a dozen deaths inside Turkey and the Turkish government imposing curfew on six cities. The analysis and observations of “the radical democrat” are well worth reading.

The Kurdish resistance first toward sl-Qaeda and then toward ISIS started out strong. But, as ISIS has enriched itself through the seizure of equipment and a flow of foreign militants and, perhaps, some support for Turkey as well, it has grown strong. At the same time, Turkey, the Syrian regime, and ISIS have blockaded the Syrian Kurds. The State Department demand that the Syrian Kurds forfeit their claim to federalism and subordinate themselves both to the Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups of the official opposition who live in Istanbul and control nothing on the ground and to Iraqi Kurdish leaders who, because of corruption and the antics of their sons, are hugely unpopular is short-sighted and ridiculous. That Secretary of State John Kerry is prepared to watch thousands slaughtered, raped, or enslaved in order to drive this point home is a poor reflection on what America stands for.

How sad it is that history is repeating, with the Syrian Kurds playing the part of the Warsaw partisans and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan playing the part of Stalin. The Americans, alas, are once again recognizing pending tragedy but refusing out of cynicism, misplaced diplomacy, or simple incompetence to do anything about it. The freedom-seeking world should be better than it was in 1944, as the freedom fighters of Warsaw perished. Unfortunately, events are showing it is not.

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The President’s Emotional State Bears Watching

One of the more interesting political/psychological pastimes these days is to watch how President Obama deals with his crumbling presidency. The answer is: Not well.

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One of the more interesting political/psychological pastimes these days is to watch how President Obama deals with his crumbling presidency. The answer is: Not well.

Take (via The Daily Caller) his comments last night in which Mr. Obama blamed the press for his travails:

“Frankly, the press and Washington, all it does is feed cynicism,” he insisted, despite getting six years of favorable coverage from establishment newspapers and TV shows.

“Most of you don’t know the statistics I just gave you,” Obama said, after listing a series of cherry-picked data that ignored that roughly 10 million Americans who have given up looking for work, and the $7 trillion in added debt.

“The reason you don’t know [the favorable data] is because they elicit hope. They’re good news … and that’s not what we hear about,” he declared to the roughly 250 supporters who paid up to $1,000 to attend.

“We hear about phony scandals, and we hear about the latest shiny object, and we hear about how Washington will never work,” Obama insisted.

Pobrecito, as the Spanish say. Poor thing.

What is worth paying increasing attention to, I think, is the emotional state of the president. It’s in front of his donors that his most authentic feelings seem to surface, and it’s clear he’s becoming increasingly isolated, embittered, and thin skinned. His excuse making is now chronic and habitual. He’s even displaying some signs of paranoia. Everyone is against him.

Obama is becoming Nixonian.

The man who by a wide margin has received the most worshipful press coverage in at least the last half-century is complaining that the press is mistreating him. A president who routinely misleads the public on matters large and small, who first ran for president on the promise of unifying America but governs based on dividing it, and who allows the most important national-security matters to be decided by crass political considerations is blaming others for feeding cynicism.

Watching a narcissist struggle to deal with massive, multiplying failures can be a poignant thing, especially when everyone gets what’s going on except the narcissist and his enablers. When this happens to a sitting president, however, what is poignant becomes alarming. Because it’s always better that the president of the United States live in reality rather than creating his own.

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Harry Reid: Still Crazy-Like-A-Fox After All These Years

There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

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There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

A couple of recent stories about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought this joke to mind. First, in mid-September, Politico published a story in which Reid was unusually frank about just how pleased he was with himself. He actually wanted–six weeks out from the election–to begin bragging, like a kid who can’t believe how many fireflies he caught in a single jar, that Republicans had begun making “fire Reid” an election-year mantra:

“I’m meaningless,” Reid, a three-decade Hill veteran and the most powerful Democrat in Congress, told POLITICO Thursday. “People in red states don’t even know who I am.”

So look who thinks he’s nothing! But he’s also right, in an important way. Harry Reid has never achieved the kind of name identification that makes him a strategically sound national target, and he knew it. If Republicans are talking about him, instead of, say, President Obama or actual policies, then he’s done his job.

And today’s story in The Hill on Senate Republicans’ grumbling over leadership concerns raises a similar point, only it reveals that Reid has inspired finger pointing among Republicans even though they have the momentum heading into the home stretch of the midterm campaign.

And reading The Hill’s story, it’s easy to feel some pity for the anonymous GOP senator on whom much of the story is based. The senator has basically had the political equivalent of his shoelaces tied together, and since he’s unnamed we can’t even warn him of the imminent meeting between his face and the Senate chamber floor. And the only sound louder than the impending thud will be bellowing laughter of Harry Reid.

Here’s The Hill setting the scene:

If Republicans fall short of expectations this fall, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) could face a leadership challenge.

Republican senators say there is much riding on the Nov. 4 elections for McConnell, who is gunning to become majority leader while also attempting to defeat a well-funded Democratic opponent.

“If we don’t win the majority then all bets are off,” one GOP senator told The Hill when asked whether McConnell could face a leadership race if Republicans remained in the minority in 2015.

The senator, who requested anonymity, said some members of the Senate Republican Conference would call for a re-evaluation of McConnell’s tactics, which the lawmaker described as maintaining total party unity in opposition to the Democratic agenda.

The very next paragraph, however, explains the absurdity of the complaint:

The senator acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is difficult to work with because he has severely limited the ability of Republicans to offer amendments.

“There’s no question Harry Reid is very tough to deal with, but some of us wonder whether we should have tried to go around him to work with other Democrats,” the senator said.

Conservative critics, on the other hand, argue that McConnell has been too accommodating and has not been fierce enough in waging the battle to repeal ObamaCare or slash federal spending.

Here’s what happened: Harry Reid set a trap, and some Senate Republicans are falling for it. That’s really the crux of the plot here. Between Reid’s reduction of the applicability of the filibuster and his obliteration of Senate norms intended to give the minority some limited role in the democratic process, Reid has made it impossible for Republicans to get what they want and nearly impossible for them to stop Democrats from getting what they want.

Is that unfair? Sure, but welcome to the NFL, kid.

The genius of Reid’s shenanigans is that they only feed the conservative narrative that the Republican leadership is out of step with the party’s grassroots. With midterm elections approaching in which Republicans may actually have a decent shot at reclaiming the upper chamber, this is Reid’s best chance to divide and conquer the Republican caucus so the infighting holds the party back from training all its fire on the other side. Republicans who fall for this–and there appear to be several–are getting played.

And while I don’t know who the anonymous senator is, this strikes me as the kind of mistake common for inexperienced legislators. It reads like a hazing ritual of the Senate, and Reid is taking particular delight in it. Conservatives who truly want to advance a conservative agenda in Congress ought to stop stepping on the rake.

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Dems Prepare for World Without Obama

After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

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After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

Heeding the call of his immense ego rather than the advice of his party’s political consultants, last week President Obama attempted to inject himself into this year’s midterm elections. But the unpopular president’s declaration that his policies, if not his name, was on the ballot in November was remarkable mainly for the fact that it was treated as a major political gaffe rather than as an inspiring call to arms for Democratic activists. This turn of events is a comedown for a man who entered the White House like a messiah but will spend his last years there as a lame duck. But, as the New York Times reports today, the real story here is whether the Obama coalition of young people, unmarried women, minorities, and educated elites that elected him twice is a foundation for his party’s future or something that stopped being relevant after 2012.

The president’s supporters believe he can still play a role in mobilizing key Democratic constituencies. In deep-blue states like Illinois, New York, and California that might be true. But as the president’s poll numbers head south, the idea that the magic of his personality can create a governing majority is no longer viable. With Democratic candidates in battleground states avoiding the unpopular chief executive like the plague, it is increasingly clear that his party is on its own.

It should be remembered that in the wake of the 2008 and 2012 elections, we were treated to a round of Democratic triumphalism about Obama having changed American politics in a way that gave his party what amounted to a permanent majority for the foreseeable future. That in turn generated a companion wave of Republican pessimism about their inability to win in a changing demographic environment in which minority voters would ensure GOP losses in national elections.

But like all such predictions (remember how George W. Bush’s victory in 2004 was thought to herald a permanent GOP majority?), these analyses failed to take into account that issues, candidates, and circumstances make each election a unique event. The Democrats’ victories were impressive and influenced heavily by the fact that the electorate is less white than it was only a decade ago. But if you take the Obama factor out of the equation, the notion of a permanent hope-and-change coalition seems more like science fiction than political science.

As the Times notes, the president isn’t only less popular among groups that are less inclined to support him but also among those that were crucial to the Democrats’ recent victories like young people and women. While no one thought that Obama would be anything but a liability to Democrats in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, or Georgia, he’s also being politely asked to keep out of swing states like North Carolina and even light blue states like Michigan. All of which means that this midterm is shaping up as a preview of 2016 when Democrats will try to win a national election without the old Obama magic helping them.

One Democratic answer centers on their past and their likely 2016 nominee: the Clintons. Hillary Clinton will have her own coalition to build and can certainly count on enthusiasm for what may be our first major-party female candidate for president. But as much as Democrats in states like Arkansas are happy to welcome her husband in to help bolster their tickets, it may be too much to ask even of Bill Clinton to expect him to save incumbents like Mark Prior.

Without the Obama personality cult boosting Democratic turnout, they will have to fall back on their technological edge in turnout and organization. Yet in the end each election is decided more on the names on the ballots than anything else. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ shaky incumbents and weak bench is strong enough to build on what Obama accomplished. But those who are counting on the same sort of enthusiasm fueling future Democratic campaigns need to explain who, in the absence of a charismatic leader, can give a reason for voters to heed the social networking appeals and other strategies that have worked so well for them in the recent past.

A world without Obama is terra incognita for a Democratic Party that must prove it can win a victory without the aid of a boogeyman like George W. Bush or a hope-and-change messiah. Moreover, eight years of a largely failed presidency has altered the political landscape just as much as the changing demographics. Next month we will get the first indication whether Democrats are equipped to deal with that dilemma. If the polls that currently give the GOP an edge are any indication, they might not like the answer.

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‘The Golem of Hollywood’

Father-and-son bestselling novelists Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman—the latter a contributor to COMMENTARY, author of the hilarious memoir “Let My People Go to the Buffet”—have collaborated on one of the craziest, wildest, and most compelling works of popular fiction in years. It is certainly, if you will forgive the term, the Jew-iest. The Golem of Hollywood, just published, begins as a classic serial-killer book set in Prague—until the serial killer is suddenly dispatched in a supernatural way.

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Father-and-son bestselling novelists Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman—the latter a contributor to COMMENTARY, author of the hilarious memoir “Let My People Go to the Buffet”—have collaborated on one of the craziest, wildest, and most compelling works of popular fiction in years. It is certainly, if you will forgive the term, the Jew-iest. The Golem of Hollywood, just published, begins as a classic serial-killer book set in Prague—until the serial killer is suddenly dispatched in a supernatural way.

Then it morphs into a classic L.A. crime story (in the tradition of Jonathan’s immensely popular Alex Delaware series) with a depressed cop and a mystery woman and a bizarre murder in the Hills. Then it flashes back to…the Garden of Eden, where Cain and Abel are just starting to find themselves at cross purposes over a woman. The L.A. cop is a 31 year-old kid, an apostate of a kind both from the Orthodox Judaism in which he was raised and from the Harvard education he fled just before he was to receive his degree. The book cross-cuts between Genesis and Hollywood, with stops in 16th century Prague to visit the legendary wonder rabbi Judah Loew and elsewhere on the European continent.

Popular fiction is often so generic that you can’t remember what you read a day after you read it. The Golem of Hollywood is the very opposite of generic. It traverses genres, blasts them wide open, and moves on to explode yet another cliche. It’s a pretty remarkable thing, this Golem of Hollywood. Give it a go.

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Using a Double Standard on Hate Crimes to Bash Israel

Hateful graffiti targeting a minority have repeatedly been scrawled on cars and buildings, including houses of worship, yet police frequently fail to arrest the culprits. Innocent people have been viciously attacked and occasionally even murdered just because they belong to this minority. Clearly, this is a country awash in racism and prejudice that it’s making no real effort to stem, so it deserves harsh condemnation from anyone who cares about such fundamental liberal values as tolerance and nonviolence, right?

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Hateful graffiti targeting a minority have repeatedly been scrawled on cars and buildings, including houses of worship, yet police frequently fail to arrest the culprits. Innocent people have been viciously attacked and occasionally even murdered just because they belong to this minority. Clearly, this is a country awash in racism and prejudice that it’s making no real effort to stem, so it deserves harsh condemnation from anyone who cares about such fundamental liberal values as tolerance and nonviolence, right?

That’s certainly the conclusion many liberals leaped to about a similar wave of anti-Arab attacks in Israel. But what I actually just described is the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States, and there has–quite properly–been no similar rush to denounce America. Since the American government and people overwhelmingly condemn such attacks, and America remains one of the best places in the world to live openly as a Jew, liberals correctly treat such incidents as exceptions rather than proof that the U.S. is irredeemably anti-Semitic. But somehow, Israel never merits a similarly nuanced analysis.

Consider just a few of the attacks I referenced in the first paragraph: This past weekend–on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year–swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity at Emory University in Atlanta, and also on a synagogue in Spokane, Washington, on the other side of the country. In August, a Jewish couple was attacked in New York by thugs who shouted anti-Semitic slogans, threw a water bottle at the woman, and punched her skullcap-wearing husband. In July, pro-Israel demonstrators were attacked by stick-wielding thugs in Los Angeles. On August 9, an Orthodox rabbi was murdered in Miami while walking to synagogue on the Sabbath; police insist this wasn’t a hate crime, though they haven’t yet arrested any suspects, but local Jews are unconvinced, as a synagogue and a Jewish-owned car on the same street were vandalized with anti-Semitic slogans just two weeks earlier. And in April, a white supremacist killed three people at two Jewish institutions near Kansas City, Kansas.

A Martian looking at this list, devoid of any context, might well conclude that America is a deeply anti-Semitic country. And of course, he’d be wrong. Context–the fact that these incidents are exceptions to the overwhelmingly positive picture of Jewish life in America–matters greatly.

Yet that’s no less true for anti-Arab attacks in Israel. As in America, both the government and the public have almost unanimously condemned such attacks. As in America, culprits have been swiftly arrested in some cases, like the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July; also as in America, the failure to make arrests in other cases stems not from tolerance for such crimes, but from the simple fact that some cases are harder to solve than others.

Finally, as in America, these incidents belie the fact that overall, Israeli Arabs are better integrated and have more rights not only than any of their counterparts in the Middle East, but also than some of their counterparts in Europe. Israel, for instance, has no laws against building minarets, like Switzerland does, or against civil servants wearing headscarves, as France does. Arabs serve in the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and sometimes the cabinet; they are doctors, university department heads, judges, and high-tech workers.

Clearly, anti-Arab prejudice exists in Israel, just as anti-Jewish prejudice exists in America. But a decade-old tracking project found that it has been declining rather than growing. And successive governments have been trying hard in recent years to narrow persistent Arab-Jewish gaps: For instance, an affirmative action campaign almost quadrupled the number of Arabs in the civil service from 2007 to 2011. Indeed, as Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, argued in August, it’s precisely the Arab minority’s growing integration that has outraged the anti-Arab fringe and helped spark the recent rise in hate crimes.

So it’s past time for liberals to give Israel the same courtesy they extend America: Stop looking at hate crimes in a vacuum and start seeing them for what they are–isolated incidents that don’t and shouldn’t condemn an entire country as “racist.”

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