Commentary Magazine


U.S. Ukraine Policy: Dumb and Immoral

President Obama may–stress the word “may”–finally be doing the right thing if he is serious about defeating and destroying ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. He is still a long way from doing the right thing in Ukraine where outright Russian aggression has been met with an alarmingly tepid response from the U.S. and our allies. The U.S. has imposed tougher sanctions than the EU, but neither has barred Russian firms from their financial systems–sanctions that could have truly serious consequences for the Russian economy. And neither the U.S. nor Europe is providing Ukraine with the weapons it desperately needs to defend itself.

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President Obama may–stress the word “may”–finally be doing the right thing if he is serious about defeating and destroying ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. He is still a long way from doing the right thing in Ukraine where outright Russian aggression has been met with an alarmingly tepid response from the U.S. and our allies. The U.S. has imposed tougher sanctions than the EU, but neither has barred Russian firms from their financial systems–sanctions that could have truly serious consequences for the Russian economy. And neither the U.S. nor Europe is providing Ukraine with the weapons it desperately needs to defend itself.

Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times provide chapter and verse of the dismaying American failure to help the victims of aggression. They note that Obama has promised to deliver a measly $70 million in nonlethal aid–for rations, first-aid kits, radios, and the like–but most of the assistance is “still in the pipeline.” “The United States has also promised to train 700 members of Ukraine’s National Guard,” they note, “but that program is not scheduled to get underway until 2015.” In short, by the time that American training efforts get under way Ukraine as we now know it will likely not exist.

Ukraine has been asking for assistance and we should provide it. As retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, argues, the U.S. “should provide the Ukrainian forces with antitank weapons, ammunition, fuel, cyberdefense help and military advisers.” Even rushing secure radios to the Ukrainian forces would be a big improvement since at the moment the have to use unencrypted cell phones that are easy for the Russian forces to intercept.

Yet Obama is still refusing to help for fear of “provoking” the Russians or “escalating” the conflict. One would think that the appeasement mentality would have evaporated about the time when Vladimir Putin spat on Obama’s hoped-for “reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow. Instead Putin decided to reset Russian foreign policy to the days of the Soviets or possibly the czars.

He has already carved out a corridor in eastern Ukraine that, if the current ceasefire holds, will remain effectively outside of Kiev’s control. We can expect further carve-ups of Ukraine and possibly other states (such as the Baltics) in the future if Putin isn’t stopped now. Moreover, if he gets away with aggression, as he has done to date, it sends a very dangerous message to the Chinese, Iranians, and others bent on upsetting a regional status quo by force if necessary.

Refusing to help the Ukrainians with military aid is not only stupid strategically. It is immoral. The Ukrainians will bear the risks of fighting the Russians to defend their country. It will be Ukrainians, not Americans, in harm’s way. The least we can do is to give them the tools to fight for their freedom.

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Obama Tripped Up By His Own False Choice

So it now appears that President Obama is ready after all to authorize air strikes in Syria. Let us hope he does not lose his nerve at the last moment as he did exactly a year ago when he last seriously contemplated employing American air power in Syria–on that occasion not to target ISIS but rather the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons.

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So it now appears that President Obama is ready after all to authorize air strikes in Syria. Let us hope he does not lose his nerve at the last moment as he did exactly a year ago when he last seriously contemplated employing American air power in Syria–on that occasion not to target ISIS but rather the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons.

It would have been even better if the president had unleashed American air power, in conjunction with aid to the Free Syrian Army, much earlier in the conflict–all the way back in 2011 as some of us urged at the time. By waiting so long Obama now has to grapple with a much tougher situation not only in Syria but also regionally. In December 2011, for example, I wrote: “If parts of Syria slip outside anyone’s control (as occurred in Iraq from 2003 to 2007), they could become havens for Sunni extremists such as al Qaeda.” Sadly that prediction has been vindicated–not only in Syria but also in Iraq.

The point of recalling what I and others said at the time isn’t to engage in a game of “I told you so.” Like every other foreign-policy analyst out there, I have made my share of mistakes that others can second-guess. No one gets it right every time and Obama had legitimate concerns that led him to avoid getting more deeply involved in Syria in 2011.

But there is a broader point here that is well worth keeping in mind. When I or others advocated robust action in Syria (stopping short of using U.S. ground troops), many noninterventionists including the president himself implicitly or explicitly accused us of being warmongers. As recently as late May at West Point, Obama was defending his conduct of foreign policy by attacking supposed hawks: “A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable,” he said. And: “I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.”

In that speech Obama set up a false dichotomy by suggesting that the only choices confronting a U.S. president are isolationism or extreme interventionism–by which he meant of course waging the Iraq War as George W. Bush did. The reality, however, is that in many circumstances a willingness to use a little force early on can avert the need for a bigger, messier involvement with lower chances of success later on. That is exactly the situation we face today in Syria and Iraq where it is much harder to make progress now than it was in 2011 when no one had ever heard of ISIS. Let us hope that President Obama and others who share his noninterventionist inclinations learn a lesson about the costs of inaction–just as those of us who favor a tougher approach to foreign policy should have learned some lessons about the cost of interventionism in Iraq from 2003 to 2007.

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Checking in with Tawakkol Karman

The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

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The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

Given everything going on, I figured it would be time to check in with Tawakkol Karman, the young Yemeni activist who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I have written here before about Tawakkol Karman, especially to criticize her silence in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s assassination attempt against then 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

Now, Tawakkol was a Yemeni opposition activist and the daughter of a Yemeni Islamist official who grew to fame for her peaceful protests against the dictatorship of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. She was not picked simply for her work in Yemen, however, but rather to make a political point. At the time, Thorbjoern Jagland, a Labour Party activist who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, explained to the Associated Press:

The prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

In other words, Jagland and his colleagues wanted a symbol: A woman, an Arab, and an Islamist and they searched until they found someone that could put check marks in all the right boxes.

So what has Karman done since her silence on Malala?

She has joined with other female Nobel laureates to condemn Israel’s fight with Hamas in Gaza, but could find no time to even consider Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel or the role of Hamas’s genocidal ideology encapsulated in its charter.

She is much more prolific on Facebook and Twitter. She celebrated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rise to the presidency in Turkey, never mind his repression of the press or women. There seems to be little if any condemnation of the Islamist beheading of journalists and aid workers or the arrest of non-violent Shi‘ite activists in Bahrain. My Arabic is poor and so I may be missing passing mention she may have given, but Karman certainly declines to make condemnation of Islamist abuses central to her activity, even though she is perhaps more empowered than anyone else to do so.

To Tawakkol Karman, peace and human rights seem to be less of a priority than the promotion of Islamism. She interprets human rights through a sectarian lens. How tragic that the Nobel Committee, so desperate to make a politically correct statement, ended up empowering someone who may embrace non-violent protest, but stands very much for the opposite of peace and universal human rights. And as for Mr. Jagland, he may have believed that the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates were part of the solution, but his experiment seems to confirm that they are much more part of the problem.

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“Occupation” and Anti-Semitism

A Yale University chaplain recently resigned “on his own initiative” over a letter to the New York Times blaming Israel and the Jews for anti-Semitism. Clearly, nothing Israel does or doesn’t do justifies attacks on Jewish citizens of other countries, but even if did, Rev. Bruce Shipman’s reasoning would have been fallacious. According to Shipman, “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad” to pressure Israel “for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” Yet based on the evidence, the Israeli policy change most likely to reduce anti-Semitic outbreaks isn’t ending its “continuing occupation of the West Bank,” but reoccupying evacuated Gaza.

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A Yale University chaplain recently resigned “on his own initiative” over a letter to the New York Times blaming Israel and the Jews for anti-Semitism. Clearly, nothing Israel does or doesn’t do justifies attacks on Jewish citizens of other countries, but even if did, Rev. Bruce Shipman’s reasoning would have been fallacious. According to Shipman, “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad” to pressure Israel “for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” Yet based on the evidence, the Israeli policy change most likely to reduce anti-Semitic outbreaks isn’t ending its “continuing occupation of the West Bank,” but reoccupying evacuated Gaza.

After all, every major upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks in recent years has coincided with a war that began when terrorists attacked Israel from territory it had vacated: spring 2002, when Israel reinvaded parts of the West Bank it had left under the Oslo Accords to stop a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings; summer 2006, when Hezbollah sparked a war by launching a deadly cross-border attack from south Lebanon, which Israel had vacated six years earlier; and two ground operations in Gaza, one in winter 2008/09 and one this past July and August, both launched in response to the incessant rocket fire from that territory ever since Israel withdrew every last soldier and settler in 2005. During the intervening years, incidents of anti-Semitism were hundreds or even thousands of percent lower, despite Israel’s “continuing occupation of the West Bank.”

The latest Gaza war epitomizes this counterintuitive truth. In July, anti-Semitic attacks were up 130 percent in America, 436 percent in Europe, 600 percent in South Africa, and a whopping 1,200 percent in South America compared to July 2013. To cite one typical example, Scotland recorded more anti-Semitic attacks during the first week of August alone than in all of 2013.

In other words, what really spurs anti-Semites to come out of the woodwork isn’t “the occupation,” but Israeli-caused casualties. And while one might have though withdrawals would decrease such casualties by eliminating day-to-day friction between Palestinians (or Lebanese) and Israeli troops, in reality, the opposite has occurred: Every such withdrawal has resulted in terrorist organizations taking over the vacated territory and using it to launch attacks on Israel, which in turn has produced a sharp rise in casualties, for two reasons.

First, in territory it controls, Israel can prevent terror by routine policing. But once it has quit an area, counterterrorism operations require reinvading–and military operations are obviously far more lethal than police work. Second, in territory it controls, Israel can prevent terrorists from embedding military infrastructure like tunnels and rocket launchers amid a civilian population. But once it evacuates a territory, terrorists are free to do exactly that, and they do. Consequently, any counterterrorism operation becomes far more deadly to the terrorists’ own people.

The result, as I explained here last month, is that Palestinian casualties have soared since Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza. In the current war, for instance, the UN claims 2,131 Palestinians were killed. That’s more than the 1,727 fatalities Gaza suffered during the second intifada of 2000-2005. In other words, Gaza just lost more people in 50 days than it did during the bloodiest five years of the period when Israel controlled the territory.

Mark Gardner of CST, which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, pithily explained the problem last month: During wartime, “The British public is constantly exposed to pictures of wounded or dead Palestinian children, and the effect is apparent.” And because such wars have been occurring every two to four years, “the issue is ignited almost continually. The Jewish community gets hit again and again, without reprieve, and the situation is not given a chance to return to relative normalcy.”

So if anyone really thinks Israeli policy should be blamed for global anti-Semitism, the data shows there’s only one policy change that might actually be effective: reoccupying Gaza. Somehow, I doubt that’s what the Bruce Shipmans of the world really want.

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Christie’s Gambling Double-Down and 2016

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Mexico last week on a trip that was aimed at improving his foreign-policy credentials but undermined his reputation for frankness by refusing to talk about immigration while south of the border. But upon his return he did even more damage to his prospects for 2016 by announcing a decision to allow Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey racetracks to allow betting on sports. In doing so, the governor not only doubled down on a failed bet that gambling revenue will save the state but also gave more ammunition to opponents who are already convinced that he is not a conservative.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Mexico last week on a trip that was aimed at improving his foreign-policy credentials but undermined his reputation for frankness by refusing to talk about immigration while south of the border. But upon his return he did even more damage to his prospects for 2016 by announcing a decision to allow Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey racetracks to allow betting on sports. In doing so, the governor not only doubled down on a failed bet that gambling revenue will save the state but also gave more ammunition to opponents who are already convinced that he is not a conservative.

Christie earned his reputation as a straight talker largely because he was willing to confront municipal unions and refused to continue to fund a Hudson River tunnel project that the state couldn’t afford. But his strong support for an increased reliance on gambling to revive a faltering Atlantic City economy did not get the same national attention. But instead of helping bring the resort back, the massive investment on the part of the state in gambling did nothing to save businesses that were already doomed. The closing of two large casinos in the resort at the end of the summer season was a severe blow to Christie’s policy. The collapse of the new Revel casino was a particular embarrassment since, as Breibart.com noted when its demise was announced, Christie had put $260 million in state tax rebates in the scheme to build it.

The collapse of the $2 billion project on Christie’s watch cannot be entirely blamed on the governor but he does bear responsibility for the state’s role in the mess. Nor was that the only government connection. The New Jersey state pension board invested another $300 million in a hedge fund with a stake in the casino.

But the problem here isn’t just the gloomy business environment in the shore resort. It’s that rather than honestly facing the city’s problems and seeking a diversification of investment that might give the place a chance, Christie insisted on pouring more money into gambling at a time when there was already ample reason to believe Atlantic City’s time as a gambling boom town was over. With neighboring states like Pennsylvania building their own resorts as well as competition from Indian reservations, Christie’s foolish investment in even more gambling was never going to work. But, as savvy state political observers noted, it was popular with unions that stood to gain jobs in the short term from the investments.

Yet even if we are prepared to give Christie a pass for his mistake in betting on gambling in the past, his latest gambit—legal sports betting—shows him and New Jersey to be hopelessly addicted to gambling revenue.

Christie, who is joined in support for sports gambling by some state Democrats, thinks allowing betting on major sports is the ticket to save an industry that is over-saturated in the region. Given the massive amounts of illegal betting on sports, especially football, the notion of allowing the state to get a share of that bonanza makes some sense. But, as was already amply proven over the last 30 years, Atlantic City is not Las Vegas. What works in the latter may not prove profitable in the former. Moreover, the major sports leagues have already tied up the state’s efforts to get in on the action in court. That’s why Christie’s announcement that the state would not prosecute casinos and racetracks that allowed sports betting caught these operations by surprise since they know any money spent on this may be a sunk cost if the courts rule against them.

Just as important for Christie, if he persists in this policy it will mean that his battles with some of the most popular sports businesses in the nation will be going on when he is presumably planning to run for president. The idea of campaigning in states where he needs the support of evangelicals and conservatives while putting the weight of his state behind efforts to expand gambling will make it even harder for him to pretend that he is someone who shares the values or the interests of core Republican voters. The leagues will argue, with some justice, that what Christie is doing would put the integrity of America’s most beloved pastimes in jeopardy. That he will be pursuing that crusade merely in order to pay for New Jersey’s government rather than seeking to trim it will also not play well in GOP primaries.

Christie may believe that Bridgegate won’t hurt him and that he can fake his way through foreign-policy questions that betray his lack of experience as well as his paucity of knowledge about such questions. But his gambling dependence problem is not something that can be wished away in a conservative primary. In a field where he may face candidates who have better conservative credentials, a betting habit won’t help Christie close the sale with Republicans.

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Why Immigration Reform Won’t Pass

President Obama justifies his plans (put off until after the midterm elections) to act unilaterally to legalize millions of illegal immigrants on the grounds that Congress has failed to pass the immigration reform bill he prefers. That’s a risible justification for throwing the Constitution under the bus and bypassing Congress and the checks and balances enshrined by the Founders. But even if we all agreed that reform is needed, rarely does the president or his supporters stop to ask why it is that so many Americans and the House of Representatives oppose their position.

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President Obama justifies his plans (put off until after the midterm elections) to act unilaterally to legalize millions of illegal immigrants on the grounds that Congress has failed to pass the immigration reform bill he prefers. That’s a risible justification for throwing the Constitution under the bus and bypassing Congress and the checks and balances enshrined by the Founders. But even if we all agreed that reform is needed, rarely does the president or his supporters stop to ask why it is that so many Americans and the House of Representatives oppose their position.

An answer comes again today from one of the most visible advocates of changing the system to grant the 11 million illegals currently in the country a path to legal status if not citizenship. Jose Antonio Vargas, a former reporter for the Washington Post who outed himself in the New York Times in 2011 as having come to the United States illegally from the Philippines as a child, writes today in a Politico Magazine article about his decision to symbolically turn himself in to the Department of Homeland Security last month along with ten other undocumented aliens. Vargas believes the system is broken and unjust and is demanding the president not wait a moment before using an executive order to override the will of Congress and stop the deportation of illegals.

If we limit our discussion to the question of a system that doesn’t work and which has been loosely enforced by the government for many years, Vargas has a strong argument. Indeed, the need for reform is clear and that includes some sort of rational solution for the millions of illegals who, like Vargas, are obviously not going to be deported.

But if Vargas and Obama want to know why there is such fierce resistance to some of the proposals, including the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate last year, they need to stop and consider how the mockery of the rule of law implicit in Vargas’s brazen stunts (such as getting himself arrested near the Texas border in July) aimed at pressuring the government to let illegals off the hook undermines their case.

It is one thing to say that those living in the shadows should be brought under the umbrella of the system. It is quite another for Vargas and his colleagues to act as if obeying or enforcing the law is merely an option. Vargas has become not so much the poster child for the arbitrary nature of a law he opposes but a professional illegal immigrant.

That is, in and of itself, something of an affront to the whole concept of law and law-abiding citizens. While he boasts of walking around with a copy of the Constitution in his pocket (which he carries, along with his Philippine passport, for good luck), he fails to recognize that the basis of that document is a belief in the rule of law. Though he writes eloquently of the plight of illegals, he seems to think the fact that they broke the law by entering the U.S. without permission is a mere detail. His attitude is primarily one of entitlement, not martyrdom.

Above all, what Vargas and those who seek to publicize and laud his antics forget is that by treating the law as a thing that can be violated with impunity they are undermining the cause they seek to promote. If, after all, the border can be crossed with impunity, there is no border or law.

It is precisely this sense of chaos that led to the current impasse as well as to this summer’s surge of illegal immigrants and in particular, unaccompanied children, to flood across the border to Texas.

Instead of mocking the increased security present along the Rio Grande or those who ask him and other illegals to leave and then get in line behind those already waiting to get into the country, Vargas should understand that there would never be a critical mass of support for reform until the border is secured. Many erstwhile supporters of the Senate bill have come to the conclusion that any resolution of the plight of the illegals must come after the flow across the border is stopped, not before.

Every publicity stunt which allows illegal immigrants to flaunt their status makes it that much harder for any reform bill to pass. Even more to the point, rather than encouraging Obama to trample on the Constitution, Vargas should realize that the only way to win over House Republicans who believe they are defending the rule of law is to meet them on their own ground. Instead, Vargas and Obama are both sending a clear message to the House that they regard the issue with contempt.

This bodes ill for future efforts at reform. If Obama acts after the election on his own to change the law it will set off years of bitter conflict about the constitutionality of his actions, causing opponents of reform to refuse to listen to future proposals. And so long as Vargas and others treat the law as a joke, it will be hard to blame them.

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Obama’s Siege Mentality

You may have noticed in recent months that the spokespersons for the U.S. State Department–the public face of American foreign policy–have proved themselves both unqualified and undignified. Just as the challenges to the global order have become more serious, our spokesyokels have become less so.

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You may have noticed in recent months that the spokespersons for the U.S. State Department–the public face of American foreign policy–have proved themselves both unqualified and undignified. Just as the challenges to the global order have become more serious, our spokesyokels have become less so.

There was the famous “hashtag diplomacy,” during which spokeswoman Jen Psaki demanded that Vladimir Putin stop invading Ukraine and thereby truly begin to “live by the promise of hashtag.” Even if Putin wanted to give the order to retreat from Ukraine, there was no way he could do so until he stopped laughing, so the selfie diplomacy was counterproductive as well as inane.

Then there was Marie Harf, first rewriting history on the bin Laden raid and getting called out on television by Andrea Mitchell and then, in the course of defending some more ridiculous moments by Psaki, picking a fight with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and even calling him “sexist” for criticizing Psaki.

If that last gambit sounded eerily like a stale, cynical Obama campaign ploy, there’s a reason for it: Psaki and Harf came to the State Department from the committee to reelect the president. (Though, in fairness, Harf worked in communications for the CIA earlier in her career.) And that, I think, helps us understand why exactly Psaki and Harf were given their current jobs, and why the president may not quite understand how much of a disaster they’ve been.

Over the weekend Paul Mirengoff at Power Line offered his own dual theory as to why Obama hires such “obvious lightweights” to speak for American foreign policy. First, Mirengoff writes, “Obama is playing to a core component of his base — the young.” Second, Mirengoff believes “Team Obama is trying to ‘demystify’ foreign policy — to make it look unthreatening almost to the point of child’s play. Psaki and Harf provide visual expression of this view just by standing at the podium and talking.”

He continues:

If one believes that the world is a dangerous place and that the U.S. must, accordingly, respond with constant vigilance and, at times, forceful engagement, then you want your spokespersons to look and talk maturely and somberly — to project, in a word, gravitas. For those of us who see the world that way, James Haggerty (Eisenhower’s press secretary who once said “if you lose your temper at a newspaper columnist, he’ll get rich or famous or both”) is a model.

But suppose you don’t believe the world is all that inherently dangerous. Suppose you believe, as Obama does, that the U.S. is at the root of many of the world’s problems and that a new dawn in international relations is possible if America will just lighten up.

In that case, you will be quite happy with light, breezy young foreign policy spokespersons. And if, like Harf, that spokesperson likes to get snarky with conservative journalist, all the better.

I recommend Mirengoff’s whole post on the topic. But my guess would be, as I mentioned earlier, to look to the Harf/Psaki team’s last jobs to grasp their current ones.

Back in 2012, the New York Times published a long article on President Obama’s “Terror Tuesdays,” his weekly meetings on counterterrorism. The article was centered on Obama’s drone war and how he was choosing and eliminating terror targets instead of capturing them. Present in the room for those meetings, the Times revealed, was Obama’s top political advisor David Axelrod, “his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements.”

Axelrod was there because Obama is always hyper-aware of the partisan political implications of everything he does, including national security acts and choosing which terrorists to assassinate. It rankled people a bit that Axelrod sat in on those meetings, but for Obama cynical political point-scoring tends to be the priority.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel wrote a piece on “Obama’s Kissingers,” the people the president had brought into his national-security inner circle. It was heavy on the “political hacks.” Some of them, like Tommy Vietor (who famously responded to a question on Benghazi with the immortal words “Dude, this was like two years ago”), were particularly undistinguished.

So why put people like that out front to take questions from the press? Because Obama’s innate bitter partisanship dominates his staffing decisions, and because he not only views the press as possible enemies–and treats them as such–but any questions as being part of the daily political competition between the president and his many pursuers.

A disturbing example of this was contained in an August column by Chemi Shalev on the administration’s decision to withhold weaponry from Israel during wartime. Shalev writes: “a very senior Washington figure recently told an Israeli counterpart that each step or statement made by Netanyahu is a-priori examined by the White House to see if it helps the Republicans or if Sheldon Adelson might be behind it.”

That is the kind of remarkably unhealthy paranoia for which the president has unfortunately come to be known. And it explains why political hacks and spinmeisters are the only people he trusts to field questions from the press. To this president, everyone’s a suspect.

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Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and the End of the Isolationist Moment

Early in 2013 when Senator Rand Paul’s Senate filibuster catapulted him into the first tier of potential 2016 presidential candidates, the first of his colleagues to rush to the floor to support him was Ted Cruz. The freshman from Texas was then in the process of establishing his own reputation as a Senate firebrand but many wrongly assumed that his endorsement of Paul’s grandstanding about administration drone attacks meant that he shared the Kentuckian’s foreign-policy views. Flash forward to today and not only is Cruz staking out a position opposing Paul’s positions, but the libertarian is himself inching toward the center on the question of foreign interventions. In other words, the isolationist moment in both the Republican Party and the nation appears to be over.

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Early in 2013 when Senator Rand Paul’s Senate filibuster catapulted him into the first tier of potential 2016 presidential candidates, the first of his colleagues to rush to the floor to support him was Ted Cruz. The freshman from Texas was then in the process of establishing his own reputation as a Senate firebrand but many wrongly assumed that his endorsement of Paul’s grandstanding about administration drone attacks meant that he shared the Kentuckian’s foreign-policy views. Flash forward to today and not only is Cruz staking out a position opposing Paul’s positions, but the libertarian is himself inching toward the center on the question of foreign interventions. In other words, the isolationist moment in both the Republican Party and the nation appears to be over.

In recent weeks, Paul’s drift away from the views shared by his father and the legions of libertarian extremist supporters that he has inherited from him has escalated to the point where the senator has opened himself up to charges of flip-flopping.

Paul seemed to be riding the wave of revulsion against the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan last year when his filibuster helped make him the new darling of the GOP. While the senator has consistently maintained that he is a realist in the mode of James Baker rather than an isolationist, there was no doubt about his desire to pull back from engagement in the war on Islamist terror until recent developments made it obvious that such stands were not as popular as he thought.

For example, in his Wall Street Journal op-ed published in June he stated the case that “America shouldn’t choose sides in Iraq” and that there was, “no good case for U.S. intervention now.” But three months later, he’s singing a different tune. Last week in a TIME magazine article, he not only proclaimed that he “was not an isolationist” but went on to claim “if I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS.”

Paul’s apologists will, as is their job, attempt to spin the two pieces as somehow representing the same position. But for those of us who are not determined to rationalize every twist and turn that he must follow in his quest for the presidency, the contradiction is pretty obvious. Though he remains opposed to “nation building,” the Rand Paul of 2010, let alone 2013, would be scratching his head about his criticism of President Obama for “disengaging” in Iraq. Put it down to Paul putting his finger in the wind and rightly determining that sticking to his non-interventionist line after the ISIS beheading would be a problem for most conservatives.

All of which partly explains Cruz’s recent emphasis on his own, more mainstream foreign-policy views. On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Cruz not only enunciated positions critical of Obama and in favor of a more muscular U.S. foreign and defense policy that is consistent with traditional GOP stands that Paul has opposed. He also made it clear that he thinks the distance between Paul and himself on that issue is significant enough to create a real opening for him in 2016.

While more marginal (at least in terms of their chances of winning the nomination) Republicans such as John Bolton and Rep. Peter King have stated that they would run if there was no clear advocate of a strong foreign policy in the field to oppose Paul, Cruz is thinking the same thing. Since there is not much to differentiate him from Paul on domestic issues, the Texan thinks his consistent support of Israel and position in favor of re-asserting American power in the world gives him the chance to assume the Reaganite mantle in Republican primaries.

Is he right?

Cruz has some clear strengths, but also liabilities. He is the hero of Tea Partiers who love his willingness to confront Democrats on every issue, to refuse to play by the rules of the old Senate game about going along in order to get along. But what Tea Party activists see as a commitment to principle, other Republicans view as a mad commitment to suicidal tactics like last year’s government shutdown. Cruz’s unwillingness to acknowledge that mistake makes him anathema to the GOP establishment as well as others who see him as a loose cannon. But his mainstream foreign-policy views could give him an opening with these sectors of the party, including major donors even if he must be considered, at best, as an extreme long shot.

But whether Cruz’s 2016 hopes are realistic or not isn’t the point of recent developments. What we’ve seen in the last few months is the crackup of the libertarian alliance that looked to have a decent chance to take over the Republican Party last year as war weariness and suspicion of the Obama administration seemed to turn the Republican worldview upside down. With Paul retreating from not only his father’s extremism but also from some of his own “realist” stands and Cruz leading a faction of the Tea Party into what he hopes will be a foreign-policy debate in which he will champion the cause of a strong stand in the Middle East, it appears the isolationist moment in American politics is over.

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Interventionists and Rand Paul: A Response to Jim Antle

In his column at the American Conservative, the Daily Caller’s Jim Antle tries to make the argument that Rand Paul will expand the GOP’s foreign-policy tent. In the process, he takes quite a few swings at those he deems “hawks” for not letting noninterventionists sit at the cool kids’ lunch table, and he ascribes to these hawks a typical set of caricatures and exaggerations. Since I am the only commentator mentioned by name in the article, I think it’s worth responding to many of the false assumptions in the piece.

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In his column at the American Conservative, the Daily Caller’s Jim Antle tries to make the argument that Rand Paul will expand the GOP’s foreign-policy tent. In the process, he takes quite a few swings at those he deems “hawks” for not letting noninterventionists sit at the cool kids’ lunch table, and he ascribes to these hawks a typical set of caricatures and exaggerations. Since I am the only commentator mentioned by name in the article, I think it’s worth responding to many of the false assumptions in the piece.

I should point out that I don’t think Antle is attempting to ascribe to me all the opinions he criticizes. I’m not so vain as to think this entire song is about me. But that’s unclear because of the fact that Antle only mentions me and does not cite by name the other “hawks” he criticizes. Additionally, Antle is a very smart conservative who wrote a very good book on the perils of big government, and he stands out from his AmConMag colleagues by neither shilling for Vladimir Putin nor living in fear of the Israel Lobby hiding in the shadows. As such, it’s worth engaging his arguments.

First, here is Antle’s characterization of my opinion on Rand Paul:

This failure to understand how Republicans like Paul actually view foreign policy was illustrated by a Commentary item last year examining the whole concept of “libertarian foreign policy.” Its author, Seth Mandel, quotes Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash saying some measured things about the just grounds for the Afghan War and how to contain Iran, which Mandel contrasts with “the limited scope of Rand Paul’s argument on the NSA.”

Evidently taking Amash’s nuance to be entirely different from Senator Paul’s approach, Mandel concludes, “if Paul wants a major retrenchment from the world and a more isolationist foreign policy, he does not appear to be speaking for any major politician but himself—and that includes those we think of as staunch libertarians.”

This seems to ignore a third possibility: that many on the right who want some degree of “retrenchment from the world,” who have a higher threshold for the use of military force than do most Commentary contributors, are still willing to act militarily against genuine threats to the United States and its interests.

This is a curious bone to pick for a few reasons. First, I was making the point that prominent libertarian figures are not isolationists, and that if Paul wants a “more isolationist foreign policy”–note I do not call Paul an isolationist either, but compare him to other libertarians–he would be an outlier among libertarians. Second, it’s easy to look back on that, which was written in July 2013, and say Paul isn’t a noninterventionist–but that’s because Paul’s position on intervention and on specific threats have changed dramatically as popular opinion has changed. Antle’s criticism of Paul circa summer 2013 should be taken up with Paul, who has since repudiated Paul.

Third, anyone who thinks I’ve tried to write Paul and noninterventionists out of the conservative mainstream quite simply hasn’t read what I’ve written on him. Earlier in 2013, for example, I wrote an entire piece on the fact that Rand Paul’s foreign policy was conservative, and was part of the traditional “spheres of thought” in the conservative movement going back to the emergence of the national security state after World War II. I specifically state (as I have many times) that I didn’t consider Paul to be a military isolationist but rather a throwback to the kind of serious conservative opposition to what many saw as the advent of the national-security version of the New Deal. I just think he’s wrong on the merits.

I’ve also been quite clear that I think Paul, and libertarians in general, have been getting an unfair shake from those who misunderstand libertarianism. So it’s puzzling that Antle, who is usually far more honest in debate, would write verifiably false statements like: “Therefore, libertarians and antiwar conservatives are not simply less hawkish or less interventionist. They must always be described as isolationists, even in cases when they clearly do believe the U.S. has interests outside its own hemisphere.”

But there’s something else in Antle’s piece that deserves some pushback. Antle says hawks were wrong about Iraq (I was in college at the time, and don’t remember taking any kind of public position on the invasion of Iraq, so once again Antle could have found a slightly more relevant–that is to say, relevant at all–example) and therefore should be more welcoming to realists.

Antle here is making a common mistake, which is to arrange the goalposts so that Iraq becomes the prism through which foreign-policy wisdom is measured. This makes sense, because outside of Iraq realists have been wrong on the great foreign-policy challenges of the day. In the Middle East, the realist vision of “stability” lies in smoldering ruins, with nearly 200,000 dead in Syria alone, power-grabs and counter-coups in the rest of the region, and American allies–and thus American strategic imperatives–at risk.

And that does not even cover Russia, on which the realists have fully humiliated themselves. Just today, in fact, the New York Times has another story on Russia violating a key Cold War-era missile treaty. American officials knew this was the case when they negotiated another missile treaty with Russia, New START. Realists pimped New START, hawks warned Putin could not be trusted. The hawks were right, just as they were right about Putin’s designs on regional power, his threat to Europe, and his willingness to outright invade any non-NATO countries in his near-abroad. Realists have beclowned themselves on the issue. They are certainly welcome in the conservative movement and to ply their wares; they just shouldn’t be surprised if, since their credibility is shot, no one’s buying.

Other realists, such as those of the Walt-Mearsheimer variety, have taken to believing in the “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory of powerful, disloyal Jews setting American policy according to Israel’s needs. They often claim they have nothing against Israel, it’s just that the relationship with Israel is no longer a strategic two-way street. In other words, these realists are arguing not that they have an irrational bias against Israel, but that they are morons. (They make a compelling case.)

So if realists can’t hit the broad side of a barn on the Middle East or Russia, and clearly don’t understand the basics of geostrategic calculation, it’s not too surprising that they are not immediately back in leadership positions. Perhaps they are rusty, but they are not ready for prime time.

Antle is intellectually capable of grappling seriously with the arguments of those who favor a robust American engagement with the world. Here’s hoping that at some point he–and Senator Paul’s circle of supporters, paleocon writers, and realists hoping to rehabilitate their tattered reputations–will do so.

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Iraq Looks Ahead

Yesterday was a momentous day in Iraq. It was the day that a new government was announced that was not led by Nouri al-Maliki. It was not so long ago that conventional wisdom in both Iraq and the United States was that there was no way to remove Maliki from office. But with concerted will–on the part of other political factions and the United States government–the task was accomplished. Iran might have played the spoiler, given Maliki’s role as a close ally of Tehran, but the Iranian government put a premium on Shiite unity over preserving Maliki’s rule. And that was that.

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Yesterday was a momentous day in Iraq. It was the day that a new government was announced that was not led by Nouri al-Maliki. It was not so long ago that conventional wisdom in both Iraq and the United States was that there was no way to remove Maliki from office. But with concerted will–on the part of other political factions and the United States government–the task was accomplished. Iran might have played the spoiler, given Maliki’s role as a close ally of Tehran, but the Iranian government put a premium on Shiite unity over preserving Maliki’s rule. And that was that.

Thus the announcement of a new government led by Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi, who has been striking a more conciliatory tone than Maliki did. But we should not kid ourselves that a change of prime minister will magically solve all–or any–of Iraq’s problems. This is not a cabinet of supremely skilled bureaucrats but mainly of the same partisan hacks who have presided over Iraq’s descent into chaos. For example, Ibrahim Jaafari, briefly prime minister under the U.S. occupation, was appointed foreign minister, while Adel Abdul Mahdi, a former vice president and member of an Islamist Shiite party, was appointed the oil minister.

Most worrying of all were the ministerial jobs not filled–Interior and Defense, which happen to be the two most important jobs in a country facing security challenges as grave as those in Iraq. Abadi had been ready to appoint Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Brigades, an Iranian-backed militia, as head of the Interior Ministry and a Sunni as head of the Defense Ministry. But last minute objections, apparently from the U.S., scuttled the deal–and thank goodness: Pretty much the last person who should head the powerful Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq’s police, is an Iranian-backed sectarian thug. Now the challenge will be to find more neutral appointees who will be acceptable to the various factions in parliament.

Beyond that, Abadi has to show that he is serious about outreach–he will have to convince the Sunni tribes that he will be a reliable ally against ISIS. Only then will it be possible to make significant progress against the terrorists who masquerade as defenders of the Sunni community against Shiite aggression.

If there is one lesson that the last few years have taught us it is that we cannot count on the Iraqi factions to solve their own problems. The formation of this government is partly a tribute to the more active role played by the Obama administration in Iraq these past few months after years of shameful neglect. It is vitally important that the U.S. continue to nudge the prime minister and other political players to find common ground against the overwhelming threat that Iraq now faces. And the more that the U.S. is willing to do militarily to fight ISIS, the more leverage we will have to affect the Iraqi political process.

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‘Mansplaining’ Dumbs Down Dems’ Fake War on Women

The latest round of polling from Senate races around the country provides Democrats desperate to hold onto control of the Upper House with little comfort. Not only are they falling behind more states than they are holding their own, but their iron grip on women voters may not be as firm as they thought. But even as their candidates are failing, the effort to claim Republicans are waging a “war on women” continues. The only problem is that in at least one crucial race, they seem to be grasping at straws.

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The latest round of polling from Senate races around the country provides Democrats desperate to hold onto control of the Upper House with little comfort. Not only are they falling behind more states than they are holding their own, but their iron grip on women voters may not be as firm as they thought. But even as their candidates are failing, the effort to claim Republicans are waging a “war on women” continues. The only problem is that in at least one crucial race, they seem to be grasping at straws.

That’s the only explanation for the attempt to paint the GOP’s North Carolina Senate challenger Thom Tillis as having spoken in a chauvinist manner during his debate with incumbent Kay Hagan. The evidence for this claim is tissue thin. It consists of him addressing the senator by her first name rather than referring to her by her title even as she called him “Speaker Tillis” (he is speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives). Not satisfied with this, they are claiming a Tillis ad that claims “math is lost on Sen. Hagan” (which references her numerous claims that consumers could keep their insurance if they liked it under ObamaCare) is also condescending and an insult to women in general.

Petty complaints of this sort are more partisan talking points than a genuine wedge issue for female voters. But that didn’t stop Politico from giving them further weight by devoting a story to the issue and by giving Tillis’s allegedly insensitive behavior a name: “mansplaining.”

I’m not exactly sure what the terms is supposed to mean here. Nor, judging by the superficial nature of the story, does anyone at Politico. But since they don’t appear to be quoting even the most partisan Democrat in using the word, it appears to be a term with which they were determined to label Tillis.

In the past, when GOP politicians were caught in genuine gaffes that fueled Democratic allegations of a war on women, such as Rep. Todd Akin’s idiotic comment about rape and abortion, there was at least something embarrassing for liberals to hang their hats on. But this time around, they are reduced to jumping on nonsense like the use of a first name to buttress their fading narrative, even if even Politico was prepared to note that President Obama and Vice President Biden both did the same thing to Hillary Clinton in their 2008 primary debates with their female opponent.

Why is this necessary? Perhaps because in several battleground states, the gender gap that is supposed to be the Democrats’ ace in the hole isn’t proving to be as powerful a factor as they hoped. In North Carolina for example, the New York Times/CBS News/YouGov poll shows Hagen with a 43-31 percent lead among female voters. That’s an advantage, but it is more than offset by Tillis’s 50-36 percent lead among male voters. Instead of gender providing Democrats with a weapon to win any race, it appears to be a double-edged sword that is as much a hindrance as it is help.

In one of the other key battleground Senate races involving a female candidate, the Democrat’s gender gap advantage has completely disappeared. In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has only a 41-36 percent lead among women. But she trails Minority Leader Mitch McConnell by 47-34 percent among men. The same pattern appears in Arkansas where Democratic incumbent Mark Prior leads Republican Tom Cotton by only a 35-30 percent margin among women. But he trails the Republican 49-36 percent among men. Almost identical figures are to be found in the Alaska race between Democratic Senator Mark Begich and Republican Daniel Sullivan. It’s little wonder that the Republicans are leading in all four of these crucial senate races.

The only conclusion to be drawn from these figures and the Democrats’ desperate tactics is that in the absence of a genuine gaffe that the media can hype and thereby tag all Republicans as misogynists, liberals are left scrounging for material that isn’t quite ready for prime time. Whereas in 2012, foolish GOP candidates gave some false credence to the war on women meme, in 2014, Democrats are reduced to dumbing it down or attempting to falsely spin the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision defending religious freedom as an attempt to ban contraception.

While there is still plenty of time for dumb Republicans to rescue the Democrats once again, the current polling seems to show that weak stuff like the “mansplaining” charge against Tillis won’t be enough to save the Senate for President Obama’s party.

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Gerrymandering Myths and the Midterms

Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

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Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

Last year, President Obama sat down for an “interview” with his campaign donor, New Republic owner Chris Hughes. During the course of their conversation, the president complained that gerrymandering was behind the political polarization of Congress. I pointed out that, according to political scientist John Sides, who had run the numbers, this was just not true.

But the more basic complaint is less about how Republicans vote when they get to Congress and more about how they get there in the first place. Some, such as the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, still argue, against reality, that Republicans owe their House majority to “extreme gerrymandering,” in Krugman’s words. (Presumably “extreme gerrymandering” is the act of redrawing congressional districts while water skiing, or some such.) But this weekend Krugman’s Times colleague, Nate Cohn, took to the paper’s “Upshot” section to pour more cold water on the complaint.

Cohn writes:

Democrats often blame gerrymandering, but that’s not the whole story. More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live — metropolitan or rural — dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities — like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham — lean Democratic.

In presidential races, Democrats used to win by expanding their appeal beyond urban areas, particularly in the South, but Mr. Obama took a different path to victory in 2008 and 2012. He won the nation’s largest cities with more than 80 percent of the vote — margins that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson could only have dreamed of. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, didn’t win the countryside as decisively as Mr. Obama won the big cities.

The gap between staggering Democratic margins in cities and the somewhat smaller Republican margins in the rest of the country allows Democrats to win key states in presidential and Senate elections, like Florida and Michigan. But the expanded Democratic margins in metropolitan areas are all but wasted in the House, since most of these urban districts already voted for Democrats. The result is that Democrats have built national and statewide majorities by making Democratic-leaning congressional districts even more Democratic, not by winning new areas that might turn congressional districts from red to blue.

What about gerrymandering? Certainly it helps Republicans some. Can it be quantified? Cohn cites a couple political scientists who tried:

The political scientists Jowei Chen, of the University of Michigan, and Jonathan Rodden, of Stanford University, estimate that gerrymandering costs Democrats about six to eight seats in the House. Even so, “by far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage,” Mr. Chen says, “is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

Offsetting the gerrymandering–something both parties do–wouldn’t deliver Democrats the House. What would? Well, here is where it gets interesting. The Democrats, it turns out, are at least partly to blame for this situation. (Perhaps that explains why they cling so desperately to the gerrymandering argument.)

As Cohn explained, the Obama-era Democrats have been successful at the national level because they have pressed their geographic advantage into larger vote margins. To do that, they’ve followed a very smart playbook–but one with a downside. The Democrats nationally have pushed liberal base issues, such as social issues like the fabricated war on women and restrictions on gun rights, among others. In other words, Obama and the Democrats have moved to the left.

This was fairly obvious to anyone who wasn’t emotionally invested in the ridiculous idea of Obama as some kind of centrist or pragmatist. But it alienates voters not typically in the geographical liberal strongholds. Obama’s astute, successful campaign strategy was very good for Democrats on a national level and even at times at the state level (though the GOP has made a strong showing in gubernatorial races). But it was very bad for Democrats on a local, district-by-district level.

It was a tradeoff, and one Democrats would almost certainly believe was worth it. But now they’ve decided to complain, in a very liberal style, that there need be no tradeoffs in the real world; they want it, and if they don’t get it they must have been cheated out of it.

There’s one additional element to this as well. As Jonathan Tobin argued here last year, the Democratic complaints about the Supreme Court’s decision that Congress must revise part of the Voting Rights Act were ironic. After all that law, strictly enforced, translates into the creation and maintenance of a number of majority-minority districts. That means these minority voters, traditionally supporters of Democratic candidates, get drained from other districts to make up VRA-compliant districts. That benefits Republicans in nearby districts, but it’s Democrats who demand the law continue as it is.

So Democrats are at a disadvantage in the House. But it’s a geographic disadvantage mostly of their own making.

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Daily Beast Flogs Gaza Atrocity Story Even Human Rights Groups Won’t Touch

If there is anything we have learned in the past few decades is that there is a thriving international journalism market for any story that can besmirch Israel’s image. Given the appetite of the mainstream media for the deluge of negative pieces alleging Israeli misbehavior during the Gaza war, it is therefore interesting to note that one particular such tale circulated by the Daily Beast has gotten no traction. But that hasn’t stopped the website from continuing to promote it despite the threadbare nature of its narrative and the less than sympathetic “victims” of the supposed “war crime.”

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If there is anything we have learned in the past few decades is that there is a thriving international journalism market for any story that can besmirch Israel’s image. Given the appetite of the mainstream media for the deluge of negative pieces alleging Israeli misbehavior during the Gaza war, it is therefore interesting to note that one particular such tale circulated by the Daily Beast has gotten no traction. But that hasn’t stopped the website from continuing to promote it despite the threadbare nature of its narrative and the less than sympathetic “victims” of the supposed “war crime.”

The story revolves around the claim that during the height of the fighting in the terror tunnels along the Israel-Gaza border, the Israel Defense Forces “executed” five Islamic Jihad terrorists who had supposedly peacefully laid down their arms. This is the tale left-wing Canadian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld has been peddling for the last month but none except his employers at the Daily Beast have been biting on it. This troubles Rosenfeld, who complains bitterly in his latest story about the indifference of the world to the allegations as well as the lack of an official commitment by the IDF to investigate his claims.

But there are a couple of easy explanations for this that have nothing to do with any sympathy for Israel on the part of a media corps that is deeply hostile to the Jewish state or the willingness of groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to circulate biased attacks on the IDF.

The first and most basic problem with Rosenfeld’s story is that he has no real proof that any such execution took place.

Islamic Jihad hasn’t made any such claim. Though perhaps that can be explained by the fact that although Rosenfeld’s narrative tries to make the terrorists in question appear as if they were making a heroic, if futile last stand against the dastardly Israelis, the group isn’t likely to embrace any story that ends with fighters that are supposedly eager to embrace death meekly surrendering.

Nor has he a single eyewitness from either side in the fighting or any physical proof of the allegation. The best he can do is to quote at length the claims of a member of Islamic Jihad who says he heard communications with the six on an Islamic Jihad walkie-talkie before they supposedly cried out for mercy when they ran out of ammo and were attacked by Israeli army dogs. He also says he talked to another Islamic Jihadist that Rosenfeld has never met who saw some of the fighting. It’s quite a story, but it’s hearsay piled upon hearsay. And yet he claims this interview is enough to justify a second story about his allegations of atrocities in the town of Khuzaa.

The only thing he has to go on is the fact that he claims to have seen a pile of bodies of slain Islamic Jihad fighters in a Gaza house that was obviously the scene of vicious fighting. After asking around enough, he finally got a Palestinian to tell him a version of what he wanted to hear, but any credible journalist or a responsible editor would have said that this thin tissue of allegations isn’t enough to justify publication let alone a string of stories revolving around the same unsubstantiated allegations.

Another interesting aspect that should be pointed out about this is that virtually all atrocity stories about Israeli behavior tend to involve at least some partial corroboration from soldiers who were unhappy about what they observed. The IDF is a citizen’s army and if something truly appalling happened, the odds are that an Israeli can probably be found who protested or was unhappy about it. But Rosenfeld can find no Israelis who remember anything untoward. Indeed, if there is no IDF investigation (something that can be generated by even the thinnest of accusations) it is because he hasn’t given the army (or anyone else) any information that could be used to start one.

That Rosenfeld should seek to glorify Islamic Jihadists as heroic fighters who fought until their last bullet after which their Israeli adversaries cruelly killed them is also somewhat fishy. The whole focus of the Palestinian propaganda machine, ably assisted by their allies in the media, has been to portray events in Gaza as a case of a powerful Israeli military slaughtering civilians with impunity. During the course of the fighting, journalists operating in Gaza never photographed or filmed Palestinian fighters or their launch of thousands of rockets from the vicinity of schools, mosques, shelters, and hospitals. But Rosenfeld has decided to try and make the most vicious and extreme Islamist terrorists into martyrs without a shred of credible evidence.

Seen from that perspective, it’s little wonder that no one but Rosenfeld has expressed any interest in his scoop. Given the willingness of the international press to publish just about anything negative about Israel, it speaks volumes that Rosenfeld is alone in claiming that this tale is worthy of further investigation. The only question is why the Daily Beast, which has other highly credible foreign news reporters, continues to allow him to circulate an unsubstantiated atrocity story. Rosenfeld’s shameless propaganda is a new low point for the media in a summer of journalistic malpractice in Gaza.

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Not All Peshmerga Are the Same

Many discussing a military strategy to defeat ISIS and its terrorist forces increasingly cite the peshmerga as a potential ally, and argue that the peshmerga should be a major part of any strategy to defeat ISIS. Who and what exactly are the peshmerga, though?

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Many discussing a military strategy to defeat ISIS and its terrorist forces increasingly cite the peshmerga as a potential ally, and argue that the peshmerga should be a major part of any strategy to defeat ISIS. Who and what exactly are the peshmerga, though?

The peshmerga—literally “those who face death”—have a vaunted reputation as agile guerrilla fighters who harassed Saddam Hussein’s forces and survived months if not years up in the mountains. One of my best memories of Kurdistan was in March 2001, accompanying a peshmerga veteran from the fight against Saddam in the 1980s to the mountain marking the southern boundary of Duhok city: He showed me Assyrian carvings that expats who have transited Duhok for years don’t know exist; afterwards, we gathered some of the greens and roots that peshmerga lived on when they could not make it down to a village to have for our dinner.

But in the years after the 1991 establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, the peshmerga came down from the mountains; many demanded government positions to which they felt they were entitled, but scarcely qualified.

Kurdistan’s political factionalism made matters worse. The peshmerga were and, alas, still are organized more as party militias than as a professional military. Between 1994 and 1997, Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) peshmerga (supported by Iran) and Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) peshmerga (supported, at times, by Saddam Hussein) fought it out because of revenue sharing disputes between the two main Kurdish parties. Kurds say that 3,000 prisoners remain missing from that time, presumably executed by the rival peshmerga forces.

While the Iraqi Kurds have, since around 2001, made efforts to “unify” the peshmerga, the peshmerga forces—like the corollary party intelligence services—are unified more on paper than in reality. Take, for example, recent fighting: It was the PUK peshmerga that seized Kirkuk, tying that city closer to Sulaymani, where the PUK and its offshoot Gorran predominate. The KDP peshmerga were those fighting to retake the Mosul dam after ISIS forces briefly took it.

While many Kurds sing the peshmerga’s praises, there is tension beneath the surface. ISIS may have caught the West by surprise, by the Yezidis living in and around Sinjar had been asking the KDP peshmerga for weaponry and reinforcements for weeks before ISIS took Sinjar and slaughtered hundreds of men and enslaved hundreds of women and girls. The KDP refused to send reinforcements, and most Yezidis—and many other Kurds—are bitter. The reasons given for why the KDP peshmerga refused reinforcements range from incompetent leadership to corruption (the resources had been embezzled or spent elsewhere) to more cynical desire to trade on the Yezidi suffering for weaponry. Regardless, Reuters last week published an account of a 14-year-old who escaped ISIS captivity; she had been given as a gift to fighters on the frontline. Her tale is tragic, but her redemption is important:

“When [the militants] left us I panicked, I didn’t know what to do. I saw a bag full of cell phones and I called my brother,” Shaker told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from a camp for internally displaced people in Iraq. On the phone, her brother Samir told her to go to a nearby house and ask for help and directions to reach the border where fighters from the Kurdistan State Workers Party (PKK) were battling Islamic State militants. He said the PKK would help her reach safety… The two girls set off toward the front lines. “I couldn’t walk straight, my legs were shaking and my heart was beating so fast. We ran and walked and we never looked back,” Shaker said. After two hours on the road they heard gunfire. As they got closer, they saw a group of PKK fighters and started running towards them. “I was crying and laughing at the same time,” she said. “We were free.”

Too often when Americans talk about the peshmerga, they forget the Popular Protection Units (YPG) which have fought—and defeated both ISIS and the Syrian regime—long before the KDP and PUK peshmerga joined the fight. I had visited Syrian Kurdistan at the beginning of the year, and wrote about my observations here. More recently, Aliza Marcus and Andrew Apostolou have written along similar lines in the New York Times.

It remains incredible to me that the United States continues to blockade and boycott the only section of Syria that is controlled by a secular group committed to both the destruction of ISIS and one which has given refuge to tens of thousands of Syrians (and now Iraqis) without reference to their religion or ethnicity. We do so because Turkey historically has demanded the United States consider the PKK to be a terrorist group, even as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has launched peace talks with the group. The United States should not be more Turkish than the Turks, nor deny the space to an effective secular group that otherwise would be controlled by ISIS.

Certainly, despite its democratic rhetoric, the PKK remains a bit too much of a personality cult, organized around its imprisoned founder, Abdullah Öcalan. Then again, despite its democratic rhetoric, the KDP remains also a bit too much of a personality cult, organized around Masud Barzani, the son of its founder Mullah Mustafa Barzani. Just as the KDP once fought the PUK over resources, much of the antagonism fed to the West about the YPG today traces back to either Turkey or the KDP. In the latter case, it’s again about resources.

When the United States first became involved in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, various Iraqi political actors took advantage of the U.S. military’s lack of understanding of the political terrain in order to get the United States to target rivals and internal adversaries. When it comes to the ISIS threat today, the same pattern is repeating as Kurdish peshmerga seek U.S. help to empower them against not only ISIS but also their rivals. The United States should not get sucked into such a game: If the Pentagon plans to support the peshmerga, it should support all of them with an emphasis on providing the most support to those actually doing the bulk of the fighting. In such a case, it’s time to support the YPG without any further delay. It should also insist that the Kurds professionalize the peshmerga, unify the Iraqi peshmerga, and take them out of family hands. There is no reason to insist on a different standard of professionalism in Iraqi Kurdistan than in the rest of Iraq.

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IDF Saves Irish Troops from Jihadists

Ireland is one of the most consistently anti-Israel countries in Europe. So it was interesting to read in Ireland’s Sunday Independent yesterday that Israeli troops were instrumental in saving the lives of Irish peacekeepers on the Golan Heights last week. Citing “senior sources,” the newspaper reported that after the peacekeepers were attacked by a Syrian rebel group, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, “Irish soldiers would have been killed or taken hostage by Islamist extremists if it wasn’t for the military intervention of the Israeli army … The Israeli assistance was described as ‘decisive’ in the success of the mission.”

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Ireland is one of the most consistently anti-Israel countries in Europe. So it was interesting to read in Ireland’s Sunday Independent yesterday that Israeli troops were instrumental in saving the lives of Irish peacekeepers on the Golan Heights last week. Citing “senior sources,” the newspaper reported that after the peacekeepers were attacked by a Syrian rebel group, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, “Irish soldiers would have been killed or taken hostage by Islamist extremists if it wasn’t for the military intervention of the Israeli army … The Israeli assistance was described as ‘decisive’ in the success of the mission.”

Specifically, the Israel Defense Forces used its precise intelligence about the area to guide the troops to safety along a route that avoided Nusra fighters. Additionally, there were “unconfirmed reports that the Israelis directed fire at the Islamists to stop them from attacking the Filipino and Irish soldiers.”

There’s nothing surprising about the IDF’s intervention. After all, Israel has consistently intervened to save Syrian lives even though it’s formally at war with Syria, providing food and other humanitarian assistance to besieged Syrian villages and offering medical care to everyone from wounded fighters to mothers in labor. (Safed’s Rebecca Sieff Hospital delivered its seventh Syrian baby earlier this month.) So intervening to save the nationals of a country it’s not at war with is a no-brainer.

What is surprising, however, is what this says about Ireland, and by extension, about Europe as a whole. For here you have the difference between Israel and its enemies in the starkest form: on one hand, radical jihadists who sought to kill or kidnap Irish soldiers; on the other, a stable country that intervened to save their lives. The choice between the two would seem self-evident. But in fact, Ireland has consistently chosen the jihadists.

Last year, for instance, Ireland led the opposition within the European Union to blacklisting Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization. This is the same Hezbollah that kidnapped European nationals for years; that murdered innocent tourists on European soil in 2012; and that’s currently helping the Assad regime in Syria slaughter its own citizens. True, Hezbollah is Shi’ite and the Nusra Front is Sunni, but beyond that, there isn’t much to choose between them.

Ireland also looks out for Hamas’s interests. It vociferously opposes Israel’s partial blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, despite the obvious fact that lifting the blockade would let Hamas import vast quantities of arms without hindrance, and it even denies Israel’s right to intercept blockade-running flotillas–a right a UN inquiry commission upheld in 2011.

In contrast, Dublin is always at the head of the pack in attacking Israel. Before assuming the EU’s rotating presidency in 2013, for instance, it announced that it supports an EU-wide ban on imports from Israeli settlements, but had regretfully concluded it was unachievable, since too many other EU members were opposed.

Yet Ireland is merely an extreme case of a pan-European phenomenon: Rather than seeking to empower Israel against the jihadists, the EU consistently seeks to empower the jihadists against Israel. Indeed, the EU often appears obsessed with making Israel give up strategic territory along its borders, despite the fact that every previous Israeli withdrawal has merely further empowered jihadist groups (Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza), and that additional withdrawals are all too likely to do the same.

Not coincidentally, the Golan is included in the list of “Israeli-occupied territories” that the EU wants Israel to quit. One wonders whether Dublin appreciates the irony that had Israel complied with this demand, IDF troops wouldn’t have been on hand last week to rescue its peacekeepers.

But that, of course, is precisely the problem with seeking to empower your enemies rather than your allies: If you succeed, your allies will no longer be able to help you when you need them.

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Yes, Obama Was Talking About ISIS

There they go again.

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There they go again.

The Obama White House, first in the person of press secretary Josh Earnest and now in the person of the president himself, is perpetrating a falsehood of some significance on the American people. It has to do with the denial by Messrs. Earnest and Obama that when the president used the dismissive phrase “jayvee team” in his interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, he didn’t have ISIS in mind.

Here’s the exchange that took place in his interview on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD: Long way, long way from when you described them [ISIS] as a JV team.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I–

CHUCK TODD: Was that bad intelligence or your misjudgment?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Keep– keep– keep in mind I wasn’t specifically referring to [ISIS]. I’ve said that, regionally, there were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally. Weren’t focused on homeland, because I think a lot of us, when we think about terrorism, the model is Osama bin Laden and 9/11.

But as I laid out in a fair amount of detail two weeks ago, there’s simply no question that the president was referring to ISIS. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post weighed in a week later, making essentially the same case, and awarding the White House four Pinocchios for their dishonesty on this matter.

This is no small matter. Mr. Obama’s misjudgment on ISIS was extraordinarily costly. It was a complete misreading of the situation, long after others were warning about the nature of the ISIS threat. This mistake ranks among the worst errors of the Obama presidency, which is saying quite a lot. President Obama knows this, which is why he’s frantically trying to pretend he didn’t say what he so clearly said.

The problem is in this whole process the president of the United States is distorting the truth. He’s doing so willfully. But this deception will not only fail; it will further undermine his credibility, which is already at a low ebb. As Mr. Obama said in 2008, “I mean, words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”

Mr. Obama is at war with reality, and reality is winning.

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Any ISIS Strategy Has to Starve its Finances

Much has been made over the past couple months about ISIS’s finances. They are alleged to have stolen more than $400 million from Mosul banks, and already make a significant amount from ransoming hostages. ISIS has also set up stores in Turkey which sell ISIS merchandise and promise to use the proceeds to support the group. But, as George Mason University’s Brian Garrett-Glaser points out, citing a CNN piece written by John Defterios, ISIS increasingly seeks to fund itself with the proceeds of oil wells it now controls:

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Much has been made over the past couple months about ISIS’s finances. They are alleged to have stolen more than $400 million from Mosul banks, and already make a significant amount from ransoming hostages. ISIS has also set up stores in Turkey which sell ISIS merchandise and promise to use the proceeds to support the group. But, as George Mason University’s Brian Garrett-Glaser points out, citing a CNN piece written by John Defterios, ISIS increasingly seeks to fund itself with the proceeds of oil wells it now controls:

Nevertheless, the Iraq Energy Institute estimates ISIS currently produces about 30,000 barrels per day in Iraq and 50,000 in Syria. At the black market price of $40 a barrel, this equates to $3.2 million a day, or $100 million each month. ISIS militants, however, are hardly specialists in oil production. Even if ISIS managed to take over the Baiji refinery, they would need to hire technical staff or coerce its existing workers. The ISIS oil distribution network is primitive: a coordinated system of 210 trucks carrying oil along ISIS-controlled smuggling routes. Transporting oil via trucks may be far less efficient than using pipelines, but it’s also much harder to track and it still turns a profit.

ISIS cannot export its oil without the cooperation of Iraqi Kurds, Turkey, or perhaps Jordan. Jordan, of course, was the biggest buster of Saddam-era sanctions, largely because it wanted Iraqi oil regardless of the price. Queen Rania has a reputation as a profligate spender whose needs sometimes trump responsible governance and, in this case, diplomacy. When it comes to ISIS, however, Iraqi Kurds are potential middlemen. Kurds have seldom hesitated to do business with anyone, even their sworn enemies. When I sat down with former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani more than a decade ago for a Middle East Quarterly interview, he admitted readily the Kurds’ economic relations with Saddam Hussein, who just 13 years previous had used chemical weapons against a village loyal to Talabani. When U.S. forces ousted Saddam, they found numerous photos and videos of current Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani meeting and discussing business with Saddam Hussein or his young sons. Turkey, of course, can’t even bring itself to call ISIS a terrorist group.

ISIS is a problem that has steadily metastasized. And while President Obama will on Wednesday outline a military strategy to address the ISIS problem, it’s important to recognize that the military component should only be one part of a broader strategy. No end to pressure should be brought to bear on Turkey, which has allowed ISIS free movement across its borders. Turkey’s double game on ISIS and terrorism in general has quickly transformed the putative U.S. ally into “Pakistan on the Med.” And naming and shaming any country buying or selling ISIS oil should also be a no-brainer. There should be no end of efforts to starve ISIS of all oxygen which it requires to exist.

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The Problem Isn’t Salaita; It’s Tenure

Jonathan Marks has written well on the current controversy over whether the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, was within its rights to revoke an offer of tenure—an offer which was not formally finalized—to Steven Salaita, an academic whose says he supposedly specializes in indigenous Native American and Palestinian studies.

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Jonathan Marks has written well on the current controversy over whether the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, was within its rights to revoke an offer of tenure—an offer which was not formally finalized—to Steven Salaita, an academic whose says he supposedly specializes in indigenous Native American and Palestinian studies.

But let me chime in with a modest proposal. Whether the controversy is Salaita; Joseph Massad; or Ward Churchill, who famously called the victims of 9/11 “little Eichmanns,” is beside the point. Rather, the question policymakers should ask is why give tenure to anyone?

Today’s academic system is the last vestige of the medieval guild system, and reflects that system’s strict hierarchy. Tenure was initially implemented in order to protect free speech and prevent administrations from arbitrarily firing those who might challenge the status quo, or ask tough but unsettling questions.

Nothing has done more to undercut free speech than tenure, however. Junior professors self-censor so as not to upset senior colleagues ahead of tenure decisions. The nature of scholarship often involves utilizing new or more complete sources to reconsider problems or revise current understandings. That means, in some cases, revising the work of those who have become petty dictators in their fields who would prefer to seek unquestioned affirmation rather than revision of their own work.

At the same time, tenure has undercut productivity. Too many senior faculty look at tenure as retirement in all but name: Rather than provide them the safety to really dig deep into problems in their field, they do the bare minimum required. They will show up for class, but put little effort into it. Forget any path-breaking research; that’s too much trouble. There are exceptions to that, of course: Bernard Lewis, Paul Kennedy, Michael Mandelbaum, or the late Fouad Ajami. But for every productive faculty member out there are scores who contribute little to anything post-tenure. The idea that anyone, at age 40, should receive a free ride is noxious, especially if their free ride prevents younger scholars willing to work harder and outperform from having a chance to do so.

Certainly, professors deserve job security; but lifelong tenure is a bit much. Perhaps it would be more productive to create a series of contracts which increase in length so long as the requirements for each are met. Professors might start out with a two-year contract replete with teaching and article publishing requirements, to be replaced upon completion with a four-year-contract during which they must complete their book if in the humanities or social sciences, or corollary papers if in the sciences. Perhaps then they might receive a series of eight- or ten-year contracts that will continue until their retirement so long as they continue to teach and pursue relevant research.

A side note about freedom of speech: There was a joke that circulated in Iraq soon after liberation in which a looter, asked to explain himself, said he was embracing democracy which he interpreted as doing whatever the heck he pleased. Too often, professors have a juvenile understanding of freedom of speech. While I am an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech and would agree that every professor should enjoy it without qualification, freedom of speech was never meant to supplant or substitute for quality of work or accountability for actions beyond the scope of their research.

Do professors want to pontificate on politics? No problem. Should they be worried about offending? No. Should campuses have speech codes? Absolutely not.

But does that mean that any political polemic should count as academic work? Or that professors should use for their political whims the time for which they are paid to pursue work outside the field for which they are hired? If a neurologist decided to dispense with the work for which he was hired and instead dedicated himself to alchemy, administrations should be free to fire, even if his lengthy blog posts or 140-character tweets about alchemy were just manifestations of his free speech.

Now make no mistake, within their fields, professors should have absolute freedom to pursue the unpopular regardless of the complaints of donors. But they should also have to adhere to rigorous standards of scholarship. Professors can whine all they want that they cannot do what they want 24 hours per day on the public dime, but let’s hope those whines fall on deaf ears: the academy was never meant to be a free ride.

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Obama’s Immigration Punt Won’t Work

Analyses of President Obama’s decision not to make good on his pledge to use executive orders to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants are focusing today on the political implications of the move. But the notion that punting on immigration will save the Senate for the Democrats may be mistaken. By telling us that he is only putting off actions that bypass Congress until after the midterm elections, the president won’t disarm Republicans who are running against his lawless behavior while at the same time depressing liberal activists and minorities that Democrats desperately need to energize. It may be that his handling of this ill-considered proposal has worsened an already perilous situation for his party.

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Analyses of President Obama’s decision not to make good on his pledge to use executive orders to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants are focusing today on the political implications of the move. But the notion that punting on immigration will save the Senate for the Democrats may be mistaken. By telling us that he is only putting off actions that bypass Congress until after the midterm elections, the president won’t disarm Republicans who are running against his lawless behavior while at the same time depressing liberal activists and minorities that Democrats desperately need to energize. It may be that his handling of this ill-considered proposal has worsened an already perilous situation for his party.

The story of the plan for the president to unilaterally implement his own immigration reform package is one that highlights all of Obama’s characteristic shortcomings: poor planning, indecision, a willingness to throw his own party members under the bus to cover up his own faults, and a lack of principle.

Let’s start with the fact that the president’s basic premise underlying his June announcement that he planned to implement immigration proposals by the end of the summer was an end run around the Constitution. The fact that Congress did not pass the immigration reform package he favored does not give the president the right to act on his own. Immigration reform is needed, but the failure of the bill he favored was due to concerns over the breakdown of border security that now seem even more justified than they were before because of the surge of illegals whose arrival was due largely to a belief that the president’s pledges about granting permanent status would apply to them as well as to the millions already here. But whatever one may think about the issue, the president is wrong to think he has the power to disregard constitutional checks and balances.

Yet he did so to the cheers of many in his party, the media, and a Hispanic community that has been frustrated by the gap between the president’s immigration promises and the reality of an administration that has stepped up deportations of illegals. In June, the assumption was that the president was operating under the belief that executive orders that would provide the “amnesty” conservatives have long feared would amp up his base and help Democrats. Polls showing that most Americans thought immigration reform a good idea were seen as providing cover for Democrats who believed the president was going too far.

Had the president issued his orders then it would have inflamed Republicans and earned applause from Democrats. But instead of acting, he did what he always does: he thought about it. But as with other instances of his Hamlet act getting in the way of policy decisions, by the time the end of the summer came, circumstances had changed. Not only had the border surge changed the minds of many Americans about the wisdom of dealing with the illegals here before the border was secured, it was also clear that many of the Democrats that Obama is counting on to hold the Senate for him opposed the president’s plans for unilateral action. The delay gave members of both parties time to disassociate themselves from any effort to bypass both Congress and the Constitution. Not only was there no immigration consensus to fall back on but the intervening months had also produced a new consensus against Obama’s desire to govern alone and to trash the rule of law.

Under these new circumstances, Obama’s decision to delay action was seemingly politically wise, especially since many Senate Democrats were pleading with him not to do it. Yet it’s not as simple as that. Had the president pondered the issue for months without having publicly said he would do it by the end of the summer, a punt on the matter would have worked. But after three months of damaging debate on the issue, it is probably too late to defuse GOP anger. With the president merely postponing such action until after the midterms, the issue remains an easy one for GOP candidates to use against Democrats.

But choosing to spurn the desires of his base (while also blaming the initial promise of action on Senate Democrats like Chuck Schumer rather than the president taking personal responsibility for the blunder) isn’t good politics either. The Democrats desperately need minorities and especially Hispanics to turn out in something close to the numbers they did in 2008 and 2012 when Obama was on the ballot. By choosing to cynically discard the issue in the face of criticism, he has depressed his core constituencies in an election that will, as is the case with most midterms, be determined by the enthusiasm of the party bases. When you consider that it’s entirely possible that some of the key red-state Democrats he’s trying to save may already be doomed, this supposedly smart political move seems even dumber than it did at first glance.

Put it all together and you have a scenario in which Obama’s partisan boasts, indecision, and ultimate cynicism has given Democrats the worst of all possible worlds in 2014: an energized conservative base and a distinctly unenthusiastic liberal core.

Digging even deeper into this issue, if the president is really serious about unilateral immigration moves after the election, does he really think it will be easier for him to do this after the country has already rejected his party at the polls? The only possible advantage to the Democrats in the president making good on his June pledge was the possibility that some Republicans would overreact and try another government shutdown in response this fall. But by punting, Obama has made that impossible and possibly saved conservative Republicans from themselves.

While the president’s belief in his power to act without Congress on immigration is wrongheaded, his handling of the politics of this issue has been uniformly foolish from start to finish. Punting on immigration won’t work and it may also make the next two years even more dismal for Obama and the Democrats than we might have thought.

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The Media’s Mindless Iraq War Comparison

There’s a neat trick the media likes to play on matters of war and peace. Mainstream reporters, by and large leftists, rewrite the history of the lead-up to the Iraq war in order to nobly take part of the blame so they can justify relentlessly biased coverage against military action this time around. A perfect example of this disingenuous posturing was the normally far more restrained Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Sunday show Reliable Sources.

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There’s a neat trick the media likes to play on matters of war and peace. Mainstream reporters, by and large leftists, rewrite the history of the lead-up to the Iraq war in order to nobly take part of the blame so they can justify relentlessly biased coverage against military action this time around. A perfect example of this disingenuous posturing was the normally far more restrained Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Sunday show Reliable Sources.

Stelter used yesterday’s show to ask if the media are replaying Iraq by cheerleading for war against ISIS. But after claiming that media personalities are letting themselves be governed not by the facts on ISIS and terrorism but by “their ideological agendas,” Stelter then seemingly demonstrated what he was criticizing by allowing his show to descend into an ideological echo chamber.

Here are the sources around which Stelter constructed his argument.

He began by quoting that most sober of publications, the Huffington Post home-page banner:

Here’s the banner headline on the “The Huffington Post” earlier this week — “Media War Frenzy Like 2003,” now that’s a frightening concept right there.

Frightening indeed. (Though not as frightening as a media critic using a HuffPo banner as the jumping-off point of his analysis.)

Then there’s this bit of overt partisanship and professional score-settling:

One big difference in 2003 is that we had red news on TV – we had Fox – but we didn’t have solidly blue news from MSNBC. It wasn’t a liberal news channel back then. But now it is. Here’s what Rachel Maddow reminded her viewers this week.

Does Stelter, who works for CNN, know CNN exists? It’s unclear. This one’s a two-fer though, as he first pretends broadcast news leaned right–during the Bush administration–and then tosses it over to Rachel Maddow for her take.

And then the closing flourish–here’s how he introduced the last segment on ISIS:

I myself am very concerned about the press provoking panic about ISIS. But I’m keeping an open mind. And earlier when I was in D.C., I asked Ron Fournier what he thought as well as Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the proudly liberal magazine “The Nation.” Here’s a bit of our conversation.

Stelter’s “keeping an open mind,” so he’d like to get some input on whether America is too warmongering from vanden Heuvel, the Kremlin’s American mouthpiece. Fournier, of National Journal, provided the only serious, levelheaded commentary of the show:

I don’t know – that’s a false choice. What’s bad, what’s wrong for journalists to do is at this early stage to conclude anything. To be able to say that we need to go to war now is irresponsible. To say that we can’t go to war now is irresponsible. Because the fact is – one thing Katrina’s right about is – we haven’t asked all the questions yet. And even the President I don’t think has all the answers yet. So, yes, media is clicked to revving (ph) right now, media sensationalize right now, media is – tends to hype any shiny object that comes along right now. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that ISIS is not a threat.

Just because you’re tired of war doesn’t mean there aren’t threats. Stelter at least closed the segment with Fournier, so the show ended on a note of rationality. Otherwise, the segment was a fairly embarrassing display of life in a liberal media bubble.

But there’s another point worth making here about this debate. Stelter seems to think the main difference between today’s ISIS threat and the Iraq war is that now Americans have Rachel Maddow to not watch. But there’s another difference, aside from the mainstreaming of cable leftist thoughtlessness.

The run-up to the Iraq war was consumed by a debate over intelligence. Did Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction? What was the evidence? Was it enough to support launching a ground invasion? Of course there were other issues at play, including Saddam breaking the conditions of the original ceasefire and also the regular firing at American pilots patrolling the restricted airspace. But certainly the urgency of the case rested to a great degree on whether the intelligence had it right on WMD.

You could even make the case that that was a factor last year, the last time President Obama wanted to bomb Syria (albeit aiming at the other side). Although the case appeared fairly clear that Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons on the rebels, the evidence still had to be tallied and analyzed.

That’s not the case here. What media personalities are reacting to is not a hyped future threat but the fact that ISIS terrorists are beheading Americans and sending out the videos of the acts. And the response from commentators has been revulsion–entirely appropriate–not supposed water carrying for intel sources. The comparison is irresponsible and false. If anyone’s allowing their ideology to overtake their news judgment it’s those, like Stelter, brandishing the comparison to the Iraq war.

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