Commentary Magazine


Will Obama Abandon Israel at the UN? Abbas Wants to Find Out

If you want an indication of how Middle East governments are adjusting their calculus according to the Obama administration’s decision to loudly distance itself from Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s deliberations over his UN strategy is a good place to start. Abbas is planning to ask for a vote requiring Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines at the United Nations Security Council. But he’s unsure about the timing, and President Obama’s flagging support for Israel is one reason why.

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If you want an indication of how Middle East governments are adjusting their calculus according to the Obama administration’s decision to loudly distance itself from Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s deliberations over his UN strategy is a good place to start. Abbas is planning to ask for a vote requiring Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines at the United Nations Security Council. But he’s unsure about the timing, and President Obama’s flagging support for Israel is one reason why.

As Raphael Ahren discusses today at the Times of Israel, the current makeup of the Security Council’s rotating members–the supporting cast to the five permanent members–is not as amenable to Palestinian demands as next year’s roster will be. But then there’s the Obama factor. It would seem prudent for Abbas to wait, since he needs nine votes out of fifteen. But he also knows that if he gets those nine votes, the measure will be subject to the veto power of the permanent members of the council. That really means the United States, in this context. And the Palestinians think this might be their best window to get the U.S. to abandon Israel at the UNSC:

Relations between the White House and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are famously strained, and Barack Obama, now entering the last stretch of his presidency and no longer tied to electoral considerations, could decide to turn his back on Jerusalem.

The US might be reluctant to isolate itself internationally by stymieing a move supported by a large majority of states in the United Nations, including the entire Arab world, especially as Washington seeks allies in its fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Despite this being a low ebb in recent years in the U.S.-Israel relationship, I highly doubt Obama will consider sitting on his hands for such a vote at the Security Council, for several reasons. First, though he obviously doesn’t think much of the Israelis, it’s not clear his opinion of the Jewish state has sunk so low as to officially have the U.S. abandon Israel at the UN in favor of the Palestinians.

Second, even if his dislike of Israel has sunk to that level, he probably would still veto the resolution. Obama has indisputably downgraded the U.S.-Israel relationship, most clearly by changing protocol so as to put distance between the two militaries during the last war and by withholding weapons transfers to Israel during wartime. He’s also encouraged a bizarre series of name-calling outbursts aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, which have displayed this administration’s trademark grade-school intellect and overwhelming ignorance of world affairs. But the president tends to take out his anger on Israel in ways that he can always pretend are really just personal spats with Netanyahu.

Obama’s position is that he doesn’t mind being seen as hating Bibi, as long as he can retain plausible deniability that he also dislikes the Israelis who keep electing Bibi. Thus, blessing the Palestinian UN gambit would take away that plausible deniability. Keep in mind stopping the weapons transfer was not something the administration intended to make a public show of; it’s just that while the other mainstream outlets have become Obama’s press shop, the Wall Street Journal is still doing real journalism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they revealed the breach. Abandoning Israel at the UN Security Council would be a very public acknowledgement that Obama’s obsession with picking fights with Netanyahu is not really about Netanyahu at all.

A third reason Obama would still veto such a resolution is that there are domestic political constraints on his behavior toward Israel. (You’re probably thinking: This is Obama being constrained? Indeed, it’s not a pretty sight.) The Democratic Party has lost the battle to try to convince Americans that Obama is with them on Israel. But they would like not to be saddled with Obama’s reputation. They want to nominate Hillary Clinton, who does not have a great record on Israel but anything’s better than what she’d be replacing. The more Obama attacks Israel needlessly, the more complicated the Democrats’ sales job becomes.

That seems to factor into Abbas’s calculations:

After the midterm elections and the Republican takeover of the Senate earlier this month, Obama is unlikely to get much work done domestically and may want to focus on foreign policy issues that could shape his legacy. Besides a nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House might also want to promote Middle East peace and pressure Israel through a pro-Palestinian resolution at the UN.

The sooner Obama does that the more distance Democrats can try to put between his abandonment of Israel and their reputation rehabilitation efforts. Still, Obama must know that if he allows the vote to go through (if it passes), he will be effectively ceding the peace process entirely to unilateral actions. The United States will become at that moment totally irrelevant to how the process proceeds.

It will either finally kill the peace process once and for all, in which case that would be Obama’s legacy, or it will lead to Israelis and Palestinians abandoning the process and going their own way without mediation, in which case Obama would get no credit for any positive results. Obama may like kicking dirt at Israel, but he probably still likes the spotlight even more.

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Obama Finds Support … Among Islamic Republic Loyalists

The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

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The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

Many Democrats take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously. In 2011, Senate Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass tougher sanctions on Iran by a vote of 100-0, over White House objections. But ever since President Obama made his telephone call to President Rouhani and began negotiating with the Islamic Republic in earnest, the White House has succeeded in bringing congressional Democrats in line, against the better judgment of many of them. Well, as the Democratic leadership post-election doubles down on Obama’s foreign policy and their partisan proxies actually argue that a bad deal would be better than no deal and that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should therefore be followed blindly regardless of what they concede, Senator Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can take solace in the fact that they have found new supporters … inside the Islamic Republic.

Mardom Salari, an Iranian daily supportive of Rouhani, editorialized that the Iranian government should reach at least a temporary agreement with President Obama and his team of negotiators, in order to keep Democrats in power:

If at this sensitive time that may decide our future we are not able to agree on that paradigm and structure, tomorrow may be too late and we may not be able to raise the issue [of an agreement] again, because radicalism and extremism are not the traits that have only manifested themselves in the region in the form of some extremist groups… [but] they have also affected some powerful parties in major countries.

Should the Democrats lose in 2016, the paper warned:

…We will be faced with warmongers who see democracy only through the lenses of their weapons and who regard power and fighting as the only standard of justice and democracy. Therefore, in view of this situation, now that the world and people everywhere have replaced the discourse of talks for conflict, inside the country too we should adopt the policy of idealistic realism and in this way we should safeguard national interest and seek our benefits in the forthcoming talks.

The rhetoric is cartoonish nonsense of course, but the meaning is clear: Come to an agreement or else have to face those in the United States who are not pushovers. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Iranian government’s realization after humiliating President Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis that it would face a very different America once Ronald Reagan won the White House.

Perhaps it’s time the Congress disappoints the Iranian government even if the White House will not, and let Tehran know they dragged their feet for six years too long, and that they cannot forever count on American naivete, weakness, and impotence.

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Ignore the UN Human Rights Farce

There will be those who will argue that Israel is once again shooting itself in the foot by announcing that it will not cooperate with the investigation being conducted into this past summer’s war with Hamas by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Critics of the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu will say that by snubbing the inquiry, Israel is losing its chance to give input to the proceedings and ensuring that only its enemies will play a role in the final outcome. But the claim that Israel will have a fair chance to defend itself before the UNHRC is a joke. The UN agency has a long record of bias against Israel but by choosing a chairman of the panel that had already put himself down on record as a virulent opponent of Israel, it should have forfeited the respect of even those few who take the group seriously.

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There will be those who will argue that Israel is once again shooting itself in the foot by announcing that it will not cooperate with the investigation being conducted into this past summer’s war with Hamas by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Critics of the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu will say that by snubbing the inquiry, Israel is losing its chance to give input to the proceedings and ensuring that only its enemies will play a role in the final outcome. But the claim that Israel will have a fair chance to defend itself before the UNHRC is a joke. The UN agency has a long record of bias against Israel but by choosing a chairman of the panel that had already put himself down on record as a virulent opponent of Israel, it should have forfeited the respect of even those few who take the group seriously.

It should be remembered that the last time the UNHRC appointed a commission to investigate an Israeli campaign in Gaza, it produced the Goldstone Commission, a compendium of one-sided libels aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right of self-defense so egregious that even its chairman, South African jurist Richard Goldstone (who was chosen largely out of a desire to put a Jewish label on an anti-Israel product) eventually repudiated it.

This time the UNHRC hasn’t even bothered to pretend that it wanted fairness as it did with the appointment of Goldstone, and chose instead a Canadian law professor who has made a name for himself as an enemy of Israel. William Schabas has already gone on record saying that Hamas was not a terrorist organization and that Netanyahu should be indicted for war crimes. Yet he claims that he could still be impartial. As the Times of Israel reported, even Schabas admitted that his record indicates his bias:

“I do not hate Israel and do not want to engage in a debate regarding my previous positions on Israel,” Schabas told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat in an interview. “I have had positions in the past concerning Palestine and Israel and they have nothing to do with my mission now. I will put my opinions aside during the investigation and they will have no bearing on it.”

But whether or not Schabas conquers his prejudices during the course of his work probing Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, there is no reason for anyone, in Israel or anywhere else, to take anything the UNHRC says seriously. Its membership is composed of countries that are themselves some of the worst human-rights violators in the world. In appropriating the banner of human rights, these tyrannies have long made a mockery of the concept and instead seem to prove that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the halls of the UN. The vast majority of its work has always been concentrated on efforts to smear Israel or otherwise deny its rights while at the same time ignoring some of the most egregious human-rights catastrophes going on elsewhere.

It should be remembered that the Gaza war began with a Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli teenagers and then escalated as the Islamist group rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used tunnels under the border to attempt murders and kidnappings. Israel fought back and did its best to silence the rockets and close the tunnels but found that just as it did in 2008-2009 in the war the Goldstone Commission investigated, Hamas used the civilian population as human shields. While, as with that war, many if not most of the fatalities were Hamas fighters, the international press and so-called human-rights groups put the onus for the tragedy on Israel rather than on the terrorist group.

But while Hamas’s war crimes deserve the scrutiny of the world, the UNHRC remains resolute in its lack of interest in doing anything about the mass slaughter in Syria where the Bashar Assad regime and some of his Islamist opponents have slaughtered more than 200,000 persons (as opposed to the 2,000 Gazans—civilians and terrorists—who died during the summer war).

As with Goldstone, nothing Israel does or says, no matter how transparent it tried to be about its operations, would influence the likes of Schabas or his UNHRC colleagues. Their only purpose is to use this conflict as an excuse for bashing the Israelis and judging them by a standard applied to no other country, let alone one at war. While Israel can’t stop this farce, it can and should refuse to grant it even the veneer of legitimacy.

Rather than questioning Israel’s refusal to play along with its enemies, a better topic of discussion would be why the United States continues to legitimize the UNHRC with its membership. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s infatuation with the world body causes it to continue to treat the Human Rights Council as a legitimate institution. That should end. But even more important, the international press and decent people everywhere should refuse to treat the UNHRC or its probes as anything but a sick joke.

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Can Rand Paul Win Without Father’s Fans?

Of all the potential serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only one isn’t playing it coy about their ambition. Senator Rand Paul is bypassing the traditional pretense of indecision prior to announcing and is leaving no doubt that he is planning on running in 2016. The Kentucky senator convened a meeting of advisors to plan the start of his campaign today in Washington but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, there was one important person missing from the conclave: Ron Paul, the former House member and perennial libertarian presidential candidate who also happens to be Rand’s father. But while this absence is in one sense a very good thing for his son’s ambitions, the growing gap between Rand and his father raises the question of whether he can win without his father’s supporters.

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Of all the potential serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only one isn’t playing it coy about their ambition. Senator Rand Paul is bypassing the traditional pretense of indecision prior to announcing and is leaving no doubt that he is planning on running in 2016. The Kentucky senator convened a meeting of advisors to plan the start of his campaign today in Washington but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, there was one important person missing from the conclave: Ron Paul, the former House member and perennial libertarian presidential candidate who also happens to be Rand’s father. But while this absence is in one sense a very good thing for his son’s ambitions, the growing gap between Rand and his father raises the question of whether he can win without his father’s supporters.

Putting some distance between himself and his father has always been a prerequisite for Paul’s presidential hopes. While his father was able to count on a small but active segment of those who voted in Republican presidential primaries, his extreme libertarianism and foreign-policy views that put him to the left of President Obama ensured that Ron Paul never was going to be nominated by the GOP, let alone win the presidency.

Rand had a different plan. Much slicker and more attuned to mainstream opinion than his father, the senator’s goal was to hold on to the libertarian base that he presumed he would inherit from his father and add Tea Party Republicans who admired his principled stands against taxes and spending. Paul won the admiration of a wide range of conservatives last year with his filibuster against President Obama’s drone policies even if many didn’t agree with him on the issue. In an environment in which his neo-isolationist views, carefully parsed to avoid the label of extremism that stuck to his father, had become respectable, Paul was certain to be a first-tier primary candidate. Moreover, in what is expected to be a crowded field in which none of his potential rivals could count on a base as solid as his, there was a clear, if by no means certain, path to the nomination for him.

For those who have followed the senator for the last few years, his attempts to move into the mainstream on foreign-policy issues has been inextricably linked to his presidential ambitions. Though he was an ardent follower of his father when he began his political career, over the course of the last four years in the Senate he has carefully edged his way back into the mainstream. He eschewed his father’s extreme positions on foreign policy and tried to position himself as the avatar of a new generation of foreign-policy “realism.” That put him at odds with neo-conservatives and others in the party’s center on a whole range of issues but was a far cry from his father’s ranting about American imperialism and rationalizations of the behavior of Iran and other Islamist terror sponsors. He tried the same delicate dance on the issue of Israel in which he continued to oppose all foreign aid but also claimed to be a friend of the Jewish state and an opponent of those who would pressure it.

But the senator shocked some of his original libertarian fans recently when he realized that the isolationist moment had ended and endorsed air attacks against ISIS terrorists. In doing so he did what all people who have caught the presidential bug do when they think they have a reasonable chance of winning: abandoning their old positions in the vain support of those who would otherwise not vote for him. That makes Rand Paul a normal politician but it also brands him as a turncoat to his father’s libertarian true believers.

Moreover, in case anyone was in doubt as to what Ron Paul thought about this, they only had to follow him on Twitter where, on election night last week, he had this reaction to a Republican victory that his son was very publicly celebrating:

Republican control of the Senate = expanded neocon wars in Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are coming!

This statement changes the dynamic for his son’s presidential campaign. The more Ron Paul denounces the mainstream Republican Party and stays away from his son’s campaign, the easier it will be for his son to ignore those who will say he needs to be held responsible for his father’s extremism. Rather than being Rand’s Jeremiah Wright, Ron may well have no trouble denouncing his son’s apostasy from the libertarian true faith. That will help Rand get more centrist or conservative votes but there’s one element to this equation that doesn’t work in his favor.

It’s one thing for Rand to distance himself from his father’s beliefs but quite another for the Paulbots that energetically campaigned and voted for Ron to abandon him. The plan was, after all, for him to retain his father’s backers while adding mainstream Tea Party or mainstream Republicans who wanted no part of the senior Paul’s extremist views on foreign policy. But if they abandon him altogether, then he will be heading into the primaries without the core constituency that gives him such a strong profile.

The math of the Republican primaries is such that if the Paulbots don’t turn out for Rand it’s hard to see how he wins. Though his father’s following comprised only a minority of GOP voters, they were ardent and well organized, enabling them to win delegates for him in caucus states even though they didn’t represent the views of most Republicans. Added to his new more mainstream fans, they could provide the shock troops of a libertarian push to win the GOP for Rand. But in their absence (and most would stay home or return to their Democratic roots rather than embrace a man whom some would call sellout), Rand will be on an equal footing with other Republican candidates and that spells defeat for him.

This illustrates how difficult it is for an outlier to become a mainstream candidate. Though many libertarians would stick with Paul, if enough don’t, he will wind up falling very short of his goal. Though his father provided the inspiration for his political career, it may be that he will also help end it.

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The Truman Clown Show and Iranian Nukes

It seems like these days every time the Truman National Security Project is in the news it is because of a debate over how ashamed the think tank’s inspiration, Harry Truman, would be of its latest antics. In late 2011, the Truman Project expelled former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block because of his decision to push back publicly on leftists close to the Obama administration for their anti-Israel invective. And now it has sunk to a level that embarrassed even its founder Rachel Kleinfeld. But it answered a very important question about the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy in the process.

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It seems like these days every time the Truman National Security Project is in the news it is because of a debate over how ashamed the think tank’s inspiration, Harry Truman, would be of its latest antics. In late 2011, the Truman Project expelled former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block because of his decision to push back publicly on leftists close to the Obama administration for their anti-Israel invective. And now it has sunk to a level that embarrassed even its founder Rachel Kleinfeld. But it answered a very important question about the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy in the process.

Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo revealed that the Truman Project, which is aligned with the Obama White House and whose board of advisors includes Michele Flournoy, had initiated a rather heavyhanded call to arms to rally support for President Obama’s attempt to ink a deal on Iran’s nuclear program with Tehran. On an internal email list, the group appeared ready to support whatever deal eventually emerges, if a deal does emerge, from the negotiations. But they seemed even more interested in attacking those with reservations about the deal.

“Our community absolutely must step up and not cede the public narrative to neocon hawks that would send our country to war just to screw the president,” Graham F. West, Truman’s writing and communications associate, wrote, according to Kredo. And he claimed, as the president often does, that the choice was essentially between war and peace, with no gray area.

Then today, Kredo followed up with another scoop of internal communications from the Truman Project. While the earlier batch of emails showed the Truman Project slandering skeptics of an Iran deal as animated simply by partisanship and willing to send Americans to war just to mess with the president, the second batch showed an equally unhinged effort to get Truman scholars to question the patriotism of anyone who opposes Obama on the issue:

“If they [Congress] kill the deal, they should be blamed for the consequences,” [David Solimini, Truman’s vice president for strategic communications] wrote. “Congress gave the president the tools he needed to make sure Iran was isolated and under massive pressure. Now they need to support what they started so that we can keep up our end of the bargain.”

Solimini then suggests a “good line” that advocates can use: “Congress is the home team. They better keep rooting for an American win.”

“Handling opposition to a deal” also is addressed in the talking points.

Those who would “be against any deal, even before they know what it is” are “shameful,” according to Solimini’s document.

In what may prove to be one of the document’s more controversial passages, Solimini recommends that Truman allies push back against those who insist, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

That last part is important, both because Obama himself has said that line and because the Obama administration’s obvious desperation in getting any deal they can has contributed mightily to the impression that he doesn’t mean it. One of the recent suggestions, for example, was that Iran disconnect some pipes, so they’d have to–gasp!–reconnect them when they felt like it.

So the president obviously believes that any deal is better than no deal, and the Truman Project is on board with this nonsense, ready to publicly question the patriotism of those with reservations about the administration’s recklessness. It shows that even in the quarters that are supposed to be providing the intellectual firepower for the nuke deal, false choices and mischaracterizations are all we get. The Obama administration’s behavior can’t be defended on its merits, even from its defenders.

And it reveals something significant. As Kleinfeld (who is no longer with the organization) tweeted when the first story broke, the U.S. should only agree to an Iran deal if it’s a good deal, “not for partisanship.” The Truman Project’s “all-hands-on-deck effort” is a classic case of projection. It warns of the pure partisanship of its opponents when the opposite is true. Skepticism toward Iran’s intentions and the wisdom of striking a weak deal is actually bipartisan.

Today Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (the latter the outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) declared “they would push for more penalties against Tehran if they are unhappy with any nuclear deal, signaling a potential battle with the Obama administration less than two weeks before the deadline for an agreement.”

Indeed, the Obama administration strategy that emerged even before the Republicans won back control of the Senate was to find a way to go it alone. The president knows that, as usual, opposition to his plans is bipartisan, and that even with control of the Senate he would struggle getting a treaty through. Congress has vowed to push back, but the only reason they have anything to push back on is that Obama is strongly considering pretending the treaty isn’t a treaty and going around the Senate to strike a deal.

The naked partisanship, in other words, is completely on one side–Obama’s. And the Truman Project is just the latest to demonstrate this reality.

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Negotiating with Iran or Just One Faction?

In 1998, against the backdrop of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations,” there was great optimism about the potential for a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations among many of the same circles that express it now. And then, just as now, some in the U.S. business community wanted to rush into the Iranian market, figuring all that was left for some sort of grand rapprochement was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in any sort of diplomatic agreement. It was against this backdrop that a group of American businessmen, traveling at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, flew to Tehran in order to combine meetings with tourism.

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In 1998, against the backdrop of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations,” there was great optimism about the potential for a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations among many of the same circles that express it now. And then, just as now, some in the U.S. business community wanted to rush into the Iranian market, figuring all that was left for some sort of grand rapprochement was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in any sort of diplomatic agreement. It was against this backdrop that a group of American businessmen, traveling at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, flew to Tehran in order to combine meetings with tourism.

Their trip did not go as planned. Escorted around in a minibus, all seemed well until they were set upon by a group of stone and iron bar wielding vigilantes who attacked the group. They cut their trip short and went home. I discussed the now forgotten incident in my first monograph about the history of Iranian vigilantism, but suffice it to say, those who attacked the Americans had official sanction to do so while those who invited the Americans also had official sanction to do so. The problem with the Iranian system, as always, was the multiple power centers, and so there can be often contradictory official sanctions.

That Iran has overlapping and competing power centers is well understood, both in Iran and in the West. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei keeps power in large part by balancing those power centers off each other. Having multiple power centers provides other advantages for Tehran: Those who are unwise enough to actually invest in Iran quickly learn that there is no practical adherence to commercial law. If a contract is signed to provide oil at a fixed price, for example, and the price of oil rises, Iranian partners will simply discover that the contract is invalid because a previously irrelevant body had not signed off on it.

President Obama may believe his administration’s diplomacy is on firm ground. After all, he spoke directly on the telephone with President Rouhani, and he sent letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who spoke about “heroic flexibility.” But Rouhani represents only one faction, and Obama and Kerry misinterpreted Khamenei’s rhetoric.

Even if a deal is struck, Obama will have essentially negotiated it with only one faction. Just as after the Reagan-era “Arms for Hostages” diplomacy (which saw Mehdi Hashemi’s faction attack America despite National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane’s “agreement” with Hashemi Rafsanjani) and with the Khatami-era “Dialogue of Civilizations” approach (which saw hardliners associated with the Basij and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attack American interests), and just as in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which Ambassador Ryan Crocker and National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated a non-interference agreement with Iranian diplomats (only to see it ignored and flouted by the IRGC), so too should the United States recognize that a deal struck with Rouhani and Iran’s Foreign Ministry will be meaningless to the IRGC and perhaps the supreme leader.

Naïve diplomats can blame the violations of agreements on rogues or spoilers and insist Tehran can be trusted. But they would be wrong. Iranian leaders encourage competing power circles to lash out or go rogue in order to achieve undiplomatic aims, while consciously cultivating plausible deniability. At the very least, other Iranian factions are going to seek their own deal, raising the price of any agreement. To strike a deal and expect peace and tranquility would be like to pay off one mafia family in 1930s Chicago (or 2014 Chicago) when two or three other mafia families operate in the same location.

Here are the facts:

  • The Obama team is essentially negotiating with the Iranian Foreign Ministry in a process blessed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has not yet signed on. His “Heroic Flexibility” comments referred to tactics, not substance. His so-called nuclear fatwa is not written down and has never been published, and President Obama and his top advisors have never seen it. They have simply put hope ahead of reality. Khamenei has already issued “red lines” that make a deal to resolve the situation impossible; unlike Obama, Khamenei treats red lines as more than rhetorical flourish.
  • The IRGC would have command, control, and custody over any military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. It has repeatedly condemned the nuclear diplomacy and has indicated that it will not abide by it.

So, in short, even if Obama and Kerry reach an agreement, they will essentially only be reaching it with one faction among many, and perhaps the weakest faction at that. It’s Diplomacy 101 not to negotiate an agreement with interlocutors who cannot deliver, but it seems increasingly that this is what Obama and Kerry insist on doing. At the very least, the price of Iranian compliance is going to be far higher than Obama and Kerry expect, and at the very worst, Iran’s willingness to talk is simply an asymmetric warfare strategy to cause the West to let its guard down while it continues with its efforts to achieve its ideological and regional goals.

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Disparate Impact Strikes Again

In January, I posted regarding an absolutely idiotic Justice Department mandate that school punishments would be subject to disparate impact analysis to make sure that one racial group at school is not punished at higher rates than other groups. If one racial group makes up one-third of the student body, it should, according to the Justice Department, receive one-third of the punishments meted out for bad behavior, regardless of how much bad behavior that group was actually responsible for. Of course, since it is highly unlikely that bad behavior will occur at the proper ratios, implacable logic demands that either some students will get off scot free, or innocent students must be punished to make the numbers come out right.

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In January, I posted regarding an absolutely idiotic Justice Department mandate that school punishments would be subject to disparate impact analysis to make sure that one racial group at school is not punished at higher rates than other groups. If one racial group makes up one-third of the student body, it should, according to the Justice Department, receive one-third of the punishments meted out for bad behavior, regardless of how much bad behavior that group was actually responsible for. Of course, since it is highly unlikely that bad behavior will occur at the proper ratios, implacable logic demands that either some students will get off scot free, or innocent students must be punished to make the numbers come out right.

Now, Minneapolis Public Schools has signed a deal with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. It had been under investigation for two years because minority students had been being punished at much higher rates than white students. So now:

Moving forward, every suspension of a black or brown student will be reviewed by the superintendent’s leadership team. The school district aims to more deeply understand the circumstances of suspensions with the goal of providing greater supports to the school, student or family in need. This team could choose to bring in additional resources for the student, family and school.

In other words, if you’re white and you get suspended, you’re suspended. If you’re black or brown and get suspended, you get an automatic appeal. How that squares with quaint notions regarding equal justice under law is quite beyond me.

It gets worse:

MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years. This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.

Translation: Either there will be a miraculous transformation in the behavior of minority students or more and more of them will be let off the hook over the next four years, while their white classmates will feel the full wrath of the school’s displeasure.

As George Orwell would have said, the students are all equal, but some are more equal than others.

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A Superficial “Success” in Beijing

Desperate to counter the near-universal impression that the Obama presidency has been a dismal failure in foreign policy, the president’s aides have been eagerly flacking the storyline that his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing was a big success. To buttress this contention, administration spinmeisters are touting principally an agreement signed by the two men designed to limit carbon emissions.

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Desperate to counter the near-universal impression that the Obama presidency has been a dismal failure in foreign policy, the president’s aides have been eagerly flacking the storyline that his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing was a big success. To buttress this contention, administration spinmeisters are touting principally an agreement signed by the two men designed to limit carbon emissions.

The reality, as Reuters points out, is that the plan is “largely symbolic” and “did not break significant new ground.” The same might be said of other agreements to marginally increase military-to-military cooperation etc.–the kind of summit bait that is laboriously negotiated beforehand for unveiling at such events but that doesn’t amount to much.

In many ways, more significant than anything that was said at the meeting was what happened while the two leaders were meeting: the People’s Liberation Army took the opportunity to test China’s new J-31 stealth fighter. This is a classic in-your-face move by the Chinese leadership, one that duplicates a notorious J-20 stealth fighter flight that occurred when then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates visited in 2011. Both stealth aircraft are symbols of China’s rising military might and its growing ambition to push the U.S. Armed Forces out of their long-standing supremacy in the Western Pacific. Moreover, since both planes are based on purloined F-35 plans, their display is also a sign of how little Beijing cares about Washington’s complaints about stolen intellectual property.

And what did Obama do in the face of this latest Chinese muscle-flexing–which follows far more dangerous moves to claim disputed islands from Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other neighboring states? Perhaps President Obama had some hard words for China’s president behind closed doors but one rather doubts it. In fact the New York Times account strongly suggests otherwise:

For his part, Mr. Obama tried to keep the emphasis on working with China. …

Mr. Obama said he had assured Mr. Xi that the United States had nothing to do with the protests in Hong Kong. “These are issues ultimately for the people of Hong Kong and China to decide,” he said of the protests demanding fully democratic elections, though he voiced support for the right of free expression.

In general, Mr. Obama’s references to human rights were carefully calibrated. He noted America’s refusal to recognize a separate Taiwan or Tibet. He also praised China for its role in nuclear negotiations with Iran, its response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its dealings with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Mr. Obama played down a recent wave of virulently negative coverage of him and the United States in China’s state-run media. Tough press coverage, he said, came with being a public official, whether in China or the United States. “I’m a big believer in actions, not words,” he added.

Again, it’s possible that there was more to the Xi-Obama meeting than reported here, but if this is a complete and accurate account it suggests a shameful kowtowing by the American president. It sounds as if Obama said little or nothing about China’s terrible human-rights record and that his support for the Hong Kong freedom demonstrators was at best perfunctory and marginal–much like his failure to back the Green Revolution in Iran early in his presidency. He did not even take strong umbrage at the violently anti-American tone that much of the Chinese media has adopted at the direction of Beijing–he chose instead to pretend that Chinese media outlets are as free of government control as those in the United States. And he thanked China for doing little or nothing with regard to Iran, Ebola, and North Korea–in fact when it comes to both Iran and North Korea, China has been far more of a hindrance than a help.

By refusing to raise difficult issues in a forceful way, any president can assure a superficially “successful” summit meeting with a foreign leader–i.e. one that ends with smiles and handshakes. But the cost of doing so is to create the potential for much worse trouble down the road. Unfortunately that has been the story of Obama foreign policy, whether it comes to the failed “reset” with Russia or his dealings with China.

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No Denying Ukraine Ceasefire Is Over

So the Russians are on the move once again in Ukraine. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, Europe, finally confirmed today what OSCE monitors and Ukrainian officials have been saying for days–that substantial numbers of Russian tanks, soldiers, and artillery pieces are moving from Russia into the eastern part of Ukraine. Artillery battles are also increasing in Donetsk, the biggest eastern city seized by Russian separatists.

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So the Russians are on the move once again in Ukraine. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, Europe, finally confirmed today what OSCE monitors and Ukrainian officials have been saying for days–that substantial numbers of Russian tanks, soldiers, and artillery pieces are moving from Russia into the eastern part of Ukraine. Artillery battles are also increasing in Donetsk, the biggest eastern city seized by Russian separatists.

So much for the ceasefire announced with much fanfare in September. Actually it’s been clear for a while that the ceasefire was not really being observed by Putin and his stooges, but nobody wanted to say so. Everyone wanted to preserve the fiction that peace had broken out: the Ukrainians because they didn’t want to admit that they’ve lost control of so much of their territory, the Russians because they didn’t want to open themselves up to new sanctions. But it’s obvious now that the so-called ceasefire was nothing more than a very short and very temporary pause in the pace of Russian aggression.

It’s hard to know for sure what the Russians are up to, but it’s a good bet they are seeking to link up their newly conquered satrapies in eastern Ukraine with their previously conquered satrapy in Crimea: There is still a lot of Ukrainian-held territory between those two positions and it’s likely that using his “salami slice” tactics Putin will gobble it up a piece a time.

And why shouldn’t he? Sure, the ruble and the Russian economy have taken a hit from the sanctions imposed so far by the U.S. and EU, but Putin personally isn’t hurting–he is still a billionaire and the unchallenged dictator of the world’s ninth-largest nation (by population). In fact he was his usual smirking, swaggering self at the APEC summit in Beijing where he got to parade on stage alongside all the other world leaders. Has he been ostracized from the community of nations? Hardly. In fact he’s riding as high as ever, with the damage to the Russian economy no doubt offset, by his reckoning, from the boost in personal popularity he has received in Russia by playing the nationalist card.

Putin acts as if he has little reason to fear the consequences of further aggression–and he’s absolutely right. Neither the U.S. nor the EU has shown it has the fortitude to stand up to him. A practiced predator and skillful opportunist, Putin has read his adversaries’ eyes and seen that they contain fear and confusion. To him that’s a green light for further aggression.

He might think twice if President Obama were to send weapons, not just MREs, to the embattled Ukrainian forces, along with intelligence and advisors to help counter the Russian threat. Or if Obama were to impose stiffer sanctions that would bar Russian firms from dollar-denominated trades. Of course European action could make such sanctions far more effective, but the U.S. wouldn’t have to wait for the Europeans to make Putin pay a price–if we were serious about doing so. But the only foreign-policy objective that Obama appears determined to achieve at the moment is a grand if ill-considered bargain to realign Iran with the United States. Until the commander-in-chief shows some spine, Putin will continue to gobble up Ukraine.

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Turkish Islamists Train Snipers in Syria

That Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hostile toward social media, and harbors special animus for Twitter, is becoming conventional wisdom. But perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, Erdoğan seems far more concerned with the content of tweets and Facebook posts than he sometimes is with the actual platforms. Case in point is this recent tweet from Ribat Medya, a Turkish Islamist outlet. It shows sniper training on behalf of radical Islamist forces inside Syria, and directs users to this photo essay.

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That Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hostile toward social media, and harbors special animus for Twitter, is becoming conventional wisdom. But perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, Erdoğan seems far more concerned with the content of tweets and Facebook posts than he sometimes is with the actual platforms. Case in point is this recent tweet from Ribat Medya, a Turkish Islamist outlet. It shows sniper training on behalf of radical Islamist forces inside Syria, and directs users to this photo essay.

So what to make from this? Firstly, it’s an open secret that Turkey passively if not actively supports radical Islamist factions inside Syria, up to and including ISIS, whose members it has allowed to transit Turkish territory. Secondly, Erdoğan has assumed the power to shut down websites and Twitter feeds without so much as a court order. And yet, sites depicting the training of terrorist snipers inside Syria by Turks remain up. But should an environmentalist condemn the cutting down of trees in an urban park, Erdoğan labels him a terrorist and demands stiff jail terms.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that for Erdoğan, the problem isn’t Twitter any more than the problem is newspapers or television stations. Rather, the issue is whether or not such technology adheres to Erdoğan’s agenda. And by nature of his silence on these tweets, it is clear once again that Erdoğan does not consider ISIS, Jebhat al-Nusra, or the İnsani Yardım Vakfı to be terrorist groups or feeders, but rather honorable organizations to allow to operate unmolested.

Welcome to the reality of the new Turkey, same as the old Saudi Arabia.

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Why Obama Should Have Skipped Burma

President Obama arrived in Burma on his trip through Asia to meet with Burmese leaders and gauge the country’s Democratic progress. He shouldn’t have. His presence papers over a the massive human-rights abuses of Burma’s minority Rohingya Muslims that flirt all too seriously with becoming a full-blown genocide. Obama should have canceled his visit.

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President Obama arrived in Burma on his trip through Asia to meet with Burmese leaders and gauge the country’s Democratic progress. He shouldn’t have. His presence papers over a the massive human-rights abuses of Burma’s minority Rohingya Muslims that flirt all too seriously with becoming a full-blown genocide. Obama should have canceled his visit.

Although the predominantly Buddhist Burmese establishment’s treatment of the Rohingya has long been objectionable, it is now taking place against the backdrop of presidential visits and increased diplomatic and economic ties with the U.S. Additionally, the oppression of the Rohingya appears to have gotten markedly worse over the past year–as the Burmese government has taken advantage of the sanctions relief given by the West.

To be sure, the Burmese governing military junta did take steps toward democratic rule, and the political system has enjoyed more openness as a result. The most high-profile change has been the freeing from house arrest of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who now has a seat in parliament. But the Obama administration, which badly flubbed its early diplomatic outreach to Burma before Hillary Clinton had more luck on a second try, seemed desperate for a foreign-policy win. Suu Kyi understood this, as did others who advised the Obama administration to proceed with caution, and to make sure the Burmese government was really earning its sanctions relief and legitimization among the international community.

Suu Kyi was right to be skeptical about the Obama administration’s ability to navigate the nuances of Burmese politics and appreciate the need for incremental progress over photo ops. She is not keeping silent about her concerns, as the Wall Street Journal reports, and the impression that the Obama administration embraced her democratic idealism only to advance their desire for upgraded bilateral ties and then abandon them when they began to be seen as impediments:

The country’s democratic evolution over the past four years has stumbled amid recent setbacks, creating a division between Mr. Obama and Ms. Suu Kyi, the former political prisoner who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle to end decades of military rule that impoverished her country.

Their disagreement over progress since the military started a transition to civilian rule in 2010 is striking, given the Obama administration for years based its policies toward Myanmar around Ms. Suu Kyi’s ideas and political experience.

In a news conference last week, Ms. Suu Kyi said the U.S. was optimistic about progress. She said she would “challenge those who talk so much about the reform process” to show her what significant steps have been taken toward democratization over the past two years.

It’s worth going into some detail on that democratic “stumbling.” It’s far worse than it sounds. First, there’s the anti-Rohingya violence: “Religious violence since 2012 has killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims and displaced more than 140,000 in Rakhine State. Survivors live as virtual prisoners in camps or in segregated villages, subject to restrictions on travel, and, in some areas, marriage and the number of babies they can have.”

More recently, there’s been a campaign of ethnic cleansing that warrants more than a tsk-tsk from Obama. The Burmese government has decided to classify the more than 1 million Rohingya as ethnic Bengalis. That is, they want to make official their denial of the existence of Burmese Rohingya. They have used the census as the means to do so:

Almost all Rohingya were excluded from a U.N.-funded nationwide census earlier this year, the first in three decades, because they did not want to register as Bengalis. And Thein Sein is considering a “Rakhine Action Plan” that would make people who identify themselves as Rohingya not only ineligible for citizenship but candidates for detainment and possible deportation. …

Many villages were placed under lockdown, with police checkpoints set up to make sure only those who have cooperated could leave, more than a dozen residents confirmed in telephone interviews with The Associated Press.

In other villages, the names of influential residents were posted on community boards with verbal warnings that they face up to two years in jail if they fail to convince others to take part in the registration process, Lewa said. Other Rohingya say officials forced them to sign the papers at gunpoint, or threatened that they would end up in camps like those outside Sittwe if they didn’t comply, she said. In some cases residents say authorities have shown up after midnight and broken down doors to catch residents by surprise and pressure them to hand over family lists.

Meanwhile, the sanctions relief is mainly helping those in power, as the AP reports today: “The military controls the parliament and is blocking popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s path to the presidency. Business conglomerates linked to the old guard remain the engines of the economy and the main beneficiaries of more than $10 billion in post-junta foreign investment and aid.”

It looks as though the Obama administration got played. There’s no question conditions have improved somewhat. But the Burmese leaders, especially President Thein Sein, made a bet the international community has made before, and will again: the Obama administration and its European partners will have a far easier time reducing sanctions than reapplying them should backsliding occur. And they also know the president’s preference for photo ops and desperate diplomacy in place of the hard slog of serious progress. Obama’s visit to Burma today was a mistake; but it’s doubtful he ever seriously considered taking a stand and admitting the great Burmese opening is mostly a façade covering up monstrous crimes while the world turns its gaze.

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Dems Learn No Lessons From Defeat

In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

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In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

Like President Obama, who seemed uninterested in drawing any conclusions from the midterms, Pelosi brushed off any talk about a GOP “wave” in an interview with Politico:

“I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave,” Pelosi said in her first sit-down interview since Democrats lost a dozen House seats to Republicans on Nov. 4. “There was no wave of approval for the Republicans. I wish them congratulations, they won the election, but there was no wave of approval for anybody. There was an ebbing, an ebb tide, for us.”

That’s been a consistent theme for Democrats who prefer to interpret the elections as the consequence of a failure to generate a big enough turnout from their base to win. Like President Obama, who said he would listen to those who voted as well as those who didn’t vote, Democrats have begun to treat midterms as somehow an illegitimate test of American public opinion as opposed to presidential elections where they do better.

There is a superficial logic to their thinking as the pattern of the last four federal elections has alternated Democratic presidential wins with Republican sweeps of the midterms. But rather than worrying that their inability to translate the popularity of Barack Obama into congressional majorities since their big win in 2008, Democrats have preferred to slip into a mentality that they are a presidential party rather than one that works in the midterms. Since Democrats take it as an article of faith that their policies are unquestionably right and that most voters understand this, they see no reason to change a thing about their approach. And as long as they can keep winning presidential elections, perhaps they can get away with this.

But, as Rep. DeGette seems to understand, politics never stands still. The assumption that Democrats will always bring out enough youth, minority, and female voters to offset any of their failings may not hold up indefinitely. Indeed, the 2014 midterms ought to be a wakeup call to Democrats reminding them that their dominance of these constituencies is not, unlike the government programs they believe in, a permanent entitlement. What happened this time was not just a decline in Democratic turnout but a sign that the Democrats’ favorite memes, such as the war on women, and their reliance on minority voters may be a trap. What worked in 2012 did not work this year everywhere. Even worse, their reliance on minority voters has caused them to slip into an acceptance of the idea that other groups are the preserve of Republicans. But, as much as Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic, surely Democrats don’t think they can keep winning the presidency by getting only a third of white males. That’s a gender gap that puts the GOP’s problems with women in perspective.

While the political terrain of 2016 will be more favorable to the Democrats than this year’s vote, the ability of Republicans to expand their map and put purple states that were thought to be turning blue into play should alarm the president’s party. They should also be drawing conclusions from the fact that when Republicans put up credible candidates in competitive states, they are winning or doing far better than expected. Smart politicians might conclude that the Democratic advantage in past votes has been as much a function of awful GOP candidates as anything else. But while some of what Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are saying now can be put down to political braggadocio, there seems little doubt that they mean it when they say they think there’s no reason to change anything.

To her credit, the one Democrat that seems to be thinking seriously about what happened is Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While Wasserman Schultz is equally convinced that Democrats are right on the issue, she is at least open to the possibility that the way they’ve been selling themselves to the voters has been a mistake. She is convening a committee to study the midterms that is tasked with presenting a report early next year. If they’re smart, Democrats will use this as an opportunity to rethink a great deal of what they’ve been doing. But since DWS has been marginalized by the White House and is not liked by much of the party’s congressional leadership, the odds that anything she produces will be heard, let alone accepted, are not good. Indeed, rather than accept that dislike of his policies is the problem, Obama may decide to make the DNC chair the scapegoat for the loss.

The contrast between the Republican responses to their election defeats couldn’t be greater. In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the party underwent a collective soul searching experience that is still resonating in debates about immigration reform and other issues. Though there isn’t complete consensus about what to do, the party’s concern for recruiting good candidates and seeking to stop bad ones from gaining nominations was a start.

But Democrats don’t seem much in the mood for a similar round of introspection. Instead, they prefer to wait until 2016 when they are confident that Hillary Clinton will lead them to victory. That is a possibility. But a smarter party or one that was actually interested in ideas might consider that the loss of so many congressional seats, governors, and state legislative chambers should motivate them to do some soul searching.

It will take a presidential defeat in 2016 to force Democrats to undergo the kind of self-examination that Republicans are struggling with. But if they do, the debris from the decline for the party that Barack Obama’s unpopularity has wrought may take them more than one election cycle to fix. Nothing in politics is permanent, but there is a price that must be paid for ignoring election results. Whether they like it or not, that is one lesson Democrats may eventually learn.

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Turks Again Attack American Sailors

Two years ago, I wrote about an attack on American sailors at a port call in Turkey. At the time, some in the Pentagon tried to sweep the incident under the rug, all the better to maintain the fiction that Turkey wasn’t as anti-American as it has become. Well, it’s happened again. Just after Veteran’s Day, how sad it is to see a video like this. Turkish protestors have attacked American sailors from the USS Ross which had made a port call inside Turkey. The American sailors did everything right: they had dressed down to be surreptitious, they sought to avoid conflict, and they sought to leave the area when confronted, all to no avail.

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Two years ago, I wrote about an attack on American sailors at a port call in Turkey. At the time, some in the Pentagon tried to sweep the incident under the rug, all the better to maintain the fiction that Turkey wasn’t as anti-American as it has become. Well, it’s happened again. Just after Veteran’s Day, how sad it is to see a video like this. Turkish protestors have attacked American sailors from the USS Ross which had made a port call inside Turkey. The American sailors did everything right: they had dressed down to be surreptitious, they sought to avoid conflict, and they sought to leave the area when confronted, all to no avail.

It’s time to recognize reality: Turkey may be a NATO member, but it is no ally. And while anti-NATO protests can happen in any NATO member, few members would tolerate violence or the targeting of individual American servicemen. The problem with Turkey, however, is that Turkey’s current regime has long promoted such anti-Americanism, as have other Turkish political parties, like the opposition National Movement Party (MHP) and even the left-leaning secularist Republican Peoples Party (CHP). There is an atmosphere of impunity inside Turkey that violence in pursuit of certain causes is acceptable (see my previous posts about the plight of Turkish women, in this regard).

So what should the United States do?

Firstly, it’s well past time the U.S. Navy stop making port calls in Turkey. Port calls are a reward not only for sailors, but also for the countries which host the port call and derive significant financial benefit for doing so. There are many other countries and cities which would bend over backwards to host American sailors. Haifa, in Israel, is one. Various ports in Croatia and Montenegro are another. In recent years, Greece, too, has rolled out the red carpet for American ships.

Secondly, it is counterproductive and embarrassing that American congressmen lend their support to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime and agenda by signing up to be part of the Congressional Turkey Caucus. It is time to leave and treat Turkey as the regional pariah it has become, at least in any official capacity.

Thirdly, Erdoğan is fond of demanding apologies. Well, it’s our turn now. Erdoğan should personally apologize for the attacks on American servicemen and offer compensation to a charity of their choice. Let’s put aside the nonsense that the United States “started it” with the hooding of Turkish soldiers in Iraq on July 4, 2003 in Iraqi Kurdistan. As Turkish journalists have quietly pointed out, despite protestations of their innocence, none of those Turks was ever subsequently promoted, and most were quietly retired, as good a sign as any that they truly had gone rogue and were planning to assassinate public officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the information passed by Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan indicated.

Lastly, it’s well past time that the United States and other NATO members come up with contingencies for Turkey’s exit from the alliance. NATO is governed by consensus, and so a hostile Turkey—its past contributions notwithstanding—can undercut NATO’s governance and effectiveness. To keep Turkey inside the alliance is to condemn NATO to paralysis and irrelevance.

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Who’s Really Silencing Whom in Israel?

There’s been a lot written recently about how Israel’s “right-wing” government is “silencing” the leftist opposition. So it’s worth noting that for all the talk of the silenced left, the only media outlet Israel’s parliament has actually tried to silence–repeatedly–just happens to be the only major Hebrew-language media organ representing the center-right, as well as the only one that enthusiastically supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And the votes that allowed the latest version of this undemocratic legislation to pass its preliminary Knesset reading today came not from the “anti-democratic” right, but primarily from Israel’s self-proclaimed champions of democracy on the left.

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There’s been a lot written recently about how Israel’s “right-wing” government is “silencing” the leftist opposition. So it’s worth noting that for all the talk of the silenced left, the only media outlet Israel’s parliament has actually tried to silence–repeatedly–just happens to be the only major Hebrew-language media organ representing the center-right, as well as the only one that enthusiastically supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And the votes that allowed the latest version of this undemocratic legislation to pass its preliminary Knesset reading today came not from the “anti-democratic” right, but primarily from Israel’s self-proclaimed champions of democracy on the left.

To be clear, the bill won’t become law. Like other undemocratic bills proposed by irresponsible Knesset members in recent years, it will be quietly killed in committee by wiser heads after having gotten its sponsors the media attention they craved. But nobody on the “anti-democratic” right has ever tried to pass legislation shutting down left-wing papers like Haaretz or Yedioth Ahronoth; only on the “democratic” left is silencing newspapers you don’t like considered acceptable behavior.

The bill to shutter Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom is just a particularly crude example of a broader problem: The Israeli left is all too fond of trying to silence others. And the false claim that it is really the one being silenced is one of its favorite tactics for doing so: After all, an “anti-democratic” government doesn’t deserve to have its views heard by the international community.

Noah Efron, himself a self-proclaimed leftist, dissected the absurdity of the left’s silencing claim in a thoughtful Haaretz piece in September. Left-wing newspapers and websites still publish, left-wing academics still lecture, left-wing NGOs still disseminate material, left-wing activists still demonstrate, and the specific individuals who were allegedly silenced actually “received hours of airtime and hundreds of column inches,” he wrote.

“We haven’t been silenced. We’ve just failed to make our case,” Efron concluded. “The answer is not to convince readers of the New York Times that Israel is no longer a democracy. The answer is to accept that Israel is a democracy, and that democracy demands that we speak to our fellow citizens … that we persuade them rather than dismiss them.”

But the claim of silencing isn’t just an excuse for left-wing failures; it’s also an effective tactic for ensuring that the non-left won’t be heard. The Israel Hayom bill is instructive because it exposes this desire to silence others, something the left usually tries to conceal.

The first attempt to shutter the paper was an unsubtle bill making it illegal for non-Israelis to own Israeli newspapers–a restriction chosen because it applied to one paper only. Its hypocrisy was underscored by the fact that the left evinced no objection whatsoever when another American tycoon rescued the left-wing Channel 10 television by becoming its majority shareholder.

The current bill, which aims to destroy Israel Hayom’s business model, is equally unsubtle. It would outlaw freebie papers–but only if they’re successful. Freebies that don’t compete with the mainstream media are fine, but any freebie that becomes one of the four highest-circulation papers would have to start charging at least 70 percent of what the cheapest of the other three charges. Needless to say, only one Israeli freebie makes the top four.

Leftists justify this undemocratic bill by claiming Israel Hayom isn’t a real paper, but a Netanyahu mouthpiece. Personally, I agree that the paper’s coverage of Netanyahu is excessively fawning–but not more so than, say, Haaretz’s coverage of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas or the New York Times’s coverage of Barack Obama. So should the Knesset ban Haaretz, too? Indeed, Haaretz and Yedioth unabashedly use their editorial freedom to support left-wing politicians; somehow, only editorial support for a center-right politician is illegitimate.

It’s also worth noting that on issues other than Netanyahu, Israel Hayom’s veteran journalists–most of whom previously reported for left-wing media outlets–actually provide interesting coverage of issues the other major media outlets prefer to ignore, like Palestinian groups’ deliberate instigation of the recent rioting in Jerusalem or the growing integrationist trend among Israel’s Christian Arabs.

This, I suspect, is the real reason why leftists loathe it. But admitting that they’d rather deprive the public of information that calls their political program into question wouldn’t sound any better than admitting they’ve failed to convince a majority of Israelis of this program’s wisdom. Much better to dismiss Israel Hayom as a mere propaganda organ and try to shut it down–all while loudly proclaiming that they are really the ones being silenced.

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RE: ObamaCare Lies and Democracy

Jonathan’s post details how the advocates of ObamaCare hid the truth behind a bodyguard of lies (to use Churchill’s marvelous phrase) in order to fool the people and get the bill passed. No wonder it has been deeply unpopular from the beginning.

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Jonathan’s post details how the advocates of ObamaCare hid the truth behind a bodyguard of lies (to use Churchill’s marvelous phrase) in order to fool the people and get the bill passed. No wonder it has been deeply unpopular from the beginning.

This is not how democracy (from the Greek demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning power) is supposed to work. But modern-day liberals and progressives (like those who run “people’s republics”) have never been in favor of people power. They want power to be exercised by fiduciaries for the people, which is to say themselves. They regard the common man as too stupid to know what is good for him. In explaining his now regretted remarks, Jonathan Gruber defended himself by saying they were off-the-cuff remarks made at an academic conference. Translation: The peasants weren’t supposed to have heard them. And he could only bring himself to say that the remarks had been “inappropriate,” not that they were incorrect.

He then proceeded to tell another lie in hopes of duping the people (and a Supreme Court justice or two) again. He repeatedly referred to the phrase in the law saying that subsidies could only be given to those who purchased insurance on the exchanges created by states as a “typo.” Well, thanks to Power Line here’s the text of the law:

The premium assistance amount determined under this subsection with respect to any coverage month is the amount equal to the lesser of—

(A) the monthly premiums for such month for 1 or more qualified health plans offered in the individual market within a State which cover the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, or any dependent (as defined in section 152) of the taxpayer and which were enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act…. [emphasis added]

That sure doesn’t look like a typo to me. And it didn’t look like one to Gruber either until it became convenient for it to be one. As I pointed out the day before yesterday, Gruber himself, in 2012, stated that the whole purpose of that phrase was to coerce states into establishing exchanges so as not to deprive their citizens of subsidies.

At the heart of all the isms of the left lies a profound contempt for the common man. The reason is not hard to discern. Those isms were all created by intellectuals and there is no snob like an intellectual snob. Just ask Jonathan Gruber.

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Why Deterrence Won’t Work with Iran

Underlying the Obama administration’s approach to the Iranian nuclear program has been an assumption that, if worse came to worst, the world could contain and deter a nuclear Iran. After all, many officials and analysts suggest, the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. It knows that if it used nuclear weapons against Israel or the United States, it would be annihilated. In addition, some analysts suggest, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked during the Cold War; neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was willing to push the button. So, the logic goes, even if Iran cheats on the deal for which Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing so hard and builds a nuclear weapon, the risk of a nuclear first strike on Israel is minimal.

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Underlying the Obama administration’s approach to the Iranian nuclear program has been an assumption that, if worse came to worst, the world could contain and deter a nuclear Iran. After all, many officials and analysts suggest, the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. It knows that if it used nuclear weapons against Israel or the United States, it would be annihilated. In addition, some analysts suggest, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked during the Cold War; neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was willing to push the button. So, the logic goes, even if Iran cheats on the deal for which Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing so hard and builds a nuclear weapon, the risk of a nuclear first strike on Israel is minimal.

The problem with such logic is it misunderstands Iran, ignores its ideology, and doesn’t take into account the command and control of any military nuclear program.

Simply put, the Islamic Republic isn’t stable. Over the past 15 years, it has weathered three major mass demonstrations:

  • In 1999, student protests morphed into a national movement after vigilantes attacked a Tehran University student dormitory, killing a student and injuring scores;
  • In 2001, protests spread across the country after Iran lost a World Cup qualifier 3-1 to Bahrain, a loss which some Iranians believed was due to the government seeking to have the team throw the game so as to prevent men and women from celebrating together; and,
  • In 2009, unrest rocked the country after the regime apparently fixed the results of an election so that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could have a second term.

The point is that the Islamic Republic remains deeply unpopular with many segments of Iranian society. That does not mean that the Iranian public is revolutionary; after having one revolution which promised Islamic democracy but delivered neither the Iranian public is decidedly apathetic and cynical. However, Iran is a tinderbox and when a spark occurs, the fire can spread rapidly.

Let’s put aside the fallacy that Mutually-Assured Destruction will always be successful (the United States and the Soviet Union got damned lucky at times, for example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis or the aftermath of Korean Air 007’s downing). Here’s the nightmare situation: While the government has been more successful at smothering sparks than protestors have been at lighting them, in each of the above three uprisings, it was touch and go for a bit. It’s likely that in the future there will be a spark which again morphs into nationwide protests.

What happens if, in any future protests, rather than putting down the people, some of the security forces join in, much as they did in Romania in 1989? At the end, it was clear that the regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu would not last out the month, although few expected the Christmas Day firing squad in which the hated dictator and his wife met their end.

Back to Iran: If the Islamic Republic develops nuclear weapons, the command, control, and custody of that arsenal would likely be not only in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), but also in its most ideologically pure unit, handpicked for their loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei’s radical ideology. The IRGC isn’t homogeneous. But just because some members join more for privilege than belief doesn’t mean there aren’t many true believers among the guardians of the revolution. The regime may not be suicidal, but if it’s terminally ill so that those in control of an Iranian bomb know that there will be regime change in a matter of days if not hours, then why not launch to fulfill the ideological objectives of eliminating Israel?

To assume the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal is all well and good, but there is a huge difference between a desire for self-preservation and stability. To ignore the Revolutionary Guards and to gamble millions of lives on the assumption that the Islamic Republic will last forever is negligent in the extreme. Alas, it increasingly seems such a description fits Obama and Kerry’s assumptions and actions.

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Should the GOP Link Lynch to Immigration?

Fresh off their victory in last week’s midterm elections, Republicans are bursting with ideas about implementing their agenda but also spoiling for a fight with a president who arrogantly thinks the verdict of the voters shouldn’t affect his policies. But those who think it’s a good idea to fire on the first administration target to come into range may be making a mistake. While the GOP will be right to use every opportunity to push back against President Obama’s likely decision to bypass Congress and seek to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, linking that arrogant move to efforts to block or stall the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general won’t accomplish much.

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Fresh off their victory in last week’s midterm elections, Republicans are bursting with ideas about implementing their agenda but also spoiling for a fight with a president who arrogantly thinks the verdict of the voters shouldn’t affect his policies. But those who think it’s a good idea to fire on the first administration target to come into range may be making a mistake. While the GOP will be right to use every opportunity to push back against President Obama’s likely decision to bypass Congress and seek to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, linking that arrogant move to efforts to block or stall the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general won’t accomplish much.

Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee stated clearly that they intend to use Lynch’s confirmation to grill the nominee on whether she thinks the president’s planned executive orders on amnesty are constitutional. More to the point, they and other conservatives are seeking to get some commitments from Lynch on her willingness to avoid the kind of selective enforcement of the law that characterized the tenure of her predecessor Eric Holder.

That should make for some good television but even the brash Cruz must understand that he and his colleagues must tread carefully when questioning the first African American woman selected to lead the Justice Department. This administration’s cheering sections in the mainstream media are quick to cry racism every time anyone blasts Obama’s policies or cry sexism when someone points out the damaging role being played by Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett. So it won’t take much for the same crew to try to portray tough questioning of Lynch as a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition.

Republicans will rightly dismiss that as just another instance of media bias by a press corps that will probably continue to operate as a cheering section for President Obama until the day he vacates the White House. But that doesn’t mean the GOP should walk into the trap the president is setting for them. Turning Lynch into a victim won’t be tactically smart especially since she is viewed as a non-political career prosecutor rather than another Obama crony like Holder.

It’s not clear what options Republicans will have if the president goes ahead and seeks to run roughshod over the Constitution by seeking to govern on his own without the consent of Congress. The GOP may try to defund those agencies involved in any mass amnesty plan, though doubtless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will keep his pledge to avoid any potential government shutdown scenarios. So that may leave the court of public opinion as the best avenue for venting outrage over a move that will endear Democrats to many Hispanics while outraging those who think, whatever their views about the need for immigration reform, the rule of law should not be trashed in order for the president to get his way on the issue.

The president may want the lame duck session of Congress to vote on Lynch but there’s no reason to rush this confirmation so as to avoid giving newly elected senators a shot at asking pointed questions. But while the GOP should not flinch from raising this issue every chance they get in the coming months, not every Obama appointment will serve this cause as well as others. Though conservatives want to fight Obama over everything and anything, a scattershot approach will only serve to help him spin his lawless ways as less provocative than a senatorial grilling of a woman they can’t lay a glove on. Having been presented with a seemingly unexceptional appointment, turning Lynch into a piñata over immigration could be tactically inept. There will be other, better targets for Republican scrutiny in the coming months. Until they come along, the GOP may do better to keep their powder dry and not start a nomination fight that they won’t win.

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ObamaCare Lies and Democracy

In a video that has gone viral over the last few days, one of the principal architects of ObamaCare confessed at an academic conference that the law was drafted in such a manner as to deliberately deceive both the Congressional Budget Office and the American people. MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber tried to walk back his October 2013 remarks in a softball interview with Ronan Farrow on MSNBC this afternoon yet there’s no denying that his embarrassing moment of candor in which he said the bill passed because of a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” will influence the ongoing debate about the law. But while the mainstream media has spent the years since the misnamed Affordable Care Act passed mocking its conservative opponents, this ought to be a moment when Americans take stock of the corrosive impact on our democracy of the cynicism to which the president and his congressional allies sank during the campaign for his signature health-care legislation.

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In a video that has gone viral over the last few days, one of the principal architects of ObamaCare confessed at an academic conference that the law was drafted in such a manner as to deliberately deceive both the Congressional Budget Office and the American people. MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber tried to walk back his October 2013 remarks in a softball interview with Ronan Farrow on MSNBC this afternoon yet there’s no denying that his embarrassing moment of candor in which he said the bill passed because of a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” will influence the ongoing debate about the law. But while the mainstream media has spent the years since the misnamed Affordable Care Act passed mocking its conservative opponents, this ought to be a moment when Americans take stock of the corrosive impact on our democracy of the cynicism to which the president and his congressional allies sank during the campaign for his signature health-care legislation.

In a sense, Gruber’s statement doesn’t exactly break new ground. After all, if then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could say that ObamaCare had to be passed before its contents could be understood, it’s not much of a revelation if one of its designers fesses up about the deceptions involved in the project and the breathtaking cynicism of its Democratic backers. Like the president’s repeated lies about consumers being able to keep their existing health insurance and doctors if they liked them, Gruber’s confession makes it clear that deception was at the heart of the debate on a law that overturned a key sector of the American economy.

For those who haven’t yet read or seen it, here’s what Gruber said at a University of Pennsylvania conference last year:

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay. So it was written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law that said healthy people are going to pay in — if you made it explicit that healthy people pay in, sick people get money, it would not have passed. Okay.

Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical in getting the thing to pass, and, you know, it’s the second best argument. And I wish Mark was right, we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not. So there are things I’d wish I could change, but I’d rather have this law than not.

These remarks should weigh heavily on the consciences of the Obama administration and its allies who rammed it through Congress on a narrow party-line vote without knowing what was in it. Nor should it escape the notice of the Supreme Court as it weighs the arguments in King v. Burwell this session as it struggles with the question of whether the text of the law should be ignored in order to justify the administration’s efforts to roll out the health-care scheme. Liberals argue that the true intentions of the law’s authors should trump the fact that it was drafted so sloppily that it can easily be interpreted in such a way as to render the implementation of the legislation illegal. But since those who did the drafting are now being revealed as having deliberately lied about its contents, it seems quite appropriate that the Court stick to the text and the public arguments made at the time, not the secret agenda behind the law.

But leaving aside the debate about ObamaCare, Gruber’s quote and even his recent mea culpa in which he says he “spoke inappropriately” indicates that for Obama’s acolytes, winning means never having to say you’re sorry. Since they believed that this massive expansion of federal power that may wind up hurting as many people as it helps was the key goal of the administration, like Gruber, its apologists aren’t apologizing for having lied. What they regret is Gruber’s moment of weakness in which he foolishly told the truth about it.

Seen in that light, this is not so much about a gaffe as it is about the theory of politics that animates the Obama administration.

Though he came into office pledging the most transparent administration in history, what he has presided over is the one that is the most opaque, both in terms of its attitude toward the press as well as its belief that it can lie to the American people with impunity. Nations often believe that ends justify the means. Indeed, it would be impossible for wars to be fought otherwise. But however questionable such practices may be, it is one thing to rationalize wartime decisions, quite another to turn a blind eye to a philosophy that treats the American people as the enemy to be deceived.

They were not the first administration to lie to the American people about a policy question. But in passing ObamaCare, the president and his minions reached an all-time low in mendacity in order to get the desired result. Yet while some have benefited from ObamaCare, others have not. The administration and its supporters may believe all the lies are justified because of the expansion of health care to some. Yet in the coming year, as the individual mandate is implemented, more will suffer as the law wreak havoc on employment and the costs of premiums may skyrocket.

But the true legacy of ObamaCare may not just be the mess it has made of the health-care industry or the benefits some may have derived from it. It may instead mark another watershed moment in the history of American politics in which citizens came to understand that those who claim to have their best interests at heart would not scruple about lying to them about their intentions. The ends here not only did not justify the means but they also degraded American democracy in a way that we may never entirely recover from.

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The Obama Years Have Been Poisonous Ones for Democrats

It’s worse than Democrats thought and Republicans had hoped.

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It’s worse than Democrats thought and Republicans had hoped.

With each passing day, it seems, the scope and dimensions of Tuesday’s historic midterm election become even more apparent.

Consider this article by Aaron Blake of the Washington Post. According to Mr. Blake:

  • Nearly half of Americans will now live in states under total GOP control.
  • Republican are basically in control of the state government in 24 (and depending on what happens with the governor’s race in Alaska, 25) states. The Democrats, meanwhile, control just six (and depending on what happens in Vermont, seven) states. That 24-6 split is significantly bigger than it was after 2010, when Republicans emerged from that wave election with complete control of 21 states, to Democrats’ 11–about a two-to-one advantage, versus today’s four-to-one edge.
  • According to Mr. Blake’s numbers, across all 50 states, 47.8 percent of Americans will now be led by GOP-controlled governments with little/no ability for Democrats to thwart them. Democrats, meanwhile, will govern unilaterally in states with just 15.6 percent of Americans–less than one-sixth of the country.

“No, state legislatures aren’t the sexiest things in the world,” according to Blake. “But as a means for demonstrating a national wave, they’re about as pure an indicator as you get. That’s because they’re the lowest-profile office (i.e. people vote the party more than anything) that is pretty uniform across the country. And as of today, the GOP is dominating in an unprecedented way.”

The Obama years have been poisonous for the Democratic Party, from state legislatures and governorships to the House and Senate. Mr. Obama likes to think of himself as a world-historical figure. He is, but in all the wrong ways.

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Obama, Abbas, and ‘Contaminating’ Jews

In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

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In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

Abbas helped launch the latest round of Palestinian violence by urging his people to resist Jews who venture onto the Temple Mount by all means. Those means turned out to be murder and when the PA head praised a slain terrorist who had attempted to murder a Jewish activist as a “martyr” who was heading straight to heaven, it showed just how far he was willing to go to capitalize on traditional memes of Palestinian hatred for Jews. Today, in the wake of more fatal car attacks and stabbings of Jews, Abbas doubled down on the hate. Referring to the attempts by some Jews to gain the right to pray on what it the holiest site in Judaism, Abbas was reported as saying the following in the Times of Israel:

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.

It should be acknowledged that Abbas is locked in a fierce competition with Hamas for support from Palestinians and by diving even deeper into the barrel of ancient libels, he is, by his own lights, merely pandering to domestic opinion. But the green light he is giving to random violence by Palestinians is unmistakable. The question is when will his Washington cheering section recognize that they have invested heavily in a figure that is counting on their support insulating him against any consequences for his actions?

On its face, Abbas would seem to be the last person who would want a third intifada since he stands to lose the most by an open breach with an Israeli security apparatus that is his only guarantee of survival against Hamas. Nor can he afford to alienate the Americans or the European Union since both provide him with the cash he needs to irrigate the corrupt kleptocracy that he presides over in the West Bank.

That ought to give both Israel and the West some leverage in moderating his language even if it has never been enough to cause him to be willing to defy Palestinian public opinion and negotiate a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

That is why the silence of the West about Abbas is so frustrating for Israel. For months, the Obama administration has been lauding the PA head as a courageous man of peace while badmouthing Netanyahu as an obstacle to it in both on and off the record statements. Thus it is no surprise that Abbas believes he has virtual carte blanche from his donors and political sponsors to go as far as he wants when it comes to inciting violence.

The problem here is that while the White House and State Department can often be relied upon to issue statements urging both sides to show restraint and condemning violence of all kinds, they generally have no problem being specific when it comes to Israel and Netanyahu. But even if we leave aside the unfair nature of most of the criticisms of the Israeli, they find it difficult, if not impossible to turn the same critical gaze at Abbas.

Let’s concede that even if Abbas were to have held his tongue and sought to calm tensions over Jerusalem, there is no guarantee that no violence would have occurred. But by seeking to outpace Hamas when it comes to fanning the flames about the mosques on the Temple Mount, Abbas has made a material contribution to Middle East violence. And he is doing it on the American taxpayer’s dime.

It should also be stated that some inflammatory voices on the Israeli right have contributed to the problem. As unfair as the status quo on the Temple Mount might be to Jews, overturning it right now would be the sort of thing that will get a lot of people killed. But it should be pointed out that instead of feeding and/or profiting from anger over this issue, Netanyahu and his government have tried to prevent violence, not encourage it, but keep getting slammed by Western critics for not altogether conceding Jewish rights throughout Jerusalem.

The issue here isn’t so much who gets to pray on the Temple Mount since there is no chance of the status quo being altered. Rather it is whether the West thinks it is OK for the recipient of their largesse to refer to Jews as “contaminators” of their own capital city. Such language isn’t merely pandering to Palestinian opinion; it is a sign that Abbas is part of the problem of violence and hate, not its potential solution.

For years, the same people hammering Netanyahu and excusing Abbas now were the ones urging a similar policy toward Yasir Arafat and his blatant incitement toward hate. Those who did so bore a degree of responsibility for the violence that ensued when Arafat blew up the peace process with a bloody second intifada. The same judgment will apply to the president and his cheerleaders as they stand by and watch Abbas play the same card.

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