Commentary Magazine


John Kerry’s War

Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

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Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

First, as repeated efforts over the last 14 years have shown, Palestinians and Israelis aren’t ready to make a deal. Serious efforts were made at the Camp David talks in 2000, the Taba talks in 2001, the Livni-Qureia talks in 2007-08, the Olmert-Abbas talks in 2008, and, most recently, Kerry’s talks, but all failed because the gaps between the parties couldn’t be bridged. As Shmuel Rosner noted in a perceptive New York Times op-ed in May, that’s because many issues Westerners don’t much care about, and therefore imagine are easy to compromise on, are actually very important to the parties involved and thus impossible to compromise on. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and until it does, negotiations will never bring peace.

But failed peace talks inevitably make violence more likely, for two main reasons. First, they force both sides to focus on their most passionate disagreements–the so-called “core issues” that go to the heart of both Israeli and Palestinian identity–rather than on less emotional issues. On more mundane issues, Israel and the Palestinian Authority can sometimes agree–as they did on a series of economic cooperation projects last June, before Kerry’s peace talks gummed up the works. But even if they don’t, it’s hard for people on either side to get too upset when their governments squabble over, say, sewage treatment. In contrast, people on both sides do get upset when their governments argue over, say, the “right of return,” because that’s an issue where both sides view the other’s narrative as negating their own existence.

Second, failed peace talks always result in both sides feeling that they’ve lost or conceded something important without receiving a suitable quid pro quo. Palestinians, for instance, were outraged when Kerry reportedly backed Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, while Israelis were outraged by Kerry’s subsequent U-turn on the issue. Thus both sides ended up feeling as if their positions on this issue were undermined during the talks. The same goes for the Jordan Valley, where both Israelis and Palestinians felt Kerry’s proposals didn’t meet their respective needs, but now fear these proposals will serve as the starting point for additional concessions next time.

Added to this were the “gestures” Kerry demanded of both sides: that Israel free dozens of vicious killers and the PA temporarily refrain from joining international organizations. Though the price Kerry demanded of Israel was incomparably greater, neither side wanted to pay its assigned share. So when the talks collapsed, both felt they had made a sacrifice for nothing.

In short, failed peace talks exacerbate Israeli-Palestinian tensions rather than calming them. And when tensions rise, so does the likelihood of violence. That’s true in any situation, but doubly so for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because terrorist groups like Hamas are always happy to throw a match into a barrel of explosives. The unsurprising result is that spasms of violence, like the second intifada and the current war, have frequently followed failed peace talks.

So if Washington truly wants to avoid Israeli-Palestinian violence, the best thing it could do is stop trying to force both sides into talks that are doomed to fail. For contrary to the accepted wisdom, which holds that “political negotiations” are the best way to forestall violence, they’re actually the best way to make violence more likely.

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The Idealism and Realism of the American Founders

During an engaging, wide-ranging interview with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New York Times columnist David Brooks was asked this: “How do you feel about the Tea Party? The notion of compromise is a dirty word more than ever on Capitol Hill. So how do you see us getting us to a place where there can be a moderate middle? Do you think it’s possible to return to those days?” To which Brooks replied this way:

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During an engaging, wide-ranging interview with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New York Times columnist David Brooks was asked this: “How do you feel about the Tea Party? The notion of compromise is a dirty word more than ever on Capitol Hill. So how do you see us getting us to a place where there can be a moderate middle? Do you think it’s possible to return to those days?” To which Brooks replied this way:

Let me quibble with one phrase in your question, which would be “moderate middle.” So I’m a moderate but I’m not in the middle. And what I mean by that, I think being moderate is seeing politics as a competition between partial truths. And like in this era we have competition between security and freedom, between achievement and equality, between mobility and cohesion. And both sides have a piece of the truth. And often you want to be radical on both ends and try to balance. So it’s all about balance. So you can really value things that are on each end as long as you try to balance these opposing things and as long as you understand that politics is a messy, slow … boring through hard boards–it’s just messy and slow and you take one step at a time.

Brooks went on to say this:

My problem with the Tea Party is partly what they believe, but partly it’s just their [methods]–they’re anti-political. I believe in politics, that you pass a piece of legislation and you get half a loaf and you make a slow step and you make a compromise and you try to go a little forward every day. Politics is not, it’s not show business. It’s just messy compromises because you’re always caught in contradictions and filled with paradoxes. And my problem with the Tea Party is they don’t like politics. They want it to be pure, and they often punish people who they call RINOs–who are Republican in Name Only–because they’re not pure. But I think impurity is what leaders do. They take impurity upon themselves. They take the sins of the situation on themselves. They take the complexity of the situation on themselves and they try to muddle through. And so I think people who are unwilling to muddle through are not being political; they’re being self-indulgent. And so I have a problem with that style of politics.

I would add some elaborations to what David says, ones I think he might agree with, such as: No one in politics sees the truth in full, but some people are within much closer striking distance than others. And the Tea Party movement has produced some of the most impressive politicians now on the right, including Marco Rubio (who defeated Charlie Crist in their primary) and Mike Lee (who defeated Bob Bennett in their primary).

With that said, Brooks is zeroing in on something quite important, which is that politics is an inherently messy business. Moreover, the American founders–who developed the concepts of checks and balances, separation of powers, and all the rest–wanted politics to be messy. That is, our constitutional order requires give and take, adaptation and collaboration, the balancing of competing interests, and compromise itself. As Jonathan Rauch has written in National Affairs, “In our constitutional system, compromise is not merely a necessary evil but a positive good: an indispensable source of political discipline, competition, and stability — which are all conservative values.”

Too often these days, zealous people who are in a hurry don’t appreciate that the process and methods of politics–the “messy,” muddling through side of politics–is a moral achievement of sorts. But this, too, is only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that justice is often advanced by people who are seized with a moral vision. They don’t much care about the prosaic side of governing; they simply want society to be better, more decent, and more respectful of human dignity. So yes, it’s important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. But it’s also the case that politics requires us to strive for certain (unattainable) ideals.

There’s a distinction, then, between motivating ideals and the methods and processes of politics. Think of Martin Luther King’s dream and Lyndon Johnson’s civil-rights legislation. Or think of Lincoln, who was both the greatest exponent of principles of the Declaration of Independence in American history and a supremely great politician.

What happens all too often in our politics is that people who are drawn to one tend to look with disdain on those who are drawn to the other. What we need, I think, is greater recognition that both are necessary, that each one alone is insufficient. Visionaries have to find a way to give their vision concrete expression, which requires deal-making, compromise, and accepting something less than the ideal. Legislators need to govern with some commitment to philosophical and moral ideals; otherwise, they’re just passing laws and cutting deals for their own sake.

What David Brooks is saying, I think–and where I agree with him–is that some recalibration needs to occur in some quarters on the right, away from those seeking purification and excommunication (RINO-hunters) and toward a fuller, more authentic conservatism. Call it the conservatism of the founders.

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Hobby Lobby, Religious Liberty, and the Dangers of Complacence

It’s tempting, and easy, to dismiss Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Senate Democrats say as soon as today they could bring up a bill that would, as Politico terms it, “override” the high court’s ruling, which followed the course set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Democrats want to push this as part of the “war on women” by making shameless false claims about the court’s ruling and trashing both RFRA and the First Amendment.

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It’s tempting, and easy, to dismiss Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Senate Democrats say as soon as today they could bring up a bill that would, as Politico terms it, “override” the high court’s ruling, which followed the course set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Democrats want to push this as part of the “war on women” by making shameless false claims about the court’s ruling and trashing both RFRA and the First Amendment.

Conservatives have been generally dismissive of the White House’s “war on women,” and for good reason. Additionally, they may be further tempted to deride the left’s response now that they’ve won a limited victory at the Supreme Court. It also requires a heroic effort to take seriously any policymaking that begins with Harry Reid including Clarence Thomas in his category of “white men” who should be ignored. Reid is railing against the Supreme Court, but he does not appear to be terribly familiar with it. (As an aside, why mention the race of the justices at all if this is an issue about gender? Because leftists can’t speak, apparently, without accusing someone of being racist.)

But this attitude would be a mistake, with regard to the Hobby Lobby pushback. To be sure, conservatives should avoid getting drawn into a fictitious debate on birth control based on completely false premises and designed not to advance policy solutions but to give Democrats yet another chance to insult the intelligence of the nation’s women and to put Christianity–and by extension, religious belief in general–on trial. After all, it’s unlikely that yet another Reid-led Democratic effort to undo basic American rights will pass the House.

And getting drawn into this debate risks giving the Democrats what they actually want: a change of subject. As the Obama presidency plummets in popularity and the corruption and abuse of power scandals keep multiplying, the Democrats want to talk about anything but the issues dragging them down.

Nonetheless, conservatives should think twice about taking the debate over this bill–not the president’s executive action, but the Senate bill on which there would presumably be debate and a vote–too lightly. What the Democrats are trying to do is build a public-policy consensus that would erode religious liberty by holding a referendum on whether America’s first freedom, and the basis for the American project, should be undone in the service of left-wing culture-war extremism.

Is it worth undermining religious freedom just so Democrats can distract the electorate from their inability to govern with a public discussion about the economics of sex? For Democrats like Harry Reid, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Basic freedoms are fine in the abstract, according to Democratic policymakers, but they often infringe on Democrats’ quest for power. So they must be subverted.

Conservatives must understand that the risk here is not actual policy, since the bill won’t pass the House. The risk is that by ceding space in the public sphere to liberal demagogues, they won’t engage the important part of this debate. Since, as I’ve written previously, opposition to religious freedom is now a partisan Democratic position, conservatives are the last line of defense. What they don’t want is for the left to own a debate that could build a public consensus against those freedoms. If conservatives won’t speak up for religious freedom, nobody will, and it will be ignored and trampled.

It’s also important because none of this takes place in a vacuum. In a very smart piece for BuzzFeed, Chris Geidner tracks the evolving fight over religious exemptions in employee non-discrimination legislation. He notes that LGBT groups and their supporters are backing away from anti-discrimination legislation they were initially inclined to support because of the religious exemptions being added. The bill will probably not be advanced in the House this year, Geidner notes, and explains why these groups are fighting about it anyway.

He gives three reasons: to shape the next version of this legislation that comes through Congress in the next session; because the groups are unnerved by the Supreme Court’s upholding of religious freedom protections in the Hobby Lobby case; and to influence President Obama’s forthcoming executive order on the issue. In other words, these groups recognize that although the Democrats’ demand for employee-sponsored drugs that may act as abortifacients has nothing to do with gay rights, in some way it has everything to do with it.

Settling law and winning public debates over religious freedom affects other laws and other debates that follow it. Just as the Supreme Court sets precedent in legal rulings, so too the passage of laws and other actions set precedent in how the public understands the issues at play and how politicians can attract support for their own legislative projects. The left has always operated with the knowledge that there’s no off-season here. They are counting on conservative exhaustion, complacence, or both. Conservatives must demonstrate neither.

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As Rockets Fly, Administration Blasts Israel

Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

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Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and a special assistant to President Barack Obama, gave the keynote address at the Haaretz Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv yesterday. Yet rather than use the opportunity to focus on American support for Israel’s right to self-defense at a time when the very city he was speaking in was being targeted by Hamas rockets, Gordon centered his remarks on harsh criticism of the Israeli government and lavished praise on the Palestinian leader who had embraced unity with the people currently shooting at Tel Aviv and scores of other Israeli cities, towns, and villages.

Gordon’s thesis was familiar. The Obama administration believes that Israel must negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority because it cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while continuing to rule over millions of Arabs in the West Bank. And he blames Israel for the failure to conclude such an agreement with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s the position Secretary of State John Kerry adopted after the predictable collapse of his peace initiative in April and echoed by various administration officials since then. The U.S. preferred to blame Israel for this failure rather than recognize that Abbas was never truly interested in signing any agreement. Faith in Abbas’s commitment to negotiations was lost when he fled the talks to return to efforts to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence. Any remaining trust in his bona fides should have evaporated when he concluded a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than agreeing to continue to talk to Israel. The administration compounded that error when it decided to continue to keep sending aid to the PA despite the presence of Hamas in its ranks, which U.S. law forbade.

But as egregious as those misjudgments were before this latest outbreak of violence, they were rendered even more absurd by the spectacle of an American official sticking to this line even as a Hamas rocket offensive rained down on the Jewish state.

Perhaps the president believes that timing is irrelevant when it comes to pressuring the Netanyahu government but if the U.S. goal is to persuade the Israeli people to make more concessions to the Palestinians, then yesterday’s speech was a disaster.

It bears repeating that Israel made three offers of statehood and independence to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. The Palestinians, first under Yasir Arafat and then Abbas, turned them down each time. Abbas’s recent decision to flee the latest talks and his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn constitute a fourth “no” to peace. This is a fact that has caused most Israelis to give up on the process even though the overwhelming majority—including the supposedly intransigent Netanyahu—favor a two-state solution in theory and would be willing to make serious territorial concessions in exchange for an end to the conflict, as opposed to a truce.

But the rocket fire from Gaza provided more than an inconvenient background noise for Gordon’s speech. It was a reminder of what happens when Israel gives up territory to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon heeded the international calls for Israel to make concessions and to separate from the Palestinians and in 2005 he withdrew every Israeli settlement, soldier, and civilian from Gaza. But rather than use this as a steppingstone to comprehensive peace, the Palestinians used the retreat to turn Gaza into a giant missile-launching pad and terrorist base. Since Hamas’s 2007 coup when they seized control of the strip, Gaza has been an independent Palestinian state in all but name. As such, it is a standing argument against further such withdrawals in the West Bank that abuts Israel’s main population centers. No Israeli government will ever contemplate ceding security control of more territory unless it can be sure that it will not be used to replicate the Gaza experiment.

But instead of sending a strong message to the Palestinians that they must renounce violence and make peace, Gordon’s speech made clear that the U.S. has no intention of holding Abbas accountable for his embrace of Hamas. Gordon’s pointed dismissal of Netanyahu’s recent comments about the need for Israel to secure the Jordan River security line in light of the growing Islamist threat from the East in Iraq as well as Syria will also inspire no Israeli confidence in the judgment or the reliability of American promises.

As I wrote yesterday, the Obama administration bears a not inconsiderable degree of responsibility for the current mess. Kerry’s initiative was undertaken with complete disregard of the consequences of its likely failure. The secretary’s prediction of a third intifada in the wake of its collapse was a self-fulfilling prophecy that Israelis are now witnessing as they mourn the three teenagers who were murdered by Hamas terrorists and see their skies filled with rockets. The decision to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as not being a threat to peace was similarly misguided. The idea that a weakling like Abbas could force Hamas to embrace peace wasn’t so much a mistake as a demonstration of the administration’s complete lack of understanding of the situation.

When a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians happens that will allow their leaders to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict, they will find their neighbors willing to talk and to once again offer them sovereignty over part of the land they share with the Jews. But if Obama, Kerry, or Gordon think Israelis are likely to embrace Abbas or to start more withdrawals on the West Bank at a time when the Palestinians are using the only territory they control to wage war on them, they’re as arrogant as they are clueless.

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Palin, Impeachment, and Unserious Politics

Is impeachment the only remedy for President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs? Congress doesn’t seem likely to be able to restrain his attempt to rule by executive order by either legislation or lawsuits. But those, like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who advocate this course of action are saying more about themselves than they are about Obama’s misbehavior.

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Is impeachment the only remedy for President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs? Congress doesn’t seem likely to be able to restrain his attempt to rule by executive order by either legislation or lawsuits. But those, like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who advocate this course of action are saying more about themselves than they are about Obama’s misbehavior.

Palin makes the argument for impeachment in a Breitbart.com article in which she rightly set forth the president’s failures to enforce the laws he doesn’t like (such as those that govern U.S. immigration policy) and his predilection for making up new laws that allow him do as he pleases as he goes along. This lawlessness is deplorable, but I would assert that it also reflects a general distaste for a system of checks and balances and limited powers embedded in the Constitution that seems to inform all liberal thought these days. The president’s defeats at the Supreme Court on recess appointments (where even his appointees ruled against him) and religious freedom all reflect liberal impatience with the Constitution when it interferes with Obama’s policy ambitions.

But as frustrating as Obama’s defiant “so sue me” attitude may be, any talk of impeachment is an illustration of how some on the right have become divorced from political reality. By lending what’s left of her star power to an effort that is not only an obvious non-starter but also a proposition that is bound to hurt Republicans more than it could possibly help them, Palin is demonstrating how profoundly unserious her brand of politics has become.

Advocates of impeachment can say, as they do in every administration (leftists sang the same tune about George W. Bush), that impeachment is the recourse the founders gave Congress to restrain a president that had violated the law. But in the 225 years since the first president took the oath of office, it is a measure that has always rightly been considered not merely a last resort but a tactic that is associated with extremists who have abandoned the political process. Obama is, after all, not the first president to seek to expand the power of the executive at the expense of the Congress or even the Constitution. Even when a president has been caught violating the law in one manner or the other, the consensus has always been that the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard set forth in the Constitution cannot be used to settle what are essentially political disputes about policy and turf.

Nor, as Republicans learned in 1998 when they impeached Bill Clinton for committing perjury during the course of investigations of his pattern of sexual harassment of women, does the public care for attempts to undo by a hybrid legislative-judicial process the decision of the voters at the ballot box. Like efforts to demonstrate this president’s alleged ineligibility for his office, talk of impeachment is the last resort of people who can’t get their way by the normal political process.

To note this fact is not to defend Obama or to refute the arguments that Palin and others, such as myself, have made about the president’s lamentable distaste for the Constitution. But conservatives who embrace impeachment must come to terms with the fact that in doing so they are essentially branding themselves as having divorced themselves from the reality of government. Impeachment resolutions are not efforts to pressure the president to obey the law or to adopt more sensible policies. They are a declaration of war by a side that knows it is losing and can’t win by any other means. It is a sign of weakness and desperation.

In that sense, impeachment is very much of a piece with the conservative effort to force a government shutdown last year. Doing so did nothing to stop ObamaCare or to advance the critique of the Obama presidency. Indeed, it only served to distract Americans from the disastrous rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act and did more to undermine the Republican case against Obama and his law than anything their opponents ever said. Though the GOP had right on its side in that debate, their decision to essentially hold the government hostage to their demands played right into Democratic hands. It was only once they abandoned that foolish tactic that conservatives began to gain ground in the polls and give their party a chance to win the 2014 midterms.

The shutdown reflected a lack of faith in the political process on the part of conservatives who seemed to think themselves doomed to perpetual defeat. The same can be said of impeachment.

The point isn’t just that it is politically impossible, though it is that and will be even if the Republicans take back the Senate next year since most in the GOP caucuses understand an impeachment vote would help the Democrats more than the shutdown. It’s Palin’s threat to urge conservatives to “vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment” that is the real problem.

Palin remains a genuine political talent and can, when she sticks to topics that she knows something about, be an effective advocate. But her brittle and often graceless approach to political discourse has cost her mainstream appeal and made her a polarizing figure with little hope of appealing to anyone outside her existing circle of admirers. Palin still has a following and though she knows it isn’t anywhere near big enough to justify her risking her reputation by running for national office, it is sufficient to have a potent influence in some GOP primaries. If she attempts to make support for impeachment a litmus test for Republican candidates she will not only be hurting her party but marginalizing herself. Her decision to go down this path is just one more sign that she has abandoned serious politics in favor of something that can only further diminish what’s left of her celebrity quotient.

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The Misleading Blood Feud Narrative

Today’s escalation of fighting in the Middle East is provoking the usual calls for restraint from the West and the usual talk about cycles of violence from the international media. But as long-range missiles are being launched at Israeli cities to indiscriminately kill or maim the country’s citizens, Americans should be asking themselves why Hamas is doing this.

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Today’s escalation of fighting in the Middle East is provoking the usual calls for restraint from the West and the usual talk about cycles of violence from the international media. But as long-range missiles are being launched at Israeli cities to indiscriminately kill or maim the country’s citizens, Americans should be asking themselves why Hamas is doing this.

This is, after all, the same Islamist group that the Obama administration assured us was on its way to being a partner for peace. Though the United States still rightly classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, the administration refused to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after its leaders signed a unity pact with the group. The assumption was that Hamas would come under the influence of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and that there was no need for the U.S. to pressure him to cut ties with terrorists.

But Hamas had other ideas. Its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Since then it has not only sought to mobilize Palestinians to obstruct Israeli forces searching vainly for the youngsters and then exploit the murder of a Palestinian teen by Jews into the excuse for a third intifada. More importantly, it has used this violence as the rationale for breaking a two-year-old cease-fire with Israel along the border with Gaza by beginning a large-scale missile barrage with some of the projectiles aimed at major Israeli cities.

This is represented by much of the media coverage as just another instance of a tit-for-tat exchange in which both sides are equally culpable. That impression is strengthened by President Obama’s demands for Israeli “restraint” and his implicit criticism of the Jewish state’s democratically elected government accompanied by praise for Hamas’s erstwhile partner Abbas.

But lost amid the rush to moral equivalence are some basic facts about Hamas and why it chooses to keep attacking Israel.

The first is that while the Western media and the foreign-policy establishment continues to speak as if Israeli settlements and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supposed intransigence are the primary obstacles to peace, the fact remains that Hamas’s goal remains Israel’s destruction. Its ideology is geared not toward the eviction of Jews from the West Bank or the creation of a Palestinian state there, or in Gaza (where it still rules the strip in what is an independent Palestinian state in all but name). What it wants is the end of the Jewish state and the eviction and/or slaughter of its population.

That is why its operatives target Jewish children and its missiles are aimed at Israeli cities where, if they get through the country’s defenses, can cause the maximum amount of harm.

The point here is that if Hamas really wanted to maintain a cease-fire with Israel, they could have committed themselves to avoiding violence and chosen not to up the ante with Israel once the killing of Muhammed Khdeir might have made it more difficult if not impossible for Netanyahu to order a large-scale assault on Gaza. Instead, it went big, shooting more missiles into Israel than have been fired in years as if their goal was to goad the prime minister into an assault on the terrorist enclave.

At this point, criticisms of Netanyahu and Israel are clearly irrelevant to the unfolding events. It’s clear that although many in his government were in favor of devastating attacks on Hamas or even re-taking the strip that Ariel Sharon abandoned in 2005, the prime minister had no interest in escalating the fighting. But no government of any country can tolerate the kind of attacks on its civilians that Hamas is undertaking with its missile barrage.

For Hamas, such attacks are not a tactic or a means to an end. Though the media narrative of this conflict has become one of a senseless blood feud between angry people on both sides, it should be remembered that the Palestinians cheered the kidnapping of the Israeli teens and treat captured terrorists as heroes. The Israeli government condemned and arrested those responsible for the attack on the Arab teen. Hamas believes “resistance” to the presence of Jews in the country is integral to Palestinian or Muslim identity. Nothing short of a complete transformation of the group and of the Islamist movement could make it possible for them to engage in genuine peace talks with Israel.

Americans believe in compromise and think any difference can be split between two parties given a certain amount of good will. But there can be no compromise with Hamas’s ideology or its actions. Its only goal is death and destruction. Anyone who forgets this in order to sustain an “even-handed” approach to the Middle East conflict that sees both sides as somehow morally equivalent is ignoring the truth.

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Obama and the Middle East Mess

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened today as Hamas launched more missiles into Israel, including one long-range rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up more reserves and striking back at the terrorist launching points. But while the world reproaches both sides today President Obama reminded us why he deserves a good deal of the blame for the mess.

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened today as Hamas launched more missiles into Israel, including one long-range rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up more reserves and striking back at the terrorist launching points. But while the world reproaches both sides today President Obama reminded us why he deserves a good deal of the blame for the mess.

Obama has largely held himself aloof from the conflict in recent weeks other than warning Israel to show “restraint” in response to both terror attacks and a missile barrage on its territory. But he did choose to contribute an op-ed to the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz today as part of its “Israel Conference on Peace” in which he extolled the two-state solution and declared “peace is the only true path to security for Israel and the Palestinians.”

Despite the boost from the president and the appearance of Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Haaretz conference will be probably best remembered for proving just how intolerant the left can be. To his credit, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accepted an invitation to speak to the forum but the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home Party was repeatedly interrupted by insults from the crowd of peaceniks calling him a “murderer” and “fascist.” As the Jerusalem Post reports (Haaretz has yet to file a story on the incident on its website), when he concluded his effort “dozens of people” stormed toward him. While the minister’s bodyguards fended off most of the attackers, one managed to get close enough to punch him in the back before he was whisked away. This is yet another reminder that for the left, especially the Israeli left, tolerance for opposing views is not consistent with their idea of democracy.

But despite these histrionics, Obama’s op-ed provided Israelis with a timely statement of how destructive U.S. policy has been. In the piece, Obama did extol the U.S.-Israel relationship in the same laudatory terms he used during his 2013 trip to the Jewish state. But he also went out of his way to praise Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peace partner while pointedly offering no kind words for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even more tellingly, especially in the midst of a crisis provoked by a Hamas terror attack and prolonged by the Islamist group’s missile fire from Gaza, he also ignored the role that the Fatah-Hamas unity pact had played in torpedoing peace talks this spring and inspiring the current round of violence.

This is consistent with U.S. policy on Hamas in the months since Abbas embraced his erstwhile Islamist rivals. Though the PA government is now hopelessly compromised by the deal with Hamas, the U.S. has decided to pretend as if Abbas’s decision to make peace with the terror group rather than with Israel has no meaning or consequences. The administration blatantly violated U.S. law by continuing to funnel aid to the Palestinians in spite of provisions that prohibit such transfers in the event of Hamas participation in the PA. It has also made it clear that it believes Israel should treat Abbas’s new coalition as a viable partner in spite of Hamas’s refusal to adhere to the terms of mutual recognition and commitment to peace that Obama repeats in his op-ed.

What has this to do with the current violence? Everything.

Hamas’s decision to escalate the fight with Israel, both by sanctioning the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and the subsequent missile attacks, is directly related to its belief that the unity pact marked a turning point in its long struggle with Abbas’s Fatah. Though Hamas was forced to make a deal with Fatah in large measure because of its cash shortages and isolation after its break with Iran and the fall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, it has revived its political fortunes by reverting to violence. If Hamas is allowed to stay in the PA without penalty and Israel is constrained by American demands for “restraint” from the sort of military offensive that will truly make the group pay a heavy price for its behavior, then its prospects for eventual victory over Abbas are improved.

The slide into what may be another intifada or at least another round of fighting in Gaza is blamed on Netanyahu’s supposedly belligerent attitude. But this is exactly what many observers feared would be the inevitable aftermath to another failed U.S. peace initiative. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks were acclaimed as a noble effort even if the odds were always against success. But by raising the stakes in the region at a point when everyone knew the Palestinian leadership was unready for peace, he set the stage for a chance for Hamas to interject itself into the process in this manner.

Even worse, by deciding to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as no big deal, the U.S. sent exactly the wrong signal to both Abbas and Hamas. While Abbas was allowed to think there would be no price to pay for abandoning the peace process and embracing unreconstructed terrorists, Hamas soon realized that it could literally get away with murder without the U.S. blinking an eye or rethinking its determination to restrain Israeli efforts to deal with the terror group. The result is the current escalation that has damaged Abbas while allowing the Islamists to reclaim their status as the address for “resistance” against Israel.

Barack Obama may not have wanted the current fighting to happen and, indeed, he would very much like it to stop. But the administration’s maneuvering led inevitably to another blowup that had the ironic effect of weakening Abbas, the one figure in this mess the president actually likes.

America’s mixed messages are not the sole reason why the situation has deteriorated but they have played an outsize role in making things worse. If the president really wants to advance the cause of peace, he should forget about more bland pronouncements such as his op-ed, and start reminding both Abbas and Hamas that they will suffer if they don’t embrace the cost of peace. Anything short of that is a continuation of a policy that is exacerbating the conflict rather than solving it.

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BBC Journalists’ Reeducation

“The BBC issues a call to reason,” proclaims Politico’s Dylan Byers, referencing a Telegraph story published over the holiday weekend. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated. The story is about a new BBC policy of sending its journalists to reeducation seminars to learn how to cut balance out of the Beeb’s broadcasts. It’s notable that the trustees at the BBC found any balance to cut. But more important is how general the policy is.

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“The BBC issues a call to reason,” proclaims Politico’s Dylan Byers, referencing a Telegraph story published over the holiday weekend. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated. The story is about a new BBC policy of sending its journalists to reeducation seminars to learn how to cut balance out of the Beeb’s broadcasts. It’s notable that the trustees at the BBC found any balance to cut. But more important is how general the policy is.

Byers’s headline is “Ignore the climate change deniers,” which is how this story has generally been interpreted: as a call to stop featuring those who depart from the consensus on climate science. Byers isn’t wrong to pick up on that, as global warming does seem to be the driving force behind this new policy. But it isn’t limited to that, and whatever one thinks about that particular issue, are journalists really going to cheer a broad new policy to strike dissenting voices from news broadcasts? Here’s the Telegraph:

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.

The one fair point the BBC report makes is, as quoted by the Telegraph: “Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.” But the policy is obviously about more than whether the Earth is round. And it’s easy to see how this can go awry.

First of all, it’s important to embrace the principle that a scientific consensus should still be open to challenge because new information and discoveries are made constantly. As Michael Crichton–no stranger to the science or politics of the issue–said in his famous speech on global warming:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

Crichton was considered sufficiently threatening to the global warming consensus that he earned a denunciation in congressional testimony from climate fraud Al Gore, who, though a former vice president of the United States, was punching well above his weight on this topic. (I also remember being warned against Crichton’s anti-global warming novel State of Fear–by the bookstore employee ringing up my sale. “It’s right-wing propaganda,” said the cashier, whose opinion I didn’t ask and whose job was supposedly to sell the books in his store.)

But again, the point is not just about global warming. The BBC’s reeducation events are aimed at more than this subject, and it’s pretty easy to see where this general policy is going. The BBC report talks about issues that are supposedly, in the phrasing of the Telegraph story, “non-contentious” and views that are “widely dismissed.” The phrase the BBC report itself uses is “marginal opinion.”

The media personalities of the Western left are notoriously susceptible to epistemic closure. Telling reporters already loath to feature dissenting voices that they should ignore “marginal opinion” and that which is often dismissed by others is a recipe for disaster for news reporting. It’s not so much the directive to tone down opposition voices on one story such as global warming–though that in itself is troublesome–but the broader culture of ignorance that can so easily sprout from employees sent to conferences to learn how to dismiss those with whom they are inclined to disagree.

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Hillary’s Rape Case Answer Doesn’t Work

After three weeks of silence, Hillary Clinton finally answered a question about her ethically questionable behavior in defending a rapist early in her career. But far from ending the controversy, Clinton’s misleading and insensitive statement raises more questions about her credibility and her political acumen.

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After three weeks of silence, Hillary Clinton finally answered a question about her ethically questionable behavior in defending a rapist early in her career. But far from ending the controversy, Clinton’s misleading and insensitive statement raises more questions about her credibility and her political acumen.

As I wrote last month, the Washington Free Beacon’s scoop on this story undermines Clinton’s rationale for victory in 2016 as well as its main points of attack against the Republicans. Democrats have reaped big rewards from their claims that the GOP is waging a “war on women” and Clinton is poised to run not only as the potential first female president but also as a champion for the rights of women and children. But Clinton’s conduct during her defense of a child rapist in 1975 raises serious questions about her ability to maintain this pose.

Our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman unearthed this story when she found a tape of an interview with Clinton during her time as First Lady of Arkansas in the 1980s. The tape contains a passage during which she recalls the case and laughs about her success in getting the predator off with a plea bargain. She also chuckles about her client’s passing a polygraph test that she said destroyed forever her faith in lie detectors, a clear reference to her belief in his guilt.

Clinton’s defenders dismissed the controversy as not only irrelevant to today’s issues but as a misunderstanding of the role of lawyers in the criminal justice system. The former secretary of state echoes that sentiment in her interview with Mumsnet, a British website. She said that lawyers can’t always choose their clients or take up the defense of only innocent people. That’s true. Even guilty people are entitled to a zealous defense from their attorneys. Yet Clinton’s answer contradicts what she said on the tape.

Clinton told Mumsnet that:

I was appointed by the local judge. I asked to be relieved of that responsibility but I was not.

But in her account of the case in the interview with a writer from Esquire magazine that was found in the archives of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Clinton told a different story. In that version she said she took the case as a favor to the local prosecutor who told her that the rapist wanted a woman to defend him.

Moreover, her bland representation of her conduct in the case which she merely put down as fulfilling her “obligation” to defend the accused is also contradicted by the account of the victim of his crime. Speaking to the Daily Beast, the now 52-year-old victim described Clinton’s attacks on her credibility and tactics designed to show that the woman, who was 12 years old at the time of the attack, was somehow responsible for what happened to her. While Clinton claimed in her first autobiography that the case helped inspire her to dedicate her career to the cause of defending the rights of women and children, the victim’s recollection that the would-be president “took me through hell” provides a devastating riposte to that boast.

The problem for Clinton isn’t, as she claims, that she defended a person who was guilty of a heinous crime but only received a slap on the wrist because of her efforts on his behalf. The jocular tone in which she recalls her sleazy legal work may be typical behavior for lawyers swapping stories about their exploits. But it ill becomes a would-be president, let alone one whose campaign is predicated on the notion that she is a unique champion for the rights of women.

Hypocrisy is common among politicians but it goes almost without saying that if any male politician or a female Republican was ever caught on tape giggling about their ability to let a rapist walk after putting the victim through the wringer, they would be finished. The rules are different for the Clintons and especially for Hillary, whose 2016 inevitability factor rests on the prospect that she will be the first woman to win the presidency. It is hardly surprising that a liberal mainstream media that went gaga over gaffes made by conservative Republicans in which they discussed rape and abortion would do their best to ignore Clinton’s rape case. For instance, the New York Times printed not a word about it until today when it could introduce the story with her denial of wrongdoing. But this story continues to percolate and it is likely that this won’t be the last time she is asked about it.

Yet her attempt to put this to rest fails for the same reason that her book tour didn’t turn out to be the triumph her supporters (especially her cheerleaders in the media) expected it to be. Clinton may be every bit as much of a policy wonk as her husband, but she lacks his political skills. As she proved in 2008, her awkward political manner and tendency to talk herself into unforced errors, like her claim that she was “broke” when she left the White House, renders her vulnerable in ways that belie the sense of inevitability that is driving her candidacy.

This story won’t destroy her presidential hopes as it would with any male or Republican rival, but Clinton’s flawed behavior and inability to defend herself as well as she did that rapist is one more reason why those who assume that the 2016 race will be a slow-walk coronation for Clinton may be mistaken.

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The Media’s Make-Believe Bibi

One of the lessons of the past week’s unrest in Israel, one would think, is the importance of news outlets getting their stories right before leveling explosive accusations. In the case of reviewing events that have already happened, that becomes much easier. So it’s all the more disconcerting that the editorial board of the New York Times chose to pronounce its collective judgment on the recent murders without, apparently, consulting even its own newspaper. If the editors of the New York Times don’t read the New York Times, the paper is in worse shape than we thought.

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One of the lessons of the past week’s unrest in Israel, one would think, is the importance of news outlets getting their stories right before leveling explosive accusations. In the case of reviewing events that have already happened, that becomes much easier. So it’s all the more disconcerting that the editorial board of the New York Times chose to pronounce its collective judgment on the recent murders without, apparently, consulting even its own newspaper. If the editors of the New York Times don’t read the New York Times, the paper is in worse shape than we thought.

But someone has to read the Times, and that someone turns out to be CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal. In the Times of Israel today, Sternthal calls attention to a dramatic–and demonstrably false–series of claims made by the Times’s editors:

Subtitled “Can Israeli and Palestinian Leaders End the Revenge Attacks?”, the editorial ought to have been particularly precise in reporting the leaders’ respective words and deeds. And, yet, the author/s grossly erred: “On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would ‘face the full weight of the law.’”

Netanyahu did not remain silent for days concerning the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Israeli prime minister spoke out against the killing of Abu Kheir (sic) from July 2, the very same day of the murder.  As The Times’ own Isabel Kershner reported: “On Wednesday, after the body of the Palestinian teenager was found in the woods, the prime minister called on Israelis to obey the law, and asked investigators to quickly look into what he called ‘the abominable murder.’”

Netanyahu again denounced the murder Thursday, July 3 at the home of American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro during the July 4th celebration.

In criticizing the anti-Arab incitement that followed the deaths of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, the Times writes that “some Israelis gave in to their worst prejudices.” The editorial includes Netanyahu in this: “Even Mr. Netanyahu referenced an Israeli poem that reads: ‘Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.’”

Sternthal points out that the Times editorialists are slandering Israel here; the poem means the exact opposite of what the Times says:

Thus, The Times’ cites Netanyahu’s recitation of a line from Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem “The Slaughter” as an indication that, he, like the crowds chanting “Death to Arabs” also gave in to his “worst prejudices.” In fact, Bialik’s lines, and Netanyahu’s quotation of them, are widely understood as a call for heavenly justice and a rejection of human vengeance for the killing of a small child.

Why would the Times fabricate such an explosive accusation, especially knowing the role that anti-Israel propaganda plays in violence against the Jewish state? Is it ignorance or malice? With regard to the poem, because of its historical and religious connections, the answer is probably ignorance. But if the editors want to plead ignorance on the slander that Netanyahu didn’t speak out against the murders in a timely fashion, it would require them to admit they don’t read their own paper. That’s certainly possible: as editors at the paper, they must know that the Times’s Israel reporting usually leaves readers misinformed, and they want to avoid that fate.

But another explanation is that this is merely the inevitable result–albeit a dangerous one–of the moral equivalence to which the press devotes itself when the subject is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Times editors understand that an accurate recitation of events paints the Palestinian leadership in more morally ambiguous territory than Netanyahu’s response. So they pretend Netanyahu had the same response.

In fact, the current crisis is further demolishing the leftist media’s caricature of Netanyahu, and they don’t appear quite sure how to react. The truth would be nice, of course. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. So they project the Bibi of their fevered imagination onto the page. Not only has Netanyahu denounced the gruesome, evil murder of Khdeir, but he’s also been the voice of moderation with regard to the fact that the Palestinians of Gaza have stepped up their rocket war against Israel.

As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday on a contentious Israeli Cabinet meeting:

Following days of rockets on the South and riots in Jerusalem and among segments of the Israeli-Arab population, Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting saying on camera what was needed now was to act “with composure and responsibly, and not with “militancy or rashness.”

“We are working on several fronts at the same time” he said. “Last night we acted against numerous Hamas targets in Gaza, and the objective of all those actions is to return the quiet and security to the citizens of the South. Experience proves that at such times we must act responsibly and with equanimity, not hastily. We will do whatever is necessary to restore quiet and security to the South.”

This is perfectly in keeping with the restraint Netanyahu has shown throughout his premiership. But it conflicts with the make-believe Netanyahu who appears in fictional accounts passed off as news reporting in the Western press. The Times editors had some harsh words for this make-believe Bibi. But he’s still the only Bibi they’re willing to acknowledge.

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Should Kurds Still Seek Iraq’s Presidency?

Masoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government, has officially nominated Barham Salih, a life-long member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to be Iraq’s new president.

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Masoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government, has officially nominated Barham Salih, a life-long member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to be Iraq’s new president.

Barham is a capable politician, a former minister of planning for Iraq, and is popular among many journalists and officials in the United Kingdom and Washington D.C., where he had been based for decades. He has carefully cultivated an image as a reformist and, indeed, probably aspires to be one although during his time in power, he was unable to overcome impediments put in his path by Barzani and others. Importantly, against the backdrop of Iraqi realpolitik Barham has also won Iran’s confidence to preside over the largely ceremonial position. Barzani’s decision to nominate Barham ends months of internal infighting, especially within the PUK because Hero Khan, the current first lady of Iraq who is also a PUK power broker and a gatekeeper to PUK finances, absolutely despises Barham for reasons both real and imagined.

Being nominated by Barzani and assuming the Iraqi presidency are two different things, however. The nature of Iraq’s constitution means that the president, prime minister, and speaker of the parliament will often be decided together as part of a package meant to assuage various political (and ethnic, and sectarian) constituencies.

Kurdish officials insist Iraq’s presidency should be reserved for a Kurd. That ultimately is a decision for Iraqis—Arab and Kurd alike—but the assumption does condemn Iraq to a sort of Lebanon-style confessionalism where religion and, in Iraq’s case, ethnicity mean more than ability. Nevertheless, after years of oppressions, Kurds seek the symbolism of holding the Iraqi presidency, even if the power of the presidency is less than that of the speakership of the parliament.

Barzani’s nomination of Barham for the presidency right now, less than a week after Barzani called for a referendum on Iraqi Kurdistan independence, raises some very real questions, however, about the future of the Kurds inside Iraq and Barzani’s true intentions. After all, it is unclear why any Iraqi Arab would accept an Iraqi Kurd (or at least an Iraqi Kurd from the provinces which together form the Kurdistan Regional Government) for the presidency of their country when Kurds could within months move down the path to complete independence. Barham has always handled his dual roles in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan well, but it is unclear how he can or should hold the presidency while the political party in which he is an activist if not the major policy-setter seeks at the same time Iraq’s division.

I have often argued that Barzani has treated Kurdish nationalism more as a policy tool to be wielded against his opponents rather than a sincerely-held belief and been the target of opprobrium by many of those surrounding Barzani because of it. I base my argument on historical evidence: After all, in 1996, he invited Saddam Hussein into his capital Erbil. It seemed that Barzani prioritized maintaining power against Kurdish rivals (including, at the time, Barham’s party) over the risk of losing all Kurdish autonomy to a man like Saddam who had conducted genocide against the Kurdish people and, indeed, had murdered 8,000 members of Barzani’s tribe just years earlier.

More recently, Barzani has allied himself with Turkey against Kurds seeking autonomy or federalism in both Turkey and Syria, again because those Kurds follow political leadership which does not subordinate itself to Barzani’s more tribal model of power and because they look to other Kurdish leaders beyond Barzani for their future. Perhaps I am wrong, however.

Still, it was noteworthy that, when speaking before his rubber-stamp parliament last week, Barzani did not offer a date for a referendum, again suggesting Barzani was treating nationalism as a political tool rather than a personal goal. And while Kurds across Iraqi Kurdistan overwhelmingly seek independence, a complete break with Iraq would mean forfeiting Iraqi Kurdistan’s share of revenue from southern Iraq’s oil fields which produce far more than those than the much-storied but declining fields around Kirkuk. Only time will tell how sincere Barzani is when it comes to prioritizing Kurdish nationalism above the material benefits he derives from remaining a part of Iraq.

However, with the nomination of Barham Salih to be Iraq’s president, it is unclear how Barzani can act simultaneously as a Kurdish nationalist while also seeking to remain a power broker within Iraq proper. The same holds true with Barham Salih, who should tell Iraq’s parliament without ambiguity or delay about where he stands on the issue of Kurdish secession and to which entity, Iraq or independent Kurdistan, his ultimate loyalty would remain.

If Kurds are going to remain in Iraq for the next four years, then they should participate fully in the horse-trading and any political bargains involved in forming the next Iraqi government. But if the Kurds are going to split within weeks or months—and that is their right and the overwhelming desire of their people—then they should make their intentions 100 percent clear now and abandon their demands for the leadership of Iraq proper and push ahead with independence.

The formula for political compromise in Baghdad would be far different if Kurdish leaders from those provinces splitting away did not seek to take any plum positions that might otherwise go to Iraqis—Shi‘ite, Sunni, or anything else—intending to remain a part of Iraq. At the same time, the possibility for Iraqi stability would be far higher if the bargaining to form the next government could move forward with clarity about the Kurdish nationalist intentions rather than creating a situation where, just months into the new government, the Iraqi president, foreign minister, and other cabinet officials simply abandoned their posts in favor of a new country.

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Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

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Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

Klein is the author of a new book Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas. The conceit of this effort centers on the tension that has existed between the two rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination and which is now beginning to resurface after a four-year hiatus while Hillary served as secretary of state. That Clinton has more centrist tendencies is no secret, especially with regard to foreign policy. Other differences are more a matter of style and temperament. As Seth wrote earlier today, the slow rollout of her 2016 campaign will involve a degree of triangulation as she struggles to thread the needle between establishing her own identity and not offending a Democratic base that still reveres Obama.

It’s also probably true that Obama may have a greater affinity for Warren’s left-wing populist shtick than Hillary’s ill-fitting pose as a woman of the people even though she is far more comfortable associating with the Goldman Sachs crowd than rank and file Democrats.

But Klein’s tale about Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett being ordered “to conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring” in 2016 strikes me as the sort of scoop that seems more about promoting book sales than providing any real insight about the battle to succeed Obama.

It’s not that I disagree with Klein’s speculations about the president’s dislike of Bill Clinton, suspicions about the Clinton political machine, or his distaste for the Clinton’s second-guessing about his inability to work with Republicans. It’s just that I don’t really believe the president cares that much about the identity of the next president aside from a vague desire to see any Democratic successor as serving a third Obama term. Obama has always viewed himself as sui generis, a historic figure that cannot be compared to any of his predecessors. I doubt that any latent animus for the Clintons would be enough to cause him to be willing to expend the sort of political capital that would be needed to derail Hillary. My guess is that the only future political question that will really excite him is defending his historic legacy. The identity of the 2016 Democratic nominee is relevant to that issue but not integral to the effort to bolster his reputation after he has left the White House.

But even if we leave Obama and Jarrett out of any pre-2016 intrigue, Senator Warren may well be wondering if her promise not to oppose Clinton could be walked back. Clinton’s shaky book tour performance did more than expose the awkward political instincts that hurt her in 2008 against Obama. Her “broke” gaffe and the subsequent attention devoted to the wealth she and her husband have accumulated since 2001 constitute a huge opening for a credible left-wing opponent who is willing to buck the “inevitability” factor that is the engine driving Clinton’s drive for the presidency.

It won’t be easy for anyone to challenge a candidate who has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination years before the contest starts. It has also got to be difficult for any Democratic woman to muster the guts to try to stop a candidate whose main argument for the presidency is that she is female.

But there’s also no question that much of the Democratic base would be delighted with a real race, especially if it meant that Clinton would be forced to shift hard to the left to avoid being outflanked by an ideologue like Warren. The Massachusetts senator is not quite the magical political figure that Obama proved to be but, just as was the case in 2008, Clinton has shown herself to be vulnerable. If anyone were to have a chance against her, it would have to be a candidate who could also appeal to women and to the party’s liberal roots. Though Warren might not have the same hubris that drove Obama to think himself ready for the presidency after only a couple of years in the Senate, a few more Clinton missteps might convince her to try her luck.

If she does, I don’t think the alleged Obama-Clinton feud will be the driving force in such a race. Rather, it would be a recognition that the woman many Democrats have anointed as their next leader is not quite as inevitable as she would like us to think.

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Where Apologies Are Needed

Some are reacting to the news that Israelis were responsible for the murder of an Arab teen by issuing apologies on behalf of all Jews for the crime. Some go further and also denounce anyone who tried to call the Palestinians to account for their applauding the kidnapping and murder of Israeli boys. But some of those who are now talking about Jewish collective guilt generally don’t apply the same standard to the Palestinians.

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Some are reacting to the news that Israelis were responsible for the murder of an Arab teen by issuing apologies on behalf of all Jews for the crime. Some go further and also denounce anyone who tried to call the Palestinians to account for their applauding the kidnapping and murder of Israeli boys. But some of those who are now talking about Jewish collective guilt generally don’t apply the same standard to the Palestinians.

Apologies for these crimes are in order. As our Seth Mandel wrote yesterday, the instances of anti-Arab incitement might not be as numerous as those of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Nor do they come from the organs of the Jewish state, as does the endless stream of hate that originates from official Palestinian Authority and Hamas sources. But they are nonetheless deplorable.

It doesn’t matter that what is rare among Jews is commonplace in the political culture of the Palestinians. If we have ignored or downplayed this virus, then it is appropriate at such moments to think seriously about where we have failed to sufficiently combat these awful tendencies. Even as we seek to place these views and the isolated actions of a few in the context of a conflict whose focus remains the determination of most of the Arab and Muslim world to destroy the Jewish state, there should be no downplaying the insidious nature of hatred expressed by Jews or, as our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, the profound betrayal of the Zionist enterprise that the actions of the killers of Muhammed Khdeir represent. If, while focusing so much on the behavior of Israel’s foes, we have, even unwittingly, given encouragement to those Jews who mimic the font of vicious anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic language that flows from the Muslim and Arab worlds, then we must hold ourselves accountable. As was the case when such things have happened in the past, this is the moment to say that we must be more vigilant in denouncing such expressions rather than ignoring or minimizing them.

But if our apologies are to be offered, is it too much to ask that both sides attempt to make amends? Is it offensive, as Bradley Burston says in a Haaretz piece, for Jews to have the temerity or the bad taste to mention the behavior of Palestinians during the two-week search for the three missing Israeli teenagers?

If Jews today feel ashamed about the murderers of an Arab teenager—and we are right to feel that way—is it really out of bounds to note the mainstreaming of hate and applause for terrorism that is integral to Palestinian nationalism?

Apologists for the Palestinians seem to think so. Palestinian identity has become inseparable not only from anti-Zionism but also from a sense of victimhood. It is true that the experience of the last two millennia culminating in the Holocaust has created a Jewish sense of victimhood that also tends to mire Jewish identity in purely negative history at the expense of more positive attributes. Yet the narrative of Jewish achievements and the triumph of the Zionist dream are able to mitigate the overpowering and lugubrious tale of woe. But for Palestinians, nothing is allowed to distract from their sacred “narrative” in which their martyrdom at the hands of wicked Jews is established.

It is not just that the Palestinian Authority has inculcated the youth of their country with hatred of Jews and Israel since they were given autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The problem isn’t just hate speech and the glorification of terror by official media and textbooks. It’s that there is no place in Palestinian culture for competing views in which their leaders’ historic rejection of compromise is discussed.

Palestinians cheered the ordeal of the three Jewish teens in much the same way that they have always honored those who committed acts of the most brutal terror against Jews. They feel no obligation to apologize for these horrible acts because they believe their victim status entitles them to inflict any possible cruelty on their enemies.

What we must come to terms with in this discussion is that the contrast between Israeli and Palestinian society is not that one side obsesses with the wrongs committed against them and a desire for revenge and the other does not. These sentiments are natural to all human beings and are just as present among Jews as they are among Arabs. The difference rests in that the Israelis have, thank Heaven, never allowed their self-absorption to overwhelm their cultural norms that act as a check against such behavior. The Palestinians have enshrined their sense of grievance to a point where they no longer have any perspective on it or their collective relationship with other peoples.

That is why Jews, from Israel’s prime minister and chief rabbis to pundits on both ends of the spectrum, are falling over themselves to apologize for Khdeir and Palestinians are, with rare exceptions, treating the suffering of Jews as a non-issue and cheering the terrorist missiles now raining down on Israeli towns and cities. To state this does not relieve Jews of the obligation to account for senseless hatred against Arabs. But those who think Palestinians need not apologize for terror and a culture that glorifies such crimes are not only wrong but also helping to make peace impossible.

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Haaretz Portrays Judaism as the Obstacle to Peace

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.

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Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.

As is often the case with such events, one can tell a great deal about the nature of this conference through what’s not being discussed, as well as who isn’t in attendance. Despite Israel’s location in one of the most violent and illiberal regions of the world, the conference does not deem the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, or the conquest of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq by the Islamists of ISIS, as worthy of a separate session–evidently, all that is secondary to the fate of the Palestinians. However, since two prominent Palestinian leaders, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat and businessman Munib al Masri, have already pulled out of the conference, citing as a reason “respect” for the “feelings of the Palestinian people” in the light of “the developments of the last few days,” one might legitimately wonder whether the Palestinians share the conviction of the Israeli left that in times of crisis, dialogue is of paramount importance.

Yet to portray this conference as a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians–as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon does, in an op-ed that praises “Israeli civil society” for “its vibrancy in speaking out against incitement,” while ignoring the integral role that incitement plays in the articulation of Palestinian goals­–rather misses the point. There is another agenda here, one that centers upon promoting the idea among Jews that racism and bigotry are inherent in the notion of a “Jewish state.”

That is why, in the collection of articles assembled by Haaretz to accompany the conference, you will find Gideon Levy, one of the paper’s resident anti-Zionists, declaring preposterously that “a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only.” You will find an official Haaretz editorial insisting that the murderers of the Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, are the “descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance that is nurtured and fertilized by the guides of ‘the Jewish state.’” And you will find a longer meditation on the same theme by Avraham Burg, the scion of a leading Zionist family and the former Speaker of the Knesset, who concludes that the root of Israel’s problem lies (as he describes it) in the anti-gentile culture that distinguishes the Jewish faith.

To anyone familiar with the historical trajectory of anti-Zionism, this linkage between an antagonism towards non-Jews that is underscored by Jewish religious beliefs with the very existence of a Jewish state is nothing new. In “Judaism Without Embellishment,” a notorious anti-Semitic screed published by the Soviet Union in 1963, Trofim Kichko asserted that “all of Judaic ideology is impregnated with narrow practicality, with greed, the love of money, and the spirit of egoism.” The Jewish state, Kichko went on, expresses these values through its discrimination against non-Jews.

What is new and worrying, however, is the revival of this discredited anti-Judaic discourse by those Jews and Israelis for whom a Jewish state is, by definition, a racist endeavor. Writing in a tone that is slightly less contemptuous than that adopted by Kichko, Burg says, in his Haaretz piece, “The element of distrust of other nations is woven into the fabric of the way Jews operate. This stems not only from persecution and hatred, ghettos and bloodshed: It is also an internal and active choice expressed through our normative system of halakha (traditional Jewish law), which ensured this mode of thinking.”

For Burg, this emphasis on Jewish separatism, embodied in dietary laws, Sabbath observance, and restrictions on intermarriage, has been incorporated into the “pathological view of Jewish-gentile relations” practiced by the State of Israel. Three millennia of fiendishly complex history are summarized thusly: “The State of Israel is continuing to employ the strategy of alienation that was always practiced by the Jewish people. We cast all our cumulative historic accounting onto our Palestinian adversaries. They fulfill the present needs; in the past we had Pharaoh, Haman, Antiochus, Khmelnytsky and Hitler. Now it’s the Palestinians’ turn.”

It’s tempting to submit that no form of Judaism would pass Burg’s ethical test. Had Judaism claimed for itself, as Christianity and Islam did, the status of universal, transcendent truth, he would be denouncing its imperial character. As it is, Judaism’s acceptance of its lot as a minority faith, along with the rules and practices that such minorities necessarily adopt to preserve their independence, is defamed as a form of racism. The logic of such a mindset determines that anti-Jewish persecution, insofar as it reinforced these separatist tendencies, was a perverse gift to the “ideologues” of Jewish separation.

A century ago, the sin of the Jews was their perceived internationalism. Hitler railed against “international Jewish financiers,” while Stalin’s prosecutors denounced the influence of “rootless cosmopolitans.” These days, the polar opposite is true: now, the perceived sin of the Jews is their aggressive, religiously-centered nationalism, which prevents them from realizing that the attainment of peace, as Burg argues, “is the total, completely beneficial alternative to all our historical phobias–a condition that can replace or erase them.” Never mind Hamas, Iran, ISIS, or Mahmoud Abbas’s double talk: the true enemy resides within us.

Doubtless, Burg’s message will resonate with those who, in another era, would have warmly endorsed Karl Marx’s maxim that “the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” The fact that we are still having this same conversation is precisely what should alarm us.

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The GOP’s Growing Vulnerability on Cultural Issues

Several weeks ago I met with an influential Republican lawmaker to discuss economic matters. Yet I found myself raising another set of issues: Republicans need to prepare (especially in 2016) for an assault by Democrats on a range of cultural and quasi-cultural issues, including contraception, gay marriage, abortion, religious liberties, immigration, evolution, and climate change.

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Several weeks ago I met with an influential Republican lawmaker to discuss economic matters. Yet I found myself raising another set of issues: Republicans need to prepare (especially in 2016) for an assault by Democrats on a range of cultural and quasi-cultural issues, including contraception, gay marriage, abortion, religious liberties, immigration, evolution, and climate change.

What I told this GOP lawmaker is that what cultural issues were to Republicans in the 1980s–think welfare, law and order, and George H.W. Bush’s criticism of Michael Dukakis over the Pledge of Allegiance–is what they are to Democrats in the 2010s. This conversation took place before the Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, but the reaction to it confirmed the observation. Democrats, in their frenzied overreaction to the Court ruling–none more overwrought than that of Hillary Clinton–clearly believe this is an issue that will help them politically.

In many places, they’re probably right.

With that in mind, I’d commend to you an article by Ron Brownstein of National Journal, in which he writes:

While Republicans took the offense on most cultural arguments through the late 20th century, now Democrats from Obama on down are mostly pressing these issues, confident that they represent an expanding majority of public opinion. Veteran pollster Stanley B. Greenberg captures this almost unprecedented Democratic assurance when he declares flatly: “Republicans are on the losing side of all of these trends.”… amid public unease over Obama’s economic and foreign policy record, cultural affinity has become the Democrats’ most powerful electoral weapon.

Many Republicans don’t want to focus on cultural and social issues, fearing the issues will damage them while also believing that economic and foreign-policy topics are where their attention should be. But progressives, in combination with a sympathetic press, will push cultural issues front and center. Which means it’s imperative that high-profile Republicans prepare themselves for the coming wave of attacks.

To be clear, I don’t believe the correct response, morally or politically, is for the GOP to become a socially liberal party. But I do think that there are ways to re-frame some of these issues in a manner that will benefit not just the Republican Party but social conservatism itself.

Precisely how to do so is beyond the scope of this post. For now, it’s obvious that Republicans with national ambitions need to gird themselves for the coming offensive; to prepare themselves not just in terms of public policy but also to find a vocabulary to discuss these issues. This means adopting a tone and countenance that is principled and non-censorious, that can articulate one’s views in a way that is not seen as angry and intolerant. (It doesn’t help when one Republican running for president in 2012 promised that if elected, he would talk about the dangers of contraception.)

Obviously one has to approach things on a case-by-case basis. But generally speaking, Republicans need to be seen as speaking out on behalf of moral truths in ways that are more winsome than judgmental, in a way meant to persuade rather than inflame, and making sure their views align with science rather than against it. What this means, in part, is the individuals making the arguments need to radiate some measure of grace rather than zeal. What we’re talking about is using a light touch rather than a heavy hand. To understand the difference, think about how the language (and spirit) of the pro-life movement shifted from accusing people of being “baby killers” to asking Americans to join a movement committed to enlarging the circle of protection to the most vulnerable members of the human community, in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. (In addition, science, in the form of sonograms, has been a friend of the pro-life movement. It’s no accident, then, that Americans have become more pro-life in their views over the last 15 years. In 2012, for example, Gallup reported that the 41 percent of Americans who identified themselves as “pro-choice” is one percentage point below the previous record low in Gallup trends, recorded in May 2009, while 50 percent now call themselves “pro-life,” one point shy of the record high, also from May 2009.)

Social conservatism, if it ever hopes to succeed, needs to be articulated in a way that is seen as promoting the human good and advancing human dignity, rather than declaring a series of forbidden acts that are leading us to Gomorrah. That alone isn’t enough to turn the tide in a nation that is trending toward liberal social views on many issues. But it is a start.

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Hamas Reaps Benefits from Terror

The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

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The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

The aberrant act of an isolated group that has been condemned by every sector of Israeli society has reinforced a narrative of moral equivalence. But Hamas’s confidence that it is profiting from the crisis that began with its kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys last month is illustrated by the barrage of missiles it is firing on southern Israel.

The torrent of rockets—with hundreds being fired from Gaza in the last few days—is more than a routine statement about Hamas’s desire to show its belligerence to Palestinians who can always be counted on to applaud terror. The Islamist group was in dire straits when it decided in April to go into partnership with the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. At the time, many commentators believed this would allow PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to tame the terrorist group and forge an alliance that would create room for both Palestinian unity and peace. But the events of the last month demonstrate just how foolish that hope proved to be.

Far from influencing Hamas to support peace, the Islamists have shown that they are the ones calling the tune. When a Hamas cell kidnapped three Israeli teens, Palestinian society didn’t recoil in horror. Nor did Abbas and Fatah drop Hamas from the PA government. While the PA leaders made a belated though welcome condemnation of the crime, Palestinian social media delivered the verdict that Hamas had hoped for as the atrocity was cheered with a popular three-fingered salute. Instead of supporting measures to isolate a movement that was determined to oppose peace, Palestinians took to the streets to obstruct and harass Israeli troops searching for the lost boys with rocks and violence.

Nor was there any outpouring of regret or soul searching about this behavior once the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found. After the Palestinian youth was discovered, the crime was used as an excuse for more Arab rioting, both inside Israel and in the West Bank. With Hamas now raining down hundreds of missiles on southern Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself in a quandary in which any action ordered to silence the terrorist enclave in Gaza will be seen as an escalation of the situation rather than a needed effort to contain it.

The despicable murder of Muhammed Khdeir has reinforced the Western media’s predictable narrative of moral equivalence in which all violence is seen as part of one pointless cycle of violence in which both sides are trapped. But though the two crimes give some superficial justification to that frame of reference, this focus has allowed the Obama administration to evade scrutiny for its coddling of the PA-Hamas alliance.

Netanyahu has good reason to be wary of a large-scale assault on Gaza. Israel has neither the desire to take back control of the strip nor any appetite for the casualties on both sides that would result from a new counter-offensive. The United States, which demanded that Israel show “restraint” in response to Hamas’s murder of the three boys, is now even more adamant about stopping any effort to make the terrorists pay for their crime. The prime minister also knows that Hamas is hoping for an opportunity to demonstrate to Palestinians that they are still the address for anti-Israel terror even as they remain firmly ensconced in the PA government.

How will all this end? At this point, Hamas seems to think that it will be Netanyahu who will blink first since at this point it seems unlikely that the normally cautious prime minister will risk further antagonizing the U.S. when he seems not to think that Israel has much to gain from a new fight in Gaza.

But if the two sides do merely stand down, there should be no illusions about who was the winner in this exchange. Hamas started this fight with a gruesome terror attack but rather than paying any real price—other than the arrest of some of its West Bank operatives—for this atrocity, it has enhanced its standing among Palestinians. By provoking a group of Jewish extremists to behave in the same bestial fashion, it has also obscured the real differences between the two societies and hurt their erstwhile rival/partner Abbas by exposing him to ridicule from Palestinians who saw his condemnation of terror as weakness or toadying to the Israelis. By firing rockets deep into Israel without incurring a response that will threaten its leadership or its weapon stores, Hamas will have re-established itself as an equal to Abbas rather than a junior partner.

American officials who wring their hands about a cycle of violence need to understand that their initial appeasement of Hamas after the signing of its unity pact with Fatah has done real harm to the already dim prospects for peace. If in April there was an opportunity for the U.S. to make a statement about isolating the terror group after the unity deal was signed, the prevarications of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on the issue have created an opening for Hamas to gain ground in a way that few predicted. Unless Netanyahu is willing to take the risks associated with actions that will really make the terror group pay, it is Hamas that will emerge from these events as a stronger and more dangerous force than it was only a few weeks ago. In this case, terrorism has paid handsomely for a group the administration dismissed as having been past its expiration date.

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Hillary Clinton’s Fourth Way?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a fascinating angle to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: trying to distance herself from a sitting president who (after ending her campaign in 2008) has done more than anyone else to make her candidacy possible.

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The Wall Street Journal reports on a fascinating angle to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: trying to distance herself from a sitting president who (after ending her campaign in 2008) has done more than anyone else to make her candidacy possible.

The president has made it quite clear he prefers her to succeed him over his own vice president. Barack Obama also has a vast donor network and the loyal command of the feverishly partisan Democratic congressional leadership, so there’s only so far Clinton can go in ditching Obama. As Bill Whalen told the Journal, “to the extent that she throws him under the bus, she has to run over him at a very slow speed.”

In effect what we are seeing is a return to Clintonian triangulation. This is a tougher sell than the last such triangulation, under Bill Clinton, because Hillary was a visible and high-ranking member of this administration, whereas Bill could plausibly play the outsider. Finding a “third way” between two extremes isn’t as marketable if you were recently the public face abroad of one of those extremes. Indeed, pulling off such triangulation requires the kind of political skill that Bill Clinton might have but Hillary surely does not. Thus, Hillary may need to find another way than the “third way” (a “fourth way”?).

Since she does not want to explicitly denounce specific policies, Clinton’s strategy right now consists mostly of sentimental appeals to her husband’s time in office and symbolic differences in temperament. This is ironic, because many people who wanted to support Obama in 2008 but couldn’t figure out any serious reason for doing so relied on his supposed “presidential temperament”–a misjudgment on their part of epic proportions, as the eloquent denouncer of the mythical “stinkburger” has made clear.

Here’s the relevant part of the Journal piece:

In another contrast, Mrs. Clinton has said U.S. presidents must never stop courting Congress. Mr. Obama has questioned whether such efforts make any difference. Mrs. Clinton expressed skepticism of candidates with “beautiful vision,” while Mr. Obama still hammers on his 2008 campaign mantra: “Hope.”

“I mean, some people can paint a beautiful vision,” she said at a CNN event last month. “And, thankfully, we can all learn from that. But then, can you, with the tenacity, the persistence, the getting-knocked down/getting-back-up resilience, can you lead us there?” …

As she mulls a presidential bid, Mrs. Clinton also has suggested that her husband’s administration offers a more viable model for governing in polarized times than Mr. Obama’s.

Partisanship in the 1990s was as grave as it is today, she suggested at the Colorado event. Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton made inroads with hostile Republican lawmakers, Mrs. Clinton said.

“My husband had some really serious problems with the Congress when he was in office,” she said. “They shut down the government twice. They impeached him once. So it was not the most pleasant of atmospheres. But I will say this: Bill never stopped reaching out to them.”

That “some people can paint a beautiful vision” line has to sting. Clinton is basically embracing the Paul Ryan depiction of a country of betrayed Millennials staring up in disillusion at their faded Hope and Change posters. You may have been caught up in the mindless Obama worship swirling around your dorm six years ago, but unless you’re Peter Pan, she seems to be saying, you’ve got to grow up eventually.

But this is also interesting because it really does undercut one of the central fictions of the Obama presidency: the idea that the president is “forced” to act unconstitutionally because the Republicans are mean to him. As has been noted from time to time, Obama does not like building relationships with those on the Hill and has a habit of trying to torpedo deals while they’re being hammered out by Congress without him.

Obama doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule. And Clinton seems to be acknowledging how irresponsible that tendency is. I don’t know if that means she would actually govern according to these principles, but she at least knows that the best way to win over voters is not to tell them that their representation in Congress is irrelevant, and even mildly irritating, to their president.

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Border Chaos Will Hurt Democrats

For most of the last two years, immigration has been an issue that worked in favor of President Obama and Democrats. But the flood of illegals in the past few months that has brought large numbers of unaccompanied minors as well as adults into the country is changing the national conversation about this topic as well as the politics of immigration.

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For most of the last two years, immigration has been an issue that worked in favor of President Obama and Democrats. But the flood of illegals in the past few months that has brought large numbers of unaccompanied minors as well as adults into the country is changing the national conversation about this topic as well as the politics of immigration.

The spectacle of angry citizens trying to stop busloads of undocumented children being sent to a federal shelter in Murrieta, California last week shocked many around the nation. Yet while those outbursts were considered unseemly, the inability of the government to do anything to stem, let alone stop the wave of illegals was yet another disaster for an Obama administration that lately seems as if it is going through the motions. While the president is sticking to the same script he’s been using since before his reelection in which he blames Republicans for the failure to pass immigration reform, there’s no evading the fact that the latest surge of those coming into the country without permission is being widely blamed on his past statements opposing deportation of illegals. As much as hostility to Hispanic immigrants, many of whom are illegal, is a distinct liability for Republicans, the drama along the border is further undermining Obama’s authority and demonstrating that he seems to have lost any ability to control events.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s appearance yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press only added to the impression that the administration has no plan to deal to with the problem other than talking about GOP obstructionism. When asked point blank whether the more than 50,000 children who had streamed illegally into the country would be deported, he responded carefully about how complicated the subject was. But the bottom line here is that many of the illegals appear to have made a safe bet. If they can make it across the border after a harrowing journey in which many are victimized by criminal gangs or subjected to violence and other hardships, there is every reason to believe that most will wind up being allowed to stay.

I believe that those, like Mitt Romney, who have spoken in recent years about “self-deportation” as a solution to this problem have been engaged in magical thinking. The illegals are not going to deport themselves. Nor is there any prospect that even a less lethargic federal government under better leadership than we currently enjoy could possibly deport the 12 million people who are estimated to be here illegally. President Obama is right that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. Republicans have been wrong to block it, especially since it presented an excellent opportunity to beef up border security. The negative message many on the right have been sending to Hispanics is also a long-term problem since it writes off a huge and growing demographic group.

But even if we admit that Republicans have failed here, that doesn’t constitute an excuse for Obama’s failure to govern or to control the border. Indeed, it’s clear that this particular surge was set off, in no small measure, by statements from the president that led many thinking about entering illegally to the not unreasonable conclusion that they had a good chance of being allowed to stay once they got here. This underlines the point that Republican backers of immigration reform like Senator Marco Rubio have tried to make: the “amnesty” for illegals that immigration foes dread is what is happening now under our current broken system. As much as we need it to be fixed, the president has exacerbated the crisis and Jeh Johnson’s poor performance in the face of this wave of young illegals is only making it worse.

The president’s defenders claim that what is happening now is a regional problem that has more to do with endemic violence in Central America and the desire of so many people there to come to this country rather than any statement issued by the White House. But this excuse doesn’t cut it. Regional violence and the dream of North American prosperity is nothing new. What is different now is that the illegals believe Barack Obama won’t throw them out.

Even supporters of immigration reform understand that what we are witnessing along the border is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is also the collapse of the rule of law. However great the misjudgments of many Republican lawmakers might be, Obama can’t evade his responsibility for governing and enforcing the law. His failure to do so creates the impression that government doesn’t function anymore, a factor that is more responsible for the hysteria in Murrieta than anti-immigrant sentiments. The problem with incumbency is not just the boredom of the public with a president after six years. It’s that they expect the president to govern and it is on this question that Obama will be judged. Democrats who think this won’t hurt them in the midterm elections aren’t thinking clearly.

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For Netanyahu and Lieberman, Breaking Up Is Easy to Do

The first thing to understand about Avigdor Lieberman’s move to dissolve his party’s pact with Likud over the correct response to Gaza is this: it’s not about the correct response to Gaza. Or anything else about Gaza. The Gaza Strip is close to irrelevant to the split between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, though it does serve as a convenient pretext.

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The first thing to understand about Avigdor Lieberman’s move to dissolve his party’s pact with Likud over the correct response to Gaza is this: it’s not about the correct response to Gaza. Or anything else about Gaza. The Gaza Strip is close to irrelevant to the split between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, though it does serve as a convenient pretext.

This is Lieberman’s second departure from Likud. He was close to Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, managing his campaigns and soon becoming an incredibly influential figure once Netanyahu won the premiership the first time around. Then Lieberman tapped into the Russian immigrant community’s desire to have its representation in the Knesset more closely align with its demographic muscle. (The community also matured politically, having integrated without completely assimilating.) He formed a party to do just that.

Lieberman became a kingmaker by eventually garnering 15 seats in the Knesset in 2009–enough to make or break a coalition but not enough to lead one. Lieberman is both politically shrewd and hugely ambitious, so when he hit Yisrael Beiteinu’s ceiling he went back to the Likud, this time with an embarrassment of electoral riches.

The point was to eventually become prime minister. Netanyahu is a decade older than Lieberman and, crucially, so are Likud’s brightest and most experienced contemporaries. Lieberman understood that he’d have to wait out Bibi but that was probably it. As the last election showed, there are younger, bright stars in the Israeli political solar system, but they formed their own parties. Lieberman would have real competition in the future, but not from within Likud.

So why leave Likud (again)? Lieberman must have seen signs either that he wouldn’t inherit Likud after all or that it wouldn’t matter. The most likely answer is that it was a combination of the two, but more the latter. Lieberman has seen that there is still no serious challenge from the left; it’s other center-right or right-wing parties breathing down Likud’s neck. That means that if he can pull enough votes away from Likud, there is suddenly no real frontrunner, and there might be enough of a vacuum for another party to win now (or soon) instead of waiting out the Likud old guard.

The Likud-Beiteinu union was always an engagement that never turned into a marriage. And it was designed that way. Lieberman obviously learned plenty from his time as Netanyahu’s right-hand man: the two are by far the most politically adroit figures on the Israeli scene. They are not without flaws, of course, and this latest maneuver from Lieberman exposes his greatest weakness: he is a brilliant political operator behind the scenes, but will never have the charismatic command not only of a Yair Lapid or even Naftali Bennett but of any number of politicians who may crop up in the future.

In a parliamentary system, that charisma is less important than in a presidential system, and the ability to operate behind the scenes correspondingly more beneficial. But it is far from clear that it would be enough, in Lieberman’s case. The other potential mistake Lieberman is making has to do with the shifting math of seats in the Knesset. He should not assume that Likud’s vote total will remain stagnant at the number of seats it holds when he officially departs the party.

Likud has the advantage of brand. It’s true, this hasn’t helped Israel’s Labor Party. But the country is center-right, and so is Likud. That means Likud has the ability to attract politicians and voters in a way that other parties don’t: witness, for example, Lieberman’s ceiling at Yisrael Beiteinu, and the consistent disintegration of new parties. It’s also possible that Likud could win back voters who left when the party merged with Lieberman.

In that respect the union between the two parties may have been holding back both leaders. Netanyahu was losing out to voters who liked Lapid’s big-tent message and Bennett’s Anglo relatability more than Lieberman’s gruff polarizing rhetoric and shifting alliances. Lieberman, in turn, may have seen others threatening to do what he thought couldn’t (yet) be done: eclipse the establishment figures while they were still in power, and while he had tied his fortunes to them.

It’s an amicable split, as far as these things go, and it is unlikely to shake up Israeli politics at the moment. The real test will be the next election. In the meantime, it’s quite possible the public will barely notice the breakup of its largest political party.

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Is Administrative Federalism the Solution for Iraq?

While talking to Iraqi Sunnis disaffected with the Iraqi central government, it is easy to get sucked into discussions of the past: Many remain upset with the 2003 U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi Army, some complain about the way de-Baathification occurred, and many also complain about what they see as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s overly sectarian policies. Few put themselves in the position of the Iraqi Shi‘ites or recognize that after centuries of oppression, Shi‘ites aren’t going to subordinate themselves again to Sunni minority rule.

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While talking to Iraqi Sunnis disaffected with the Iraqi central government, it is easy to get sucked into discussions of the past: Many remain upset with the 2003 U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi Army, some complain about the way de-Baathification occurred, and many also complain about what they see as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s overly sectarian policies. Few put themselves in the position of the Iraqi Shi‘ites or recognize that after centuries of oppression, Shi‘ites aren’t going to subordinate themselves again to Sunni minority rule.

The most interesting conversations revolve around the future. There is a recognition even among Sunni Arab Iraqis most disaffected by the events of the last eleven years that there is no going back to the past, and that there is no way to simply re-impose a strong Sunni general “without blood on his hands” to restore order.

That said, Sunnis do not want to be dominated by Shi‘ites, and many Sunnis and Shi‘ites are increasingly frustrated with the sectarianism. While residents of al-Anbar, Ninewa, and Salahuddin have no desire to live under al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, they also do not wish to have those from outside their respective provinces come in to restore order. Anbaris no more want to be occupied by Basrawis than Basrawis would want to be occupied by Anbaris.

Earlier this week while brainstorming about ways forward, an Anbari professional from a prominent tribe made a persuasive case for administrative federalism in Iraq. It is an idea that I first heard while teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan in academic year 2000-2001, and one which I wrote about shortly thereafter in the New York Times and in a collection of essays (see p. 44) about Iraq published shortly before the war.

The idea is simple: Rather than divide Iraq according to ethnic or sectarian characteristics as per then-Senator Joe Biden’s plan—a recipe for chaos and ethnic cleansing in mixed areas—the center of gravity of governance should devolve to each province which would be awarded a proportion of Iraq’s oil revenue according to its share of the population. At present, some money is awarded to each province according to its population, but the center of gravity remains in Baghdad and with the centralized ministries. Iraqis resent Baghdad and national political parties, however, and should not have to rely on them for every decision, especially when they are not accountable to any specific constituency. While defense, foreign policy, and oil infrastructure might be the domain of the central government, putting provincial (or even district) leaders in charge of other aspects of governance will bring government closer to the people. Moslawis will determine what happens in Mosul and they will police Mosul. The buck will stop with local politicians who will no longer be able to blame their own incompetence on Baghdad or excuse corruption by suggesting the money disappeared in Baghdad.

When the idea was debated in the months before the war, Kurdish leader Masud Barzani opposed it fiercely because he saw federalism based on provinces as undercutting his authority over the Kurdistan Region which was comprised at the time by three provinces. So be it: The Kurds can have their trans-provincial federal unit should they choose to remain inside Iraq.

And when it came to putting together Iraq’s fiscal year 2004 budget, Patrick Kennedy—Bremer’s chief of staff and administrative guru—vetoed proposals to allow governorates to develop their budgets separate from the central government because it would be administratively inconvenient, and could complicate planning for the Coalition Provisional Authority’s plans for a donor conference. In effect, for a meaningless diplomatic event, that decision undercut local representation and reinforced centralization which many Iraqis outside of the ruling party now resent. Perhaps it’s time to reverse that mistake of a decade ago, and encourage Iraqis to allow greater administrative autonomy on a provincial basis rather than on an ethnic or sectarian one.

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