Commentary Magazine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he right?

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

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

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Interventionists and Rand Paul: A Response to Jim Antle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iraq Looks Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Mansplaining’ Dumbs Down Dems’ Fake War on Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gerrymandering Myths and the Midterms

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

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

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

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

Cohn writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Not All Peshmerga Are the Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IDF Saves Irish Troops from Jihadists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yes, Obama Was Talking About ISIS

There they go again.

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There they go again.

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

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

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

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I–

CHUCK TODD: Was that bad intelligence or your misjudgment?

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

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

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

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

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

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Any ISIS Strategy Has to Starve its Finances

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

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

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

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

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

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The Problem Isn’t Salaita; It’s Tenure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Immigration Punt Won’t Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Media’s Mindless Iraq War Comparison

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

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

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

Here are the sources around which Stelter constructed his argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s ISIS Policy: Committed to Victory?

We will have to wait until Wednesday to hear the president lay out in greater detail his plans for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but he and his aides have already said some things that should offer cause for both celebration and concern.

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We will have to wait until Wednesday to hear the president lay out in greater detail his plans for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but he and his aides have already said some things that should offer cause for both celebration and concern.

Start with the good news: Obama said on Meet the Press, “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities; we’re going to shrink the territory that they control; and, ultimately, we’re going to defeat them.” To which one can only say: About time. The threat from ISIS has been growing dangerously for many months. Now that ISIS has conquered an area the size of the United Kingdom, it is high time for the administration to commit to its defeat.

My concerns relate primarily to whether Obama will commit the resources needed to achieve this objective. Defense Department sources are leaking that the president envisions a three-year campaign against ISIS. The timeline may or may not be right, but why, in any case, is it being leaked? Did Franklin Roosevelt announce on December 8, 1941, that our goal was to defeat Germany and Japan within three years? He never did that. In fact Roosevelt was quite clear that our objective was the unconditional surrender of the enemy, no matter how much time it took. That is the proper way to rally the nation to go to war. Even if you have internal estimates of how long the campaign will take, why announce them? It can only give hope to the enemy that they can wait you out and dispirit allies because they fear that you are not committed to doing whatever is necessary to prevail. But Obama has become used to rolling out deadlines for military action, such as his 18-month timeline for the Afghan surge or his commitment to stay in Afghanistan after this year but to pull out before he leaves office in 2017. This is counterproductive.

So too is Obama’s habit of short-changing commanders on their troop requests. In Afghanistan, for example, the middle option presented by General Stanley McChrystal in 2009 was for 40,000 troops. Instead Obama sent only 30,000 and he imposed a hard cap of 100,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, which forced commanders to juggle units in and out so as to adhere to an artificial deadline rooted in politics not geo-strategy. Commanders were never given the resources or time that they needed to mount a full-blown counterinsurgency campaign and in fact Obama never embraced the word “counterinsurgency” even though that was what his commanders were doing with his full knowledge.

In the case of Iraq today, Obama has already made clear that he will not put any “boots on the ground,” thereby creating an artificial limit on the ability of our forces to achieve his primary objective–to destroy ISIS. All options should be on the table even if no one today contemplates sending large numbers of U.S. ground troops. At the very least, however, we will need an augmented force of advisers and Special Operations troops which, to be effective, would probably need to number at least 10,000 personnel once all the support elements are included. Will Obama sign up for such a commitment or will he try to achieve his objectives on the cheap by utilizing air power alone?

If he relies on airpower alone (the lowest risk option, at least from a force protection standpoint), it will be much harder to increase the effectiveness of the Sunni tribes, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish pesh merga, and the Free Syrian Army–the proxies we must count on to wage ground warfare in conjunction with U.S. air strikes. Their combat prowess will vastly increase if some American advisers and special operators can work alongside of them–and if the elite commandos of the Joint Special Operations Command are allowed to do the kind of network targeting of ISIS that they previously did to its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Moreover, to fight an organization like ISIS that sprawls across Syria and Iraq, the administration will need to sign up for military action on both sides of the virtually nonexistent Syria-Iraq border. Will Obama do so or will he be paralyzed by concerns about violating Bashar Assad’s “sovereignty” even though we no longer recognize him as the rightful ruler of Syria?

These are all causes for concern that we must hope Obama will address and allay on Wednesday. But given his track record of half-hearted military commitments from Libya to Afghanistan, I am worried that once again there will be a major disconnect between ends and means.

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Iraq’s Real Problem Is Lack of Sunni Leadership

It’s both easy and cheap to blame former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and many of his political allies (including his presumed successor Haider al-Abadi) for the miserable state Iraq finds itself in today, or for the lack of political resolution.

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It’s both easy and cheap to blame former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and many of his political allies (including his presumed successor Haider al-Abadi) for the miserable state Iraq finds itself in today, or for the lack of political resolution.

Was Maliki, and is the Da’wa Party, sectarian? Certainly, although like any of Iraq’s political movements, Da’wa members range the gambit from closed-minded and reactionary to tolerant and relatively progressive. Then, again, it’s hard to identify any political movement in Iraq that isn’t sectarian. (One of the ironies of the Kurds is that while they are willing to make deals with both Arab Sunnis and Shi‘ites, the crude anti-Shi‘ite bias on a popular level is not something that reflects well on Kurdish society).

To suggest that Shi‘ite militiamen have infiltrated the military is accurate; to say that Sunni professionals—even in the special forces and elite units—weren’t as sectarian is nonsense. It takes two to tango, and the behavior of so many former Sunni officers to enable ISIS in its early days validates the suspicions that so many Iraqi officials hold regarding their loyalty to the post-2003 system.

Were members of Da’wa corrupt? Again, yes. Years of war and sanctions transformed Iraq from one of the least corrupt Arab countries in the 1970s to one of the world’s most corrupt countries today. That the United States dumped tens of billions of dollars into “reconstruction” and “development” simply poured fuel on the fire. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any current party and, indeed, any Iraqi politician who has not succumbed to temptation. Part of the problem is that Iraqis have not addressed in any legal sense what constitutes conflict of interest. Then again, they are not alone in this: Note all the former military officers and U.S. officials who have gone into some shady business dealings with the Kurds or central government in Baghdad. Rather than differentiate between corrupt and honest, many Iraqis differentiate between those with their finger in the till that hurt people versus those who do business without misusing police or taking lives.

Iraq also faces any number of structural problems: the bureaucracy could be reduced by a factor of ten; there are unresolved questions regarding the oil law, even if unresolved questions over the nature of federalism have been overtaken by events. Tension continues to boil over whether decisions should be taken at the center, or whether decisions—and the expenditure of budgets—is better concentrated at the governorate or even district or sub-district level. I have made no secret of the fact that Iraq would be much better off with administrative federalism, something I have heard both Sunnis and Shi‘ites propose.

The real problem facing Iraq—and the reason why no amount of military reform or imposed political quotas will succeed—is that the Arab Sunni community is leaderless. Like them or hate them, the Shi‘ite community has established political parties like Da’wa and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and, if political infighting grows too great, the clerical hierarchy will use their offices to kick the Shi‘ite politicians into gear. The Kurdistan Regional Government is far from democratic, but its parties are well established: Kurds may resent their political leadership, but they do not doubt it.

The Iraqi Sunni Arab community has no real leadership. There is no religious structure among Iraqi Sunni Arabs (or Sunnis in general) that approximates what exists in Najaf. Those assisting the U.S. military and diplomats new to the Iraq issue often talk about the importance of tribes, but there is hardly a tribe in Iraq whose leadership is uncontested. Former President Saddam Hussein—and, indeed, almost every leader before him–promoted rivals to tribal sheikhs in order to better control the tribes. The result is often a mess. Make a Dulaim minister of defense? Don’t count on assuaging the Dulaim because chances are few will recognize the individual as legitimate, or will criticize him as coming from the wrong sub-clan.

Many Sunnis have won high office through elections. Usama Nujayfi was speaker of parliament before elections earlier this year, and his brother Athil Nujayfi was governor of Mosul until driven out by ISIS. The sentiment among so many Sunni Arabs was good riddance, as both moved on (or were sent packing) from their posts. Most Sunnis responded to Salim al-Juburi’s nomination to be the new speaker of parliament with a shrug of their shoulders.

Saddam Hussein was a Baathist. Baathism was not simply Arab socialism; it was (and still is) an ethnic and sectarian chauvinist party modeled on those that existed during World War II. While there may have been token Shi‘ite Baathists here and there (see, for example, Ayad Allawi) or Kurds (see, for example, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan), Saddam believed that Iraq’s Sunni Arabs should lead Iraq, and that he should lead those Sunni Arabs. He repressed Shi‘ites and Kurds but also murdered any Iraqi Sunni Arab who might challenge him or even become capable of doing so, whether or not they had any such intention. Shi‘ites might be repressed, but they used their time to organize under Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (1935-1980). Ditto the Kurds, under Mullah Mustafa Barzani (1903-1979). Sunnis had no such luxury so long as the Baathist were in charge. When Saddam Hussein fell, they were the only community who had to start from scratch.

Many military analysts appear bitter Nouri al-Maliki didn’t follow the advice of Gen. David Petraeus whose strategy was militarily effective in the short term, but corrosive in the long-term by convincing Sunnis that they could win through violence what they could not through the ballot box. They—and many diplomats encouraged by the whispers of some of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors—whisper that the United States should simply empower Sunni generals to correct the mistakes of the past decade. No such solution, however, can work until Iraq’s Arab Sunnis determine who they want to follow and, as importantly, who from within their own sectarian community they will be willing to reject. So long as they turn to unrepentant Baathists following former Saddam deputy Izzat al-Ibrahim who want to oust the entire government and return Iraq to its pre-2003 order, they will fail. Ditto if they open the door to groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS, figuring they can always close it again or collect rewards for stepping back from the brink.

It would be nice not to address Iraqi politics through a sectarian lens, but it’s also unrealistic given the current ethnic and sectarian organization of political parties. But given reality, rather than try to recommend empowering Sunnis on a national level—including those who might use their military positions to turn on the state they supposedly represent—with a wave of a magic wand, it’s time to recognize that the Sunnis’ national political leadership needs to be built from the bottom up. That’s all the more reason to support administrative federalism so that those living in al-Anbar, Mosul, Samarra, or Tikrit can spend the money at the local sub-district level and locals can learn who has the capacity to govern, and who is unable to manage or is too corrupt to do so effectively.

But so long as the community leadership is imposed from above, only one thing is certain: it will have no legitimacy, and it will fail.

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Abbas’s Rigged Peace Plan

Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

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Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

Washington is noticeably less confident. After Abbas dispatched his chief negotiators to meet with Secretary Kerry, U.S. officials have criticized the plan as “unilateral” and even hinted that there would be an American veto should Abbas seek to pursue his plan at the United Nations and in the Security Council.

This chilly response from the administration, usually so impetuous about racing ahead with the peace process, should certainly send some alarm bells ringing. After all, given that Abbas all but shut down the last round of peace negotiations, finally fleeing them just at the moment at which a decision had to be made about their extension, one has to wonder why he is suddenly so eager to resume the talks. And why now exactly? Having apparently been only too pleased to escape the negotiation table, why is Abbas suddenly so determined to be seen as reengaging?

After all, Abbas had every opportunity to continue with the U.S. sponsored negotiations that the Palestinian Authority had been participating in until May of this year. Yet Abbas had refused to extend the talks unless his extensive list of demands were met in advance, insisting that the Palestinians would instead pursue membership of several key international bodies. The Israelis had agreed to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinian terror prisoners that they would release provided that Abbas agreed to press on with negotiations and stay away from the international bodies. Abbas chose to forgo both the additional prisoner releases and an extension of the talks. Now he insists he is ready to get back to talking peace with Israel.

One reason for Abbas’s sudden turnaround stems from his own Fatah faction’s standing in the wake of the recent war in Gaza. It might be assumed that after the death and destruction that Hamas’s war wrought on the people of Gaza, that terror group would have fallen permanently out of favor. Yet perversely the bloodletting has apparently only endeared Hamas to the Palestinian public. Recent polling shows that in both Gaza and the West Bank Hamas enjoys unprecedented levels of approval, with 74 percent expressing a desire to see Hamas’s terror tactics extended to the West Bank. Unlike Fatah, Hamas is seen as engaging in real “resistance.” And because both the Obama administration and the Europeans put such considerable pressure on Israel to reward Hamas’s terror war by granting far-reaching concessions, the message was received loud and clear on the Palestinian street: terrorism gets things done.

Abbas is desperate to be seen to be regaining the initiative. Yet given his past record, it would be mistaken to imagine that he has suddenly become serious about ending the conflict with Israel. Abbas has had multiple opportunities to achieve Palestinian statehood but has shirked the responsibility every time, knowing full well that an Israeli withdrawal would mean his inevitable overthrow by Hamas. Rather, as becomes apparent when one looks more closely at what is being put forward by Abbas, the focus is less on achieving peace and more on establishing a series of penalties against Israel for when the talks fail to bear fruit, as Abbas knows will be the case. This isn’t about reconciliation, this is about demonstrating to the Palestinian public that diplomacy is still an effective way of waging warfare by other means.

From what we know about the plan–from Abbas’s own words to Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog and from what has been leaked by former PA minister Mahmoud al-Habash–the plan is booby-trapped against Israel at every turn. The plan allows for negotiations to take place for a maximum of nine months, with that period being broken down into a timetable for reaching agreement on the key issues of Abbas’s choosing, with borders clearly featuring as his highest priority. If at any point this process doesn’t go according to plan and Abbas’s timetable isn’t kept to then Abbas is threatening to drag Israel before the International Criminal Court, to end cooperation on security in the West Bank and to resume efforts to achieve statehood via the UN.

There were many reasons to suspect that the last round of U.S. sponsored negotiations were unfavorable to the Israeli position, but even that playing field wasn’t uneven enough for Abbas. The only negotiations Abbas is interested in are ones that are fixed in his favor–fixed to ensure he gets what he wants, and more importantly, fixed to punish Israel if he doesn’t. For the moment even John Kerry appears nervous about backing so outrageous a proposal as this one. But with Abbas expected to announce his initiative later this month at the UN General Assembly meeting, we’ll see if the administration’s opposition holds out.

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“Scholarship and Politics Don’t Mix!” Say Those Who Mix Scholarship and Politics

By now, many COMMENTARY readers will have heard of Steven Salaita, about whom I wrote here. Salaita resigned from his position in Virginia Tech’s English Department to take a job at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in its Department of American Indian Studies. But Salaita’s job offer was contingent on the approval of UIUC’s Board of Trustees, and last month, after being made aware of a series of incendiary anti-Israel statements Salaita had made on Twitter, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to send Salaita’s appointment to the Board. The Board has stood behind Wise.

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By now, many COMMENTARY readers will have heard of Steven Salaita, about whom I wrote here. Salaita resigned from his position in Virginia Tech’s English Department to take a job at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in its Department of American Indian Studies. But Salaita’s job offer was contingent on the approval of UIUC’s Board of Trustees, and last month, after being made aware of a series of incendiary anti-Israel statements Salaita had made on Twitter, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to send Salaita’s appointment to the Board. The Board has stood behind Wise.

In my previous post, I gave a sample of the tweets in question, so I’ll mention just two here: in one, Salaita responds to the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys that ignited the most recent Gaza conflict: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” The second mocked young American men who died in the conflict fighting for Israel: “No wonder Israel prefers killing Palestinians from the sky. It turns out American college kids aren’t very good at ground combat?”

I don’t know whether the university administration should have stepped in so late in the game—Salaita was already scheduled to teach courses in the fall—to refuse to approve Salaita’s appointment. Sensible people are worried both about the implications for the academic freedom of conservatives and about the influence of donor money on academic appointments. But whatever the merits of the administration’s position, at least one line Salaita’s defenders are taking should be, as Liel Leibovitz has shown, viewed with great suspicion.

According to a petition, now signed by over 17,000, Salaita is a “brilliant, ethical, and prolific” professor, blacklisted for “his political views on Israel.” He is, says one of his academic defenders, a “world renowned scholar,” exercising his “ freedom to found new knowledge, which is often only possible by . . . continually retesting norms and assumptions, without fear of reprisals from entrenched interests.” According to this complaint, Salaita, chosen by a department using scholarly standards to judge his scholarly work, was ousted by non-scholarly Neanderthals who dislike his politics.

Is Salaita a “world renowned scholar?” Although he has published works with university presses, including Temple University Press and Syracuse University Press, his resume, which also includes work for deeply politicized presses like Zed Books and Pluto Press, is not the stuff of which international scholarly renown is made. But Leibovitz has done more than read Salaita’s resume; he has read Salaita’s book, Israel’s Dead Soul.

In it, he finds the same propagandistic streak that one finds in Salaita’s tweets. For example, in a chapter devoted to showing that the Anti-Defamation League should be regarded as a hate group, Salaita says, “it is worth noting that numerous cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2007 and 2008 were found to actually have been committed by Jews.” Salaita provides four examples of such vandalism and claims that one of the vandals was “trained by the Mossad.” In fact, the New York Times, which Salaita cites, says only that the evidently deranged suspect claimed to be trained by the Mossad. Never mind. Salaita implies, not at all subtly, not only that anti-Semitism is exaggerated but also that this exaggeration is the deliberate result of, well, a secretive Jewish—I mean Israeli!—plot.

I don’t want to rest my case on Leibovitz’s reading of Israeli Dead Souls. But it is disingenuous for Salaita’s defenders to make so much of the distinction between scholarship, which Salaita and the department that chose him supposedly practice, and politics, which Salaita’s detractors supposedly practice. Leibovitz wonders how it can be that Salaita, who has done little work on Native Americans, was hired by a Department of American Indian Studies in the first place. The answer is that American Indian Studies, or Native American Studies, emerged as part of the movement toward Ethnic Studies in the late 1960s.

This movement explicitly sought to break down the wall between scholarship and politics. This statement from the Critical Ethnic Studies Association sums up the view well: “Ethnic studies scholarship has laid the foundation for analyzing how racism, settler colonialism, immigration, imperialism, and slavery interact in the creation and maintenance of systems of domination, dispossession, criminalization, expropriation, exploitation, and violence that are predicated upon hierarchies of racialized, gendered, sexualized, economized, and nationalized social existence in the United States and beyond.”

From this point of view, whether you study the domination of Palestinians by Israelis, the domination of blacks by whites, or the domination of Native Americans by the descendants of Europeans is neither here nor there. What matters is that you are judged capable of making a contribution to the anti-colonialist program. Steven Salaita, who has been best known for his role in the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, in which the chair of UIUC’s American Indian Studies department is also engaged, certainly filled that bill.

Yet Salaita’s defenders are shocked, simply shocked, that politics may play a role in academic appointments. I think that the specific character of those tweets, not Salaita’s political views, sunk Salaita. Many professors who favor a boycott of Israel have been hired, tenured, and promoted without incident, and anti-Israeli sentiment is far more visible at our colleges and universities than pro-Israel sentiment. But even if the trustees did decide to reject Salaita because they disagreed with his politics, how can Salaita’s crowd blame them? They merely would be taking seriously the idea that there is no distinction between politics and scholarship and concluding, properly, that scholars deserve no special deference.

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Palestinian Public Space and Endless War

Are Palestinian refugees starting to come to terms with the fact that their dream of reversing the verdict of 1948 is a fantasy? A New York Times article about building projects in refugee “camps” that are now as old as the Jewish state provides us with a glimpse of the intransigent reality of Palestinian political culture.

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Are Palestinian refugees starting to come to terms with the fact that their dream of reversing the verdict of 1948 is a fantasy? A New York Times article about building projects in refugee “camps” that are now as old as the Jewish state provides us with a glimpse of the intransigent reality of Palestinian political culture.

The piece, by New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman concerns the construction of a concrete square in Al Fawwar, a refugee camp south of Hebron, that is home to 7,000 people, whose population is described with the following phrase: “many of whom are the descendants of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948.” The fact that we are told that “many” of its inhabitants are the descendants of refugees leaves open the question of who the others might be and how and why they are being counted as refugees. But leaving that interesting tidbit of information aside, the conceit of the article is the debate within this community about whether building any permanent structures in these camps—whether public squares or soccer fields with stands—is appropriate.

Though the camps are themselves permanent in nature in that they are urban neighborhoods, albeit cramped, poorly constructed, and often lacking essential services, their purpose is essentially political. Rather than places to house refugees while they are prepared to be resettled in new places, their reason for existence is to keep the people there homeless and stateless in order to remind themselves, other Arabs and Muslims, and the world that they should be “returned” to what is now Israel as part of a campaign to end the Jewish state. Whenever there is any inkling of an intention on the Arab side to make peace with Israel and accept some lesser goal, the refugees come forward to remind their leaders that a deal that does not take their wishes into consideration will not be allowed to go forward.

While the Arab states colluded with Palestinian leaders to keep the refugees homeless in order that they may be preserved as props in an endless war against Israel, the residents of the camps have participated in this dispiriting and pointless charade. They have often resisted any improvements in their lot because to accept anything more than charity and subsistence—provided by UNRWA, the United Nations agency dedicated to keeping Palestinian refugees homeless—was a tacit acceptance that they weren’t going back to what is now Israel.

As Kimmelman tries to argue, the fact that the residents of the camps have accepted the building of squares or ball fields can be interpreted as a sign that their ideological quest is being set aside in order to deal with their current needs. But even in this slightly hopeful context, it is hard to ignore the intransigent nature of the culture of these camps that provides an obstacle to peace that seems impossible to overcome.

As a Palestinian architect told Kimmelman, the right of return is “an architectural question in one respect,” as it is a question of the redistribution of land and buildings. The quest to give these people better lives and a sense of dignity that has been denied them is one that deserves sympathy and support. But, unfortunately, even in the context of a discussion about improving the camps and recognizing that they are more than mere way stations on a path to Israel’s destruction, the rhetoric of even the most moderate voices in this piece took it as a given that “return” to Israel, i.e. the end of the Jewish state, was a given. Though an almost equal number of Jews were forced to flee from their homes in the Arab and Muslim world at the same time and made new lives in Israel and the West, the Palestinian Arabs seem to prefer ongoing misery to acceptance of the fact that they must move on.

What we must recognize here is that the pathology of hate is not merely about Palestinian violence but also the ingrained beliefs passed on from generation to generation that alone of all historical events of the last century, the creation of Israel must be reversed. Unlike the countless millions of other refugees from wars of aggression waged in their name, the descendants of the Palestinians who hoped to see the Jews prevented from having their state think they can continue to persist in this delusion and that world should support them in holding on to it.

Anyone who questions the power of this delusion should have taken note of the fact that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas specifically rejected an Egyptian offer to give hundreds of square miles in the Sinai adjacent to Gaza for the purpose of resettling the refugees. Abbas, the man acclaimed as a peace partner for Israel by the world, rejected the offer out of hand. The reason was that he knows the refugees and their supporters won’t listen to reason and start seeking solutions to their plight that don’t involve the eradication of Zionism. If it took decades for Palestinians to accept the need to build a square in their refugee camp, it’s easy to understand why they won’t give up their ideas about going “home” or thinking that they should be given, as some insist, a “choice” about dispossessing the Jews of Israel.

The fact that the Times and most of the rest of the international media ignored the story about Abbas’s rejection of Egypt’s offer says a lot about the way the world has accepted Palestinian assumptions. But while the media obsesses about Israelis building in lands that were theirs before 1948 and would remain in the Jewish state even in the event of a peace agreement, they treat the absurd Palestinian fantasies as reasonable. Far from merely an architectural question, the camps and what they represent are a permanent obstacle that must be removed if the Middle East is ever to know peace.

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Erick Erickson’s Callous Comments

Via Mediaite, the conservative blogger and editor-in-chief of RedState.com, Erick Erickson – while guest hosting for Rush Limbaugh – declared that most people who are getting minimum wage have “probably failed at life.”

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Via Mediaite, the conservative blogger and editor-in-chief of RedState.com, Erick Erickson – while guest hosting for Rush Limbaugh – declared that most people who are getting minimum wage have “probably failed at life.”

According to Mr. Erickson, “The minimum wage is mostly people who failed at life and high school kids. Seriously, look. I don’t mean to be ugly with you people. … If you’re a 30-something-year-old person and you’re making minimum wage you probably failed at life.” He went on to add “It is not that life dealt you a bad hand. Life does not deal you cards. It’s that you failed at life.”

This is wrong and offensive on several levels, starting with this one: Since when does a humane and decent society judge the quality and worth of one’s life based on how much money one makes? Mr. Erickson’s philosophy is a shallow materialism; this is certainly not a criterion a professing Christian (which is what Erickson is) would use. What matters in judging how people live their lives is the content of their character, not the size of their paycheck.

Let’s assume you’re in your mid-20s or early 30s and earning the minimum wage. In addition to that, you’re a loving and devoted daughter, regularly volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, helping coach youth soccer, and treating others with respect and kindness. Have you really “failed at life”?

What if you’re a young man who was raised in the inner city, in a broken family, and received a miserable education. Still, you work hard, earning the minimum wage, and your word is good and you keep out of trouble. You’re even something of an example to your younger brother, who you’re trying to keep on the right path, away from a life of drugs and crime. Are you therefore a failure? And what if you’re a single mother who, instead of receiving welfare, works for the minimum wage? Do you deserve to be mocked by Erick Erickson?

Beyond this, the argument being advanced by Erickson that the circumstances you face aren’t to be taken into account – that it doesn’t really matter whether you’re born in Anacostia or McLean, whether your father works at a Georgetown University or is an inmate at the Central Detention Facility in D.C., whether you have an intellectual disability or an IQ of 120, whether you suffer from depression, autism, or OCD or you’re blessedly free of them – is foolish and callous.

To be clear, the issue here isn’t the merits of the minimum wage; it’s the cast of mind and disposition of heart that would lead Mr. Erickson to say what he did and how he did. That is to say, it’s not simply that the arguments Mr. Erickson advances are misguided; it’s his condescension and mocking tone toward those who are “flipping burgers” or “making my beloved Chick fil A biscuit in the morning” that compounds the offense. What Mr. Erickson is expounding isn’t conservatism; it is a crude and soulless attitude masquerading as conservatism. And it is these kinds of statements that both distort and damage conservatism.

It’s perhaps worth considering the words of another individual that serve as something of a contrast to what Mr. Erickson said earlier today. “There are no ordinary people,” C.S. Lewis wrote.

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Lewis would never have said that a person’s worth or contributions, whether their life was a failure or a success, was based on their income or educational level or social status. He wouldn’t have argued that because his faith would not allow him to argue that. Lewis believed that everyone, no matter at what station or season of life, has inherent dignity because we are made in the image of God and because we are valued by God. Even adults who make the minimum wage.

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The Ignorance Driving Coverage of Israel and American Policy

I can’t quite decide if the headline and framing of this recent dispatch from the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief is further evidence of everything that is wrong about the media’s reporting on the conflict or if it’s a modest step in the right direction. The headline is: “Here’s what really happened in the Gaza war (according to the Israelis).”

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I can’t quite decide if the headline and framing of this recent dispatch from the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief is further evidence of everything that is wrong about the media’s reporting on the conflict or if it’s a modest step in the right direction. The headline is: “Here’s what really happened in the Gaza war (according to the Israelis).”

The point of the article is that a group of journalists met with an Israeli intelligence official to get Israel’s side of the story. On the one hand, I suppose the media can be commended for at least recognizing that there’s a side other than that churned out by Hamas flacks. On the other hand, the war is over. Perhaps, I don’t know, during the war would have been a good time to figure out that there are two sides to the story? Just a thought. Additionally, isn’t the fact that basic information about Hamas fighters and weaponry is considered a major scoop a massive indictment of the press?

Here’s another question: should the Jerusalem bureau chief of a major American newspaper show his surprise at finding out information he should have known long before? The tone of the report, then, doesn’t help either. For example:

The intelligence chief said it is not important how lethal the rockets were. He said the aim was to instill terror, to force a million Israelis to run into shelters.

So Hamas succeeded, in part.

Of the 4,500 rockets fired by Hamas and allies, 875 fell inside Gaza. Many were lobbed at Israeli soldiers during the ground offensive, but others were duds or misfires that landed short, meaning Hamas dropped explosives on its own people.

It is even possible, the intelligence chief said, that some of that fire was intentional.

Yes, some of the damage to Gaza was inflicted directly by Hamas. If you have the resources of the Washington Post behind you and you need this pointed out to you after the war, you might want to consider it not a revelation but a piece of constructive professional criticism.

What we discovered–or, rather, confirmed yet again–during this latest war was that the Palestinian leadership, and especially Hamas, relies on the ignorance of the Western press. The lack of knowledge about Palestinian politics is crucial to Hamas’s strategy and it should be a source of agitation for newspapers providing the resources to cover the conflict and getting this lump of coal in return.

But it’s not just ignorance of Palestinian politics; it’s ignorance of Israeli politics too–far less justifiable since English is so broadly spoken there and the country allows freedom of the press. And that ignorance is not just on the part of the press; it’s also from national governments, including the current occupants of the White House.

This was brought to light again by another excellent piece debunking settlement myths by Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot, who have returned to this topic again to address the manifold falsities inspired by the recent land designation, which we covered on the blog here and here. Not only were the press and foreign leaders wrong about this particular land, but Abrams and Sadot also point out it’s part of a larger misunderstanding about Israel’s broader settlement policy under Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prime minister continues to rein in settlement growth. For that, he is denounced by the settler movement for restricting settlements and by Western governments for expanding settlements. Only one of those is right–and it’s not the Western governments:

It’s a lose-lose situation for Bibi, as nasty attacks from settler leaders coincide with those from prime ministers, foreign ministers, and presidents across the globe. The Israeli prime minister deserves credit, under these circumstances, for sticking to what he has said and appears to believe: Israel must build where it will stay, in Jerusalem and the major blocks, and it is foolish to waste resources in West Bank areas it will someday leave.

At this point, the mindless refrain on settlement construction seems to have assumed a life of its own. But anyone who’s serious about addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ignore the speeches and the rote condemnations, and study the numbers. The vast expansion of Israeli settlements in the future Palestinian state is simply not happening.

Newspapers may have resources, but nobody has the resources of the American government. And yet, the Obama administration’s pronouncements on Israeli politics and policy reveal a stunning, all-encompassing ignorance. Even worse, that ignorance is voluntary: it is very easy to get the real story. The president and his Cabinet don’t seem to want the real story. It’s no wonder their policies toward the conflict are so destructive and their diplomacy so thoughtlessly harmful.

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