Commentary Magazine


How Many Palestinians Would Endorse a Jewish State?

In “The Real ‘Jewish State’ Story,” Ben-Dror Yemini, a senior Maariv journalist, notes the issue of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state was not raised first by Benjamin Netanyahu. It was not raised first by the Israeli right. It was not raised recently. It was part of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which proposed “the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Yemini notes that recognition of a Jewish state is endorsed across the entire Israeli political spectrum, both within and without the governing coalition.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has just released a new poll, conducted March 20-22 in the West Bank and Gaza, in which one of the polling questions raised this issue:

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In “The Real ‘Jewish State’ Story,” Ben-Dror Yemini, a senior Maariv journalist, notes the issue of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state was not raised first by Benjamin Netanyahu. It was not raised first by the Israeli right. It was not raised recently. It was part of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which proposed “the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Yemini notes that recognition of a Jewish state is endorsed across the entire Israeli political spectrum, both within and without the governing coalition.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has just released a new poll, conducted March 20-22 in the West Bank and Gaza, in which one of the polling questions raised this issue:

There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?” [Emphasis added].

The percentage of Palestinians that “certainly agreed” was 3 percent. A total of 58.5 percent disagreed.

In other words–just as Israel’s Ron Dermer asserted at AIPAC five years ago–the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state does not involve the refugees. The poll assumed “all issues in dispute” were settled, including the refugees. But even with no other issue remaining on the hypothetical table, a lopsided majority of Palestinians rejected a Jewish state.

The Palestinians push a specious “right of return” (which no other refugee group has ever been granted, much less Arab ones from a war the Arabs started). They express faux concern for the Arab minority in Israel, but those Arabs have far more civil and religious rights than they would under a Palestinian state (according to the PCPSR poll, only 31 percent believe people in the West Bank can criticize the PA; only 22 percent believe people in Gaza can criticize Hamas).

In 1947, the UN proposed a two-state solution involving an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state.” The Arabs rejected the resolution, rejected a state for themselves, and started a war. They still reject a Jewish state 66 years later. Yemini ends his article as follows:

[A]nyone who justifies the Palestinian refusal is not bringing peace any closer, but rather pushing the chances of a two state solution further away … On this issue [Netanyahu] deserves total support. Not to torpedo peace. But just the opposite. To pave the way to peace.

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Hamas’s Losses Are Islamic Jihad’s Gain

One of the more farcical claims popularized about the Palestinians and their war has been the notion of “moderate Hamas.” These claims have ranged from presenting Hamas as unpleasant but essentially pragmatic to Hamas as the good-willed would-be partners for peace. All of that, however, may soon become irrelevant. For as much as Hamas is very clearly anything but moderate, for many living in Gaza it appears that Hamas just isn’t extreme enough. From among a number of tiny Salafi and Islamist splinter groups that have engaged in periodic freelance rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas, Islamic Jihad is now emerging as a potential rival to Hamas’s authority in the Gaza strip. And with the backing of Iran, this small militant faction could begin to challenge Gaza’s current Islamist rulers and their hold on power.

In the past the alliance between Hamas and Iran appeared unbreakable, despite the fact that Hamas is a Sunni group and the Iranians are of course Shia. The uprisings in the Arab world destabilized this arrangement. Hamas had long had its headquarters in Damascus, but when Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began butchering its mostly Sunni population, and with the backing of Shia Iran at that, suddenly this relationship was called into doubt. Yet, much to Hamas’s good fortune, these events coincided with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt. With Hamas itself essentially existing as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, this must have come as welcome news for Ismail Haniyeh and his government in Gaza. However, with the subsequent removal of their Egyptian allies and benefactors from power in July of last year, Hamas in Gaza has been left underfunded and isolated.

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One of the more farcical claims popularized about the Palestinians and their war has been the notion of “moderate Hamas.” These claims have ranged from presenting Hamas as unpleasant but essentially pragmatic to Hamas as the good-willed would-be partners for peace. All of that, however, may soon become irrelevant. For as much as Hamas is very clearly anything but moderate, for many living in Gaza it appears that Hamas just isn’t extreme enough. From among a number of tiny Salafi and Islamist splinter groups that have engaged in periodic freelance rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas, Islamic Jihad is now emerging as a potential rival to Hamas’s authority in the Gaza strip. And with the backing of Iran, this small militant faction could begin to challenge Gaza’s current Islamist rulers and their hold on power.

In the past the alliance between Hamas and Iran appeared unbreakable, despite the fact that Hamas is a Sunni group and the Iranians are of course Shia. The uprisings in the Arab world destabilized this arrangement. Hamas had long had its headquarters in Damascus, but when Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began butchering its mostly Sunni population, and with the backing of Shia Iran at that, suddenly this relationship was called into doubt. Yet, much to Hamas’s good fortune, these events coincided with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt. With Hamas itself essentially existing as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, this must have come as welcome news for Ismail Haniyeh and his government in Gaza. However, with the subsequent removal of their Egyptian allies and benefactors from power in July of last year, Hamas in Gaza has been left underfunded and isolated.

While the prospect of Hamas’s decline might in itself be something to be welcomed, it is impossible to ignore that Hamas’s loss increasingly appears to be Islamic Jihad’s gain; which is after all a faction arguably even more potent that Hamas. With Iran stepping up its support for Islamic Jihad the group is now reported to have access to far more advanced weapons than was previously the case and in addition it is claimed that this faction can muster a militia some 5,000 men strong. An indication of the possible shift in the balance of power was evident in the recent barrage of rockets that struck communities in southern Israel last month. This attack was not launched by Hamas but rather by Islamic Jihad fighters, and whereas previously in such instances the Egyptian government mediated between Hamas and Israel, this time Egypt was mediating on behalf of Islamic jihad, with Hamas being consigned to the sidelines.  

This is a reminder that the improvement in Islamic Jihad’s fortunes has not simply been a matter of Iranian patronage, but rather this has also hinged on growing public support. Far more hardline than even Hamas, Islamic Jihad has shown a willingness to step up attacks on Israel while Hamas appears to be mostly observing the ceasefire—although Hamas’s grip on the strip is still such that it would not be possible for these smaller Islamist factions to keep up their rocket fire without at least the tacit consent of Haniyeh’s government. This shift in allegiances among Gaza’s residents should serve as a reminder that what wins hearts and minds among the Palestinians are clear demonstrations of aggression against Israel. This of course flies in the face of the claim that Palestinians simply voted for Hamas as a rejection of Fatah corruption, as if they were otherwise innocently unaware of Hamas’s genocidal position on extinguishing the Jewish state.   

As has often been observed, Islamism and statecraft hardly go hand in hand. Presumably Hamas is discovering that the practical day-to-day matters of governing do not exactly lend themselves to keeping up a level of purist militancy that plays out well on the Gazan street. While Hamas still managed to bring out large numbers for a recent “loyalty” rally, attendance was significantly down from what had been expected, and that is taking into account that many of those present were there under obligation, with Hamas still serving as one of the primary employers in Gaza. As such, Hamas maintains a fighting force some 20,000 men strong. 

No one should imagine that Hamas has gone soft. The unconvincing suggestion that Hamas somehow deserves rehabilitating on account of its offer of a ten-year truce in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines really fails to stand. Not only should no one trust Hamas to even keep to such a truce, but what kind of “peace” agreement sees one side pledge to pause its war on the other in return for the territory from which to ultimately continue that war more successfully? Nevertheless, the all-consuming task of holding onto power in Gaza has periodically distracted Hamas from its war on Israel. That has weakened the group’s standing in the eyes of many Gazans and Islamic Jihad, with its Iranian backers, has only been too pleased to welcome in Hamas’s disaffected supporters. 

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The Reality of Returning Veterans

The terrible shooting rampage at Fort Hood by Specialist Ivan Lopez, a soldier who had served four months in Iraq, will unfortunately reinforce the post-Vietnam image of a soldier home from war as a ticking time bomb–as a victim of the society and the military who is primed to kill either himself or others. That image, however, is at odds with reality.

While the number of veterans committing suicide is going up, so is the number of suicides in the general population. That, at least, is the finding of a Veterans Administration study of veterans’ suicides. “There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true,” Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study, told the Washington Post. “The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.”

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The terrible shooting rampage at Fort Hood by Specialist Ivan Lopez, a soldier who had served four months in Iraq, will unfortunately reinforce the post-Vietnam image of a soldier home from war as a ticking time bomb–as a victim of the society and the military who is primed to kill either himself or others. That image, however, is at odds with reality.

While the number of veterans committing suicide is going up, so is the number of suicides in the general population. That, at least, is the finding of a Veterans Administration study of veterans’ suicides. “There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true,” Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study, told the Washington Post. “The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.”

Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found little link between combat experience and the tendency to commit suicide: “Depression and other types of mental illness, alcohol problems and being male – strong risk factors for suicide among civilians – were all linked to self-inflicted deaths among current and former members of the military. But the researchers found deployment and combat did not raise the risk.”

A more wide-ranging Washington Post survey of veterans did find cause for concern. Among its findings: “More than half of the 2.6 million Americans dispatched to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with physical or mental health problems stemming from their service, feel disconnected from civilian life and believe the government is failing to meet the needs of this generation’s veterans…. One in two say they know a fellow service member who has attempted or committed suicide, and more than 1 million suffer from relationship problems and experience outbursts of anger — two key indicators of post-traumatic stress.”

However, the Post also found that “the vast majority of recent veterans are not embittered or regretful. Considering everything they now know about war and military service, almost 90 percent would still have joined.”

What that suggests is that, while many combat veterans are understandably struggling with the stress of their experiences, they do not see themselves as victims–and neither should society. Nor should we see them as potential criminals, much less likely rampage killers. In fact, as might be expected, rates of crime are much lower among military personnel than among civilians.

Specialist Lopez was being treated for a variety of mental health problems. It stands to reason it was those problems–and not his experience in Iraq per se, whose details are still not clear–that triggered his fatal outburst. Vast numbers of soldiers have spent far more time “down-range” than he did, seen far more combat, been wounded, and returned home to live productive and happy lives. We should remember the “silent majority” of veterans instead of focusing on a tiny number of outliers like Lopez.

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Obama’s Dumbed Down Public Rhetoric

Barack Obama, speaking at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, decided to take aim at the budget released by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. “If they tried to this sell [Paul Ryan's budget] at Zingerman’s, they’d have to call it the ‘stinkburger’ or the ‘meanwich,’” Obama said.

Good grief.

This is the man we were told was rhetorically our next Lincoln. (“I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has,” Professor Alan Brinkley told Charlie Rose the day after the 2008 election. “Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”) Instead we’re getting references to “stinkburger” and “meanwich.”

Is this what passes for wit among liberals these days?

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Barack Obama, speaking at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, decided to take aim at the budget released by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. “If they tried to this sell [Paul Ryan's budget] at Zingerman’s, they’d have to call it the ‘stinkburger’ or the ‘meanwich,’” Obama said.

Good grief.

This is the man we were told was rhetorically our next Lincoln. (“I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has,” Professor Alan Brinkley told Charlie Rose the day after the 2008 election. “Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”) Instead we’re getting references to “stinkburger” and “meanwich.”

Is this what passes for wit among liberals these days?

It’s not easy to lower the level of public discourse in America today. But President Obama, God bless him, is doing his part. It’s one thing to be, as Obama is, hyper-partisan and ad hominem. But couldn’t he at least be a bit clever about it?

It would be unfair to ask Obama to meet the standard of, say, Winston Churchill, who said of Clement Atlee that he was “a sheep in sheep’s clothing,” a “modest man who has much to be modest about,” and, “An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Atlee got out.” (Of Stanley Baldwin, Churchill said, “He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”)

It’s obvious that Obama is no Lincoln or Churchill. But these days he’s not even Joe Biden.  

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The Disturbing Pollard Debate

The decision of Secretary of State John Kerry to inject the question of Jonathan Pollard into his quest to keep Middle East peace negotiations alive was a complete and total fiasco. As I noted earlier today, not only was it a futile “Hail Mary” pass that was contemptuously torpedoed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, even if both the PA and Israel had agreed to the terms of the proposed deal—which would have required Israel to free another batch of terrorist murderers and several hundred other security prisoners—it would have only meant continued negotiations with little hope that they will lead to an actual agreement.

The collapse of this effort is a great disappointment to those who have worked for Pollard’s release and a relief to those who want him to rot in jail. But the most disturbing element of this incident is not so much the latest proof of Kerry’s foolishness as it is the way that the discussion over Pollard has brought back to the surface the myths and misinformation about the case that come to the fore every time his name is in the news. Though advocates for his release are right to view Pollard’s sentence as excessive, much of what we have been hearing about him this week demonstrates anew the extent of the damage that he and his handlers did to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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The decision of Secretary of State John Kerry to inject the question of Jonathan Pollard into his quest to keep Middle East peace negotiations alive was a complete and total fiasco. As I noted earlier today, not only was it a futile “Hail Mary” pass that was contemptuously torpedoed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, even if both the PA and Israel had agreed to the terms of the proposed deal—which would have required Israel to free another batch of terrorist murderers and several hundred other security prisoners—it would have only meant continued negotiations with little hope that they will lead to an actual agreement.

The collapse of this effort is a great disappointment to those who have worked for Pollard’s release and a relief to those who want him to rot in jail. But the most disturbing element of this incident is not so much the latest proof of Kerry’s foolishness as it is the way that the discussion over Pollard has brought back to the surface the myths and misinformation about the case that come to the fore every time his name is in the news. Though advocates for his release are right to view Pollard’s sentence as excessive, much of what we have been hearing about him this week demonstrates anew the extent of the damage that he and his handlers did to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

At its heart, the debate about Pollard is about two competing themes. As I wrote in a comprehensive summary of the case three years ago, both Pollard’s defenders and his critics exaggerate their arguments. Though the information Pollard passed to the Israelis was, no doubt, useful to them, the assumption that it was a game-changer in terms of its security is unfounded. So, too, is the notion that the Israelis had a “right” to the information.

By the same token, the comparisons made between Pollard and various Soviet agents are absurd. Pollard was not spying for a hostile power and there is no evidence, nor even a reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the notion that he was in any way responsible for the deaths of U.S. agents in the field. Nor was what he did was in any way comparable to the revelations of Edward Snowden who deliberately sought to undermine U.S. intelligence operations and then fled to the safety of a hostile nation where he continues to thumb his nose at the United States. What he did was bad enough and deserving of severe punishment, but the manner with which the intelligence establishment has demonized him and made his release even after decades in prison and long after any information he might have possessed was relevant is as excessive as it is illogical.

The fact remains no one who ever spied for an ally—something that the U.S. has no scruples about doing itself with regard to Israel or other friendly nations like Germany—has ever received such a harsh sentence. Most such incidents are quickly covered up and forgotten. While Pollard’s espionage was particularly egregious, the life sentence he received violated the plea bargain negotiated with him by the government. The main reason he is still in jail is not so much the desire of the government to keep him locked up but the result of legal errors by his original attorneys that prevented appeals that would have almost certainly been successful in reducing his sentence. After 28 years, many of them in solitary, it cannot be asserted that he has not been punished or that defense of the rule of law depends on his continued incarceration. Since he will be eligible for parole in the fall of 2015, the talk about keeping him in prison forever is just hot air.

Nevertheless, this is an apt moment for both Israelis and Americans who are campaigning for his release to recognize that efforts to portray him as a hero are as damaging as they are misguided. It is legitimate for the Israeli government to seek the release of someone who is being punished for acts committed in the name of their country. But those who succumb to the temptation to treat his actions as anything other than a profoundly misguided operation are dead wrong.

Anyone listening to the debate about Pollard being conducted in the last week must understand that his name is synonymous with charges of dual loyalty against American Jews who serve in both the U.S. government and its armed forces. As I detailed in my 2011 article, the damage that the cynical decision to employ a foolish and unstable person as a spy has done to American Jews and to the vital alliance between the U.S. and Israel is incalculable.

While after serving so much time in prison he is deserving of clemency, I stand by my previous conclusion about what should be the final word about this subject:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

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State Dept. Sides with Hamas Funders

Though it is no longer called the “war on terror,” the Obama administration has been eager to be seen as a scourge of international terrorism. It has continued many of the Bush administration’s security policies with regard to seeking intelligence on terror groups and has been so aggressive about pursuing a policy of assassinating terrorists that liberals like Ron Wyden and libertarians like Rand Paul have attacked it. But when it comes to shutting down the financing of some terrorists, the administration is something of a house divided. As the New York Times reports today, the State Department is pressuring the Department of Justice to intervene on behalf of a Jordanian bank in a federal lawsuit in which it stands accused of funneling money to terrorists who killed Americans. Apparently, Foggy Bottom wants the administration to support the Arab Bank’s effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn sanctions imposed by a lower court because of the financial institution’s refusal to hand over customer records.

While this sounds like a complicated litigation, the issues at stake here are not difficult to comprehend. At issue is whether the United States will ignore the standards it has applied to other terror-related cases as well as its past stands on foreign bank secrecy rules in order to help get a bank owned by friendly Arabs off the hook for their role in funding the murder of American citizens. If President Obama’s solicitor general does what the State Department is asking him to do, it will mean the nation is not only turning its back on American victims of Hamas terrorism. It will also show that the administration’s much ballyhooed toughness on terror doesn’t apply to its efforts to bring supporters of Palestinian murderers to justice.

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Though it is no longer called the “war on terror,” the Obama administration has been eager to be seen as a scourge of international terrorism. It has continued many of the Bush administration’s security policies with regard to seeking intelligence on terror groups and has been so aggressive about pursuing a policy of assassinating terrorists that liberals like Ron Wyden and libertarians like Rand Paul have attacked it. But when it comes to shutting down the financing of some terrorists, the administration is something of a house divided. As the New York Times reports today, the State Department is pressuring the Department of Justice to intervene on behalf of a Jordanian bank in a federal lawsuit in which it stands accused of funneling money to terrorists who killed Americans. Apparently, Foggy Bottom wants the administration to support the Arab Bank’s effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn sanctions imposed by a lower court because of the financial institution’s refusal to hand over customer records.

While this sounds like a complicated litigation, the issues at stake here are not difficult to comprehend. At issue is whether the United States will ignore the standards it has applied to other terror-related cases as well as its past stands on foreign bank secrecy rules in order to help get a bank owned by friendly Arabs off the hook for their role in funding the murder of American citizens. If President Obama’s solicitor general does what the State Department is asking him to do, it will mean the nation is not only turning its back on American victims of Hamas terrorism. It will also show that the administration’s much ballyhooed toughness on terror doesn’t apply to its efforts to bring supporters of Palestinian murderers to justice.

The case, Linde v. Arab Bank, revolves around the efforts of relatives of Americans killed by Hamas terrorists during the second intifada to use the federal Anti-Terrorism Act to bring those who funded the Islamist terror group to book for aiding and abetting these atrocities.

As the Israeli Law Center, the group that has pursued a relentless and courageous campaign to hold terror funders accountable, notes on its website:

The Arab Bank is a Jordanian financial institution that has funneled funds for organizations claiming they are legitimate charities. In fact, they were routing large sums of money to support the violent activities of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. These organizations served as agents of Hamas and used the Arab Bank to receive deposits and process wire transfers. The Bank was aware that these organizations are fronts that support terrorist activities, such that the Bank’s continued provision of services to these groups facilitated their illegal activities. One account number belongs to Hamas itself and was used to collect funds in support of its violent activities.

Further, the Saudi Committee In Support of the Intifada Al Quds (“Saudi Committee”) was established as a private charity in Saudi Arabia whose purpose was to support the intifada and the families of the terrorists who have died, as well as subsidize the Palestinian terror campaign. The Saudi Committee furnishes awards to terrorists’ families as a reward for suicide attacks. The Arab Bank is the exclusive financial administrator for the Saudi Committee. These payments create an incentive to engage in terrorist acts by rewarding all Palestinian terrorists, regardless of their affiliation with a particular group.

Despite the Arab Bank’s pleas of innocence, the facts of their funding of Hamas are not in dispute. But, as the Times notes, Secretary of State John Kerry doesn’t want to upset either Jordan or the Saudis any more than they have already been by Obama administration policies that have strengthened Iran at their expense. What he wants is for the U.S. government to plead diplomatic necessity to the courts and tie up the plaintiffs in circles.

But in doing so, the Justice Department would be flouting the same standards they have applied to other cases in which they have doggedly pursued the funders of al-Qaeda and other groups that have targeted Americans as well as in tax cases in which the U.S. has sought to override the efforts of foreign banks to maintain secrecy about their activities.

Claims of diplomatic necessity are contradicted by the experience of the post 9/11-era in which all banking institutions have been forced to disassociate themselves with terror or face the consequences. Jordan will survive a court defeat by the Arab Bank, as will the Saudis.

A decision by the administration to side with the Arab Bank against terror victims would be an outrageous abuse of power as well as of hypocrisy. U.S. law demands that the government allow those who have been hurt by terrorists to pursue the funders of murder. For President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to interfere with the course of justice would be yet another signal that their anti-terror principles don’t apply to the victims of Palestinian killers.

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OCare’s Milestone and Jindal’s Opportunity

Today’s Washington Post article on Bobby Jindal, by Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein, is a great example of how a newspaper’s reporting can be vastly improved by actually embracing ideological diversity. Costa was recently hired by the Post from National Review, where his access to the right side of the political isle had him running circles around other reporters when it came to conservative politics.

And today’s article is refreshingly free of condescension and peppered with actual information and verifiable claims, unlike the treatment Republican rising stars are used to getting in, say, the Washington Post. For example, the article centers on Jindal’s new health-care reform proposal, and rather than parrot DNC talking points that Republicans have no plans or ideas on offer, we read this:

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Today’s Washington Post article on Bobby Jindal, by Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein, is a great example of how a newspaper’s reporting can be vastly improved by actually embracing ideological diversity. Costa was recently hired by the Post from National Review, where his access to the right side of the political isle had him running circles around other reporters when it came to conservative politics.

And today’s article is refreshingly free of condescension and peppered with actual information and verifiable claims, unlike the treatment Republican rising stars are used to getting in, say, the Washington Post. For example, the article centers on Jindal’s new health-care reform proposal, and rather than parrot DNC talking points that Republicans have no plans or ideas on offer, we read this:

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

Indeed, conservatives have been offering ideas–most of them better than the bureaucratic mess and extralegal application of ObamaCare–for years. The article is also interesting for its framing of Jindal within the 2016 presidential landscape. Jindal has long been a favorite of GOP policy wonks and proponents of education reform, but it’s an open question as to whether he could translate that into broader, television-friendly appeal.

The biggest setback to that possibility came when an overly-folksy Jindal delivered the GOP’s response to Obama’s 2009 national address. He was written off, unfairly; after all, Bill Clinton famously cratered at the 1988 Democratic nominating convention only to be nominated himself four years later. But the weakness in Jindal’s delivery was real: he had committed the modern age’s cardinal sin of discarding authenticity in an attempt to be memorable. (He was, but not for the right reasons.)

Jindal seems now to be more comfortable in his own skin:

Putting an emphasis on Jindal’s policy chops has become the latest project for his kitchen cabinet, which includes Curt Anderson, a former political director at the Republican National Committee, and political adviser Timmy Teepell. So is highlighting Jindal’s willingness to articulate an agenda — all while other hopefuls, from Christie to Paul, are making their own strides on the pre-primary stage.

“It’s early, but this is a good time for him to show how he belongs with the rest of those names,” said Charlie Black, a former campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee.

Jindal has been steeped in the world of health policy since early in his career. In his mid-20s he became secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, and then he was named the staff director of a bipartisan commission on the future of Medicare. A few years later, he became an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Is this a winning strategy? It always depends on the competition, of course, but Jindal is one of the few conservative leaders who could benefit from the enrollment numbers ObamaCare racked up thus far. ObamaCare is far from a success–indeed, even late-night host Jimmy Fallon greeted the “mission accomplished” ObamaCare announcement by noting that “it’s amazing what you can achieve when you make something mandatory, and fine people if they don’t do it — and keep extending the deadline for months.”

But the president’s celebration was telling. The point of the frantic enrollment rush was to try to mitigate what had made the enrollment rush possible in the first place–Obama’s cancellation of Americans’ insurance policies they actually liked–and get them in some way dependent on the state. At the outset, ObamaCare was weakest before it created millions of dependents. That’s the mark Obama was aiming for, not a more serious definition of “success,” which might be well beyond ObamaCare’s reach anyway.

Now the narrative has shifted, and Republicans who want to undo the damage ObamaCare has already done and prevent the damage it threatens to do must concentrate as much or more on the “replace” side of their “repeal and replace” slogan. It’s the first moment, in other words, in the post-2012 election drama that calls specifically for a wonk to step forward, and Jindal has done so. Whether that can enable him to compete with Republicans’ prospective first-tier candidates remains to be seen, but it’s clear he’s at least improved his sense of timing.

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Kerry’s Hubris Leads to a Great Fall

It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. The collapse of those talks and Kerry’s frantic and desperate Hail Mary pass merely to keep the sides talking after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to scuttle the effort illustrates the secretary’s flawed strategy and lack of a coherent backup plan. But the Middle East is not the only place where Kerry’s supposedly inspired leadership has failed. Kerry ignored and then mishandled unrest in Egypt and alienated allies across the Middle East. The special relationship that Kerry had cultivated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (according to the Times the two had bonded over their love of ice hockey) has also not only proved useless in getting the Russians to do what they promised in Syria but has led to further humiliations for the U.S. as the Putin regime overran Crimea and threatened the rest of the Ukraine. Kerry’s dependence on the Russians is also likely to lead to more failure on the Iranian nuclear front since Moscow is even less inclined than it already was to pressure Tehran to sign an agreement that can be represented as a victory for U.S. diplomacy.

A generous evaluation of Kerry’s actions might merely ascribe this to a string of bad luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. The common thread between these various diplomatic dead-ends isn’t that small-minded and recalcitrant foreign leaders thwarted Kerry’s bold initiatives. It’s that in all these situations, Kerry believed the force of his personality and his tenacity was equal to the task of solving problems that had flummoxed all of his predecessors. Aaron David Miller perceptively wrote last fall at a moment when Kerry’s fortunes seemed to be on the rise, “Rarely have I encountered anyone — let alone a secretary of state — who seemed more self-confident about his own point of view and not all that interested in somebody else’s.” It was this hubris that has led to his current humiliation.

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It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. The collapse of those talks and Kerry’s frantic and desperate Hail Mary pass merely to keep the sides talking after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to scuttle the effort illustrates the secretary’s flawed strategy and lack of a coherent backup plan. But the Middle East is not the only place where Kerry’s supposedly inspired leadership has failed. Kerry ignored and then mishandled unrest in Egypt and alienated allies across the Middle East. The special relationship that Kerry had cultivated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (according to the Times the two had bonded over their love of ice hockey) has also not only proved useless in getting the Russians to do what they promised in Syria but has led to further humiliations for the U.S. as the Putin regime overran Crimea and threatened the rest of the Ukraine. Kerry’s dependence on the Russians is also likely to lead to more failure on the Iranian nuclear front since Moscow is even less inclined than it already was to pressure Tehran to sign an agreement that can be represented as a victory for U.S. diplomacy.

A generous evaluation of Kerry’s actions might merely ascribe this to a string of bad luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. The common thread between these various diplomatic dead-ends isn’t that small-minded and recalcitrant foreign leaders thwarted Kerry’s bold initiatives. It’s that in all these situations, Kerry believed the force of his personality and his tenacity was equal to the task of solving problems that had flummoxed all of his predecessors. Aaron David Miller perceptively wrote last fall at a moment when Kerry’s fortunes seemed to be on the rise, “Rarely have I encountered anyone — let alone a secretary of state — who seemed more self-confident about his own point of view and not all that interested in somebody else’s.” It was this hubris that has led to his current humiliation.

In a rare example of agreement between the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both ridiculed Kerry’s use of Pollard as a pathetic Hail Mary pass to revive the peace negotiations that had been scuttled by Abbas. Though the two papers came at the issue from different perspectives—the Journal correctly thought it was wrong to trade a spy for the terrorist murderers Abbas wanted Israel to free while the Times thought that the gesture would advance the negotiations—they spoke for just about everybody inside and outside the U.S. foreign-policy establishment in declaring the Pollard gambit to be a sign of desperation on the part of the secretary.

The problem here isn’t just that including Pollard in the talks was wrong-headed and unlikely to yield positive results. It’s that Kerry is so invested in trying to prop up a process that never had a chance of success that he’s willing to gamble with America’s credibility. While he proved able to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, Kerry’s naïve miscalculation about Abbas being willing or able to make peace has led to the current stalemate. Even worse, Kerry’s desperation has emboldened Abbas to keep asking for more and more with no sign that he will ever risk signing a deal that will end the conflict. The talk about Pollard is significant not just because it’s a bad idea but because it reflects American weakness rather than boldness.

But while Kerry’s self-image is sufficiently grandiose to insulate him against criticisms, those who will pay the price for his failures will not be so fortunate. The Ukrainians know they cannot count on the U.S., and by raising expectations that were inevitably dashed the secretary has increased the chances of violence in the wake of his Middle East fiasco. Nor will those who may eventually be faced with the reality of an Iranian bomb remember him kindly. Not long ago liberal pundits were singing his praises. Now he should consider himself lucky if he is not soon considered a consensus choice for the title of the worst secretary of state in recent memory.

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The Debate We Should Be Having About Rand Paul and Sanctions

Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

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Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

What Paul never contends is that Hitler’s ideology hinged on the idea of opposing Versailles. He was talking about Germany and Germans. In front of me is Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, where the author basically makes the same case and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in which she writes that though Versailles’ impact had likely been exaggerated by German governments, it allowed political parties like the Nazis to tap into widespread “anger” and resentment. Sounds like that’s what Rand was saying.

True enough, though it’s worth noting that in Modern Times, Johnson has much more to say about the grievances unleashed by Versailles, and they center on the ethnic strife sparked by transferring Europe to the individual nation-state model from the age of empires–“self-determination,” in Johnson’s writing, which created more restive minority populations because there were more states. Where economic factors played a role, Johnson seems to put emphasis on the fact that more states also meant more poor states, especially in the immediate postwar period, and he notes that Germany was considered to have defaulted on its postwar obligations as well. If any aspect of Versailles encouraged German expansionism, Johnson appears to blame the fact that “under the Treaty it was forbidden to seek union with Germany, which made the Anschluss seem more attractive than it actually was.”

But I think Paul’s defenders here are on less steady ground in dismissing Paul’s comments as they relate to Pearl Harbor. He prefaced his sanctions comments–at least on Pearl Harbor–by saying sometimes sanctions “have made it worse.” Taken individually, sanctions on a nation can be treated this way. But it doesn’t always apply, and it applies perhaps less to Japan than almost any other scenario (Germany, Iraq, Iran, etc.).

As some have said since Paul’s comments, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a sort of preemptive strike to at least temporarily avert an American response to simultaneous Japanese aggression throughout the region, including on Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. But another important facet of this is that the sanctions weren’t a surprise to Japan, because they were in response to Japanese action. As the historian Ian Toll writes, Japan took action its leaders–reminded by Admiral Yamamoto, who initially wanted to avoid an unwinnable war–knew would precipitate sanctions, and the whole process would bring them toward war:

From his flagship, Nagato, usually anchored in Hiroshima Bay, Yamamoto continued to warn against joining with the Nazis. He reminded his government that Japan imported around four-fifths of its oil and steel from areas controlled by the Allies. To risk conflict, he wrote, was foolhardy, because “there is no chance of winning a war with the United States for some time to come.”

But Japan’s confused and divided government drifted toward war while refusing to face the strategic problems it posed. It signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in Berlin in September 1940. As Yamamoto had predicted, the American government quickly restricted and finally cut off exports of oil and other vital materials. The sanctions brought events to a head, because Japan had no domestic oil production to speak of, and would exhaust its stockpiles in about a year.

Yamamoto realized he had lost the fight to keep Japan out of war, and he fell in line with the planning process.

Yamamoto warned against the process because he wrongly thought his leaders wanted to avoid war, when in fact they provoked it. This doesn’t mean Paul is “blaming” the U.S. for the attack on Pearl Harbor (and by extension, American entry into World War II). But it raises questions about Paul’s selective use of history–and bad history does not usually inform good policy.

I have raised this issue with Paul before. When he made his major foreign-policy address a year ago, he advocated a greater emphasis on containment. But he conflated the Kennanite version of containment with the strategy that ultimately won the Cold War, which was far from the truth. In reality, Kennan’s ideas were central to the Truman administration’s decision to embrace containment, but his version of containment was so different that Kennan adamantly refused to take credit for it.

It is far from clear that a nuclear Iran would be containable the way the Soviet Union was–in fact, it’s unlikely. But Paul’s version of containment would not have even contained the Soviet Union. Paul’s habit of cherry-picking history to create precedents for his own preferred strategy seems to be present with his comments on Japanese sanctions and Pearl Harbor as well. It certainly doesn’t make him a blame-America-firster. But it does suggest unsound strategic judgment.

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Maduro’s Empty Call for “Dialogue”

Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas).

But there are other themes that are, significantly, absent from the op-ed. Until quite recently, the chavistas made much of the bold percentage increases in the national minimum wage, but Maduro wisely chose not to mention this “fact.” Wisely, because Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has been devalued by an accumulated total of 2,000 percent over the last 15 years, rendering meaningless any minimum wage boosts. As CENDAS, a Caracas-based research institute, has discovered, thanks to the shortages and inflation that have worsened radically during Maduro’s first year in power, each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to meet basic expenses for food, clothing, and health care.

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Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas).

But there are other themes that are, significantly, absent from the op-ed. Until quite recently, the chavistas made much of the bold percentage increases in the national minimum wage, but Maduro wisely chose not to mention this “fact.” Wisely, because Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has been devalued by an accumulated total of 2,000 percent over the last 15 years, rendering meaningless any minimum wage boosts. As CENDAS, a Caracas-based research institute, has discovered, thanks to the shortages and inflation that have worsened radically during Maduro’s first year in power, each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to meet basic expenses for food, clothing, and health care.

In tandem with the omissions are the lies and distortions that one would expect from Maduro; for example, the fabricated charge that students protesting the sexual assault of a young female by National Guard members “burned down a university in Táchira State.” He demonizes the last two months of protest as the temper tantrum of a spoiled, entitled middle class, asserting that “the protests have received no support in poor and working-class neighborhoods.” What he doesn’t add is that the overwhelming presence, in the same neighborhoods, of the paramilitary colectivos is something of a disincentive to participating in demonstrations that highlight the damage the regime is doing to everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Maduro ends his piece with an appeal for “dialogue to move forward.” Who, exactly, will he dialogue with? Leopoldo Lopez is in jail, while his colleague Maria Corina Machado has been stripped of her parliamentary immunity. As the perceptive Argentinian journalist Daniel Lozano noted in his report of the attempt by Machado and her supporters to reach the National Assembly building, what they found resembled a “military fortress”:

An enormous deployment of the National Guard blocked off the National Assembly. An attempt at dialogue with them, once again, did no good. A group of government supporters surrounded the deputy shouting “Imperialist! Traitor! Murderer!” The rising tension forced Machado and her group to abandon the scene…Machado couldn’t speak to the chamber but made use of the street stage to ask a question. And to answer it. “Why do they want to silence me? Why do they want to do that? Because they are terrified of the truth and people on the streets fighting for their liberty.”

And it’s not just Lopez and Machado. Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos, the respective mayors of the opposition strongholds of San Diego and San Cristobal, have been summarily dismissed and imprisoned. Nobody yet knows the total human cost of the regime’s brutal operation to drive demonstrators off the streets of San Cristobal. As for Maduro’s laughable statement in his Times piece that the government will prosecute human-rights abusers in the security forces, the complete collapse of Venezuela’s independent judicial system over the last decade is the best counter-argument to that claim.

Inter alia, Maduro says, “My government has also reached out to President Obama, expressing our desire to again exchange ambassadors. We hope his administration will respond in kind.” Responding “in kind” would signal that the U.S. government is, at best, indifferent to the fate of Venezuela under continued chavista rule. Far better to point out that the friendship of the United States is a privilege, and not a right. If Maduro releases the thousand-odd political prisoners detained during the protests and reins in the colectivos, perhaps then, and only then, might there be something to discuss.

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Sarah Palin Continues to Discredit Herself

Sarah Palin continues to act in ways that confirm some of the more negative things said about her.

For example, she’s taken to Facebook to attack the most recent budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to Ms. Palin:

The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.

Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.

Whatever differences Ms. Palin may have with the Ryan plan–and perhaps she’ll take the time to offer an actual critique of if rather than a Facebook entry with lots of upper case words–it’s hardly a joke. But what might elicit a roll of the eyes is comparing Ms. Palin’s views now versus what they were nearly four years ago.

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Sarah Palin continues to act in ways that confirm some of the more negative things said about her.

For example, she’s taken to Facebook to attack the most recent budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to Ms. Palin:

The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.

Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.

Whatever differences Ms. Palin may have with the Ryan plan–and perhaps she’ll take the time to offer an actual critique of if rather than a Facebook entry with lots of upper case words–it’s hardly a joke. But what might elicit a roll of the eyes is comparing Ms. Palin’s views now versus what they were nearly four years ago.

Consider this: On December 10, 2010, Ms. Palin published in her name an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why I Support the Ryan Roadmap.” Back then “the Roadmap for America’s Future produced by Rep. Paul Ryan… offers a reliable path to long-term solvency for our entitlement programs, and it does so by encouraging personal responsibility and independence.” And this: “Put simply: Our country is on the path toward bankruptcy. We must turn around before it’s too late, and the [Ryan] Roadmap offers a clear plan for doing so.”

And now consider this: The plan Palin supported in 2010 would have taken over 30 years to balance the budget. The plan she now opposes for not being sufficiently austere would balance the budget in ten years. Mr. Ryan himself has said that this plan cuts more spending than any budget he’s ever written, to the tune of $5.1 trillion over the next decade. In addition, Ryan’s plan calls for overhauling the tax code, repealing the Affordable Care Act, reforming entitlement programs, and promoting energy security.

Now you may believe, as I do, that Ms. Palin long ago ceased being a serious national voice. But she is representative of something real. She personifies a mindset within conservatism that is almost proudly anti-intellectual, one characterized by resentments, that relies on banalities, and is disconnected from reality. It views politics as a pose and seems to take special delight in targeting perceived heretics within the movement. It’s all rather silly.

At the same time, there is something problematic when people on the right, including the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008, attack those who are actually doing the hard, necessary work of providing a conservative governing alternative to the Obama years. I recognize that posting shallow reactions on Facebook is easier than offering serious analysis or putting together an actual budget. 

Easier, perhaps, but ultimately discrediting.

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Court Strikes a Blow for Free Speech and Political Sanity

Liberals didn’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that struck down federal limits on political speech from independent groups because they saw it as a the first step toward dismantling the campaign finance regulatory system that aimed to suppress political speech. They will be just as, if not more, unhappy with the court’s 5-4 ruling today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that rightly held that federal caps on the amount of money individuals could give to candidates, parties, and PACs are unconstitutional.

But while we can expect to hear a chorus of condemnation of the court from the White House, liberal Democrats, and mainstream media pundits who will see this as opening the floodgates to corruption, the warnings that these rulings herald the end of democracy are false. What the court has done today is to reaffirm core constitutional principles that protect the rights of every American to participate in the political system. But just as importantly, by taking the next step toward dismantling a dysfunctional and deeply unfair regulatory system, the court has opened the way toward a saner manner of conducting elections. While all past efforts at “reform” of contributions had driven donors away from the candidates and political parties, the majority opinion in McCutcheon will begin the process of returning them to a central role in campaign finance. That will create a system that is more accountable and freer of overweening governmental regulation of speech. Instead of condemning this sweeping ruling, liberals should be joining conservatives in cheering a step back toward a saner manner of conducting elections.

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Liberals didn’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that struck down federal limits on political speech from independent groups because they saw it as a the first step toward dismantling the campaign finance regulatory system that aimed to suppress political speech. They will be just as, if not more, unhappy with the court’s 5-4 ruling today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that rightly held that federal caps on the amount of money individuals could give to candidates, parties, and PACs are unconstitutional.

But while we can expect to hear a chorus of condemnation of the court from the White House, liberal Democrats, and mainstream media pundits who will see this as opening the floodgates to corruption, the warnings that these rulings herald the end of democracy are false. What the court has done today is to reaffirm core constitutional principles that protect the rights of every American to participate in the political system. But just as importantly, by taking the next step toward dismantling a dysfunctional and deeply unfair regulatory system, the court has opened the way toward a saner manner of conducting elections. While all past efforts at “reform” of contributions had driven donors away from the candidates and political parties, the majority opinion in McCutcheon will begin the process of returning them to a central role in campaign finance. That will create a system that is more accountable and freer of overweening governmental regulation of speech. Instead of condemning this sweeping ruling, liberals should be joining conservatives in cheering a step back toward a saner manner of conducting elections.

For forty years liberals built a mountain of federal laws and regulations that sought to restrict the ability of individuals and groups to make their voices heard on political issues. The campaign finance reform movement was portrayed in the mainstream media as a high-minded force for good government. But the effort to rid politics of the scourge of money was as futile as it was counterproductive. Money is the mother’s milk of politics and the legal labyrinth created by the initial post-Watergate effort and its successors did nothing to curb corruption but it did make the system more and more unaccountable as the laws made it harder to give to individual candidates or political parties. The cumbersome apparatus of campaign finance law made it hard to comply with the law without legal specialists. But most damaging of all was the fact that the thrust of this body of legislation was aimed at suppressing political speech—the one type of activity that the Constitution most sought to protect from the government.

The court held today in McCutcheon that the right to contribute to campaigns is not absolute (Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the other members of 5-justice majority on this point). But, as Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out today in his ruling, the government  “may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”

The sordid truth at the heart of the campaign finance reform movement is that it has always been more about suppressing the free speech rights of individuals then about cleaning up government. There is no evidence the cap rules prevented corruption. But what they do accomplish is to make it harder to take down incumbents or to challenge the dominant voice of a mainstream media whose First Amendment rights to say what they like about candidates have rightly never been questioned.

Campaign finance laws never succeeded in driving money out of politics. But they have forced donors to resort to more indirect methods of financing candidates and causes they like, making the system less accountable. By removing such limits on donations to candidates and parties, the court will increase the influence of these institutions and allow more money to be put in the hands of those who are actually running the campaigns rather than outside groups. This will make elections more transparent and be good for democracy.

As they did with Citizens United, liberals will lament this ruling because it chips away further at the notion that government has a right to limit political speech. But, as Roberts said, “there is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our leaders.” Political donations are no different from any other kind of protected political speech. Allowing more speech, whether from conservatives or liberals, corporations or unions, won’t harm democracy; it enhances it. By ending the federal caps, the court has struck a blow for more freedom, not corruption.

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Twelve Questions About the “Peace Process”

In today’s New York Times, a letter from Dov Bruce Krulwich in Beit Shemesh, Israel, asks two questions about the possible release of Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel to release Palestinian murderers to convince the Palestinians to discuss a Palestinian state, even though the Palestinians “refuse even to agree that the end game involves two states for two peoples”:

Shouldn’t a people who have never had a state be the ones making goodwill gestures to continue a process that will benefit them the most?

Why weren’t the previous good-will gestures, not to mention all the good-will gestures in the past 20 years, enough to expect the Palestinians to take a step themselves?

Those questions lead to some of my own:

In today’s New York Times, a letter from Dov Bruce Krulwich in Beit Shemesh, Israel, asks two questions about the possible release of Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel to release Palestinian murderers to convince the Palestinians to discuss a Palestinian state, even though the Palestinians “refuse even to agree that the end game involves two states for two peoples”:

Shouldn’t a people who have never had a state be the ones making goodwill gestures to continue a process that will benefit them the most?

Why weren’t the previous good-will gestures, not to mention all the good-will gestures in the past 20 years, enough to expect the Palestinians to take a step themselves?

Those questions lead to some of my own:

  • Why do people have to be paid–in the form of cash, prisoners, freezes, etc.–to convince them to show up to negotiate a state for themselves?
  • Why do people who have signed a formal agreement, obligating themselves not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories, have to be paid to convince them to adhere to their agreement?
  • Why are people who have already been offered (and rejected) a state three times in the last decade–with each offer covering substantially all of the disputed territories and a capital in Jerusalem–entitled to a fourth offer?
  • Why is a putative Palestinian state, ruled half by a terrorist group and half by a “president” currently in the 10th year of his four-year term, with the two groups unable to live side by side in peace with each other (much less Israel), ready to be a state–even assuming agreement could be reached on its borders or any other issue?
  • Why is U.S. foreign policy–with the Arab world in a state of chaos ranging from Libya to Egypt to Syria to Lebanon–fixated on trying to establish another already-failed state right next to Israel?

Which brings one again to the two questions posed by Dennis Ross last month in the course of summarizing the Israeli position in the current impasse:

[I]f you [the Palestinians] believe in two states, why is it that Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people is something that you can’t accept?

Why is it that self-determination for the Jewish people in a part of historic Palestine is something that you [the Palestinians] can’t embrace?

As the American secretary of state reduces his goal from (a) reaching a peace agreement to (b) reaching a “framework” for an agreement to (c) simply keeping the Palestinian “president” at the negotiating table for six months, to be purchased by more Israeli pre-negotiation concessions, the pertinent questions include those that Elliott Abrams asked yesterday:

Where does it stop? What are the limiting principles? …What will [the secretary of state] want next year [from Israel] when Abbas threatens to leave the table again?

The history of the “peace process” is now several stages past tragedy and farce. The side that supposedly wants a state won’t discuss one without compensation to do so; won’t accept a state as an end-of-claims solution but only as a stage in a continuing attempt to “return” to the other one; won’t agree that “two states for two peoples” is the goal of the process, much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state; can’t even hold an election, much less manage a stable state; ignores obligations under its prior agreement with Israel while asking Israel to believe it would abide by a new one; has already demonstrated three times in less than a decade it will not accept the “Everyone [Supposedly] Knows” peace plan; and does not even have a “president” legally in office, able to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinian groups, much less enforce any agreement he might reach.

Meanwhile, the U.S. leans on Israel, because a Palestinian state remains the central goal of an American foreign policy that long ago lost sight of the fact that–under the above circumstances–a Palestinian state would not be a “solution” to anything.

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Curbing Deficits While Preserving Security

Those of us who have been warning about the consequences of the excessive budget cuts being forced on the U.S. Armed Forces often hear that such cuts are politically unavoidable–that there is simply no willingness in Washington to either raise taxes or cut entitlement spending. Well at least one major political figure is willing to go where others fear to tread. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has just unveiled a budget blueprint that does the seemingly impossible–it balances the budget within 10 years without tax cuts and while restoring roughly $500 billion in defense cuts that will be forced upon the Pentagon if sequestration remains in effect.

The Washington Post summarizes his plan with a somewhat snarky spin: “Overall, Ryan would cut about $5.1 trillion from projected spending over the next decade, with nearly $3 trillion coming from repealing the health-care law and revamping Medicaid. Still, his proposals fall short of balancing the budget, forcing him to resort to a vague promise of new revenue from ‘economic growth’ to meet his goal of wiping out deficits by 2024.”

Actually it’s a good bet that the kind of budget-cutting, tax-simplifying blueprint Ryan proposes would, if adopted, accelerate economic growth, which is currently anemic. But even if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with running a reasonable budget deficit–just as families go into debt to buy a house, so the government can go into debt to achieve public objectives. The problem today is that the deficit is excessive. Ryan would bring it under control and do so without sacrificing defense spending.

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Those of us who have been warning about the consequences of the excessive budget cuts being forced on the U.S. Armed Forces often hear that such cuts are politically unavoidable–that there is simply no willingness in Washington to either raise taxes or cut entitlement spending. Well at least one major political figure is willing to go where others fear to tread. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has just unveiled a budget blueprint that does the seemingly impossible–it balances the budget within 10 years without tax cuts and while restoring roughly $500 billion in defense cuts that will be forced upon the Pentagon if sequestration remains in effect.

The Washington Post summarizes his plan with a somewhat snarky spin: “Overall, Ryan would cut about $5.1 trillion from projected spending over the next decade, with nearly $3 trillion coming from repealing the health-care law and revamping Medicaid. Still, his proposals fall short of balancing the budget, forcing him to resort to a vague promise of new revenue from ‘economic growth’ to meet his goal of wiping out deficits by 2024.”

Actually it’s a good bet that the kind of budget-cutting, tax-simplifying blueprint Ryan proposes would, if adopted, accelerate economic growth, which is currently anemic. But even if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with running a reasonable budget deficit–just as families go into debt to buy a house, so the government can go into debt to achieve public objectives. The problem today is that the deficit is excessive. Ryan would bring it under control and do so without sacrificing defense spending.

Will his plan be adopted anytime soon? Of course not–not with Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House. But it at least shows what’s possible and it puts Republicans in a good position for future elections. If the party rallies behind the Ryan budget they will of course be accused of wanting to kick grandma to the curb, but such partisan charges ring increasingly hollow. Republicans will be able to counter that they have a serious plan to curb runaway deficits while at the same time preserving our defenses–that, in fact, there is no contradiction between those two goals.

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Obama TD Dance a Poor Strategy for Dems

The White House is claiming that President Obama’s celebratory speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden was not a “victory lap” but it was clear to everyone who watched the address that it was more of a touchdown dance than a sober evaluation of the implementation of his signature health care law. Given the mistake-filled rollout of ObamaCare, the fact that the numbers reported by the government indicated that it had exceeded the seven million goal that had been set as the goal for the open enrollment period, the administration felt it had good reason to spike the ball and that’s exactly what the president did.

But in doing so, the president not only misrepresented the nature of what had actually been accomplished, he also mischaracterized the nature and the extent of the opposition to the law. Though their ability to tout the enrollment numbers made for probably the best 24-hour news cycle for ObamaCare that it’s had in years, nothing he said changed the fact that as many Americans have reason to dislike the plan as those who are benefitting from it. While the president boldly proclaimed that the misnamed Affordable Care Act “was here to stay” and that the debate is over, if he thinks Democrats are going to take his cue and spend 2014 running on ObamaCare rather than away from it, he’s mistaken.

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The White House is claiming that President Obama’s celebratory speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden was not a “victory lap” but it was clear to everyone who watched the address that it was more of a touchdown dance than a sober evaluation of the implementation of his signature health care law. Given the mistake-filled rollout of ObamaCare, the fact that the numbers reported by the government indicated that it had exceeded the seven million goal that had been set as the goal for the open enrollment period, the administration felt it had good reason to spike the ball and that’s exactly what the president did.

But in doing so, the president not only misrepresented the nature of what had actually been accomplished, he also mischaracterized the nature and the extent of the opposition to the law. Though their ability to tout the enrollment numbers made for probably the best 24-hour news cycle for ObamaCare that it’s had in years, nothing he said changed the fact that as many Americans have reason to dislike the plan as those who are benefitting from it. While the president boldly proclaimed that the misnamed Affordable Care Act “was here to stay” and that the debate is over, if he thinks Democrats are going to take his cue and spend 2014 running on ObamaCare rather than away from it, he’s mistaken.

Inside the bubble in which the president lives, it’s possible to pretend that the problems causing job losses and individual hardships are Republican hoaxes that have been “debunked.” But the basic problem with the health care law remains. Unlike other landmark pieces of legislation like Social Security and Medicare that became untouchable once they were implemented, ObamaCare has created a vast class of people who have been hurt by it.

Though undoubtedly many people with pre-existing conditions or in poverty are now eligible for coverage they didn’t have before — something that conservative critics must take into account as they propose alternatives. But they are offset by those who have lost existing coverage and are now either out of luck altogether or forced to accept more expensive plans that are not to their liking. Even more are or will soon be forced to give up their existing doctors because of the chaos created by the new scheme.  As we noted again yesterday, the enrollment numbers announced today are anything but reliable. With at least 20 percent of those claimed as signed up yet to pay for their coverage and with many likely never to do so, the seven million number is a vast exaggeration. Nor is there much evidence for the notion that those included in that total were not previously covered by other kinds of insurance.

Moreover, Americans are not stupid. They understand that some of the greatest problems are yet to come because of the delays in implementing those parts of the law that are most problematic such as the employer mandates that will hurt employment and thrust millions of Americans out of better plans to the ones that ObamaCare forces them into.

But it must also be noted that what is most disconcerting about Obama’s arguments is not his blind faith in the value of what he has accomplished as the arrogant contempt for critics that he displays. For Obama, those who continue to oppose this government power grab that has hurt our health care system more than it helps are simply opposed to helping people in need. He is not so much in disagreement with their reasoned arguments or the many examples of those who have been hurt by ObamaCare as he simply thinks his opponents are liars are out to victimize the poor and the sick. His self-regard is matched only by his dishonestly and his desire to demonize those who oppose his plans.

Buy while this is the sort of speech that plays well to hand picked crowds of sycophants, it won’t play as well on the campaign trail this year in swing or red states where Senate seats are at stake. The White House may be urging his party to follow his lead and double down on a law that has always been opposed by most Americans. But that has more to do with Obama seeking to burnish his legacy than the survival of endangered Democrats. Their “fix it, don’t nix it” approach to the issue is already a difficult sell outside of deep blue strongholds. Embracing the president’s stand would be nothing short of a suicide run for any Democrat in trouble. Obama may think the debate is over but what he will find out before the year is over is that it is only getting started.

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Chris Christie v. Margaret Thatcher

The Star-Ledger, covering comments by Governor Chris Christie to the Republican Jewish Coalition, reported this:

With an eye toward 2016, Christie echoed what has been a consistent theme from him since his re-election win. “I’m not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections,” he said to laughter. “If we want to just have arguments and stand for nothing, we could just form a university.”


I wonder if Governor Christie is aware that his comment is antithetical to one made by the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who said, “First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

It’s an odd and worrisome locution by Christie, who seems to think winning arguments is synonymous with standing for nothing. In fact, you win arguments precisely because you stand for something – some set of convictions, some set of principles, some set of ideas. Winning arguments – through reasons, based on marshaling evidence, by appealing to human experience and common sense – is something those in public life should want to do. 

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The Star-Ledger, covering comments by Governor Chris Christie to the Republican Jewish Coalition, reported this:

With an eye toward 2016, Christie echoed what has been a consistent theme from him since his re-election win. “I’m not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections,” he said to laughter. “If we want to just have arguments and stand for nothing, we could just form a university.”


I wonder if Governor Christie is aware that his comment is antithetical to one made by the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who said, “First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

It’s an odd and worrisome locution by Christie, who seems to think winning arguments is synonymous with standing for nothing. In fact, you win arguments precisely because you stand for something – some set of convictions, some set of principles, some set of ideas. Winning arguments – through reasons, based on marshaling evidence, by appealing to human experience and common sense – is something those in public life should want to do. 

Having strong beliefs is the reason, at least is should be the reason, one gets involved in politics in the first place. The alternative is to gain power for its own sake, perhaps because one is drawn to the title and perks and prestige; to win elections just to win elections. That’s hardly what lies at the core of the conservative vision.

One final thought: history tends to demonstrate that conservatives need to win arguments before they win votes. They have to persuade the public their ideas, and the assumptions and premises that underlie those ideas, are the right ones, the ones that are most consistent with human nature and best advance human flourishing.

If Governor Christie doesn’t believe these things – if he’s inclined to dismiss those who are busy trying to win public debates about urgent issues – that’s worth the rest of us knowing sooner rather than later. If an aide or confidant to Governor Christie wanted to do him a favor, they could do worse than to give him a copy of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences.

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Abbas Fled Talks the First Chance He Got

Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

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Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

 It should be remembered that getting Abbas to rejoin peace talks after boycotting them for most of the last five years was no easy task. Rather than talk without preconditions, the Palestinians had to be bribed with the release of four batches of terrorist killers. Though, as it is now clear, he did little in the talks other than to continually say no to any measures that would indicate the Palestinians were finally willing to end the conflict with Israel, he was continually praised and petted by both Kerry and President Obama for his commitment to peace. While the two continued to berate Israel as the obstacle to peace, it was always Abbas who was proving those who said last year that the Palestinians weren’t ready for peace right He refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even in exchange for statehood and independence. Nor would he budge on the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants. Even when Netanyahu unhappily agreed to Kerry’s framework for future talks that was rooted in the 1967 borders, Abbas still said no.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that once the initial period of talks was about to expire, Abbas had no interest in continuing the negotiations even on terms that tilted the diplomatic playing field in his direction.

Why?

The answer is the same one that was apparent to just about everyone except Kerry last year before the process recommenced. With the Palestinians divided between Abbas’ fief in the West Bank and the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, Abbas had no room to maneuver to make peace even if he were truly willing to do so. Negotiating an agreement, even one that would give the Palestinians pretty much everything they want in terms of statehood in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, isn’t in his interest because signing such an agreement is far more dangerous than being blamed for scuttling the peace talks. The safer thing for Abbas is to seize any pretext to flee the talks and claim he’s seeking Palestinian independence via the UN, a futile gesture that will do nothing for his people.

While Abbas and his apologists claim he has done Kerry and Israel a big favor by sitting at the table with them the last several months and gotten nothing for it, the Palestinians have the most to gain from the process the secretary has promoted. Without it, there is no path to independence or economic stability for them. But since abandoning the talks allows Abbas to avoid having to sell a deal that ends the conflict to a Palestinian people that has been taught to view their national identity as inseparable from the struggle against Zionism, he prefers it to negotiations.

Were Abbas truly interested in peace, he could sit back and wait for Kerry to keep spinning deals that traded tangible Israeli concessions for continued talks. Instead, he has done what he did in 2008 when he fled the table to avoid having to say no to Ehud Olmert’s peace offer. While this isn’t the last chapter of Kerry’s efforts, those who are quick to blame Israel for everything should take note of Abbas’ behavior and draw the appropriate conclusions. 

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Kerry’s Neglect of India Comes With a Price

With so many pressing problems to deal with—North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, to name just four—Secretary of State John Kerry appears set to continue dedicating precious time and resources to resolving the unresolvable: namely the Israeli-Palestinian dispute which is no closer to a “solution” today than at any time in the past 60+ years. His latest gambit is to offer the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel in the expectation that Israel will reciprocate by releasing a bunch of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons and freezing development in the West Bank to curry favor with the Palestinian Authority. All of this frenetic maneuvering, mind you, is designed not to achieve a breakthrough—everyone knows that won’t happen—but simply to keep the Palestinians and Israelis talking and talking and talking.

What is Kerry neglecting with his odd focus on Israelis and Palestinians? Well start with one of the biggest potential diplomatic opportunities for the United States: to incorporate India, a fellow democracy menaced by Islamist extremists, into a closer partnership with Washington. George W. Bush made dramatic progress in wooing India but now the relationship seems to be going backward. As the New York Times notes,  ”The United States and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world’s most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia’s defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka’s government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained). Even critical military coordination over the reduction of troops in nearby Afghanistan has suffered.”

Instead of working together, the U.S. and India are squabbling over diplomatic privileges following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of underpaying a housekeeper.

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With so many pressing problems to deal with—North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, to name just four—Secretary of State John Kerry appears set to continue dedicating precious time and resources to resolving the unresolvable: namely the Israeli-Palestinian dispute which is no closer to a “solution” today than at any time in the past 60+ years. His latest gambit is to offer the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel in the expectation that Israel will reciprocate by releasing a bunch of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons and freezing development in the West Bank to curry favor with the Palestinian Authority. All of this frenetic maneuvering, mind you, is designed not to achieve a breakthrough—everyone knows that won’t happen—but simply to keep the Palestinians and Israelis talking and talking and talking.

What is Kerry neglecting with his odd focus on Israelis and Palestinians? Well start with one of the biggest potential diplomatic opportunities for the United States: to incorporate India, a fellow democracy menaced by Islamist extremists, into a closer partnership with Washington. George W. Bush made dramatic progress in wooing India but now the relationship seems to be going backward. As the New York Times notes,  ”The United States and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world’s most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia’s defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka’s government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained). Even critical military coordination over the reduction of troops in nearby Afghanistan has suffered.”

Instead of working together, the U.S. and India are squabbling over diplomatic privileges following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of underpaying a housekeeper.

This is not all America’s fault, to be sure, but lack of high-level attention in Washington and numerous missteps by the State Department—including the U.S. Ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, who has mercifully just announced her departure–have certainly exacerbated the situation. The Times quotes a senior Indian diplomat complaining: “There is a feeling that no one in this administration is a champion of the India-U.S. relationship.”

Perhaps that’s because our Secretary of State–who could be nurturing this relationship, working to bring allies such as Japan and South Korea closer, or paying attention to myriad other issues–has instead chosen to waste time on the fantasy of a final peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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Will Britain Outlaw the Brotherhood?

Following last year’s ousting of Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, it appears that several among its leadership may have simply moved their operations to London so as to escape the crackdown in Cairo. There it appears these leaders convened to strategize the movement’s response to their overthrow. In many respects it is remarkable that this Islamist organization had not already been outlawed. Yet, no doubt alarmed by the way in which London is being turned into the seat of the Muslim Brotherhood government in exile, Downing Street has now ordered an urgent investigation into the group’s ideology and operations, apparently in preparation for implementing a ban against the Brotherhood’s presence in the UK. 

Part of the impetus for this move by the British government comes in the wake of a Muslim Brotherhood-linked terror attack on a tourist bus in the Sinai peninsular. The concern here is that this may be yet another terror attack planned from British soil. As such Prime Minister David Cameron has instructed an enquiry into the “philosophy and activities” of the group so as to ascertain whether the group represents a security threat. Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 will be tasked with investigating a number of senior Brotherhood figures currently residing in Britain, while MI6, the country’s foreign intelligence agency will follow up on the group’s involvement in launching terror activities beyond Britain’s shores.

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Following last year’s ousting of Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, it appears that several among its leadership may have simply moved their operations to London so as to escape the crackdown in Cairo. There it appears these leaders convened to strategize the movement’s response to their overthrow. In many respects it is remarkable that this Islamist organization had not already been outlawed. Yet, no doubt alarmed by the way in which London is being turned into the seat of the Muslim Brotherhood government in exile, Downing Street has now ordered an urgent investigation into the group’s ideology and operations, apparently in preparation for implementing a ban against the Brotherhood’s presence in the UK. 

Part of the impetus for this move by the British government comes in the wake of a Muslim Brotherhood-linked terror attack on a tourist bus in the Sinai peninsular. The concern here is that this may be yet another terror attack planned from British soil. As such Prime Minister David Cameron has instructed an enquiry into the “philosophy and activities” of the group so as to ascertain whether the group represents a security threat. Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 will be tasked with investigating a number of senior Brotherhood figures currently residing in Britain, while MI6, the country’s foreign intelligence agency will follow up on the group’s involvement in launching terror activities beyond Britain’s shores.

Britain’s capital first earned itself the epithet Londonistan back in the late 1990s, but since then successive governments were supposed to have taken action to prevent London from functioning as the Jihadi capital of Europe. Yet it now seems that an apartment in the leafy northwest London suburb of Cricklewood is being used as the operational headquarters of Muslim Brotherhood post the group’s overthrow in Egypt. Long before this had happened, commentators were complaining that in the rush to crackdown on al-Qaeda and in an effort to win friends an influence people in the Islamist world, the British establishment had sought to legitimate the Muslim Brotherhood and its associate organizations operating in the West. With the election of Morsi to Egypt’s presidency, the Obama administration set a precedent for “engagement” with Egypt’s new Islamist rulers.  

One interesting upshot of this probable move to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain is the matter of how it might impact upon Hamas-affiliated groups in the UK. Hamas is after all simply the Palestinian branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, yet unlike in the U.S. where Hamas is designated a foreign terrorist organization; in Britain it is only the military wing of Hamas that is proscribed. In the event that all manifestations of the Brotherhood are forbidden to operate in the UK, this may have implications for a number of Hamas-linked NGOs and Campaign groups based in London but who take their marching orders and funding from their Islamist overseers.

While it may be regrettable that the Muslim Brotherhood was not prohibited from operating in Britain decades ago, if this investigation is conducted adequately it is hard to imagine that Muslim Brotherhood leaders will be sojourning in unassuming Cricklewood for much longer.  

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Ryan-Bashing Makes Dems Status Quo Party

So much has happened in the last three years that it seems like much longer since Democrats thought they could use a backlash against a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan to take back control of the House of Representatives. The trial case was a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district in which a Democrat took a seat previously held by the Republicans in May of 2011. That race was somewhat misleading since the GOP candidate was hobbled by the presence of a false flag Tea Party candidate on the ballot and Republicans took the seat back the following year. But though the campaign strategy of portraying the House budget chair and his fellow party members pushing grandparents over the cliff never really caught fire elsewhere, Democrats are still enamored of the theme and apparently will try again this year in the wake of Ryan’s latest proposal which will be passed today by his committee.

The headline in the New York Times article on the budget summed up the Democratic approach: “Ryan Budget Would Cut Food Stamps and Medicaid Deeply.” The point of that piece as well as the first salvos from the left is that the GOP is attempting to punish the poor while increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy. In a year in which President Obama has sought to distract the public from his domestic and foreign policy failures by claiming that income inequality is the country’s biggest problem, the Ryan budget is perfect fodder for administration talking points helpfully doled out by liberal outlets like the Times. As Politico notes, just as they tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election cycle, Democrats hope they can use Ryan to propel them to victory in 2014.

But while the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate may seem like an all-purpose piñata custom designed to boost Democratic fundraising and turnout, Ryan’s serious attempt to deal with the nation’s long-term debt problem is not be quite the gift they think it is. Though Ryan’s effort presents Democrats with a target to shoot at, it also demonstrates again that there is only one political party that is actually thinking about how to deal with the country’s long-term problems and it is not the one headed by Barack Obama.

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So much has happened in the last three years that it seems like much longer since Democrats thought they could use a backlash against a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan to take back control of the House of Representatives. The trial case was a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district in which a Democrat took a seat previously held by the Republicans in May of 2011. That race was somewhat misleading since the GOP candidate was hobbled by the presence of a false flag Tea Party candidate on the ballot and Republicans took the seat back the following year. But though the campaign strategy of portraying the House budget chair and his fellow party members pushing grandparents over the cliff never really caught fire elsewhere, Democrats are still enamored of the theme and apparently will try again this year in the wake of Ryan’s latest proposal which will be passed today by his committee.

The headline in the New York Times article on the budget summed up the Democratic approach: “Ryan Budget Would Cut Food Stamps and Medicaid Deeply.” The point of that piece as well as the first salvos from the left is that the GOP is attempting to punish the poor while increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy. In a year in which President Obama has sought to distract the public from his domestic and foreign policy failures by claiming that income inequality is the country’s biggest problem, the Ryan budget is perfect fodder for administration talking points helpfully doled out by liberal outlets like the Times. As Politico notes, just as they tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election cycle, Democrats hope they can use Ryan to propel them to victory in 2014.

But while the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate may seem like an all-purpose piñata custom designed to boost Democratic fundraising and turnout, Ryan’s serious attempt to deal with the nation’s long-term debt problem is not be quite the gift they think it is. Though Ryan’s effort presents Democrats with a target to shoot at, it also demonstrates again that there is only one political party that is actually thinking about how to deal with the country’s long-term problems and it is not the one headed by Barack Obama.

As he did with his previous budget proposals, Ryan does what pundits are always asking Congress to do and actually addresses the country’s budget dilemma and tries to provide a solution. While Democrats are grandstanding about the plight of the poor while proposing ideas like increasing the minimum wage that do more to hurt employment and the needy than help them, Ryan is seeking an answer to the question of how to actually create a new approaching to governing that is not based on kicking the can down the road. His approach to social welfare spending is not, contrary to the mischaracterizations of his opponents, to end them but to reform programs like Medicaid in such a manner as to make them viable in the long term and to provide individual with more choices and control over their coverage. Those government expenditures that he rightly wishes to eliminate are liberal playgrounds such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other frills that may please some people but are not the responsibility of government.

The key to his proposal is an effort to cut the “autopilot spending and interest payments” — what he rightly calls the “drivers of our debt.” The point is, unless we address entitlement spending head on, the country’s out-of-control taxing and spending will sink the nation in a sea of red ink that will ensure that promises of future benefits will only be kept by a crippling tax bill that will burden future generations and undermine chances for economic growth. What Ryan is offering the country is reform, not the promises of more government largesse paid for by taxing the rich that is the staple of administration rhetoric. The choice here is not between more help for the poor and a defense of the rich, as liberals would have it, but between an attempt at solving an unsustainable debt problem and a desire to ignore that problem. Ryan’s approach may not be perfect but in attacking him in this manner for having the chutzpah to present a serious proposal for changing the way Washington does business, Democrats are proving once again that they are the status quo party that is unwilling to take a hard look at how to address the nation’s spending addiction.

Ryan’s willingness to present his ideas even though there is no chance that a Democrat-controlled Senate will adopt them provides the president’s party with an opportunity to demagogue the issues. But it also proves that in the competition for ideas, Democrats would rather be the party mired in the past rather than the one that seeks a path to a growing economy unburdened by debt. In a midterm election driven more by concern over bumbling Democrat projects like ObamaCare, which increase the debt and the size of the government, that might not be as smart a strategy as they think it, is.

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