Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

A Superficial “Success” in Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Obama Should Have Skipped Burma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Deterrence Won’t Work with Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Obama Years Have Been Poisonous Ones for Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Veterans Day and Excessive Self-Criticism

November 11–once know as Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of World War I, now known as Veterans Day–is always a solemn occasion on which we honor the men and women who have fought for our hard-won liberty. This year the occasion is more bittersweet than normal for many veterans of the Iraq War who have watched over the last year as many of the gains they sacrificed so much to achieve in places like Mosul and Fallujah and Al Qaim have evaporated. Towns that U.S. troops had wrested away from al-Qaeda in Iraq have now fallen to its successor, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

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November 11–once know as Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of World War I, now known as Veterans Day–is always a solemn occasion on which we honor the men and women who have fought for our hard-won liberty. This year the occasion is more bittersweet than normal for many veterans of the Iraq War who have watched over the last year as many of the gains they sacrificed so much to achieve in places like Mosul and Fallujah and Al Qaim have evaporated. Towns that U.S. troops had wrested away from al-Qaeda in Iraq have now fallen to its successor, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Many veterans are understandably bewildered and angry and wondering if their sacrifices were worth it. Some even suggest that the dismal outcome in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan is an indictment of the armed forces that fought there. This is a point that retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, makes in this New York Times op-ed, which previews a book he has written. He argues that the “surge” in Iraq never really worked, that it was only a short-term palliative, and then issues a withering indictment of the U.S. Armed Forces:

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.

Self-criticism is always welcome and certainly to be preferred to generals who claim they never got anything wrong. But this self-criticism, I would argue, is excessive. It’s true that the U.S. military was not well prepared for the counterinsurgencies it encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan and that it went into those wars optimized for another Desert Storm. The U.S. military made countless blunders in Iraq between 2003 and 2006 which exacerbated the situation. But it’s also true that the U.S. military is a learning organization that improvised brilliantly under fire. Thanks to the acumen primarily of NCOs and junior officers–gradually followed by more senior officers–the U.S. military by now has become one of the most capable counterinsurgency forces in history.

And contrary to General Bolger’s assertions, the “surge” (which I’m told he opposed while working at Central Command for Adm. Fox Fallon) did work–it reduced violence by more than 90 percent. By 2009 both AQI and the Shiite militias such as the Mahdist Army had been decimated and Iraq was on the road to stability. No less than Vice President Biden publicly bragged in 2010 that a “stable” Iraq would be “one of the great achievements of this administration.” Then of course this administration pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq, while doing nothing to stabilize Syria in the throes of its civil war. The result has been the rise of ISIS and the undoing of what U.S. troops fought to achieve.

That is demoralizing, to be sure, but Bolger is wrong to blame the military for this outcome. I agree with Bolger that the military can’t dodge blame for the disaster in Vietnam because Gen. William Westmoreland’s firepower-intensive approach did not defeat the Viet Cong and did exhaust American will. The U.S. military was on the verge of repeating the same mistake by 2006 but the surge really did rescue the operation even if it didn’t produce nirvana or magically solve all of Iraq’s underlying issues. No one–not even the most wild-eyed surge proponent–ever expected that it would.

There was always a widespread expectation among surge proponents that U.S. troops would have to stay for the long haul to guarantee Iraq’s stability just as they have stayed in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Kosovo, and other places. It is quite possible that if U.S. troops had been pulled out of Europe after 1945 a disaster would have ensued similar to the one that ensued after the removal of U.S. troops in 1919. But that would not have been the fault of Patton, Bradley, Eisenhower, and the other generals who won the war. Likewise it is not the fault of soldiers today that President Obama didn’t stay the course in Iraq and now threatens to also prematurely pull out of Afghanistan.

To be sure, the generals who failed to prepare the U.S. military for the demands of counterinsurgency before 2001 have much to answer for, as do the generals who implemented tragically misguided policies in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. But their blunders have been more than redeemed by the success that U.S. forces experienced in Iraq in 2007-2008 and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan in 2010-2011 (where troops were hobbled by Obama’s failure to send enough reinforcements and by his imposition of a counterproductive deadline for withdrawal).

Despite the dismal state of Iraq today and to a lesser extent of Afghanistan, America’s veterans can be proud of their achievements over the past 13 years. Not only did they fight bravely and for longer periods than any previous generation of soldiers, but they also adapted brilliantly to the demands of fighting the longest counterinsurgency campaigns in American history–a very different type of warfare than the one they trained for.

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The Media Would Like You to Forget Their Embarrassing Putin Worship

Yesterday Russia unveiled its latest engine of propaganda. Called Sputnik, it appears aimed at a foreign audience and mimics the listicle and clickbait model of attracting web traffic. It has, of course, come under some gleeful mockery from Western news outlets that cover world affairs. The joke, however, is on those “real” publications.

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Yesterday Russia unveiled its latest engine of propaganda. Called Sputnik, it appears aimed at a foreign audience and mimics the listicle and clickbait model of attracting web traffic. It has, of course, come under some gleeful mockery from Western news outlets that cover world affairs. The joke, however, is on those “real” publications.

The best example was Foreign Policy magazine. FP published a (very good) piece on Sputnik and its propensity for imitating BuzzFeed. To tease the article, the FP Twitter account sent out the following snarky tweet: “How long until we get a listicle about Vladimir Putin’s top 10 stud moments from the Kremlin’s new propaganda outlet?” with a link to the article.

The FP tweet is a textbook case of the media’s failures of self-awareness, for one reason: Foreign Policy has already published such an homage to the “stud” Putin. Twice, in fact. Here is a May 2012 slideshow titled “Putin Forever” and subtitled “He’s the president of Russia. He’s a race-car driver. He’s a blackbelt in judo. He’s Vladimir Putin.” May 2012 wasn’t exactly another era, no matter how fast the news cycles tend to move these days. But Foreign Policy had been at it for years. Here’s their 2010 slideshow lavishing creepy praise on the blood-soaked tinpot autocrat, titled “Last Action Hero.”

So Foreign Policy’s readers can be forgiven for wondering what FP suddenly finds so distasteful about their former crush. Indeed, Foreign Policy has already run the kind of ridiculous pro-Putin propaganda that Putin’s actual propaganda outlet has yet to run with.

I don’t mean to pick on FP exclusively. Although they were by far the most effusive in their love letters to Putin’s manliness, they were far from the only journalists to turn their website into a shrine to the former KGB-nik. As I’ve pointed out in the past, outlets that traditionally cater to terrorists and dictators, such as Reuters, had done so. The usually far more levelheaded Atlantic did as well. (“Vladimir Putin, Action Man.”)

These days when it comes to Russia, the Atlantic is thankfully running journalism again. And it shows just how much has changed since Putin pivoted from targeting journalists and pro-American heads of state to the gay-rights and feminist movements, and was standing up to not the media’s perennial target in George W. Bush but their new hero, Barack Obama. Forced to pick sides, the media reluctantly, but finally, sided against Putin, joining those of us on the right who were correct about Putin from the beginning but dismissed by a starry-eyed mainstream press drooling over photos of Putin riding horses while shirtless.

On Friday the Atlantic ran a superb piece by Peter Pomerantsev on the Kremlin’s master of propaganda, Vladislav Surkov. It’s about far more than just information, however. Pomerantsev explains the centralized nature of Surkov’s job, guiding an entire Potemkin political system:

The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd. One moment Surkov would fund civic forums and human-rights NGOs, the next he would quietly support nationalist movements that accuse the NGOs of being tools of the West. With a flourish he sponsored lavish arts festivals for the most provocative modern artists in Moscow, then supported Orthodox fundamentalists, dressed all in black and carrying crosses, who in turn attacked the modern-art exhibitions. The Kremlin’s idea is to own all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls.

The result is that Putin is doing to Russia what he found it so easy to do, for about a decade, to a foreign audience: manipulate the scenery so that onlookers saw what they wanted to see. (And what Putin wanted them to see.) The conflict in Ukraine, in which Russia has invaded its neighbor and captured the Crimean peninsula, seems to have finally fully broken the spell.

President Obama was badly fooled by Putin in his first term on missile defense, and badly fooled by Putin in his second term on Syria and Iran. It made for an apparently awkward scene at this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing. According to Politico, the two met and spoke on three separate occasions at the summit on Ukraine. The White House is communicating its intent to increase sanctions on Russia if it keeps invading Ukraine. From reports, it seems Putin was able to stop himself from laughing his face off, at least while Obama was in the room.

But what’s so striking about this newfound anti-Putin toughness on the part of both Obama and the press is just how late in the game it is. Putin took the reins in Moscow at the turn of the century. His militarism is not new; his antidemocratic political tendencies are not new; his crackdown on the press isn’t new; his violations of U.S.-Russian agreements aren’t new; his anti-Americanism isn’t new; and his explicit actions against American interests aren’t new. What’s new is that a Western media and political class that enabled him all these years want credit for pretending they were on the right side of this issue all along.

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Obama’s False Choice on Israel

Part of the fallout from the controversy over “senior administration officials” telling journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “chickensh*t” is the revival of an ongoing effort by Obama apologists to convince American Jews that they would be wrong to try and hold the president accountable for his obvious disdain for the Jewish state’s government. This prompted Tablet magazine to publish an editorial claiming that it was wrong for both Israel’s defenders and administration cheerleaders like Goldberg to ask Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. But their plague on both your houses approach to this debate misses the point. No one, at least no one serious on either side, is really asking Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. The choice here is between loyalty to the president and Israel. And that is not one that anyone in the pro-Israel community, no matter what their political affiliation, should have much trouble with.

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Part of the fallout from the controversy over “senior administration officials” telling journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “chickensh*t” is the revival of an ongoing effort by Obama apologists to convince American Jews that they would be wrong to try and hold the president accountable for his obvious disdain for the Jewish state’s government. This prompted Tablet magazine to publish an editorial claiming that it was wrong for both Israel’s defenders and administration cheerleaders like Goldberg to ask Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. But their plague on both your houses approach to this debate misses the point. No one, at least no one serious on either side, is really asking Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. The choice here is between loyalty to the president and Israel. And that is not one that anyone in the pro-Israel community, no matter what their political affiliation, should have much trouble with.

Though I am no friend of the political mindset that we associate with modern American liberalism, there is no inherent contradiction between its advocacy and support for Zionism and the defense of Israel’s security. Indeed, some liberal Democrats in the House and the Senate are ardent and reliable friends of the Jewish state. The pertinent question is whether pro-Israel Democrats are prepared to grade Obama on a curve and give him a pass for his propensity for picking pointless fights with Israel or undercutting its position at times of extreme peril (such as cutting off arms delivery during the Gaza War or persisting in supporting libels against the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces even after the U.S. military has debunked them) or in pursuing appeasement of and even détente with the anti-Semitic regime in Iran.

As we saw in 2012, most Democrats were perfectly willing to do so provided the president called a temporary halt to his incitement against Israel with a Jewish charm offensive that didn’t last much beyond his second inaugural. Faced with the arms cutoff, the Iran appeasement, and the chickensh*t insults, it is increasingly difficult for any principled Jewish Democrat to repeat the arguments put forward for the president’s reelection with a straight face. While it is too late to atone for their mistake in giving this president a second chance to undermine the alliance, they can still stand up to criticize his policies on both the peace process and Iran without fear of losing their bona fides as either Democrats or liberals. To claim that fidelity to either prevents them from speaking out when the president is making nice with an anti-Semite like Iran’s supreme leader while trashing Israel’s prime minister is to present with the sort of false choice that is Obama’s favorite public speaking meme.

But even more insidious is the attempt by Obama cheerleaders like Goldberg to flip the argument and to claim that the president is somehow a better judge of Israel’s security that its people or their elected leaders. He does so by arguing in his latest Bloomberg View column that by anyone who agrees with Obama that the status quo with the Palestinians is “unsustainable” must acclaim him as a true friend of Israel while those who disagree with the idea that the Jewish state must be pressured to make concessions are actually undermining its security.

No one in Israel, whether on the right or the left, thinks the status quo is desirable. But in the absence of any indication from the Palestinians—either the supposedly moderate Fatah led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals—that they are ready to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, Obama’s efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction and to pressure Israel to withdraw from the West Bank makes no sense. No Israeli government of any political party will repeat the mistake made in Gaza when Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlements. Another Palestinian terror state like the Hamasistan in Gaza is an invitation to carnage.

Goldberg accepts that such a withdrawal is a bad idea but then says Israel must do more to improve conditions on the West Bank. He’s right, but that is actually a position that Netanyahu has championed. He has urged the West to stop obsessing with a peace process that Palestinians don’t want and to concentrate instead on economic development.

Until the political culture of the Palestinians undergoes a sea change that will make peace possible, talk about what Israel must do is a waste of time. The overwhelming majority of Israelis who, unlike Obama and many American Jews, have paid attention to the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace understand this and are prepared to wait until then. Considering that the status quo has lasted for decades after we first heard arguments about it being unsustainable, it is not unreasonable to think that it can go on for a very long time indeed without Israel being obligated to endanger its security in order to avoid its continuation.

That’s a position that all friends of Israel, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, should be willing to accept even if it goes against our instinctive American belief that all differences can be split in a spirit of compromise that even moderate Palestinians still dreaming of Israel’s destruction don’t share. The only real choices facing Jews and other friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to give the president a pass for his destructive attitude toward the alliance because of his party affiliation or if they are so detached from a sense of Jewish peoplehood that they will tolerate the mainstreaming of anti-Israel attitudes that are growing dangerously close to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Any argument to the contrary is merely a partisan attempt by Obama apologists to change the subject.

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Obama’s Dangerous Race for an Iran Deal

With only two weeks to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration has been conducting what can only be considered a full-court press aimed at producing a deal before November 24. This is in marked contrast to the relaxed attitude toward the previous deadline for the talks that passed in June and was extended to the fall. It also seems to contradict the behavior of Washington’s European negotiating partners who seemed to be reconciling themselves to yet another extension in the familiar pattern of stalling that has always characterized Iran’s conduct of the negotiations. But though the latest talks in Oman ended without agreement, the flurry of diplomatic action raises the question of whether President Obama believes he needs to get a deal done now before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

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With only two weeks to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration has been conducting what can only be considered a full-court press aimed at producing a deal before November 24. This is in marked contrast to the relaxed attitude toward the previous deadline for the talks that passed in June and was extended to the fall. It also seems to contradict the behavior of Washington’s European negotiating partners who seemed to be reconciling themselves to yet another extension in the familiar pattern of stalling that has always characterized Iran’s conduct of the negotiations. But though the latest talks in Oman ended without agreement, the flurry of diplomatic action raises the question of whether President Obama believes he needs to get a deal done now before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

The end of the talks in Oman without an accord is likely not a sign that the deadline won’t be met. The Iranians are past masters of the art of wearing down their Western interlocutors. A year ago, the Iranians’ tough tactics resulted in Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to sign onto a deal that tacitly endorsed the Islamist regime’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure. Now they are similarly hammering Kerry in sessions where he continues to demand that Tehran accept what President Obama referred to yesterday as “verifiable lock-tight assurances that they can’t develop a nuclear weapon.” But since Iran has no intention of giving such assurances, they believe Kerry will, as he has before, decide that Western demands are just too difficult to achieve and accept far less in order to produce a deal.

But while the deadlines were originally sold to the U.S. public as evidence that the administration was serious about stopping Iran, the potential for a cutoff in the talks seems to be affecting Obama and Kerry far more than it is the Iranians. With sanctions already having been loosened and Europeans clamoring for an end to all restrictions on doing business with the regime, Tehran seems unmoved by the prospect of an end to the negotiations. By contrast, the administration seems genuinely fearful that November 24 will pass without diplomatic success.

Selling the U.S. public and Congress on yet another extension would be embarrassing but, given Obama’s success in squelching past criticisms of his Iran policy, would not be that much of a stretch. So long as he could pretend that the Iranians were negotiating in good faith, skeptics could be put down as warmongers who oppose diplomacy. But instead of slouching toward another round of seemingly endless negotiations, the Obama foreign-policy team is acting as if the deadline matters this time.

It is theoretically possible that this means the president intends to treat an Iranian refusal to sign as the signal for ratcheting up pressure on Tehran. Tightening rather than loosening of sanctions might recover some of the ground the president has lost in the last year. But few in Washington or anywhere else think this is likely. Years of on-and-off secret talks with the Iranians, including the recent revelations of the president’s correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, show that Obama’s goal centers more on détente with the regime, not halting its nuclear project.

That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the motivation for the diplomatic frenzy is not so much fear of having to get tough with Iran as it is fear that a Republican-controlled Congress will prevent the implementation of another weak deal. There’s little doubt that without outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid to help the president stall advocates of tougher sanctions, Congress will pass a new bill that will hold the administration and Tehran accountable. A deal that allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power—something that seems almost certain given the administration’s habit of accepting Tehran’s no’s as final and then moving on to the next concession—will set off a major battle in the Senate even if Obama does try to evade the constitutional requirement of submitting it to the Senate for a vote.

But the president’s fear of having to present such a dubious deal to the public seems to be inspiring him to present a weaker, not a tougher position to Iran. The Iranians know this and are standing their ground in the expectation that rather than walking away from the table, Obama will accept another bad deal in order to get it all done before McConnell is running the Senate.

But rather than treating this as a partisan matter, both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress should be alarmed at the prospect of the president holding a fire sale of vital American interests merely to avoid having to carry on his appeasement of Iran while being held accountable by a GOP-run Senate. No matter what terms the president presents to the public, there seems little chance that any of them can be enforced in the absence of more United Nations inspections of Iranian facilities, which are still being denied by the ayatollahs or an end to ongoing cheating on the interim agreement. Nor should either party be comforted by the idea that the president will be relying on the trustworthiness of his pen pal Khamenei at the same time the latter is tweeting out a steady barrage of anti-Semitic and genocidal threats toward Israel.

If there is anything more dangerous than a deliberate campaign of engagement with Iran, it is the current race to a deal that can’t be verified and won’t put an end to the regime’s nuclear ambitions. This should be a signal for responsible members of both parties that it is time to pass the tougher sanctions that Obama successfully defeated last winter.

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Khamenei’s Genocidal Ideology

Tom Wilson wrote earlier today on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s core hostility, and noted last week’s huge, state-sanctioned anti-America rally in Tehran. (I was fortunate to spend about seven months in Iran while I was working on my Ph.D. back in the 1990s, and so always try to differentiate between Iran and the Islamic Republic; Iranians tend to be more cosmopolitan and tolerant than then the regime which seeks to speak in their name). He was absolutely correct.

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Tom Wilson wrote earlier today on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s core hostility, and noted last week’s huge, state-sanctioned anti-America rally in Tehran. (I was fortunate to spend about seven months in Iran while I was working on my Ph.D. back in the 1990s, and so always try to differentiate between Iran and the Islamic Republic; Iranians tend to be more cosmopolitan and tolerant than then the regime which seeks to speak in their name). He was absolutely correct.

At the beginning of President Obama’s diplomatic outreach, when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei spoke about “heroic flexibility,” he was endorsing not a change in the Islamic Republic’s position, but rather just its tactics. At the same time, he was consciously utilizing a phrase with deep religious meaning for Shi‘ites: Imam Hassan spoke of his “heroic flexibility” in striking a deal with the Umayyad caliph Mu’awiya, a man whom Shi‘ites continue to curse to the present day, and whose dynasty the Shi‘ites continued to fight. The point is that what Obama and his advisors saw as a change-of-heart was anything but: As far as Khamenei is concerned, he remains the deputy of the messiah on earth, and the revolution he oversees continues in its endless quest to remake Iran and the world. Western officials might put their hope in the Green Movement, but they should never forget that in the Iranian system, sovereignty comes from God through the supreme leader, and does not rise from the people.

This brings us to the Islamic Republic’s hostility to Israel and Jews which is by no means limited to Khamenei. Former President Mohammad Khatami, often celebrated as a reformer in Western diplomatic circles, oversaw a resurgence of Holocaust denial inside Iran long before his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made an international incident out of such Holocaust revisionism. The past year has seen state-sponsored anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism move into overdrive as Iranian leaders concluded that President Obama’s hostility to the Jewish state translated into its isolation and vulnerability.

As we enter the last two weeks of talks before the self-imposed deadline to conclude a deal with Iran, it now seems that Khamenei is taking his hatred to a new level. Hence, on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, he tweeted a nine-step plan for the destruction of Israel. This, against the backdrop of current President Hassan Rouhani’s past endorsement of utilizing diplomacy as a means to lull America into complacency before delivering a knock-out blow, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s reports suggesting Iran was backtracking on its promise of transparency and nuclear accountability, should raise red flags.

It is also important to analyze with consistency rather than cherry-pick: If President Rouhani’s Rosh Hashanah tweet wishing Jews a happy New Year was a sign of real change in Iran, would not Khamenei’s tweet calling for Israel’s eradication be a sign that perhaps hope of such change was premature? After all, within the Islamic Republic’s system, Khamenei trumps Rouhani just as certainly as in poker, a royal flush trumps a pair of twos. Nor is timing a coincidence: If Rouhani timed his tweet for the Jewish New Year, why assume Khamenei’s timing of his tweet to coincide with the anniversary of one of Germany’s great pogroms was simply a coincidence?

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and their European counterparts are desperate for a deal with Iran. Perhaps they think that with enough concessions, they can achieve a deal that will return the Islamic Republic to the community of responsibilities. They are wrong. For as long as the Islamic Republic governs Iran, there will be no compromise on its ruling regime’s ideological obligation and efforts to destroy Israel by any and all means possible. Khamenei is simply providing a reminder to see if his new American or European partners will object. They will not. But what to Obama and Kerry is a diplomatic silence meant to keep their eyes on the diplomatic prize is for Khamenei a sign that he can get away with murder. Appeasing hatred is never the path to peace.

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How the Midterms Vindicated Both the Establishment and the Grassroots

On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

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On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

Surely the Times had such a story ready to go; it always has such a story ready to go. Perhaps the paper’s editors wanted to wait for the Sunday edition to really make a splash by republishing essentially the same story they write about four thousand times a year. In any event, there it was, the crystallization of the unthinking man’s midterms narrative: Republicans lose when they lose, and they lose when they win.

Such reporting has become more interesting since the Times embraced data journalism first with Nate Silver and now with its post-Silver Upshot blog. Since the Times’s reporting is usually heavy on wishful thinking and light on facts, the paper would be at risk of its data journalists undoing the narratives the Times’s political reporters and editors work so hard to establish. Such is the case with the Upshot’s latest, “G.O.P. Is Making Progress Toward Presidency but Is Still Playing Catch-Up.”

Not only does the piece debunk the notion that there is some fixed demographic state that will hold true from now on and lock Republicans out of the popular vote, but it also makes clear that there will only be a civil war on the right if Republicans foolishly invent one. In fact, the most notable takeaway from the Upshot piece is that in the battle over whether the colossal rout the Republicans achieved last week proved the “establishment” or the “Tea Party” (a term that has probably just about outlived its usefulness) right, the answer is: both.

First, the debunking of the Democrats’ exceedingly silly argument that they lost so badly simply because of non-presidential year turnout:

The Democratic losses were not simply because of low turnout. Republicans often made significant gains among rural, white voters. Some candidates made inroads among young and Hispanic voters, as well, according to exit polls and county and precinct-level results.

Precisely. Some of the Democrats’ woes had to do with lower-than-2012 turnout and some had to do with the fact that conservatives were expanding their coalition while liberals weren’t. I imagine conservatives wouldn’t mind if Democrats persist in their emphatic denial of reality, though even President Obama–who made a point of trying to delegitimize midterm voters in a typical bout of petulant foot stomping–seems to be coming around to the absurdity of the White House’s initial spin. (Though he is still not quite approaching reality.)

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn continues:

On Tuesday, Joni Ernst, now a Republican senator-elect, won a decisive nine-point victory. She swept much of traditionally Democratic eastern Iowa, where Democrats have long fared well with rural voters.

In Colorado, Cory Gardner, now a senator-elect, also made significant gains among rural white voters. He also outperformed past Republicans in traditionally Democratic, heavily Hispanic counties.

These gains suggest that demographic trends have not doomed Republicans to minority-party status, as some political analysts predicted. Those predictions hinged in part on the assumption that Democrats could fare no worse among white voters than Mr. Obama. That assumption ignored Mr. Obama’s strengths among white voters outside the South.

It’s important to note that the trends haven’t been completely reversed, either. Republicans aren’t doomed but neither are Democrats; indeed, Democrats still have a strong presidential-year coalition. The risk they run is in ignoring the plain fact that Republicans appear to be better capable of making inroads into that Democratic coalition than political prognosticators thought. And since the Democratic electoral coalition is sustained through identity politics and not ideas, if Republicans can negate those identity-politics appeals the Democrats would be in trouble.

But the other lesson here is that the establishment and the grassroots made a superb team in this year’s midterms. The ability of Ernst in Iowa and Gardner in Colorado, among others, to win competitive races in states Obama carried twice showed that the candidate mattered, as the establishment has been emphasizing, and that conservative ideas were winners even in blue states, as the grassroots have been insisting.

Ernst, in fact, was conservative enough to cause Super-Civil Centrist Norm Ornstein to have a breakdown on social media, calling Ernst a “lunatic.” But an important element in allowing those conservative ideas to be heard was the nominations of better candidates, the GOP’s efforts in media training those candidates, and in some cases ensuring the nominations of establishment-friendly candidates who would win quietly. As Chuck Todd accidentally admitted after the election, had one conservative candidate uttered a controversial remark, the press would have forced that remark into every single race throughout the country.

This is not to say the GOP was mistake-free. Indeed, the establishment clearly erred in not intervening to encourage Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas to retire–Roberts being an extremely dangerous play since his race turned out to be competitive. But it wasn’t about either the establishment or the grassroots being perfect, it was about not making the kinds of mistakes that change the narrative and toughen the terrain for other candidates around the country. That was a test they passed, and in doing so proved the attractiveness of conservatism even in places it was assumed to be unwelcome.

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The Hard Truths Obama Needs to Hear

“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

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“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

Except for the reference to Syria, this sounds like something that General George Casey would have said between 2004 and 2006 when he was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. In fact it is a comment made just last week by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of Central Command.

There is no doubt that Austin is right today, as Casey was once right, that Iraqi politics holds the solution to dealing with Iraqi problems. But what Casey didn’t grasp, as he steadfastly refused to ask for more troops, was that U.S. forces, if intelligently employed, could alter Iraqi politics in beneficial ways, whereas failure to send more forces would lead to greater chaos and increased polarization, making political progress impossible. In fact, the surge of 2007-2008, which Casey opposed, created a breakthrough that allowed Iraqi politics to begin functioning again.

That lesson applies today. As long as Iraq continues to be split between the forces of ISIS and the Quds Force, political progress will be impossible. But if the U.S. can foster greater progress in rolling back ISIS, the resulting sense of security could undermine the support that Iranian-backed militias have gained among Iraqi Shiites.

Such progress will not come about if the U.S. is standing on the lines, however. It will only happen if the U.S. does more to aid the creation of indigenous security forces–especially among the Sunni tribes–that can fight back effectively against ISIS. And that, in turn, is unlikely to happen when the Obama administration is willing to put no more than 3,000 troops on the ground and to prevent them from accompanying indigenous forces into combat where the American presence, however small, could be crucial to success. If the U.S. ramps up its involvement deploying, say, 15,000 advisers and Special Operations personnel and relaxes their rules of engagement, it will not only have a greater chance of achieving battlefield success against ISIS but also of boosting American influence to affect the Iraqi political process.

It is quite possible that the president will refuse to do more no matter what because he is politically and ideologically opposed to greater American involvement in Iraq or the Middle East more broadly. But as a first step it is important that the U.S. commander for the region–that would be Gen. Austin–speak bluntly and forthrightly to the president, telling him that the U.S. will never achieve his objective to “degrade and eventually defeat” ISIS unless it makes more of a commitment. Comments to the effect that it’s all on the Iraqis to make political progress–and that there is little we can do until then–don’t help.

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Obama Can’t Ignore Iran’s Hostility

The Obama administration had been telling us that it might be just weeks away from signing a deal with Iran regarding the regime’s illegal nuclear program. Yet we also have reports that Iran may have already breached the interim deal it signed by employing a faster means of uranium enrichment. Then came last week’s revelation from the Wall Street Journal of Obama’s clandestine letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei regarding the campaign against ISIS in Iraq. It is hard to believe that at a time when Iran’s brazen untrustworthiness is being put beyond doubt, the Obama administration is seeking to both reach an accommodation with Tehran on its nuclear program and to even pursue some kind of further military coordination. And all of this ignores the fact that the regime remains one of the most expressedly anti-American in the world.

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The Obama administration had been telling us that it might be just weeks away from signing a deal with Iran regarding the regime’s illegal nuclear program. Yet we also have reports that Iran may have already breached the interim deal it signed by employing a faster means of uranium enrichment. Then came last week’s revelation from the Wall Street Journal of Obama’s clandestine letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei regarding the campaign against ISIS in Iraq. It is hard to believe that at a time when Iran’s brazen untrustworthiness is being put beyond doubt, the Obama administration is seeking to both reach an accommodation with Tehran on its nuclear program and to even pursue some kind of further military coordination. And all of this ignores the fact that the regime remains one of the most expressedly anti-American in the world.

Jonathan Tobin has already pointed out the disingenuousness of Obama’s rhetoric on Iran as compared to the actual policy of detente that the White House has been pursuing. Equally, Michael Rubin has noted the folly of Obama’s overtures to the mullahs when Khamenei’s own rhetoric is so absurdly hostile to the United States. But, of course, Iran’s implicit hostility to America goes far beyond the statements of the supreme leader; the regime continues to engineer an entire culture of anti-American hate into which the Iranian public is indoctrinated. Michael Rubin drew readers’ attention to some of the fiercely anti-American statements made by Khamenei during the 2009 celebrations marking the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. But if we look to the same commemorations held just days ago, we see that the regime’s anti-American incitement has in fact only intensified.

Tuesday’s rally in Tehran marking the 35th anniversary of the storming of the embassy was reportedly far larger than in previous years, with some 3,000 in attendance burning the American, British, and Israeli flags, howling death to America at the top of their voices, as is customary. This year the anniversary had actually coincided with the Shia holy-day of Ashura, and so this presented the opportunity for similar such gatherings–also replete with anti-American placards and flag burning—to be held throughout several other Iranian cities.

It would of course be ridiculous to label these displays as the spontaneous outpourings that the regime would have us believe they are. In a society as tightly controlled as the one in Iran, no such public gatherings take place without the endorsement of the state. It is however true that the state-controlled media in the Islamic Republic provides the population with a stale diet of around-the-clock anti-American propaganda. Indeed, it was only back in February that Iranian television was broadcasting a simulation of attacks on U.S. military targets.

Still, given the incredibly delicate situation with the current negotiations, one might have assumed that the Iranians would have at least attempted to keep these demonstrations more low key. Yet, it is a sign of just how little respect the mullahs have for Obama—and how little they fear the United States—that far from playing down the 1979 embassy storming, in many ways they have been flaunting it. Earlier this year when it came time for Iran to select a new ambassador to the United Nations, Rouhani’s government chose none other than Hamid Aboutalebi, himself one of the former embassy hostage takers. This was a clear finger in the American eye and a sign of Iran’s completely unrepentant attitude over such past offenses.

The truth is that along with North Korea and Cuba, Iran remains one of the most profoundly anti-American countries in the world today. And yet the Obama administration appears poised to sign a treaty with the Islamic Republic. That is what an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program would be, although of course the White House will attempt to deny that the agreement is a treaty in an effort to avoid having to run it past Congress. No doubt Obama and Kerry are well aware that there are many there who will not share the administration’s enthusiasm for signing a treaty with a regime that is in every sense a fierce enemy of the United States. And yet having discarded all the other options, Obama seems to determined to push on and do just that.

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Obama’s Wrong: Iran’s Already Cheating

When he met with the press last Wednesday, President Obama gave a vote of confidence to his Iranian negotiating partners as having upheld their end of the interim nuclear deal they signed with the U.S. last year. But as much as the revelations about the president’s secret correspondence with Iran’s supreme leader that were published in the Wall Street Journal on Friday undermined the credibility of his promises about his willingness to get tough with the Islamist regime, it turns out that his assurances about Iranian compliance were also untrue. As Reuters reports, there is now good reason to believe that the Iranians have already violated the deal.

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When he met with the press last Wednesday, President Obama gave a vote of confidence to his Iranian negotiating partners as having upheld their end of the interim nuclear deal they signed with the U.S. last year. But as much as the revelations about the president’s secret correspondence with Iran’s supreme leader that were published in the Wall Street Journal on Friday undermined the credibility of his promises about his willingness to get tough with the Islamist regime, it turns out that his assurances about Iranian compliance were also untrue. As Reuters reports, there is now good reason to believe that the Iranians have already violated the deal.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, while U.S. diplomats have spent 2014 offering even more concessions to Iran, the ones Tehran pocketed last year are already worthless:

Western officials were not immediately available to comment on the allegation by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which closely tracks Iran’s nuclear program. There was no immediate comment from Tehran. ISIS, whose founder David Albright often briefs U.S. lawmakers and others on nuclear proliferation issues, cited a finding in a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iran. The confidential document, issued to IAEA member states on Friday, said that since the U.N. agency’s previous report in September, Iran had “intermittently” been feeding natural uranium gas into a single so-called IR-5 centrifuge at a research facility.

The IR-5 is one of several new models that Iran has been seeking to develop to replace the erratic, 1970s vintage IR-1 centrifuge that it now uses to produce refined uranium. Unlike other advanced models under development — IR-2m, IR-4 and IR-6 — at a research site at its Natanz enrichment plant, Iran had until now not fed the IR-5 with uranium gas.

“Iran may have violated (the interim accord) by starting to feed (natural uranium gas) into one of its advanced centrifuges, namely the IR-5 centrifuge,” ISIS said in an analysis.

This is significant for two reasons.

The first is that this piece of information uncovered by the IAEA shows that Iran is actively working to circumvent the already loose restrictions on uranium enrichment that were part of the interim deal. Even had Iran kept their word, it wouldn’t have taken much for the Iranians to reverse the measures that rendered their stockpile of nuclear fuel harmless. But if even the IAEA, whose efforts to monitor the Iranian nuclear program have been stymied by Iranian obstructionism, has been able to discover this deception, it’s clear the regime has been working all out to get around even the loose restrictions imposed by the interim deal.

It is true that, as Reuters also reports, advocates of appeasement of Iran are arguing that none of this constitutes a technical violation of the agreement. But their arguments sound like hair splitting. Whether or not Iran has introduced a new kind of centrifuge, it’s obvious that the effort noted by the IAEA is seeking a way around the rules and may well have already found it. The interim deal gave tacit recognition to an Iranian “right” to enrichment that had already been denied by an international consensus that realized Tehran’s goal was to build a nuclear weapon, not provide for their “peaceful energy needs.”

Just as important is that the Iranian effort to get around the interim deal explodes not only the president’s assurances but also calls into question the entire negotiating process. If the Islamist regime can violate the weak interim deal, which only sought ineffectively to freeze the dangerous nuclear program in place, how can anyone possibly expect a new and more far-reaching agreement to be credible, let alone adequately enforced?

We already know that the administration’s zeal for a deal caused it to discard the considerable economic and military leverage it had over Iran before the interim deal began the process of unraveling the international sanctions. Despite the president’s tough rhetoric, the Iranians believe his desire to create a new détente with their despotic, terror-sponsoring government—what Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes called the ObamaCare of the president’s second term—has put them in a strong negotiating position. That’s why they’ve spent this year demanding more concessions from the West without fear that the U.S. will call them to account on their violations or their stalling. They are confident that Obama’s lust for an agreement and pressure from Europe to end the concessions will obtain for them an even weaker nuclear deal or the time and leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition without even bothering to sign a deal.

The reaction from the administration and its apologists should confirm them in this belief. But the news about the violation should give Congress even more reason to pass tougher sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran. Iran’s cheating strengthens an already strong case for more sanctions, not more concessions from Obama.

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Obama’s Insufficient Small Steps On ISIS

President Obama is slowly moving in the right direction in Iraq. Sort of. On Friday afternoon–love that timing: normally used to bury announcements that the administration would like to see ignored–came word that he would authorize the dispatch of another 1,500 troops to Iraq in addition to the 1,400 already there. These troops will apparently be allowed to go beyond Baghdad and Erbil but still will not be allowed to go into combat.

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President Obama is slowly moving in the right direction in Iraq. Sort of. On Friday afternoon–love that timing: normally used to bury announcements that the administration would like to see ignored–came word that he would authorize the dispatch of another 1,500 troops to Iraq in addition to the 1,400 already there. These troops will apparently be allowed to go beyond Baghdad and Erbil but still will not be allowed to go into combat.

That’s a step in the right direction but only a small step. Most credible estimates suggest that he will need to dispatch at least 15,000 personnel and that they need to be given the freedom to accompany indigenous units into battle so as to improve their combat capability and more accurately call in air strikes. Moreover US troops need to be sent to make direct contact with Sunni tribes in Anbar Province instead of working exclusively through Iraqi Security Forces that are compromised by Iranian infiltration. Obama also needs to order an increase in the bombing campaign which so far has been desultory and far short of the kind of sustained air campaigns the U.S. waged in Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2001).

And that is to say nothing of Syria where current plans call for training all of 1,500 Free Syrian Army soldiers next year–a ludicrously small number given that ISIS alone is estimated to have some 30,000 fighters and the Nusra Front and the Assad regime have substantial forces of their own. But then it’s increasingly obvious that Obama has no intention of going after Assad–as he reassured Ayatollah Khameini in a letter proposing an Iran-US alliance against ISIS. That kind of talk, aside from raising hackles in Tehran, scares the willies out of Sunnis and makes it much more difficult to sign them up for an anti-ISIS alliance.

As usual Obama is a puzzling study in half-measures and equivocation. Remember when he ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan but sent fewer troops than needed and saddled them with an 18-month deadline that severely hampered their effectiveness? If he were going to take ownership of the Afghanistan War, Obama would have been well advised to do it right–to send enough forces to make victory likely. But that’s not what he did, apparently for fear of offending his electoral base–as if his hard-core voters would have bolted if he had sent 150,000 rather than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan. The same impulse, alas, is visible today in Syria and Iraq where Obama continues to do just enough to say he is doing something–but not enough to win.

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Lessons on Iran from the Fall of the Berlin Wall

This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I grew up against the backdrop of the Cold War. Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet premier for the first decade of my life. His 1982 funeral was represented the dour pageantry of the Soviet Union to which we had become accustomed. I was in the sixth grade when a Soviet pilot shot down Korean Air 007. In hindsight we learned that it was perhaps the closest the United States and Soviet Union had come to nuclear war in my lifetime. And, as a voracious reader, I grew up reading Cold War thrillers such as Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, On the Beach, and later The Charm School, and I also remember the debates in school about whether or not it was appropriate for kids my age to see The Day After when it first appeared on television. Walking around Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up, many buildings still housed these signs which somewhere along the years thankfully disappeared.

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This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I grew up against the backdrop of the Cold War. Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet premier for the first decade of my life. His 1982 funeral was represented the dour pageantry of the Soviet Union to which we had become accustomed. I was in the sixth grade when a Soviet pilot shot down Korean Air 007. In hindsight we learned that it was perhaps the closest the United States and Soviet Union had come to nuclear war in my lifetime. And, as a voracious reader, I grew up reading Cold War thrillers such as Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, On the Beach, and later The Charm School, and I also remember the debates in school about whether or not it was appropriate for kids my age to see The Day After when it first appeared on television. Walking around Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up, many buildings still housed these signs which somewhere along the years thankfully disappeared.

When I had my bar mitzvah back in 1984, like many of my peers, I was “twinned” with a Soviet Jew my age and encouraged to write to him. I quickly received a note back asking me not to write anymore because his family feared for their safety. Teachers and peers, meanwhile, would regularly go and protest Ronald Reagan’s “warmongering” and military build-up in Western Europe. Against the backdrop of all this, there were many who downplayed the importance of freedom even as it was denied to so many. The Soviet Union would be a permanent fixture of our world and that we just had to bargain with what was there rather than what we’d like to see. Cuba might be a dictatorship, but couldn’t we just applaud its health-care system? Maybe the United States was at fault in Nicaragua and the people truly wanted to be in the Communist orbit.

Then Berlin happened. It was my senior year in high school, and what a heady time it was, coming just months after the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Despite what diplomats, teachers, professors, and news anchors told us, perhaps people really did want to be free. It’s hard to argue with hundreds of thousands clamoring to escape the prison in which their leaders had put them. Whereas many so-called sophisticated Americans had mocked Ronald Reagan for his “evil empire” remarks, those escaping from Soviet tutelage described his moral clarity as a shot of adrenalin to those seeking freedom and individual liberty.

How unfortunate it is, then, that history must repeat, that somehow those in power and those entrusted with American diplomacy have come to once again embrace moral equivalency and shirk moral clarity. We need look no further than Iran. Whereas many U.S. presidents have reached their hand out to the Iranian people, President Obama was the first to substitute a direct outreach to Iranians with instead the legitimization of the Islamic Republic, the regime which so oppresses them.

Part of this might be ignorance of his advisors. When one looks at the histories and explanations of the Islamic Revolution published in English, so many of these were commissioned against the backdrop of revolution by publishers who wanted an answer to how so many in the West were taken by surprise by the Islamic Revolution. The most popular of the resulting books—and those still used in universities—for example, Nikki Keddie’s Roots of Revolution and Ervand Abrahamian’s Iran Between Two Revolutions, treated the Islamic Revolution as the natural apex of Iranian political evolution. It might not have looked it at the time, but such a conclusion was nonsense. The Islamic Revolution was just as much an anomaly, one made possible by a confluence of events ranging from the shah’s cancer, Carter’s bungling, Khomeini’s exile from Iraq, and pure dumb luck on Khomeini’s part. It does a tremendous disservice to the Iranian people to treat the theocracy and regime imposed upon them by Ayatollah Khomeini as a permanent part of the Iranian political landscape.

The outreach Obama initiated led the president to downplay rather than offer moral support to the 2009 uprising inside Iran. Then, in order to grease his outreach, he offered Iran more than $7 billion in sanctions relief at a time when, thanks in part to sanctions, Iran’s economy was fast contracting. And that was even before the price of oil dropped precipitously, well below the level necessary to support the budget which Iranian leaders calculated.

Ronald Reagan ended the Soviet Union by forcing it to bankrupt itself. Obama was offered the same opportunity with a state just as hostile to the United States and chose to throw it a life raft. As we near a quarter century from the Berlin Wall’s fall, we should not kid ourselves by believing that it is somehow sophisticated diplomacy to preserve our adversaries or downplay the aspirations for freedom which peoples chafing under dictatorship hold. It is a lesson Obama and Kerry should consider as they work to cement their legacy on the backs of ordinary Iranians.

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After the GOP Wave

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

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Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

1. The majority of Republicans have reacted to their victories in an impressive fashion. Their rhetoric is restrained, serious, and mature. They know that while they did extremely well in races at every level, they still have a ways to go to earn the trust and loyalty of most Americans (that’s more true of congressional Republicans than those who are governors). Republicans in the Senate and House are signaling a willingness to work with the president if he’s willing to show some flexibility. (The president’s apparent commitment to go forward with an unconstitutional executive amnesty order will be all the evidence we need that Mr. Obama is determined to further polarize our politics and rip apart our political culture.) Speaker Boehner and the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have already put forward their to-do list; so have others. There’s evidence that Republicans–most of them, anyway–have internalized the need to show they’re more serious about putting forward a governing agenda and solving problems facing middle class Americans than “telegenic confrontations” and “volcanic effusions.”  The GOP’s detoxification effort is well under way.

2. What ought to encourage Republicans isn’t simply that their ranks have swollen, but the quality of many of the new arrivals, from Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse in the Senate to Elise Stefanik and Barbara Comstock in the House to many others. The GOP does best when it’s seen as the home of individuals with conservative principles and a governing temperament. A winsome personality doesn’t hurt, either.

3. The GOP’s victory was the result of many things, from President Obama’s unpopularity and the awful political environment Democrats faced to the superior quality of the Republican candidates, their disciplined, gaffe-free campaigns, successful fundraising, and the select intervention by various groups into Republican primaries (ensuring that the most electable conservative was nominated). But not to be overlooked is that Republicans did a much better job than in the past with their Get Out The Vote effort, including turnout of low-propensity voters. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it:

A review of the RNC’s targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.

A few Democrats saw this coming. “Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. “Their electorate doesn’t look like ours, so we don’t recognize or respect what they’re doing.”

4. The most surprising outcome of the evening may have been how well Republicans did in governor’s races around the nation. They were predicted to lose several seats; instead, they made a net gain of three. Among the most impressive was Ohio’s John Kasich, who won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key purple state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. Mr. Kasich has amassed an impressive record as governor–and a popular one, too. He’s one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. If he wants to run for president in 2016, he certainly helped his cause on Tuesday.

5. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to be buoyed. They have very impressive people, including people in their ’30s and ’40s, at every level. Of the two parties, the GOP seems to be the one of greater energy and ideas. The Democratic Party, and liberalism more broadly, seems stale, aging, and exhausted. And of course the GOP has now strung together massive, back-to-back midterm wins. But it’s still worth keeping in mind that Republicans had spectacular showings in 1994 and 2010–and they were defeated by rather large margins in the presidential races two years after those wins. The danger is that a victory like the one Republicans experienced on Tuesday creates a false dawn, a sense of false confidence. Winning midterms elections is important; but midterm elections are different than presidential elections. The GOP still has repair work to do and things to build on. But progress is being made–and the results of this week’s election are the best evidence of that fact.

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Harry Reid Throws Himself a Pity Party

In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

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In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

Woodward describes Krone’s reaction:

“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”

Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.

On the ride back to the Capitol, Reid made it clear Krone did exactly what Reid wanted him to: “You stood up to him,” Reid said. “He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him.”

So goes Reid’s relationship with Obama. They absolutely can’t stand each other. And all that makes what is happening in the wake of the Democrats’ 2014 midterms shellacking seem both shocking and also inevitable. Reid is publicly blaming Obama for the Democrats’ woes, and using Krone to do it. This time, however, he’s escalated the Democratic civil war. He’s authorized Krone to slap Obama around on the record, a rarity.

In Robert Costa and Philip Rucker’s excellent wrap-up story on the midterms, they recounted how two days before the elections, “Krone sat at a mahogany conference table in the majority leader’s stately suite just off the Senate floor and shared with Washington Post reporters his notes of White House meetings. Reid’s top aide wanted to show just how difficult he thought it had been to work with the White House.”

Reid’s office was pre-spinning the expected loss of the Senate by going on record with the Post to blame Obama before anyone had a chance to say otherwise. And what was he saying? That the Obama White House wasn’t getting Democrats the money they could and should have to help fend off the Republicans charging up the hill. It was not, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of money, and the disagreement seemed highly technical. But that’s not how Reid saw it. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Krone–the top staffer to the outgoing Senate majority leader–thinks the Obama White House’s indifference and incompetence is costing the party. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum pushes back on this and on the other prominent complaints about Obama from Senate Democrats:

Apparently David Krone is such an unbelievable [a**hole] that he actively decided to vent all his bitterness and bile to a couple of reporters solely to demonstrate just how hard poor David Krone’s job had been during this election season. He even made sure to bring along his notes to make sure he didn’t forget any of his grievances. As an example of preemptive CYA, this is unequaled in recent memory.

Obama certainly was a drag on his party. But Reid’s behavior here is childish to the point of absurdity for one reason. Reid is in a far better position, post-midterms, than the Democrats representing their party in the rest of the federal government. The Republicans are going to end up, in all likelihood, with 54 seats in the Senate. And yet in 2016, they will be defending 24 seats while the Democrats will be defending 10. Further, as Roll Call explains, “only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than half a dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.”

The Democrats are by no means guaranteed to take back the Senate–far from it. But the terrain is friendly enough to them in 2016 that it’s a real possibility, especially since they’ll have higher presidential-year turnout. If the election at the top of the ticket goes well for them, the Democrats might very well earn back the majority (if they win the presidency they’ll need only 50, not 51 seats to do so) just two years after losing it.

Compare that to the House, where Republicans continue to have a favorable landscape and have expanded their majority to its largest in more than 80 years. And for the White House, the news doesn’t get any better. Obama was repudiated resoundingly by the voters, and his legacy will be one of taking a wrecking ball to his party’s electoral coalition such that the Republicans control not only the House and Senate but governorships in blue states and a majority of state legislatures. Obama, unlike Reid, has no “next election” to brush off the narrative of failure. This was his last election, and he was on the wrong end of a landslide.

So Reid isn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic loser here, even putting aside the fact that Democrats are now discovering what Republicans have long known: Reid is a toxic person devoid of integrity. Unless Obama has truly checked out, the White House is guaranteed to respond, ensuring the country will finally answer the question: How low can Harry Reid go?

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Desperation Not a Good Negotiating Position

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

Kerry’s meeting comes against the backdrop of an extraordinary interview he gave to the press from Paris:

“I want to get this done,” Kerry said during a series of meetings in which the Iranian negotiations figured prominently. “And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done.” Kerry said Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program for civilian, not military, use. “They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb,” Kerry said. “We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful.”

The Iranians have a right to a peaceful program? Well, the Islamic Republic’s politicians have made that their mantra. But then, they conducted nuclear-weapons research at least until 2003, and stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, in 2005, found Iran formally in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. This, in turn, led to the United Nations Security Council taking up the Iran file, and in turn this led to at least six UN Security Council Resolutions which found that Iran did not have a right to a peaceful program given its previous violations.

It’s all well and good for Iranian negotiators to talk about the rights bestowed by the NPT, but they fail to acknowledge their violations voided those rights. For many activists and diplomats, the talks are a fiction meant to preserve the NPT rather than the means to resolve the nuclear impasse. In this, the world sees the same nod and wink that it saw in the lead-up to the Agreed Framework with North Korea two decades ago. That Iranian negotiators hold North Korea up as a model to emulate should set off alarm bells.

Back to Kerry: He is absolutely wrong to suggest that Iran has any right to a peaceful program. The only reason why he might utter such a mantra is because he and the administration he serves have become so unilateral that they are prepared to waive not only American sanctions but several unanimous or near-unanimous Security Council resolutions.

That he believes Iran’s program is peaceful beggars belief, for it ignores that peaceful programs are not built under mountains or in secret. It ignores that if Iran’s goal is indigenous energy security, the Islamic Republic doesn’t possess enough uranium to fuel eight civilian reactors for more than 15 years. And it ignores that if Iran’s goal was merely energy security, it could have rebuilt its refinery capability and pipeline network to power itself for more than a century at a fraction of its nuclear investment. It ignores the fact that the nuclear fatwa which Obama found so convincing apparently does not exist. Nor does he pay attention to President Rouhani’s history of deception and statements which suggest extreme insincerity.

Kerry is right that there is no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. There was, indeed, no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement with the IAEA in 2005, or with the international community upon receiving its first sanction. All Iran had to do was come clean about its past and comply with its international commitments.

The fact of the matter is that the more Obama and Kerry project desperation for a deal—and Kerry’s statement with regard to November 24 reflects that desperation—the more likely it is that Iran will retrench itself, as Supreme Leader Khamenei recently did with his declaration of redlines.

Let us hope that Kerry remembers that the purpose of the Iran talks was to address issues of Iran’s dishonesty and non-compliance with its agreements, not to paper over them. Just as with North Korea, a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all. Securing a legacy for Obama or being the center of international attention for a day or two is not worth the price to U.S. national security.

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Is Another “Awakening” Needed in Iraq?

If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

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If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

The international airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has clearly played a role in slowing the Sunni Muslim group’s advance. But analysts say other factors are having a major effect, including unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, pushback from overrun communities, damage to the group’s financial base in Syria and slight improvements by ground forces in Iraq.

There is something to this analysis, but not too much. Mainly what Hubbard is reporting on is the obvious fact that ISIS, as a Sunni jihadist group, can only take root in Sunni-majority areas. It is running out of new Sunni areas to conquer in Iraq largely because it has already taken control of most of the Sunni Triangle stretching from Fallujah to Mosul. That’s hardly great news, insofar as ISIS’s control over an area the size of the United Kingdom appears as strong as ever.

True, there are some signs of tribal revolts against ISIS, for example among the Jubouri tribe in Iraq, but ISIS is able to crush them with its typical ferocity. Meanwhile even the addition of Kurdish pesh merga fighters has not ended the ISIS offensive on Kobani, and while there are some slight improvements visible among anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, there is general acknowledgement that it will be a long time before Mosul or Fallujah can be liberated. To make matters worse, a lot of whatever success there has been in stalling ISIS’s momentum in Iraq comes from the actions of bloodthirsty, Iranian-backed militias under the direction of the Quds Force. Their growing power ensures that more Sunnis will continue to rally to ISIS for protection.

In many ways the situation feels, as the perspicacious Iraq analyst Joel Rayburn, a U.S. army colonel, has pointed out, like the dark days of 2005-2006 when there were scattered tribal revolts against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS predecessor, that AQI was able to “defeat brutally in detail.” The only way to defeat ISIS is by catalyzing a larger Awakening-style tribal uprising among the Sunnis. But that will require more direct American military intervention in Iraq and Syria than President Obama has been willing to countenance.

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Dems May Regret Obama’s Immigration Orders

President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

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President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

Though immigration reform advocates have been begging him to use the power of the presidency to bypass Congress on this issue for years, the president didn’t promise to do so until this past June when he spoke of issuing the orders by the end of the summer. But embattled red-state Democrats begged him to hold off at least until the election so as to avoid their being tainted by a decision that would have enraged voters. Seeking to help politicians who were his supporters even if they avoided the unpopular president like the plague during the campaign, Obama complied.

This was a mistake since the postponement enraged Hispanics who rightly felt they had been stiffed once again by a president who had chosen not to act on immigration in his first two years in office when Democratic majorities would have given him anything he asked for. This led to a distinct lack of Hispanic enthusiasm for congressional Democrats that helped sink candidates like Senator Mark Udall in Colorado. But far from quieting concerns from the rest of the public, the threat that the president would trash the rule of law in this manner as soon as voters were presumably no longer paying attention only helped generate more support for Democrats. In the end, the president got the worst of both worlds by stalling on amnesty.

But now that the election is over, there really is no political reason to delay further. If Democrats were holding onto the hope that the Louisiana runoff election for Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat could help them retain a majority in the Senate, the president might still be dithering on the issue. But with the Republicans already holding 52 seats after the dust settled on Tuesday (with one more to come from Alaska once those results are finalized), Landrieu’s survival is irrelevant to control of Congress. The president is unlikely to postpone the move to help Landrieu, whose uphill battle in the runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy seems like a hopeless cause. Indeed, it is so hopeless that despite the lack of any other races in which to invest at the moment, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pulled the plug on nearly $2 million in television ad buys for her reelection effort.

Thus, the president did not shy away yesterday from making the case for his impending actions even though both Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner warned him that he was going to “poison the well” of bipartisan cooperation even before such efforts began. In doing so, he returned to his familiar theme in which he said the reason he had to act was Congress’s failure to pass its own immigration reform bill.

This is a theory of democratic governance that defies both logic and the Constitution. The president may regret the failure of the House to pass a bipartisan reform bill that made it through the Senate. But that unwillingness to put that measure into law provides no legal or moral authority for the president to attempt to put one aspect of that bill into law unilaterally. Whether it is wise or not, Congress is under no obligation to pass legislation that it does not support even if that is the president’s wish.

There are reasonable arguments to be made on behalf of a reform of a broken immigration system as well as for doing something to bring the estimated 12 million illegals already in the country under the umbrella of the law. But what the president is planning to do isn’t reform. Nor will it fix the system. If anything, the spectacle of millions of people here in violation of the law being granted permission to stay without benefit of a vote in Congress will only encourage more illegal immigration, much as the president’s past advocacy of such measures helped create the surge of illegals at the border this past summer. The long-term result will only be to render hopes of controlling the border even more illusory.

Will the executive orders recapture Hispanic enthusiasm for the Democrats? Maybe. The assumption is that Republican opposition to amnesty will ensure that Hispanics vote for the Democrats for generations to come. But Hispanics already support the Democrats for a variety of reasons. And with two years to go until the next time the voters go to the polls in a federal election it is just as possible that many will not soon forget the cynical manner in which they were manipulated this year. But let’s assume that the Democratic stranglehold on the Hispanic vote is further strengthened by the president’s decision. What Democrats need to understand is that merely playing to their base and ignoring the rest of the voters can sometimes do as much harm to their cause as it does good.

What happened this year should have made the president and his supporters understand that the spectacle of a porous border undermines support for immigration measures. At this point, even conservatives who supported the Senate bill now realize that their House colleagues may have been right when they insisted that the border had to be secured before anything could be done to deal with the status of those already here illegally. While something needs to be done to fix the system, the border surge made a comprehensive approach politically impossible.

But for the president to now defy both public opinion and the will of Congress by acting on his own will do more than embitter his Republican antagonists. Though it will mollify one part of his coalition, rather than putting the issue to bed this end run around the law will create even more anger in the political grass roots around the country that will ensure that this issue will still be red hot in 2016. As they should have learned this year, it takes more than an energized base of minorities to win elections. Amnesty for the current crop of illegals will bring us more border surges and more damage to the rule of law. Obama may be content with that being part of his legacy, but it will be his fellow Democrats who will still be stuck trying to explain a move that can’t be defended when they go back to the voters in the future.

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