Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

The Gaza War Has Changed the Way the World Talks About Hamas

Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

I wrote last week of the Netanyahu government’s informal proposal for a sort of “economic peace” for Gaza in return for its demilitarization. Despite its record of success, economic peace has never really been embraced by the international community–and when Netanyahu proposes it, it’s usually met with anger and derision. But not this time. This time Hamas seems to have overplayed its hand.

It’s possible that this is Hamas being a victim of its own morbid “success” with regard to the propaganda war. That is, maybe the international community is so torn up by the violence in Gaza that they want more than ever to prevent its recurrence. And no matter how often they try to blame Israel, they seem to understand that there’s only one way to prevent future bloodshed: demilitarize, at least to a significant degree, the Gaza Strip.

Take, for example, the Obama administration. While President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and their staffers and advisors have been intent on criticizing Israel in public and in harsh terms, the president’s loyal defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, reportedly spoke as though he took the need to disarm Hamas for granted last week. And it’s even more significant to hear of European leaders joining that bandwagon. As Foreign Policy reported last night:

Major European powers have outlined a detailed plan for a European-backed U.N. mission to monitor the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of Hamas’s military tunnel network and rocket arsenals, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Foreign Policy.

The European initiative aims to reinforce wide-ranging cease-fire talks underway in Cairo. The Europeans are hoping to take advantage of this week’s 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire to cobble a more durable plan addressing underlying issues that could reignite violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

It remains unclear whether the European plan has the support of Hamas, Israel, or the United States. It does, however, include several elements the Obama administration believes are essential, including the need to ease Gazans’ plight, strengthen the role of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

The plan — described in a so-called non-paper titled “Gaza: Supporting a Sustainable Ceasefire” — envisions the creation of a U.N.-mandated “monitoring and verification” mission, possibly drawing peacekeepers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which has monitored a series of Israeli-Arab truces in the region since the late 1940s. The mission “should cover military and security aspects, such as the dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Israel, and the lifting of restrictions on movement and access,” according to the document. “It could have a role in monitoring imports of construction and dual use materials allowed in the Gaza Strip, and the re-introduction of the Palestinian Authority.”

The plan’s existence is in many ways more important than its details, for it shows Europe to be embracing Netanyahu’s idea for an economic peace for Gaza. Removing the import and export restrictions (or most of them) in return for real demilitarization would be an obvious win for everyone–except Hamas. In fact, it would give a major boost to the peace process overall, because it would discredit armed “resistance” as an effective method to win Palestinians their autonomy.

It would be quite a turnaround if Gaza somehow became the prime example of peaceful state building with the international community’s help. It’s also not an easy task, to say the least. But the fact that even Europe is on board, and expects to get the UN to agree to such a plan, shows that the principle of disarming Hamas and demilitarizing the Gaza Strip has gone mainstream.

Whether it happens is another question, of course, and no one should get their hopes up, especially while Hamas is breaking even temporary ceasefires. Additionally, the UN’s record in policing such zones of conflict, especially in the Middle East, is not cause for optimism. But talk of Hamas “winning” this war is made all the more ridiculous when the topic of conversation in the capitals of the Middle East and throughout the West is how to permanently disarm Hamas and dismantle any infrastructure they can use against Israel.

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Action Against ISIS Still Needs a Strategy

The hardest thing for anyone to do–including a president of the United States–is to admit that he was wrong. Yet that is just what President Obama is doing, at least implicitly, by sending U.S. aircraft back into action in Iraq. He is sotto voce admitting that he was wrong to pull U.S. troops out in the first place. He deserves credit for acting now even if his actions make a mockery of the claims he made, in justifying the pullout of U.S. forces in 2011, about how supposedly stable Iraq had become.

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The hardest thing for anyone to do–including a president of the United States–is to admit that he was wrong. Yet that is just what President Obama is doing, at least implicitly, by sending U.S. aircraft back into action in Iraq. He is sotto voce admitting that he was wrong to pull U.S. troops out in the first place. He deserves credit for acting now even if his actions make a mockery of the claims he made, in justifying the pullout of U.S. forces in 2011, about how supposedly stable Iraq had become.

And his actions provide much-needed relief for the besieged Yazidis who were in danger of dying under siege from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as well as for the Kurdish peshmerga which were reeling under ISIS assaults.

But Obama’s directives raise more questions than they answer. One obvious question is why the humanitarian imperative in Iraq is compelling enough to justify American military action but not in Syria, where at least 170,000 people have been killed since 2011 and where ISIS is just as oppressive and threatening as it is in Iraq? One suspects that the answer is that it is easier to drop food and water to 40,000 Yazidis stuck on one mountaintop than it is to alleviate the more monumental scale of suffering in Syria. Yet how can we justify turning our backs of the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, which is so much worse?

Even in Iraq the Yazidis are hardly the only victims of ISIS. This group of fundamentalist savages is terrorizing all of northern and western Iraq, and while minorities such as the Yazidis and Christians are its targets so are Shiites and Kurds. Even Sunnis are being oppressed and murdered. Indeed all of northern Iraq could be in grave danger if ISIS were to blow the Mosul Dam, which it has just captured. Don’t Iraqis other than Yazidis deserve some relief from this monstrous threat too?

It is still unclear how far Obama is willing to go in fighting back against ISIS. He drew an implicit red line by suggesting, in essence, that the U.S. would not allow ISIS to take Erbil or Baghdad–a red line that, one hopes, he will do more to enforce than previous red lines in Syria. And today two US Navy F-18s did bomb an ISIS position near Erbil, which suggests that Obama’s words are not entirely empty. But what is the logic of telling ISIS to stay out of Erbil and Baghdad but implicitly allowing it to consolidate its hold on western and northern Iraq and eastern and northern Syria? Is the president basically saying that the U.S. is OK with a terrorist state as it now exists as long as it does not expand any further? Surely that is not the message the White House wants to send, yet it is the message that, I fear, is being received in the Middle East.

What is needed now is more than a few symbolic air strikes or food drops. What is needed is a strategy to roll back ISIS. In congressional testimony on July 29, I offered a few thoughts about what such a strategy should look like. I suggested that we need to send many more advisers and Special Operations Forces to Iraq, backed up by airpower, to aid not only the Iraqi security forces but also the Kurdish peshmerga and the Sunni tribes to fight back against ISIS–and that we should also step up our aid to the Free Syrian Army to put pressure on ISIS on the other side of the border. It is possible that the events of this week are a small step in this direction, but it is also quite possible, even likely, that President Obama will not go nearly as far.

The danger in what he is doing now is that a few symbolic air strikes could actually bolster ISIS’s standing in the Muslim world as a fighter against the Great Satan without doing it serious damage. In for a penny, in for a pound: If we’re going to attack ISIS, let’s do it right. Let’s do it as part of a comprehensive, adequately sourced strategy that has a decent chance of breaking the group’s grip.

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Obama’s Love–Hate Relationship with Retrenchment

Does the Obama administration actually want to step back from world affairs, or does it want to control them more than ever but through obedient proxies? Until recently, the answer seemed to be closer to the former. Obama himself is noticeably uncomfortable on foreign affairs, often displaying his lack of interest in filling the gaps in his knowledge. But perhaps there’s a degree of control the president is unwilling to give up after all.

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Does the Obama administration actually want to step back from world affairs, or does it want to control them more than ever but through obedient proxies? Until recently, the answer seemed to be closer to the former. Obama himself is noticeably uncomfortable on foreign affairs, often displaying his lack of interest in filling the gaps in his knowledge. But perhaps there’s a degree of control the president is unwilling to give up after all.

Israel has always been the exception to Obama’s approach to the world. He has long denounced American meddling, though he tried in his first term (rather transparently) to collapse Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition and force a change in Jerusalem. When it comes to American retrenchment, then, Israel seems to be an exception to the rule yet again.

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the development of the Israel-Egypt relationship since the coup that replaced the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi with General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Here is some key background:

At first, Israeli intelligence officials said they didn’t know what to make of Mr. Sisi, a devout Muslim who in previous posts treated his Israeli counterparts coldly, a senior Israeli official said. As Mr. Sisi moved to take control of the government, Israeli intelligence analysts pored over his public statements, writings and private musings, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

The Israeli intelligence community’s conclusion: Mr. Sisi genuinely believed that he was on a “mission from God” to save the Egyptian state, the senior Israeli official said.

Moreover, as an Egyptian nationalist, he saw Mr. Morsi’s Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, as threats to the state that needed to be suppressed with a heavy hand, the Israeli official said.

Israeli intelligence analysts interpreted Mr. Sisi’s comments about keeping the peace with Israel and ridding Egypt of Islamists as a “personal realization that we—Israel—were on his side,” the Israeli official said.

Here’s how Hamas in Gaza viewed the change:

Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.

“One day we had been sitting having great conversations with Morsi and his government and then suddenly, the door was shut,” Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview last month.

And here’s the most important point of all, on the war in Gaza:

U.S. officials, who tried to intervene in the initial days after the conflict broke out on July 8 to try to find a negotiated solution, soon realized that Mr. Netanyahu’s office wanted to run the show with Egypt and to keep the Americans at a distance, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials.

The Americans, in turn, felt betrayed by what they saw as a series of “mean spirited” leaks, which they interpreted as a message from Mr. Netanyahu that U.S. involvement was neither welcomed nor needed.

Reflecting Egypt’s importance, Mr. Gilad and other officials took Mr. Sisi’s “temperature” every day during the war to make sure he was comfortable with the military operation as it intensified. Israeli officials knew television pictures of dead Palestinians would at some point bring Cairo to urge Israel to stop.

The Americans felt betrayed, and were clearly frustrated–as other accounts have explained in detail–by their lack of control. Walter Russell Mead calls it an “irony” that the administration wanted to have some way to step back from the world, especially the Middle East, without having it all go to hell, and yet when that opportunity arose they didn’t know what to make of it.

I think Mead is being overly generous. Obama and is advisers were more than surprised; they were resentful to such a degree that it was reflected in their public statements. But they can’t have it both ways. Obama can’t pull back from the world and put more of the burden on our allies to pick up the slack and then complain when those allies think for themselves instead of applying Obama’s magical thinking to serious conflicts.

The real irony is that all this brought Israel and the Arab states much closer together–a perennial goal of American foreign policy–only to make Obama complain they were ganging up on him. It was the one possible success in Obama’s rebalancing efforts, yet it’s the one that really bothers him.

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R2P Is MIA for the Besieged Yezidis of Iraq

Once upon a time–and not so long ago–President Obama and senior members of his administration openly embraced the idea of “R2P” or “responsibility to protect.” This meant that the U.S. and other civilized nations have a responsibility to do something when genocide or other terrible crimes are occurring in other people’s countries.

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Once upon a time–and not so long ago–President Obama and senior members of his administration openly embraced the idea of “R2P” or “responsibility to protect.” This meant that the U.S. and other civilized nations have a responsibility to do something when genocide or other terrible crimes are occurring in other people’s countries.

Susan Rice, now the national security adviser, then the UN ambassador, gave an impassioned address in 2009 in which she said: “The Responsibility to Protect—or, as it has come to be known, R2P—represents an important step forward in the long historical struggle to save lives and guard the wellbeing of people endangered by conflict.” This principle formed an important justification for the U.S. intervention along with NATO allies in Libya in 2011 to prevent Muammar Gaddafi from slaughtering opponents of his regime. In 2012 Obama even created an Atrocities Prevention Board to carry out this humanitarian doctrine.

But in practice R2P has been MIA in this White House. Since 2011 more than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria–one ongoing atrocity after another–and the result has been a shrug from the White House which seems more concerned with stopping Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists. Now there is an even more urgent example of precisely the kind of atrocity that should motivate the U.S. and other powers into action. I am referring to the plight of the Yazidis–members of a small religious minority rooted in Zoroastrianism–who have been in the gunsights of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as its black-clad fighters have rolled over northern Iraq.

Last week ISIS took the Iraqi town of Sinjar, forcing tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee for their lives. Many took refuge on Mount Sinjar where they have been meeting an appalling fate–devoid of food and water, they are slowly dying yet are afraid to come down from the mountain for fear that they will be slaughtered by ISIS if they do so. As many as 40,000 people remain trapped and they are desperate for help. The Washington Post quotes a UNICEF official saying: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

Tens of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq are also on the run, knowing they face death at the hands of ISIS. Yet so wary is the Obama administration of any involvement in Iraq that it is not even willing to send U.S. cargo aircraft to drop food and water to the trapped Yazidis–much less to call in air strikes that would break the siege of Mount Sinjar.

The president’s chief foreign policy guru Ben Rhodes grandly proclaims that Obama is busy positioning “the U.S. to lead for the next 10, 20 or 30 years.” His gaze firmly fixed decades in the future, Obama seems to be missing the preventable atrocities–which not only violate the R2P doctrine but also threaten vital American national security interests–that are occurring in the here and now.

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Obama Is Destroying Traditional Democratic Issue Advantages

Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

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Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

Health care is one obvious example. Historically it’s been an issue on which Democrats have dominated Republicans. No more. While the public still trusts Democrats more than Republicans on health care, the margin is single digits. And a recent poll shows that nearly 60 percent (58) of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care. Health care was a central issue in the GOP landslide in the 2010 mid-term elections, and it’s a key subject in this year’s mid-term elections as well. In almost every instance, Democrats are playing defense on health care.

Then there’s immigration, another issue that until now has been a potent one for Democrats. No more. A poll last week by AP-GfK shows that immigration is now President Obama’s worst issue. More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue in general. Just 31 percent approve. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out, “when you separate those most passionate about the issue, the difference is even more stark, with 57 percent opposed and just 18 percent in favor. That’s more than three-to-one.” A CNN/Opinion Research poll from June showed Obama’s worst two issues were gun policy and illegal immigration.

What’s happened, it appears, is that the public is holding the Democratic Party accountable for the failures of Mr. Obama. Americans have for the most part cast aside the airy rhetoric and promises; they’re now judging the president and his party against reality. Their propositions and policies have been tested in real time, in real circumstances, and the results have been by and large a disaster.

This hardly means Republicans are home free on these matters. But it does mean there are enormous cracks in the foundation and Republicans have a historic opportunity to make inroads on issues that were once owned by Democrats.

Barack Obama may turn out to be a historic president, but not for the reasons Democrats were hoping for.

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Bibi and Barack After Gaza

As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

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As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

What’s puzzling is not President Obama’s desire for peace. It is always admirable to want wars to go on for no longer than they must. But in this case, once Israel discovered the terror tunnels, the state had to act in its own defense. The New York Times has a story today on the administration’s frustration with its lack of control over another sovereign state’s actions, but the entire piece can be boiled down to the following paragraph, appearing early on in the story:

With public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill, President Obama has had few obvious levers to force Mr. Netanyahu to stop pounding targets in Gaza until he was ready to do it.

Well that pretty much explains it, doesn’t it? Not only did Israel have public support in the U.S., but its actions were backed by its Arab neighbors and the U.S. Congress. Obama was the odd man out–or one of the few, anyway. There was a rare consensus in Israel’s part of the Middle East that included Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Everyone was on the same page both with Israel and the U.S. for once. It was an easy diplomatic call for Obama, but he still made the wrong one.

Additionally, the efficacy of American pressure on Israel depends to a large extent on the Israeli public. In this particular case, Hamas had constructed an underground city with tunnels that led into Israeli territory. Of course the Israeli public wanted those tunnels gone. And the threat from the rockets flying from Gaza, often derided by the world as glorified firecrackers, had increased as well. The rockets practically shut down Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s gateway to the outside world, which had the effect of temporarily isolating a Jewish polity that, for clear and rational reasons, is a bit sensitive to their enemies’ attempts to ghettoize them.

As Ruthie Blum writes today in Israel Hayom:

One could argue that the reason public support for Operation Protective Edge reached a ‎whopping 95 percent was the utter justice of its cause; that the incessant rocket-‎fire from Gaza, now hitting the center of country, was too much even for the peace ‎utopians to bear. ‎

One could assume that no matter what an Israeli’s personal political leanings, he would ‎see the virtue in defeating an enemy that glorifies death; uses children as canon fodder; ‎abuses women; tortures homosexuals and the disabled; and vows to annihilate the world’s ‎Jews while converting or slaughtering its Christians. ‎

Nevertheless, it is usually impossible to get even those Israelis with similar outlooks to ‎agree on anything, including where to hang a communal clothesline, for more than five ‎minutes. Hence the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions.”‎

Blum also mentions the surprising fact that this unity occurred under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose essential pragmatism tends to leave Israelis wary of his intentions. Netanyahu doesn’t really have a political base in the traditional sense, since the right wing doesn’t trust him. Yet in this current conflict, virtually the entire country was his base.

Such unity of spirit and support for Israel in the Arab world should have been inspiring. To Obama, it was a source of aggravation. As the Times notes:

The blunt, unsparing language — among the toughest diplomats recall ever being aimed at Israel — lays bare a frustrating reality for the Obama administration: the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely dismissed diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the violence in Gaza, leaving American officials to seethe on the sidelines about what they regard as disrespectful treatment.

Obama has always been more receptive to the angst of the Democratic Party’s base than other elected Democrats who didn’t, after all, become the most powerful person in the world by riding a wave of feverish antiwar anger. And the Democratic Party’s base is the one sector of American politics whose open hostility to Israel is not only growing stronger by the day but also seeping into the rest of the party from the margins.

Obama has often left commentators perplexed by the battles he chooses and the fights he picks, since they’re so often with steadfast allies. And it should be noted that he hasn’t abandoned Israel in the military realm–far from it. But the diplomatic aggression toward Israel is far from meaningless. The Times explains that “a senior American official predicted that the tough State Department statement would ‘box [Israel] in internationally.’”

Despite having the Arab world on their side in this fight, not to mention the U.S. Congress and the public they represent, the Obama administration is trying to rally international–European, presumably–opinion against Israel. It’s strategically foolish and diplomatically illogical. Perhaps the end of Operation Protective Edge, then–if indeed this is the end–will serve to protect the Obama administration from itself by preventing further self-inflicted wounds, or at least remove Gaza as their source.

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David Remnick’s Distorted Judgment

The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

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The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

Mr. Remnick, it’s worth noting, appeared on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose discussing the election of Obama. Mr. Remnick compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign, he said, “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Mr. Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick–who was nearly in tears during portions of the interview, which included historians–finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

Such Obama adulation is impossible to sustain these days, with the Obama presidency in ruins. Mr. Remnick has therefore decided the thing to do is to make excuses for Obama. And so on Sunday’s roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week, Remnick said this:

He’s pretty stifled [legislatively]. It’s frustrating to see his projection of frustration. You want him to suck it up and keep going at it and leading and leading. But I think history is going to show that this presidency has been stifled at every angle.

Actually, for the first two years of his presidency Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” Mr. Remnick’s comments, then, are quite misleading.

To be sure, after the epic blowout Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president has been stifled in many areas (though he is getting around that by taking a series of lawless acts). But the crushing defeat of Democrats was precisely because Obama got his way on so many things and the public was unhappy with the results. Since then, they have grown more disenchanted, to the point that Obama’s approval ratings are now among the lowest ever for a president at this juncture in his term and Republicans, right now at least, are favored to take control of the Senate. Since defending Obama isn’t easy these days, expect people like Remnick to train their fury on Republicans, attempting to portray them as nihilistic and all the rest. The thinking here is that while Obama may not be perfect–on second thought, he may not be the equal of Lincoln–Republicans are malicious and malevolent. That is the political narrative that is supposed to save New Yorker-style liberalism.

One other thing: In the context of the discussion about the president sending signals he is going to sign an executive order giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Remnick said this: “The immigration issue, first of all, I think a lot of people at this table are here because of America’s openness to immigration. I think that’s fair to say.”

It also irrelevant to the discussion. As Remnick’s co-panelist William Kristol pointed out, Remnick conflated legal immigration with illegal immigration. They are quite distinct, and our approaches to them should be, too. To treat the debate over illegal immigration as if it’s a debate about legal immigration is once again misleading.

And let’s examine the logic of Remnick’s position. It goes something like this: Most of us are here because somewhere in the past our relatives were legally allowed to immigrate to America, so we should have completely open borders and allow everyone in who wants to settle in America. QED. If the suffering peoples of Latin America, Africa, and other continents want to come to America, on what grounds is Mr. Remnick going to say no? Is there a limit to the number of people we can take in? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million? And should we give priority to the people living in, say, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti? If someone says we have to draw some lines on illegal immigration, will Remnick’s response be, first of all, most of the people making those arguments are here because of America’s openness to immigration and so they have no standing to make their case?

It’s fascinating to see how people’s political biases distort not just their objectivity but their reasoning ability. David Remnick is hardly the worst example of this; in fact, he perfectly represents a certain slice of the political class. He is a man who is intelligent but not wise, who is dogmatic even as he has convinced himself he is a model of objectivity. To be rigidly ideological is bad enough; to be so blind to it is even worse.

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Peter Beinart Predicts the Triumph of Peter Beinartism

No one knows what the outcome of the Gaza crisis will be, but Peter Beinart is sure of this: it has proved him right. Beinart has been saying for some time that Israel and its defenders in the United States are out of step with a changing America. Millennials do not favor Israel as much as their parents do, and blacks and Hispanics do not favor Israel as much as whites do. Beinart also thinks that young people and minority groups are right to reject the pro-Israel arguments of America’s Jewish establishment and its allies. This establishment, Beinart explains in his Haaretz column (unfortunately gated) this Thursday, is best described as Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf described Jewish leaders more than 40 years ago: “they do not demand support, but rather submission.” This description was false then and is false now, but never mind. Beinart, who declared four years ago that Obama and his skepticism about Israel are “the new normal” believes that we are entering a new political world whose salient feature will be that more people agree with Beinart.

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No one knows what the outcome of the Gaza crisis will be, but Peter Beinart is sure of this: it has proved him right. Beinart has been saying for some time that Israel and its defenders in the United States are out of step with a changing America. Millennials do not favor Israel as much as their parents do, and blacks and Hispanics do not favor Israel as much as whites do. Beinart also thinks that young people and minority groups are right to reject the pro-Israel arguments of America’s Jewish establishment and its allies. This establishment, Beinart explains in his Haaretz column (unfortunately gated) this Thursday, is best described as Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf described Jewish leaders more than 40 years ago: “they do not demand support, but rather submission.” This description was false then and is false now, but never mind. Beinart, who declared four years ago that Obama and his skepticism about Israel are “the new normal” believes that we are entering a new political world whose salient feature will be that more people agree with Beinart.

This prediction looked bad last year when Gallup declared, “American’s Sympathies for Israel Match All-Time High.” Indeed, Americans leaned heavily toward the Israelis over the Palestinians, 64% vs. 12%.” “Americans’ partiality for Israel has consistently exceeded 60% since 2010,” the year Beinart penned the first article I linked. That number was only 55 percent for younger respondents, but Gallup called the variation “minor” and added that young people are “no more likely to favor the Palestinians. They are simply less anchored about whom they favor. In a February 2014 Gallup poll, 72 percent of U.S. respondents viewed Israel favorably, with younger Americans coming in at 64 percent.

Beinart did not recant, of course. Like all people who think they are on the right side of history, he treats contrary data as an indication that history is taking a while longer to sweep aside his opposition than one could wish. Last week, though, Gallup published what Matt Drudge would call a “shock poll.” Only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents consider Israel’s actions Gaza justified. 51 percent consider them unjustified. To complete Beinart’s feast, the nonwhites whom he considers part of the coalition against today’s Zionist establishment also disapprove of Israel’s actions, 49 percent to 25 percent. The Pew Research Center offers a more complex picture but has majorities of blacks, Hispanics, and younger respondents blaming Israel more than Hamas for the present violence.

One can’t blame Beinart for displaying this rare sign that he could be right. But two data points hardly show thatevery time a conflict like this breaks out—especially if Israel continues to elect governments hostile to a viable Palestinian state—the American mood will incrementally shift. American opinion of Israel has dipped during conflicts before without producing such an incremental shift. In 2006, during the Lebanon war, a CBS/New York Times poll found that a plurality of Americans blamed Israel and Hezbollah equally for the violence. A majority thought that the United States should either stay silent or criticize Israel, not support it. Israel’s reputation recovered. In 1989, during the first intifada, another CBS/New York Times poll asked whether Israel had done enough to prove its interest in peace; 17 percent of respondents said yes, 70 percent no. Israel’s reputation recovered. In 2002, during the second intifada, Gallup found that just 34 percent of younger respondents favored Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians while 22 percent favored the Palestinians. Israel’s reputation recovered.

In a way, the Beinart of 2010 undercuts the Beinart of 2014. In 2010 Beinart thought that opinion would turn against Israel because Israel’s enemies were more appealing than before. Gone were the days when “Israel’s foes could be trusted to make it look good by comparison.” Israel’s leading critic was now Turkey, a democracy and a member of NATO.” The face of Palestine was Salam Fayad, a “proponent of nonviolence, a source of anti-corruption and a devotee of the Texas Longhorns.” Today, Turkey looks a little different, and Hamas is the face of Palestine, but Beinart’s argument hasn’t changed. He still thinks that the young people he describes as more liberal, peace-loving, and secular than their elders will in the long run cease to support Israel in its conflict with Hamas. 

Beinart neglects one of Gallup’s findings: the “more closely Americans are following the news about the Middle East situation, the more likely they are to think Israel’s actions are justified.” And as Pew notes, young Americans are as a group not following the conflict very closely; 23 percent of younger respondents say they are doing so. Far from being on an inevitable path to rejecting Israel until Israel adopts policies Beinart likes, the opinion of young people is not fixed and, in ordinary times is sympathetic toward Israel. This group can certainly be persuaded that Israel has a right to defend itself against the likes of Hamas.

As for Beinart, he need not worry about persuading anybody because he believes, as his headline writer aptly put it, that the age of Obamahas changed everything. Now who’s out of step?

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The Sue-Me President

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted along party lines to sue the President for rewriting key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The vote has been criticized as a political stunt at best and a prelude to impeachment at worst. But it is neither. It is actually the next logical step in dealing with an administration whose motto has gone from “Hope and Change” to “So, sue me.”

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Yesterday the House of Representatives voted along party lines to sue the President for rewriting key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The vote has been criticized as a political stunt at best and a prelude to impeachment at worst. But it is neither. It is actually the next logical step in dealing with an administration whose motto has gone from “Hope and Change” to “So, sue me.”

Anyone who has seen Schoolhouse Rock knows that the Constitution establishes clear procedures for the enactment of legislation: bicameralism, presentment, and signature. If a law doesn’t work out as hoped, the same process must be used to amend it. House Republicans argue that by unilaterally extending certain deadlines mandated by the ACA, the president has violated that process.

The stage is set for a classic struggle over the separation of powers. In one corner of the ring are members of Congress who believe that the president is encroaching upon the powers of the legislative branch. In the other corner is a president who believes that he has the discretion to change the law as he sees fit with the stroke of the pen and a wave of the phone.

Such a suit would have been unthinkable little more than a year ago. The notion that a close majority in one house of Congress could sue the president would have been laughed out of federal court. But thanks to one of the signal judicial victories of the Obama administration, U.S. v. Windsor, this case may well find itself on the fast track to the steps of the Supreme Court.

In order to have one’s day in court, a litigant has to demonstrate that he has standing to sue: he must show that he has sustained an actual injury and that the court has the power to provide a remedy. Historically, members of Congress have tried to sue sitting presidents on several occasions; but in each case they were unable to clear the standing hurdle. For example, in 1990, as the tensions leading to the First Gulf War escalated, fifty-four members of Congress sued President George H. W. Bush for encroaching on the powers of Congress by violating the War Powers Act. The case was dismissed on the ground that the claimants did not represent the totality of Congress and therefore did not have standing. In order to sue the president, the Court held, Congress would have to pass a joint resolution authorizing suit.

But last year, something changed. Last year, a narrow majority of the Supreme Court recognized for the first time that an unofficial committee of the House of Representatives,

the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), had standing to defend a federal statute when the executive would not. The statute in question was the Defense of Marriage Act, and its constitutionality was being challenged by New York widow Edith Windsor. President Obama ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the statute because he believed it was unconstitutional. DOMA would have been dead in the judicial water had BLAG not sought to intervene in the case and defend the statute’s constitutionality all the way to the high court.

The Supreme Court decided by a margin of one vote to recognize BLAG’s standing in the suit on “prudential” grounds relating to the public significance of the questions presented by the suit. It was an unprecedented ruling. As Justice Scalia noted in his dissent, the majority was so “eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case” that it dispensed with the ordinary standing requirements.

The administration got the outcome it wanted in Windsor–the Court declared DOMA unconstitutional–but it set a procedural precedent that may well be about to backfire for the president. Now that the Supreme Court has recognized BLAG’s standing to defend acts of Congress, the federal judiciary will have to decide whether to follow the Windsor precedent and allow the case against the president to proceed or to revert to traditional conceptions of standing and dismiss the suit.

It seems that John Boehner now has the president pinned by the point of his own pen. An administration that has cared less about constitutionally sound process than about politically expedient outcomes may well be about to reap what it has sown.

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Reality Is Neoconservative

“The facts of life are conservative,” said Margaret Thatcher. It was her way of pointing out that, regardless of political fights, the world trudges on behaving in ways that vindicate conservatives’ skepticism of perfectibility schemes: Markets make more efficient use of limited resources than do expert planning bodies. Handouts erode the human spirit. Well-intentioned policies have damaging unintended consequences. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” said Kant, “no straight thing was ever made.” It is the predictably misshapen fruit of man’s efforts that conservatives are (at their best) prepared to catch and to handle—within the bounds of reasonable expectation.

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“The facts of life are conservative,” said Margaret Thatcher. It was her way of pointing out that, regardless of political fights, the world trudges on behaving in ways that vindicate conservatives’ skepticism of perfectibility schemes: Markets make more efficient use of limited resources than do expert planning bodies. Handouts erode the human spirit. Well-intentioned policies have damaging unintended consequences. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” said Kant, “no straight thing was ever made.” It is the predictably misshapen fruit of man’s efforts that conservatives are (at their best) prepared to catch and to handle—within the bounds of reasonable expectation.

In the summer of 2014, is it not clear that reality is neoconservative?  That is to say, disposed toward violence and chaos in the absence of an American-led liberal world order. Recently, the case was made unwittingly not by a neoconservative, but rather by CBS News’s Bob Schieffer. “Trying to understand the news of this terrible summer,” he said, “it is hard to come away with any feeling but that we are in the midst of a world gone mad.” He went on:

On one side of the world, an ego-driven Russian leader seems to yearn for the time of the czars, when rulers started wars on a whim or a perceived insult — and if people died, so be it.
 In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that has embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause — a strategy that might actually be working, at least in some quarters.

Schieffer closed with his own apt quote from Will Durant: “Barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out, but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it, and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim.” The barbarians are back.

And just think of what Schieffer’s inventory of barbarism ignored. This week in Iraq, ISIS forced the last of Mosul’s Christians from the city under the threat of death. The United States evacuated its embassy in post-Gaddafi Libya, owing to an orgy of violence taking place there. In a recent 10-day period 1,800 Syrian civilians were killed in the ongoing civil war—a new conflict record.

And when Iran develops its fervently sought nuclear weapon, this will look in retrospect like our last carefree summer.

In the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt has called the current state of affairs “as close to a laboratory experiment on the effects of U.S. disengagement as the real world is ever likely to provide.” In Barack Obama’s global laboratory, the experiment persists even as it fails. The experimental design was laid out in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly in the fall of 2009. Explaining the hypothesis to be tested, the president said, “In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.”

Globally interdependent benevolence. It was a nice thought, and, given its uncontested dominance in the academic institutions of which Obama is a product, its implementation was inevitable. But being president of merely one country, Obama could ensure only that it followed the new rules. That country, the United States, was the linchpin of the peaceful post-WWII global order, and national experimentation put the whole planet at risk. Because reality is neoconservative, no one else obeyed. Bad actors around the world mobilized to exploit the new dispensation.

In 2011, a thinker named Richard Tokumei wrote a book arguing that while modern liberals usually believe in evolution, their policy prescriptions tend not to incorporate it. Conversely, says Tokumei, conservatives are more likely to doubt evolution while supporting policies that reflect it. I make no claims for the evolutionary convictions of neocons, but this is at heart an argument about understanding human nature. Neoconservatism is grounded in it. Globally interdependent benevolence is a dream.

The challenge is that reality has only a glancing relationship with political expediency. In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, neoconservatism remains politically unpopular. That could very well change, depending on the duration and rigor of Obama’s experiment. But whether or not we see a neocon comeback anytime soon, we’ve certainly not seen a serious challenge to neoconservative reality. Which is sad for us all.

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OFA the Undead: A Political Zombie’s Lessons for Conservatives

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

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Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

The basic story is that, as Ham notes, Post political blogger Philip Bump wrote a piece in May that called attention to the fact that OFA was a purposeless shell, aimlessly wandering the country and unable to make a legislative impact on its pet political issues. Bump wrote about OFA’s announcement that with the midterms approaching and the need to maximize fundraising to candidates, it will stop accepting large donations. “Even without that news,” he added, “it’s not clear how much longer OFA will survive.”

OFA, coming from its formative experience as an Obama campaign machine, handles bad press about as well as you would expect the humorless president’s cultish fan clubs would. They challenged Bump over the next couple months to acknowledge and grade their work. He did, and he found that he was right. They’re a joke:

Organizing For Action has spent two months sending emails to the Post, trying to convince us of its effectiveness. (They were unhappy with this post asking how long the organization could survive.) So, we decided to look at what the group’s executive director, Jon Carson, was sending us. To catalog it. To do exactly what Carson apparently intended: Evaluate their work.

In short, we were not terribly impressed. …

By the most important metric, the group is largely ineffective. Of the priorities above — which, according to the group’s mandate, are meant to bolster federal efforts — none has seen national legislative action. The president introduced new restrictions on carbon pollution, but that was an executive action, not legislation. Immigration reform has stalled; there hasn’t been a national minimum wage increase. All of these things are difficult, given the opposition the president faces from Republicans in Congress, but that’s the point, right? Encourage people to take action in their communities? Bottom up change and all that?

Nonetheless, there are a couple things conservatives can learn from OFA’s good days and bad.

The first is that they should not dismiss OFA’s raison d’être. Though we often criticize the means by which the Democrats drum up support from their base–I regularly knock the White House’s “war on women” and took a shot at the pitiful attempts to get the GOP to talk impeachment–rallying the base itself is something conservatives should get used to, and the Obama campaign was very good at it.

Conservatives have tended to recoil a bit from the politicization of everything, and with good reason. But getting involved in partisan politics in a democracy is, as our Pete Wehner noted a couple weeks ago, a noble effort. I’m often reminded of the Jews in DP camps after World War II organizing themselves into political parties, ready to combat the tyranny they were subjected to not with more tyranny but with party politics as practiced by free men–even before they were truly free.

The instinct to organize and vote in or out policies and politicians according to your values and principles is the right way to change what needs changing. Liberal activism often has the feel of mob rule because that’s exactly what it is–except when those same activists who spend their time ostracizing the people they disagree with or destroying the livelihood of a thought criminal show up to the polls and vote. It’s terrible that liberals want to undo the protections in the First Amendment. But they give their authoritarian dreams hope of becoming reality by electing senators who actually introduce their wish lists as bills in Congress. Boosting turnout and organizing political action is the way they do that. Conservatives can’t expect to stop them by hoping John Roberts finds his spine.

The other lesson for conservatives is that the OFA zombie is a very leftist creature. I don’t just mean the politics, which are shallow and conventionally liberal. Its walking dead routine is the logical result of applying the liberal world view to any such organization. It becomes a bureaucracy that never disappears and simply prowls the night desperate for something to feed on.

Conservatives should learn not only from the left’s strengths but their weaknesses. This was a lesson conservatives may have learned from the spectacular failure of the Romney campaign’s get out the vote program. It had many problems, but one was surely its overly hierarchical command structure.

The Tea Party is best placed to relate to the organizing of the left because it is a grassroots movement that got candidates elected to Congress. The existence of a Tea Party Caucus is a good example of how these organizations get bureaucratized and then stuck in place, ultimately working against their own best interests thanks to their obsession with their brand. But there’s still a lot the right can learn from an Obama campaign organization that now seems to be plodding off, arms outstretched, into the sunset.

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How to Help the Anti-ISIS Backlash

Word is trickling out of Mosul that Iraqis are starting to chafe under the heavy-handed rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. New York Times correspondent Tim Arango reports of anger against ISIS for destroying a shrine to the biblical prophet Jonah. Residents actually gathered around Mosul’s ancient leaning minaret to prevent its destruction too.

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Word is trickling out of Mosul that Iraqis are starting to chafe under the heavy-handed rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. New York Times correspondent Tim Arango reports of anger against ISIS for destroying a shrine to the biblical prophet Jonah. Residents actually gathered around Mosul’s ancient leaning minaret to prevent its destruction too.

There is also understandable concern that ISIS isn’t making life better for the people–its specialty, after all, is suicide bombings, not municipal governance. The Times quotes one Mosul resident interviewed by phone: “There are unorganized groups fighting ISIS now. If we had the power and the supplies, we could have kicked ISIS out of Mosul by now.”

This is a positive sign–it shows how unpopular Islamist fundamentalists are whenever they achieve power. But we should keep our euphoria about a potential anti-ISIS revolt firmly in check. The history of ISIS suggests that, however much Iraqis may resent their rule, they will successfully rise up only if they have strong outside support. Resentment of al-Qaeda in Iraq (the ISIS predecessor) did not boil over in Anbar Province until 2006 and even then it required American efforts during “the surge” to forge tribesmen into a 100,000-strong Sons of Iraq militia to fight against AQI. In prior years, nascent revolts in Anbar had been repressed with great brutality by AQI.

The question now is where can outside support come from to support an anti-ISIS revolt in western and northern Iraq? Probably not from the Iraqi government, which is identified with a Shiite sectarian agenda that only drives Sunnis further into ISIS’s arms and whose army has shown a depressing inability or unwillingness to fight hard under the political hacks appointed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

It is possible a change of leadership in Baghdad can revitalize the Iraqi army, lessen the government’s sectarian taint, and thereby allow effective partnering with the Sunni tribes. But don’t count on it. Even if a new prime minister is selected, there will still be deep-seated suspicion in the Sunni community, and understandably so. The only force the Sunnis would trust–despite our prior abandonment of them–is the United States.

But to become an effective catalyst for a Sunni revolt, the U.S. will have to send a lot more than 825 troops to Iraq–the current number. This week I testified before the House Armed Services Committee, presenting my own plan for rolling back ISIS gains. I suggested, in essence, a multi-pronged approach based on supporting relatively moderate factions in both Iraq and Syria–to wit, the Free Syrian Army, elements of the Iraqi security forces which have not been totally subordinated to the Iranian Quds Force, the Sunni tribes, and the Kurdish peshmerga.

I argued that we need to send at least 10,000 troops to act as advisers, intelligence gatherers, air controllers (to call in air strikes), and Special Operations raiders and that in Iraq these personnel need to be evenly distributed between the Iraqi army, the Sunni tribes, and the peshmerga. U.S. troops would not be on the frontlines of ground combat but they would be enabling proxies to fight far more effectively, as we have previously done in countries as disparate as Kosovo, Libya, and Afghanistan. This should be done in conjunction with a political strategy focused on replacing Maliki with a more inclusive figure.

Alas there is no sign that the Obama administration is seriously rethinking its abandonment of Iraq or its misguided policy of arming the current sectarian regime in Baghdad without real American oversight over how the weapons we provide are employed. Unless the administration is willing to roll up its sleeves and get more involved in Iraq (admittedly a difficult political pill for the anti-interventionist president to swallow), anti-ISIS sentiment among Sunnis is unlikely to lead to a serious revolt and ISIS will continue to strengthen its terrorist caliphate.

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Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game

How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

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How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

It’s a trend that has been on the march for some time. For a while liberals denied there was rising disenchantment with Israel on the left, but that became impossible after the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominating convention, when the party’s delegates loudly booed at and resoundingly voted down adding pro-Israel language to the Democratic Party platform (the language was added over their objections, though it was quite a scene). At that point, a new strategy was needed, since everyone was well aware the Democrats’ traditional support for Israel was in danger of collapsing.

The new strategy has two main elements. The first is to rule out debate on the issue. When you hear Democrats accusing Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you can be sure the left has said or done something objectionable. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried that tack again today. In trying to deflect criticism of her boss, Harf said, according to the AP’s Matt Lee, that “Many members of Congress, I think, like to use Israel as a political issue to try to divide the country.” Translation: when the Democrats are in the process of damaging Israel, supporting Israel becomes an unacceptable partisan play.

The other side to this strategy is to then use this supposed partisanship (defending Israel when the Democrats refuse to do so) to justify the Democrats’ turn away from Israel. The latest example of this comes from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. He concedes the point that having an American native like Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador can help communicate Israel’s positions clearly and navigate American politics. But Marshall is troubled by this as well because Dermer has a Republican background:

It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.

Marshall says, correctly, that it hurts the alliance to have support for Israel as an identifiable characteristic of only one political party. What he doesn’t say is that his party is the one increasingly setting aside that alliance. He hints, instead, that by associating with Republicans Netanyahu is the one who made that choice.

In essence, this line of thinking holds that the Israeli government can only get so much support from Republicans before Democrats will walk away. Marshall is not the first to discuss the situation in such terms. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in making his case for Obama, wrote the following:

Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama’s record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

Yes, it would be very dangerous for Israel. But it’s also a profound condemnation, even if unintentional, of Goldberg’s fellow liberals. If they will find voluble support for Israel, which in this case includes criticism of Barack Obama for what they perceive to be his weakening of the alliance, to be enough to convince them not to support Israel, then they are not supporters of Israel: they are leftist partisans.

If they really do support Israel, they would be able to continue supporting Israel even though conservatives get as (or more) animated about their support for Israel as on other important conservative issues. That should go without saying, but it apparently does not. A bipartisan consensus in support of Israel is what is best for both the United States and Israel, which is why that consensus has endured for decades now. And for it to be bipartisan, Democrats will have to get over their distaste for sharing a coalition with Republicans.

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Russia’s Treaty Violation Is Old News; Only Obama’s Interest Is New

Western reaction to Vladimir Putin’s continued provocations in Ukraine and general contempt for basic human rights has toughened in recent weeks, and took another step forward today. But they also have the effect of highlighting just how far Western leaders went to appease Putin and cover for his thuggish behavior.

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Western reaction to Vladimir Putin’s continued provocations in Ukraine and general contempt for basic human rights has toughened in recent weeks, and took another step forward today. But they also have the effect of highlighting just how far Western leaders went to appease Putin and cover for his thuggish behavior.

The efforts to punish Putin have been both rhetorical and financial. On the latter, sanctions have been instituted and more were added today, with the EU and U.S. willing to get more serious about confronting the Russian leader and President Obama making an afternoon statement today to accompany the announcement of sanctions. With regard to the rhetoric, however, the West’s record is a bit mixed.

I talked about one aspect of this last week: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to allow a full investigation into the assassination of Putin critic (and British citizen) Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The British government had claimed in part that it wasn’t comfortable with a full inquest because of the state secrets that would have to be exposed to the investigators for an honest accounting to be taken. But the fact that Britain is apparently no longer concerned about that suggests Cameron’s initial hesitation was more about not angering Putin and upsetting UK-Russia relations.

Few will ask “why now?” when the result is what they think is just. Better late than never has been the prevailing reaction. But in truth countries that so baldly offered misdirection on such matters when the truth was inconvenient should at least have to answer for it.

The same is true with regard to the other American escalation of Putin’s reprimand. The New York Times reports:

The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday.

It is the most serious allegation of an arms control treaty violation that the Obama administration has leveled against Russia and adds another dispute to a relationship already burdened by tensions over the Kremlin’s support for separatists in Ukraine and its decision to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

But is this new? No, not really:

Russia first began testing the cruise missiles as early as 2008, according to American officials, and the Obama administration concluded by the end of 2011 that they were a compliance concern. In May 2013, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s senior arms control official, first raised the possibility of a violation with Russian officials.

The New York Times reported in January that American officials had informed the NATO allies that Russia had tested a ground-launched cruise missile, raising serious concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F. Treaty as it is commonly called. The State Department said at the time that the issue was under review and that the Obama administration was not yet ready to formally declare it to be a treaty violation.

So what happened? The Obama administration decided to care:

In recent months, however, the issue has been taken up by top-level officials, including a meeting early this month of the Principals’ Committee, a cabinet-level body that includes Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of state and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Senior officials said the president’s most senior advisers unanimously agreed that the test was a serious violation, and the allegation will be made public soon in the State Department’s annual report on international compliance with arms control agreements.

You would think it would be important enough to look into earlier. But the president has not, until Putin humiliated him one too many times on the world stage, been interested in seeing Putin for what he is. In today’s press conference, Obama was asked if this is a new Cold War. His response: “This is not a new Cold War.” Instead, it is “a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

Well, it’s one specific issue. But it’s part of a larger picture. And the violation of the missile treaty is another “specific issue.” When you start to piece together all the “specific issues” the West has with Putin’s Russia, they really add up. New Cold War or not, there’s obviously a serious and deteriorating and adversarial relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and the public could be forgiven for wondering why the president appears to have been the last to know.

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Hillary’s Gracious Words About Bush

Hillary Clinton has done what Barack Obama rarely does: Show class, especially toward Mr. Obama’s predecessor. According to Secretary Clinton:

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Hillary Clinton has done what Barack Obama rarely does: Show class, especially toward Mr. Obama’s predecessor. According to Secretary Clinton:

let’s not forget the trend lines. George W. Bush is very popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. Why? Because of the president’s emergency program for AIDS relief. Whether you agree or disagree with a lot of what else he did — and I disagree with a lot of it — I am proud to be an American when I go to Sub-Saharan Africa and people say, “I want to thank President Bush and the United States for helping us fight HIV/AIDS.”

I understand that this kind of thing doesn’t foreshadow a new, irenic and unified moment in American politics. But in a nation where the partisan divisions are growing, where nearly 70 percent of those surveyed believe America is more divided than it was four years ago, it’s a nice gesture. The kind of thing, come to think of it, that Barack Obama promised to do when he said he’d put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.”

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

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Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

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When It Comes to Israel, Liberals Can’t Handle the Truth

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

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Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

ROSE: I think I just heard you say — and this — we will close on this — you believe in the coexistence of peoples, and, therefore, you believe in the coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East?

MESHAAL (through translator): I can’t coexist with occupation.

ROSE: Without occupation, you can coexist?

MESHAAL (through translator): I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and with the Arabs and non-Arabs and with those who agree with my ideas and those who disagree with them. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers, and those who…

ROSE: It’s one thing to say you want to coexist with the Jews. It’s another thing you want to coexist with the state of Israel. Do you want to coexist with the state of Israel? Do you want to represent — do you want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MESHAAL (through translator): No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers. I do coexist with other…

ROSE: I’m assuming they’re no longer occupiers. At that point, do you want to coexist and recognize their right to exist, as they would recognize your right to exist?

MESHAAL (through translator): When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you. But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation. In natural situations, they can decide policy vis-a-vis others.

So there you have it. The leader of Hamas says, point blank, it does not want a two-state solution. Yet scores of liberal commentators continue to make arguments like this: “We have to get a solution. And it has to be a two-state solution. And it has to be basically encouraged, if not imposed, I think, from without.”

This is an example of what social scientists call “motivated reasoning.” It refers to when people hold to a false belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this instance, the Hamas charter and the Hamas leader don’t accept Israel’s right to exist. And yet liberals don’t seem to care. They appear to be content to live in world made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust. A world of make believe. And so in the context of Israel’s war with Hamas, they continue to revert to arguments that simply don’t apply–for example, arguing that Israel needs to “end the occupation” despite the fact that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza nearly a decade ago.

Israel, on the other hand, has to live and survive in reality. Israelis know the nature of the enemy they face–implacable, committed, ruthless, malevolent. Given all this, and given that Israel itself is a nation of extraordinary moral and political achievements, you might think that the United States government would be fully supportive of the Jewish state in its war against Hamas. But you would be wrong.

The Obama administration is racheting up pressure on Israel. Hamas’s war on Israel, combined with its eagerness to have innocent Palestinians die as human shields in order to advance its propaganda campaign, is pushing America (under Obama) not toward Israel but away from her. Mr. Obama and the left perceive themselves as reality based and their critics as fantasy based. It’s a conceit without merit. And in no case is it more evident than in the left’s stance toward Hamas and Israel.

This is a case where reality and all the arguments, including all the moral arguments, align on one side; and yet Obama and the left are on the other.

They live in a fantasy world. In this instance, doing so has diabolic consequences.

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New Dem Strategy: Say the Word “Impeachment” Over and Over

A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

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A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

The comparisons became particularly specific when the two sides threatened, and then went through with, a government shutdown. The parallel was invoked: Clinton is perceived to have won the battle for public opinion over the 1995 shutdown, when the president sparred with Newt Gingrich and a reenergized conservative faction in the House. Now a similar comparison is cropping up again: impeachment.

Although Republican congressional leaders are not remotely taking the idea of impeachment seriously, this issue has the very same plot twist as the debate over the government shutdown. Because history declared Clinton the victor in 1995, top Democrats in the Obama era actually wanted the shutdown, convinced it would play to their political advantage. Republican leaders were unenthusiastic about shutting down the government precisely because they agreed. (There was even a “hot stove” theory as to why Speaker Boehner eventually let it proceed: the backlash would teach the conservative supporters of the shutdown–some of whom had presidential aspirations–a lesson they’d remember.)

That’s the backdrop to Rich Lowry’s headline-question at NRO today: “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” The answer, I think, was revealed during a bizarre back-and-forth at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing on Friday. Earnest was sent to the podium to convey the Looney Tunes notion that the GOP leadership was considering impeachment. Because this is flatly and demonstrably false, Earnest was challenged on his assertion.

“I think that there are senior members of the Republican political party or certainly prominent voices in the Republican Party who are calling for exactly that,” Earnest said. The reporters were slightly confused by an obviously untrue charge coming from the president’s chief spokesman. There ensued an argument that has to be seen to be believed. Via the White House transcript:

Q    And who is that?  Sarah Palin is one.

MR. EARNEST:  She mentioned it.  Somebody mentioned earlier that –

Q    She would be a prominent voice in the Republican political –

Q    Anybody in the Republican leadership seriously talking about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Sarah Palin considers herself to be a leader –

Q    Hang on, Jon, it’s my question.

Q    Sorry.  (Laughter.)

Q    There’s been a lot of fundraising emails from the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it.  This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing.  You don’t really think the President is going to be impeached, do you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping they can get into office so that they can impeach the President.  That is apparently a view that they hold, because it’s one that they have repeatedly expressed publicly.

I think what’s really important –

Q    Is the White House Counsel’s Office looking at this?  Are you studying the possibility of being impeached?

MR. EARNEST:  Here’s the thing that I think is important about this.  And again, we’re coming up on a pivotal week.  Next week will be the last week that Congress is in session before Labor Day.  There are at least two items of business that members of Congress themselves have identified as important priorities.

The mention of the Democratic Party fundraising emails about impeachment hits the nail on the head. As the world burns, and as his secretary of state piles on the firewood, the president spends his time at fundraisers. Each issue can be measured not according to bedrock principles but by its monetary value with regard to raising campaign funds.

That’s how we get the White House’s “war on women” and the left acting as though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits–nay, requires, if the GOP has its way–the Talibanization of American life. The president’s grand vision for reelection boiled down to Big Bird and birth control. Big Bird seems to be out of the woods, so now it’s almost exclusively birth control, though this requires the left to simply make stuff up, since the truth is not offensive enough to rile the Democratic base.

And that’s how we get a fundraising scheme designed by Democrats pushing the idea of impeachment with Republicans pushing back against the idea. It would otherwise seem strange, no doubt, to see the president and his spokesmen gleefully push the idea of impeachment with Republicans trying to talk Democrats down from that ledge. Which is where we are now in this farcical saga of presidential self-pity.

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Obama: Intervening to Save Hamas?

So the president called the Israeli prime minister today and, in that phone call, called for an “immediate ceasefire” with Hamas—and he said he wanted that ceasefire to work toward “ strengthening the Palestinian Authority.” It’s very possible everything the president said was disingenuous; he knows Israel isn’t going to accept an immediate ceasefire, in part because Hamas won’t either and in part because the latest Channel 10 poll says an astounding 89 percent of Israelis want the war to continue. So he gets to be for something nice without having to deal with the consequences of its actually happening.

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So the president called the Israeli prime minister today and, in that phone call, called for an “immediate ceasefire” with Hamas—and he said he wanted that ceasefire to work toward “ strengthening the Palestinian Authority.” It’s very possible everything the president said was disingenuous; he knows Israel isn’t going to accept an immediate ceasefire, in part because Hamas won’t either and in part because the latest Channel 10 poll says an astounding 89 percent of Israelis want the war to continue. So he gets to be for something nice without having to deal with the consequences of its actually happening.

For if it did happen, it would be a disaster for the United States—America would be pulling Hamas’s chestnuts out of the fire and implicitly accepting the legitimacy of the use of terror against civilian populations as a bargaining tool in international negotiations.

But it’s also very possible the president isn’t being disingenuous. In which case he has really crossed a—do I dare—red line here no other American leader ever has. Obama doesn’t like the pictures he’s seeing, he doesn’t like Bibi, he doesn’t like the fact that even Israel’s liberals are in a belligerent frame of mind after weeks of missile attacks against population centers, he isn’t running for reelection, he doesn’t care about donors or Jewish voters, he believes in his heart of hearts that the root cause of regional instability is Israel’s gains in the 1967 war, and in service of all these feelings and beliefs, he’s decided Israel is in the wrong and that Hamas needs to be saved from Israel’s might. In which case, he is personally intervening against an American ally with a legitimately elected and deeply fractious coalition government on behalf of a terrorist organization.

I report. You decide.

 

 

 

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A Revolution Betrayed

Talk about humiliations.

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Talk about humiliations.

In 2011 U.S. forces, acting with NATO allies, helped Libyans to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Moammar Gaddafi.

On Saturday, the situation in Libya had gotten so bad that the State Department felt compelled to evacuate all of the U.S. Embassy staff from Tripoli. The decision was probably a prudent one, given that rival militias have in recent days wrecked much of Tripoli’s airport with their internecine fighting. But the fact that Tripoli is becoming Mogadishu-on-the-Mediterranean is a pretty damning indictment of the Obama administration’s approach to the country.

Obama was willing, largely for humanitarian not strategic reasons, to have the U.S. take part as one ally of many in an anti-Gaddafi coalition. This was called by one of his own aides “leading from behind.” But Obama was not willing to lead from behind or from anywhere else when it came to providing aid to the new government of Libya to gain control of its own territory. No peacekeepers, no trainers, no nothing. So intent was he on avoiding “another Iraq” that, ironically, he actually repeated the mistake of Iraq, which was overthrowing a dictator in the Middle East without having a plan to replace him.

The result of this neglect was already paid by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Steven and three other Americans killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi in 2012. Now the cost is being paid by Libyans in general who are seeing their revolution betrayed. Instead of freedom, they have anarchy. And the Obama administration has yet another object lesson in what happens when America retreats from the Middle East in particular and the world in general.

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