Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

Presidents and Power Grabs: A Lesson From Harry Truman

There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

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There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

Indeed, the president’s actions might very well be legal, and they may survive a legal or constitutional (or even political) challenge. Even if they are not constitutional, the public rarely cares nearly as much about process as about policy. This favors the president, whose unilateral executive actions cannot be filibustered or vetoed. We like to think of our political system as one that restrains the executive, just as it restrains the other branches, through competition. And that’s true. But enough of the fundamentals of American politics favor the president to make it crucial that if the system is going to survive, presidents must not grab at all the power they can just because they won’t be stopped.

A good example of the right outlook of a president comes from Harry Truman. He notably and unilaterally rolled back several of what he thought were FDR’s power grabs. But the thought process behind one of those decisions stands out: Truman’s refusal to run for reelection in 1952.

In 1947 Congress passed the 22nd amendment, which forbade an elected third presidential term. It was ratified in 1951. The amendment was written to exclude the sitting president–Truman–from its restrictions, however, so as not to be seen as a Republican Congress targeting a sitting Democratic president. Truman was elected in 1948, and could have run again in 1952.

Yet he already knew in April 1950–before the Korean War–that he had no interest in testing those limits, or lack thereof. And here we have, from Truman’s biographer Robert J. Donovan, what Truman was thinking at the time, having written out his determination. Donovan smartly devotes a (brief) chapter to this decision, but here is what Truman wrote the day he made this decision:

“Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson as well as Calvin Coolidge stood by the precedent of two terms. Only Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and F.D.R. made the attempt to break that precedent. F.D.R. succeeded.

“In my opinion eight years as President is enough and sometimes too much for any man to serve in that capacity.

“There is a lure in power. It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.

“This is a Republic. The greatest in the history of the world. I want this country to continue as a Republic. Cincinnatus and Washington pointed the way. When Rome forgot Cincinnatus, its down fall began. When we forget the examples of such men as Washington, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, all of whom could have had continuation in the office, then will we start down the road to dictatorship and ruin. I know I could be elected again and continue to break the old precedent as it was broken by F.D.R. It should not be done. That precedent should continue–not by a Constitutional amendment but by custom based on the honor of the man in the office.

“Therefore to reestablish that custom, although by a quibble I could say I’ve only had one term, I am not a candidate and will not accept the nomination for another term.”

It’s significant also that Truman wrote this down but did not announce it at the time. He was not posturing or making excuses or trying to burnish his image in the minds of voters. He also didn’t want to be seen as a lame duck. And that just goes to show that he was, or would have been, an otherwise serious candidate for reelection.

But Truman’s words, as crisp and humble and wise as they may be, are not altogether easy to read nowadays. They serve as a rebuke to the way the presidency has grown in stature and power and they are also a reminder that not every president seeks to take all he can and that we shouldn’t simply assume presidents will expand their authority as far as the law will let them.

Truman understood that there is something about power that is unhealthy both for the man who possesses it and for those over whom he wields it. Getting presidents to act with that in mind shouldn’t take a constitutional amendment, Truman thought.

And he’s right, and it’s what makes Obama’s power grab so disconcerting. Truman understood that legally enforced limits aren’t the kinds of limits that show, shape, or test a person’s character. The limits presidents place on themselves, as honorable public servants, are. Something is lost, then–a great deal, in fact–when the law is the only limit on a president’s actions.

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Keystone Scramble Shows Dems Already Forgetting Midterms Defeat

Republican losses typically produce an outpouring of concern trolling from Democrats, eager to “help” Republicans turn their fortunes around. The advice usually includes loosening the hold of the base on the party’s agenda, to become less extreme; paying more attention to polls; and buying into a proactive, productive legislative agenda. Yet now that Democrats have been on the wrong end of a national wave, will they take their own advice? Not if the machinations around the Keystone XL pipeline are any indication.

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Republican losses typically produce an outpouring of concern trolling from Democrats, eager to “help” Republicans turn their fortunes around. The advice usually includes loosening the hold of the base on the party’s agenda, to become less extreme; paying more attention to polls; and buying into a proactive, productive legislative agenda. Yet now that Democrats have been on the wrong end of a national wave, will they take their own advice? Not if the machinations around the Keystone XL pipeline are any indication.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Democrats have for years opposed the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. But Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is facing an uphill battle in her December 6 runoff election against Republican Representative Bill Cassidy. Keystone would be a “boon” for Louisiana, as even the New York Times admits, so Landrieu is trying to push Keystone across the finish line hoping it’ll drag her there along with it.

Were the situation reversed, Democrats would be doing what Republicans are now: imploring them to stop getting in their own way and support the pipeline. After all, it’s popular, it would show the Democrats can support a legislative agenda that brings jobs to an important industry, and it’s only been sidelined so far because President Obama is hostage to the bidding of his extremist base. And yet, Landrieu is not having an easy time getting enough Democrats to join the 60-vote threshold for the vote expected to be held early this evening.

Of course, even if Landrieu can get the votes in the Senate, the Keystone vote is already a less-than-perfect subject for a Hail Mary, as the Times notes:

On Friday, a Keystone bill sponsored by Mr. Cassidy passed the House. Ms. Landrieu is now close to mustering a filibuster-proof 60 Senate votes in favor of the pipeline in the Senate. She told reporters on Friday that she had 59 votes and was reaching out aggressively to colleagues to round up the critical final vote necessary to send the bill to Mr. Obama’s desk.

That’s right–she’s been handed the baton by her rival, Bill Cassidy. It’s not as though Landrieu is in favor and her opponent isn’t. Landrieu is no better on the issue than Cassidy; in reality, she’s playing catch-up because of Democratic opposition to the plan. It’s unclear how passing the Keystone bill would give her the boost she needs to beat Cassidy, though the high-profile scramble for votes would seem to at least help her by elevating her profile.

But that’s only if it passes. And right now, Democrats aren’t so sure it’s worth helping her reelection, in part because it’s no guarantee they’ll retain the seat even if the bill passes. Here’s Politico:

With Keystone apparently stuck on 59 votes — one shy of the amount needed for passage — Landrieu has turned into a one-woman Senate whip, seeking a vote set for Tuesday night that would show her clout in oil-rich Louisiana ahead of her Dec. 6 runoff. …

Much of the focus of Monday’s guessing games was on Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who hails from a fossil fuel state and whose upcoming retirement could leave him with little to lose. But he said Monday evening that he’s voting no.

Another rumored waverer was Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. He indicated he’s still leaning no but said, “I’ll make a decision when I vote.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said she’s voting no because she doesn’t think “Congress should be siting pipelines.”

And what if she does get that 60th vote? Back to the Times:

Even if the Senate supports building the pipeline in a vote on Tuesday night, President Obama is likely to veto the measure on the grounds that an environmental review of the process remains incomplete.

Nonetheless, the events of this week suggest that after the expected veto, Mr. Obama may eventually approve the pipeline, which would run from the oil sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast. The project is anathema to the environmentalists who are part of the president’s political base.

Obama, who isn’t running again, is expected to choose his extremist base over a member of his party trying desperately to hold her seat. And that environmentalist base has not become any more moderate or levelheaded over the course of this administration; the liberal interest group MoveOn.org sent an email today about the Keystone vote with subject line: “Game over for our planet?”

The Times report also notes that in early 2015 there will be more Republicans in the Senate and thus fewer lawmakers held hostage to a fringe element of the liberal base. In such a case, an Obama veto now (if this bill passes) will invite yet another Keystone bill sent to his desk next year, and this one will be closer to having enough votes to even override his veto. If he’s going to deal with that kind of repeated showdown, the Times reports, he may want a trade.

And maybe he’ll get one. Or maybe he’ll have no leverage. Either way, it won’t do much for Landrieu in 2015. Not that the president cares much one way or the other.

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What Should Republicans Do to Stop This Aggressively Unconstitutional President?

It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

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It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

By now none of this should  surprise us. Yet on some level it’s hard to believe an American president would do something that is, as a friend of mine puts it, “constitutionally unconscionable”–and so at odds with what Obama himself has said repeatedly. Yet we are where we are, and Republicans need to prepare to respond to the president’s provocations.

What to do?

Some of the same people who embraced the stratagem that led to the government shutdown in 2013–they thought it would be a marvelous, can’t-miss, the-nation-will-rally-to-our-side idea–are eager to do the same thing again. The problem, of course, is that the government shutdown was a failure, for reasons I sketched out here. It didn’t achieve its purpose (repealing the Affordable Care Act), the public hated the shutdown, and by an overwhelming number Americans blamed Republicans for it. We know as an empirical fact that the GOP badly hurt its reputation with the public, and it took time to repair it. It doesn’t help that the same people who were so sure of the Ted Cruz-led gambit now refuse to admit it turned out much different, and much worse, they they said it would. In fact, some of them are even claiming it worked, which is simply silly.

That said, I’m not in principle opposed to creating a series of showdowns over funding the government to try to force the president to back down on his expected plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (just as I wasn’t opposed to it as a means to defund the Affordable Care Act). The issue for me is one of efficacy and prudence. Will it work–or will it backfire? Will it help strengthen the conservative cause or set it back? Will Mr. Obama be forced to back down, or will he emerge stronger and Republicans weaker?

The issue has nothing to do with how much one opposes ObamaCare or is troubled by the president’s unconstitutional actions related to illegal immigrants. The most vocal advocates for government shutdowns often frame this as if they’re strongly opposed to the president’s agenda whereas those who are wary of the shutdown are not. That’s simply not the case. The difference has to do with tactics, not with the end goals. (Representative Paul Ryan thought the steps Republicans took that eventually led to the shutdown were unwise, and he’s done far more than almost anyone you can name to undo ObamaCare and advance a conservative governing agenda.) The mistake is to assume that simply because you support a particular approach the rest of America will, too; that because you think the nation should see things just as you do means it will.

Because I believe that what the president is about to do is egregious–constitutionally and institutionally, as an aggressive attack on the role of Congress and the separation of powers–I’m open to all sorts of recourses. Certainly Republicans in Congress need to respond in some manner. Those advocating a government shutdown aren’t being moronic or irresponsible; they want to protect our constitutional form of government. But neither are those who are warning against a shutdown being weak, impotent, or cowardly. It’s a matter on which intelligent people can disagree.

If you believe as I do that a government shutdown would in the end hurt more than help the conservative cause–that it simply won’t achieve its aim and it will cause collateral damage in the process–the obvious thing to do is to shift the fight onto terrain that is more favorable to the GOP. Republicans should therefore amass all the actions at their disposal to inflict maximum damage on Mr. Obama while not walking into his government shutdown trap. I wonder, for example, whether Republicans might simply refuse to act on the president’s judicial and Cabinet nominees unless and until he undoes his (forthcoming) executive action. Can similar steps be taken on a range of other issues? Can Republicans basically hit the “off” switch when it comes to the normal procedures and cooperation that takes place between a president and Congress, regardless of which party is in control?

It does strike me that we are facing an exceptional situation; that the president is inviting this needless confrontation and that he needs to pay quite a high price for it. It won’t be as high as many of us wish, but we have to adjust around that fact. The challenge for conservatives is to act in ways that are wise and realistic; that are guided not by fury but by clear thinking; and that ultimately persuade people to our point of view. We need calm, sober, intelligent, and enlightened individuals who can advance the arguments for constitutionalism and the rule of law. Because right now we have a president who is subverting both.

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Immigration, the Media, and Fictitious Conservative Heartlessness

President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

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President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

Stelter, the former New York Times media writer, hosts the Sunday morning show Reliable Sources, which examines the media coverage of major issues. Yet rather than offering some much-needed criticism, Stelter’s show has an unfortunate tendency to further elevate the media’s sense of self-importance. A case in point was yesterday’s “Red News/Blue News” segment on immigration.

The point of the regular segment is ostensibly to show how conservative and liberal outlets are covering a story, often talking right past each other. But yesterday Stelter took the opportunity to declare that the media weren’t reflecting the debate on the right and on the left; they were, instead, setting the terms of the debate for the brainwashed masses.

After playing a clip of Fox host Megyn Kelly interviewing GOP Senator Jeff Sessions about the executive amnesty and before putting up a clip of Charles Krauthammer using a form of “the I word,” as Stelter calls it–impeachment–Stelter says this:

Notice what the banner on the screen said. It said, “Plan May Let Millions of Illegals Stay,” illegals.

And when “The New York Times” confirmed FOX’s scoop in advance on Thursday, “The Times” headline said, plans may allow millions of immigrants to stay and work, immigrants.

See, it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures. It’s the language, it’s the narrative. By Thursday, the FOX narrative was about lawlessness, President Obama acting unlawfully.

Stelter apparently wasn’t even listening to clip he played, because what he said is just plain wrong. But first, here’s how the “blue news” played it. “What you will almost never hear on FOX, though, what you’re unlikely to see on red state is the blue news narrative,” Stelter says. “That’s a very different one. That narrative is about families being wrecked by deportations and about a president standing up for what’s right and delivering on a campaign promise.”

Stelter then played a couple clips from liberal outlets, which included this exchange from MSNBC:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are American families that are being torn apart by a policy that doesn’t work.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: So why can’t a story like that move conservatives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t see the pro-family aspects of what we’re talking about here.

At that point, Stelter sought to wrap up the segment by imparting the following piece of wisdom to his viewers:

And I will try to answer that question for you. It’s because red news and blue news are talking about two separate things.

In this case, MSNBC is talking about what they would say is morality, while FOX is talking about what they would say is legality. Morality and legality.

There are two reactions to this. The first is that Stelter apparently believes that conservatives don’t see the liberal side of this issue because they watch Fox News, and vice versa. The idea that Fox brainwashes its viewers rather than reflecting the debate they’re having amongst themselves but can’t find on the other mainstream media channels is certainly a popular idea among leftists who want to discredit both Fox and the conservative movement.

Though most intelligent people know it’s just a caricature, the left’s extreme partisans don’t know or don’t care. For Stelter to trade in this tells you that media critics, like the supposedly nonpartisan “fact checker” columnists in newspapers, are simply joining the debate on one side, not enlightening their audience with honest assessments. And in defense of liberal viewers, the same can be said of Stelter’s judgment of “blue news.” I can assure Stelter that MSNBC and its nine viewers are not setting the agenda of American liberalism.

The second response to Stelter’s segment is to note that even the Fox programs that his staff researchers watch for his show prep don’t say what Stelter says they say. Here is the text of the brief clip Stelter played of Sessions’s response to Kelly:

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: And every one of these individuals are going to be given a photo I.D., a Social Security number, and the right to take a job in America, jobs that too few exist and too many Americans are looking for. It’s just the wrong policy and it will incentivize more illegality in the future.

So is it true that, as Stelter says, “it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures”? Certainly not. Sessions is talking about the impact on employment and the number of jobs available as well as the warning that the practical effect of the executive amnesty will be far larger in number because it will incentivize further illegal immigration. And although Stelter would like to portray the right (with a nod to the MSNBC hosts he excerpts) as cold and impervious to the human factor, the opposite is the case. It’s just that Sessions is talking about the human cost to current citizens and future immigrants.

And it’s not as though the right doesn’t have an ongoing debate about the degree of compassion due illegal immigrants. We talk about that here at COMMENTARY quite often, but that aspect of the debate has been elevated for a couple of years now since both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich used their 2012 presidential candidacies as a platform to advocate for keeping immigrant families together even if they came here illegally.

Maybe Stelter just watched a few minutes of Fox and didn’t see such an argument advanced. But that’s no excuse to play liberal talking heads leveling that accusation and then pretty much endorsing it (“I will try to answer that question for you”) instead of challenging it, all so conservatives could fit into the neat box that allows Stelter to condemn the supposed insularity of his cable competitors.

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What to Do About ISIS

It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

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It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

In this just-released Council on Foreign Relations policy innovation memorandum, I outline my view of what a real strategy designed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS would look like. As you will see, I call for not only increasing the military effort but also doing more to train and mobilize Sunni tribes on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, while extending our fight to the Assad regime in order to convince Sunnis to join the anti-ISIS campaign.

I also argue for preparing now to build a postwar order in both Syria and Iraq, unpalatable as the thought of “nation building” might be for some. It is hard to over-stress the importance of the latter point, because only by sketching out a hopeful future will the U.S. convince Syrians and Iraqis to risk their lives to fight ISIS. Declaring a no-fly zone over all or part of Syria would be an important first step in this regard because it would allow the Free Syrian Army to train and a free Syrian government to organize.

Sadly there is little sign so far that President Obama is willing to mount such a serious effort. But it is just possible that continuing outrage over ISIS beheading Americans could force his hand.

And for those who think that ISIS is deliberately trying to lure U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria: At the moment the desultory U.S. campaign is playing into their hands by allowing them to tell their followers that they have stood up to the Great Satan. A more effective U.S.-led campaign would not be so welcome to ISIS if it resulted in its dismemberment and defeat as previously happened to its forerunner, al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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Stephen Harper’s Moral Clarity

At a time when there is all too little bold and principled leadership among Western leaders–when memories of Reagan and Thatcher, to say nothing of Roosevelt and Churchill, grow increasingly distant–Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, stands out.

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At a time when there is all too little bold and principled leadership among Western leaders–when memories of Reagan and Thatcher, to say nothing of Roosevelt and Churchill, grow increasingly distant–Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, stands out.

He has already become well known for his full-throated, principled defense of Israel. For example this summer, when most Western leaders were condemning both Hamas and Israel as if a liberal democracy were equally culpable for a war started by a terrorist state, Harper spoke out forcefully and rightly: “The indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel are terrorist acts, for which there is no justification. It is evident that Hamas is deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region… Failure by the international community to condemn these reprehensible actions would encourage these terrorists to continue their appalling actions.”

And this weekend Harper was equally blunt–and equally right–in admonishing Vladimir Putin at the G20 meeting in Australia. He told Putin: “I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.” This caused Putin to bluster, “That’s impossible because we are not there,” as if Russian tanks, soldiers, and artillery had not crossed en masse into Ukrainian territory.

It is easy to say that Harper’s comments are inconsequential because Canada doesn’t matter much on the world stage. And it’s true that such strong words would carry more weight if coming from Barack Obama. But that is impossible to imagine because President Obama has never once spoken with the kind of moral clarity that Harper exhibits on a regular basis.

What makes his language especially bracing–and politically brave–is that Canada has been far more liberal and less hawkish in its international politics than the United States. It is not the kind of place where you score points for defending Israel or offending the president of Russia. But whatever they may think of the specifics of his comments, Canadian voters clearly appreciate that Harper calls it like he sees it. That helps to explain why he is already in his third term in office.

It’s truly a shame that more leaders do not share Harper’s outlook or his willingness to express his views in plain language. Because of this deficit of leadership, criminals like Putin can show up at international meetings and be treated as respected statesmen instead of the rogues that they actually are. Quite aside from any concrete sanctions that Russia should suffer for its aggression, simply calling out Putin and exiling him from polite society would increase the cost to him of his actions since he transparently wants to be taken seriously and treated respectfully on the international stage. Putin would not be getting away with as much as he gets away with if there were more Stephen Harpers not just in Ottawa but in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin.

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A Lawless Presidency Will Destroy Itself

There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

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There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

The GOP-controlled Congress doesn’t appear to have legislative options that won’t involve funding measures that can be portrayed as a new government shutdown. Though it would take presidential vetoes to kick off such a confrontation, with the help of a still docile mainstream media (see Grubergate), Republican leaders understand that this is a political trap they need to avoid. However, what Democrats who assume the mass amnesty will transform the political landscape in their favor and doom Republicans to perpetual defeat are ignoring is that the executive orders will change the terms of the debate about this issue. Though there may be no way of rescinding these orders while Obama remains in office, the real political trap may be the one that the president’s arrogant assumption of unprecedented personal power may be setting for his party.

As for the justification for this action, the notion that the president must act because Congress has not done so is utterly unconvincing even for those who support the cause of immigration reform.

The presence of an estimated 11 million illegals within our borders is a problem that must eventually be dealt with in a sensible manner. Mass deportations are neither feasible nor desirable, especially with those targeted by the president’s orders that may have children or other family members who are either citizens or legal residents. It is also true that many Republicans that supported the bipartisan immigration compromise that passed the Senate last year signed on to a process that would have given illegals a path, albeit a difficult one, to citizenship.

However, the need to address the problem doesn’t justify the president’s stand.

A measure that is imposed outside of the law that is not directly tied to border security and a reform of a broken immigration system does not solve the problem. If anything, as we saw last summer, such measures only encourage more illegal immigration. That surge of illegals proved that critics of the bipartisan bill were right and those of us (including me) who supported it were wrong. The border must be secured first and then and only then will it be possible to start sorting out those who are still here without permission. That was the approach favored by many in the House of Representatives last year and a new attempt at a fix to the problem should start there rather than trying to resurrect the Senate bill as the president demands.

That is why the administration’s narrative about the executive orders is simply false. Far from the president stepping in to provide a solution where Congress failed, what he is doing is making the problem worse, not better.

Far worse is the manner in which he is doing it.

It is, strictly speaking, within the president’s lawful authority to direct agencies operating under him to exercise prosecutorial discretion. But to do so on a mass scale isn’t merely unprecedented. It breaks new ground in the expansion of executive authority. As much as the president thinks the current law is inadequate to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, it is not up to him to unilaterally legislate a new solution. Only Congress may re-write the laws of the land. The idea of a president acting unilaterally to invalidate existing statutes in such a way as to change the status of millions of persons, however sympathetic we may be to their plight, places Obama outside the law and blaming Congress for inaction does not absolve him.

Nor can it be justified as falling within the executive’s right to act in a crisis.

There are circumstances when, usually in wartime, a crisis looms and broad presidential discretion is unavoidable. But as much as advocates for the illegals may trumpet their plight, this is not a ticking bomb that requires the normal constitutional order to be set aside. If majorities in both the House and the Senate could not be found to support a measure the president deemed important, he had the normal recourse of going to the people and asking them to elect a Congress that will do so. Unfortunately for those who claim that the president has no choice but to bypass Congress, we have just undergone such an election and the people’s answer was a resounding rebuff to the White House. The president may think it is in his interest to pretend as if the midterms should not determine his behavior in his final two years in office but it was he who said his policies were on the ballot. While there was an argument prior to November 4 that claimed that it was the GOP-controlled House that was thwarting public opinion on immigration, that claim disappeared in the Republican sweep.

That brings us to the long-term political consequences of this act.

While much has been made of the impact of amnesty on the Hispanic vote, with these orders the president is digging Democrats a hole that they will have difficulty climbing out of in the next two years.

Hispanics may be grateful for the temporary end of the deportations but it will not escape their notice that in doing so the president has ended any chance of immigration reform for the rest of his term. Nor will they be unaware that a GOP successor will invalidate amnesty with a stroke of the pen as easily as the president has enacted them. Republicans will rightly understand that there is no dealing with an administration that would rather go outside the law than first negotiate in good faith with a newly elected Congress on immigration. Nor can they be blamed for thinking any deal based on promises on border enforcement will be worthless with a president who thinks he has the right to simply order non-enforcement of the laws he doesn’t like.

Even more to the point, the orders will create a backlash among the rest of the electorate that always results when presidents begin to run afoul of both the law and public opinion. A lawless presidency is something that is, by definition, dysfunctional, and that is a term that has already defined Obama’s second term up until this point. Democrats who are counting on wild applause from their base should understand that just as Republicans learned that domination by their Tea Party wing undermines their electoral viability, they too should be wary of governing from the left.

The spectacle of mass amnesty without benefit of law will shock ordinary voters, including many who are Democrats or who think the immigration system should have been fixed. After the orders, responsibility for the failure to do so will rest on Obama, not the Republicans. What the president may be doing with these orders is to remind the voters that parties that grow too comfortable with exercising authority without benefit of law must be taught a lesson, one that will be paid for by his would-be Democratic successor in 2016. Rather than building his legacy, the president may actually be ensuring that his time in office is remembered more for his lack of respect for the rule of law than any actual accomplishments.

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Obama Is Now Lying About His Lies

This is getting pathological. According to this story in Politico, President Obama, when asked whether he had intentionally misled the public in order to get the law passed, he replied: “No. I did not.” He actually did, repeatedly. Here’s just one example–on the president’s pledge that “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period”–that comes to us courtesy of Glenn Kessler, who works for that well-known right-wing outlet the Washington Post.

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This is getting pathological. According to this story in Politico, President Obama, when asked whether he had intentionally misled the public in order to get the law passed, he replied: “No. I did not.” He actually did, repeatedly. Here’s just one example–on the president’s pledge that “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period”–that comes to us courtesy of Glenn Kessler, who works for that well-known right-wing outlet the Washington Post.

Mr. Obama added this: “I would just advise every press outlet here: Pull up every clip and every story. I think it’s fair to say there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent. It was a tough debate.”

Mr. Obama is confusing some things. The issue isn’t whether there was an extensive and tough debate. There was. The issue is whether the president and his White House, during that debate, intentionally misled us. He and they did, all the time, on all sorts of matters related to the ACA. The conservative criticisms of the president were entirely on the mark. They were the truth-tellers; the president was not.

No American can take joy in saying this, but the evidence clearly warrants it: We have a president who is lying about his lies. It’s not good for him, for the office of the presidency, or for our political culture. He might try telling the truth. At this point it won’t salvage his presidency, but it might begin to repair some of the extraordinary damage to his credibility.

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Will Obama Abandon Israel at the UN? Abbas Wants to Find Out

If you want an indication of how Middle East governments are adjusting their calculus according to the Obama administration’s decision to loudly distance itself from Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s deliberations over his UN strategy is a good place to start. Abbas is planning to ask for a vote requiring Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines at the United Nations Security Council. But he’s unsure about the timing, and President Obama’s flagging support for Israel is one reason why.

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If you want an indication of how Middle East governments are adjusting their calculus according to the Obama administration’s decision to loudly distance itself from Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s deliberations over his UN strategy is a good place to start. Abbas is planning to ask for a vote requiring Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines at the United Nations Security Council. But he’s unsure about the timing, and President Obama’s flagging support for Israel is one reason why.

As Raphael Ahren discusses today at the Times of Israel, the current makeup of the Security Council’s rotating members–the supporting cast to the five permanent members–is not as amenable to Palestinian demands as next year’s roster will be. But then there’s the Obama factor. It would seem prudent for Abbas to wait, since he needs nine votes out of fifteen. But he also knows that if he gets those nine votes, the measure will be subject to the veto power of the permanent members of the council. That really means the United States, in this context. And the Palestinians think this might be their best window to get the U.S. to abandon Israel at the UNSC:

Relations between the White House and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are famously strained, and Barack Obama, now entering the last stretch of his presidency and no longer tied to electoral considerations, could decide to turn his back on Jerusalem.

The US might be reluctant to isolate itself internationally by stymieing a move supported by a large majority of states in the United Nations, including the entire Arab world, especially as Washington seeks allies in its fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Despite this being a low ebb in recent years in the U.S.-Israel relationship, I highly doubt Obama will consider sitting on his hands for such a vote at the Security Council, for several reasons. First, though he obviously doesn’t think much of the Israelis, it’s not clear his opinion of the Jewish state has sunk so low as to officially have the U.S. abandon Israel at the UN in favor of the Palestinians.

Second, even if his dislike of Israel has sunk to that level, he probably would still veto the resolution. Obama has indisputably downgraded the U.S.-Israel relationship, most clearly by changing protocol so as to put distance between the two militaries during the last war and by withholding weapons transfers to Israel during wartime. He’s also encouraged a bizarre series of name-calling outbursts aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, which have displayed this administration’s trademark grade-school intellect and overwhelming ignorance of world affairs. But the president tends to take out his anger on Israel in ways that he can always pretend are really just personal spats with Netanyahu.

Obama’s position is that he doesn’t mind being seen as hating Bibi, as long as he can retain plausible deniability that he also dislikes the Israelis who keep electing Bibi. Thus, blessing the Palestinian UN gambit would take away that plausible deniability. Keep in mind stopping the weapons transfer was not something the administration intended to make a public show of; it’s just that while the other mainstream outlets have become Obama’s press shop, the Wall Street Journal is still doing real journalism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they revealed the breach. Abandoning Israel at the UN Security Council would be a very public acknowledgement that Obama’s obsession with picking fights with Netanyahu is not really about Netanyahu at all.

A third reason Obama would still veto such a resolution is that there are domestic political constraints on his behavior toward Israel. (You’re probably thinking: This is Obama being constrained? Indeed, it’s not a pretty sight.) The Democratic Party has lost the battle to try to convince Americans that Obama is with them on Israel. But they would like not to be saddled with Obama’s reputation. They want to nominate Hillary Clinton, who does not have a great record on Israel but anything’s better than what she’d be replacing. The more Obama attacks Israel needlessly, the more complicated the Democrats’ sales job becomes.

That seems to factor into Abbas’s calculations:

After the midterm elections and the Republican takeover of the Senate earlier this month, Obama is unlikely to get much work done domestically and may want to focus on foreign policy issues that could shape his legacy. Besides a nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House might also want to promote Middle East peace and pressure Israel through a pro-Palestinian resolution at the UN.

The sooner Obama does that the more distance Democrats can try to put between his abandonment of Israel and their reputation rehabilitation efforts. Still, Obama must know that if he allows the vote to go through (if it passes), he will be effectively ceding the peace process entirely to unilateral actions. The United States will become at that moment totally irrelevant to how the process proceeds.

It will either finally kill the peace process once and for all, in which case that would be Obama’s legacy, or it will lead to Israelis and Palestinians abandoning the process and going their own way without mediation, in which case Obama would get no credit for any positive results. Obama may like kicking dirt at Israel, but he probably still likes the spotlight even more.

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Obama Finds Support … Among Islamic Republic Loyalists

The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

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The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

Many Democrats take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously. In 2011, Senate Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass tougher sanctions on Iran by a vote of 100-0, over White House objections. But ever since President Obama made his telephone call to President Rouhani and began negotiating with the Islamic Republic in earnest, the White House has succeeded in bringing congressional Democrats in line, against the better judgment of many of them. Well, as the Democratic leadership post-election doubles down on Obama’s foreign policy and their partisan proxies actually argue that a bad deal would be better than no deal and that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should therefore be followed blindly regardless of what they concede, Senator Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can take solace in the fact that they have found new supporters … inside the Islamic Republic.

Mardom Salari, an Iranian daily supportive of Rouhani, editorialized that the Iranian government should reach at least a temporary agreement with President Obama and his team of negotiators, in order to keep Democrats in power:

If at this sensitive time that may decide our future we are not able to agree on that paradigm and structure, tomorrow may be too late and we may not be able to raise the issue [of an agreement] again, because radicalism and extremism are not the traits that have only manifested themselves in the region in the form of some extremist groups… [but] they have also affected some powerful parties in major countries.

Should the Democrats lose in 2016, the paper warned:

…We will be faced with warmongers who see democracy only through the lenses of their weapons and who regard power and fighting as the only standard of justice and democracy. Therefore, in view of this situation, now that the world and people everywhere have replaced the discourse of talks for conflict, inside the country too we should adopt the policy of idealistic realism and in this way we should safeguard national interest and seek our benefits in the forthcoming talks.

The rhetoric is cartoonish nonsense of course, but the meaning is clear: Come to an agreement or else have to face those in the United States who are not pushovers. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Iranian government’s realization after humiliating President Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis that it would face a very different America once Ronald Reagan won the White House.

Perhaps it’s time the Congress disappoints the Iranian government even if the White House will not, and let Tehran know they dragged their feet for six years too long, and that they cannot forever count on American naivete, weakness, and impotence.

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The Truman Clown Show and Iranian Nukes

It seems like these days every time the Truman National Security Project is in the news it is because of a debate over how ashamed the think tank’s inspiration, Harry Truman, would be of its latest antics. In late 2011, the Truman Project expelled former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block because of his decision to push back publicly on leftists close to the Obama administration for their anti-Israel invective. And now it has sunk to a level that embarrassed even its founder Rachel Kleinfeld. But it answered a very important question about the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy in the process.

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It seems like these days every time the Truman National Security Project is in the news it is because of a debate over how ashamed the think tank’s inspiration, Harry Truman, would be of its latest antics. In late 2011, the Truman Project expelled former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block because of his decision to push back publicly on leftists close to the Obama administration for their anti-Israel invective. And now it has sunk to a level that embarrassed even its founder Rachel Kleinfeld. But it answered a very important question about the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy in the process.

Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo revealed that the Truman Project, which is aligned with the Obama White House and whose board of advisors includes Michele Flournoy, had initiated a rather heavyhanded call to arms to rally support for President Obama’s attempt to ink a deal on Iran’s nuclear program with Tehran. On an internal email list, the group appeared ready to support whatever deal eventually emerges, if a deal does emerge, from the negotiations. But they seemed even more interested in attacking those with reservations about the deal.

“Our community absolutely must step up and not cede the public narrative to neocon hawks that would send our country to war just to screw the president,” Graham F. West, Truman’s writing and communications associate, wrote, according to Kredo. And he claimed, as the president often does, that the choice was essentially between war and peace, with no gray area.

Then today, Kredo followed up with another scoop of internal communications from the Truman Project. While the earlier batch of emails showed the Truman Project slandering skeptics of an Iran deal as animated simply by partisanship and willing to send Americans to war just to mess with the president, the second batch showed an equally unhinged effort to get Truman scholars to question the patriotism of anyone who opposes Obama on the issue:

“If they [Congress] kill the deal, they should be blamed for the consequences,” [David Solimini, Truman’s vice president for strategic communications] wrote. “Congress gave the president the tools he needed to make sure Iran was isolated and under massive pressure. Now they need to support what they started so that we can keep up our end of the bargain.”

Solimini then suggests a “good line” that advocates can use: “Congress is the home team. They better keep rooting for an American win.”

“Handling opposition to a deal” also is addressed in the talking points.

Those who would “be against any deal, even before they know what it is” are “shameful,” according to Solimini’s document.

In what may prove to be one of the document’s more controversial passages, Solimini recommends that Truman allies push back against those who insist, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

That last part is important, both because Obama himself has said that line and because the Obama administration’s obvious desperation in getting any deal they can has contributed mightily to the impression that he doesn’t mean it. One of the recent suggestions, for example, was that Iran disconnect some pipes, so they’d have to–gasp!–reconnect them when they felt like it.

So the president obviously believes that any deal is better than no deal, and the Truman Project is on board with this nonsense, ready to publicly question the patriotism of those with reservations about the administration’s recklessness. It shows that even in the quarters that are supposed to be providing the intellectual firepower for the nuke deal, false choices and mischaracterizations are all we get. The Obama administration’s behavior can’t be defended on its merits, even from its defenders.

And it reveals something significant. As Kleinfeld (who is no longer with the organization) tweeted when the first story broke, the U.S. should only agree to an Iran deal if it’s a good deal, “not for partisanship.” The Truman Project’s “all-hands-on-deck effort” is a classic case of projection. It warns of the pure partisanship of its opponents when the opposite is true. Skepticism toward Iran’s intentions and the wisdom of striking a weak deal is actually bipartisan.

Today Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (the latter the outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) declared “they would push for more penalties against Tehran if they are unhappy with any nuclear deal, signaling a potential battle with the Obama administration less than two weeks before the deadline for an agreement.”

Indeed, the Obama administration strategy that emerged even before the Republicans won back control of the Senate was to find a way to go it alone. The president knows that, as usual, opposition to his plans is bipartisan, and that even with control of the Senate he would struggle getting a treaty through. Congress has vowed to push back, but the only reason they have anything to push back on is that Obama is strongly considering pretending the treaty isn’t a treaty and going around the Senate to strike a deal.

The naked partisanship, in other words, is completely on one side–Obama’s. And the Truman Project is just the latest to demonstrate this reality.

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Negotiating with Iran or Just One Faction?

In 1998, against the backdrop of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations,” there was great optimism about the potential for a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations among many of the same circles that express it now. And then, just as now, some in the U.S. business community wanted to rush into the Iranian market, figuring all that was left for some sort of grand rapprochement was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in any sort of diplomatic agreement. It was against this backdrop that a group of American businessmen, traveling at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, flew to Tehran in order to combine meetings with tourism.

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In 1998, against the backdrop of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations,” there was great optimism about the potential for a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations among many of the same circles that express it now. And then, just as now, some in the U.S. business community wanted to rush into the Iranian market, figuring all that was left for some sort of grand rapprochement was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in any sort of diplomatic agreement. It was against this backdrop that a group of American businessmen, traveling at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, flew to Tehran in order to combine meetings with tourism.

Their trip did not go as planned. Escorted around in a minibus, all seemed well until they were set upon by a group of stone and iron bar wielding vigilantes who attacked the group. They cut their trip short and went home. I discussed the now forgotten incident in my first monograph about the history of Iranian vigilantism, but suffice it to say, those who attacked the Americans had official sanction to do so while those who invited the Americans also had official sanction to do so. The problem with the Iranian system, as always, was the multiple power centers, and so there can be often contradictory official sanctions.

That Iran has overlapping and competing power centers is well understood, both in Iran and in the West. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei keeps power in large part by balancing those power centers off each other. Having multiple power centers provides other advantages for Tehran: Those who are unwise enough to actually invest in Iran quickly learn that there is no practical adherence to commercial law. If a contract is signed to provide oil at a fixed price, for example, and the price of oil rises, Iranian partners will simply discover that the contract is invalid because a previously irrelevant body had not signed off on it.

President Obama may believe his administration’s diplomacy is on firm ground. After all, he spoke directly on the telephone with President Rouhani, and he sent letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who spoke about “heroic flexibility.” But Rouhani represents only one faction, and Obama and Kerry misinterpreted Khamenei’s rhetoric.

Even if a deal is struck, Obama will have essentially negotiated it with only one faction. Just as after the Reagan-era “Arms for Hostages” diplomacy (which saw Mehdi Hashemi’s faction attack America despite National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane’s “agreement” with Hashemi Rafsanjani) and with the Khatami-era “Dialogue of Civilizations” approach (which saw hardliners associated with the Basij and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attack American interests), and just as in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which Ambassador Ryan Crocker and National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated a non-interference agreement with Iranian diplomats (only to see it ignored and flouted by the IRGC), so too should the United States recognize that a deal struck with Rouhani and Iran’s Foreign Ministry will be meaningless to the IRGC and perhaps the supreme leader.

Naïve diplomats can blame the violations of agreements on rogues or spoilers and insist Tehran can be trusted. But they would be wrong. Iranian leaders encourage competing power circles to lash out or go rogue in order to achieve undiplomatic aims, while consciously cultivating plausible deniability. At the very least, other Iranian factions are going to seek their own deal, raising the price of any agreement. To strike a deal and expect peace and tranquility would be like to pay off one mafia family in 1930s Chicago (or 2014 Chicago) when two or three other mafia families operate in the same location.

Here are the facts:

  • The Obama team is essentially negotiating with the Iranian Foreign Ministry in a process blessed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has not yet signed on. His “Heroic Flexibility” comments referred to tactics, not substance. His so-called nuclear fatwa is not written down and has never been published, and President Obama and his top advisors have never seen it. They have simply put hope ahead of reality. Khamenei has already issued “red lines” that make a deal to resolve the situation impossible; unlike Obama, Khamenei treats red lines as more than rhetorical flourish.
  • The IRGC would have command, control, and custody over any military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. It has repeatedly condemned the nuclear diplomacy and has indicated that it will not abide by it.

So, in short, even if Obama and Kerry reach an agreement, they will essentially only be reaching it with one faction among many, and perhaps the weakest faction at that. It’s Diplomacy 101 not to negotiate an agreement with interlocutors who cannot deliver, but it seems increasingly that this is what Obama and Kerry insist on doing. At the very least, the price of Iranian compliance is going to be far higher than Obama and Kerry expect, and at the very worst, Iran’s willingness to talk is simply an asymmetric warfare strategy to cause the West to let its guard down while it continues with its efforts to achieve its ideological and regional goals.

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A Superficial “Success” in Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Obama Should Have Skipped Burma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Deterrence Won’t Work with Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Obama Years Have Been Poisonous Ones for Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Veterans Day and Excessive Self-Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Media Would Like You to Forget Their Embarrassing Putin Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s False Choice on Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Dangerous Race for an Iran Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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