Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama administration

Defense Cuts Would Spike Unemployment

There’s no question the automatic budget cuts set to take place next January will have major national security implications, but what about the economic fallout? Sequestration doesn’t just mean a reduction in military readiness, it also means reductions in defense and non-defense jobs. According to a new study by the Aerospace Industries Association, the unemployment rate would reach 9 percent or higher under these cuts (h/t Rob Bluey):

“The results are bleak but clear-cut,” said [Dr. Stephen S.] Fuller. “The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds. An already weak economy will be undercut as the paychecks of thousands of workers across the economy will be affected from teachers, nurses, construction workers to key federal employees such as border patrol and FBI agents, food inspectors and others.”

The analysis concludes that the automatic spending cuts mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011 affecting defense and non-defense discretionary spending in just the first year of implementation will reduce the nation’s GDP by $215 billion; decrease personal earnings of the workforce by $109.4 billion and cost the U.S. economy 2.14 million jobs.

This is about more than national security. A sudden reduction in defense-sector jobs could devastate whole communities, flooding the already-oversaturated job market with masses of newly unemployed. These aren’t unnecessary or obsolete jobs, they’re ones that are still critical for national defense.

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There’s no question the automatic budget cuts set to take place next January will have major national security implications, but what about the economic fallout? Sequestration doesn’t just mean a reduction in military readiness, it also means reductions in defense and non-defense jobs. According to a new study by the Aerospace Industries Association, the unemployment rate would reach 9 percent or higher under these cuts (h/t Rob Bluey):

“The results are bleak but clear-cut,” said [Dr. Stephen S.] Fuller. “The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds. An already weak economy will be undercut as the paychecks of thousands of workers across the economy will be affected from teachers, nurses, construction workers to key federal employees such as border patrol and FBI agents, food inspectors and others.”

The analysis concludes that the automatic spending cuts mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011 affecting defense and non-defense discretionary spending in just the first year of implementation will reduce the nation’s GDP by $215 billion; decrease personal earnings of the workforce by $109.4 billion and cost the U.S. economy 2.14 million jobs.

This is about more than national security. A sudden reduction in defense-sector jobs could devastate whole communities, flooding the already-oversaturated job market with masses of newly unemployed. These aren’t unnecessary or obsolete jobs, they’re ones that are still critical for national defense.

The Obama administration and Congress may not be able to avoid dealing with this issue for long. As Dov Zakheim wrote last month at Foreign Policy, employers will be required to inform their employees of the possible termination 60 days before the sequester goes into effect — which just so happens to be Nov. 2, 2012:

 In addition to its impact on the government’s budget, the sequester will also trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to give a minimum of sixty days notice to private and public sector employees whose jobs are being targeted for possible termination. Those politicians seeking re-election to national office should take note that Nov. 2, 60 days before Jan. 2, when the sequester comes into force, is just four days before election day. They may find it very uncomfortable having to explain to potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have been given WARN Act pink slips why they deserve to be returned to office after they did nothing about the sequester.

Can you imagine massive layoff warnings a week before the election? How has the Obama administration failed to address this issue so far?

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Forgotten POW Marks 3 Years of Captivity

During the weekend, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, marked three years in captivity.

The details of his capture are still a mystery. In a recent Rolling Stone article, the Bergdahl family released previously unseen emails which detailed Bowe’s discontent with his service in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers told Rolling Stone they believe he was captured because he deserted his post. The White House and Pentagon have both refused to comment on how the Taliban captured Bergdahl and have given few details about how they have worked to return him to his family. The Pentagon has not classified him as a deserter and gave him promotions while in captivity.

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During the weekend, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, marked three years in captivity.

The details of his capture are still a mystery. In a recent Rolling Stone article, the Bergdahl family released previously unseen emails which detailed Bowe’s discontent with his service in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers told Rolling Stone they believe he was captured because he deserted his post. The White House and Pentagon have both refused to comment on how the Taliban captured Bergdahl and have given few details about how they have worked to return him to his family. The Pentagon has not classified him as a deserter and gave him promotions while in captivity.

Despite the murky details of his capture, Bergdahl has, according to reports, attempted to escape as recently as late last year. The Daily Beast reported on his heroic attempt after years of gaining his captors’ trust:

Bergdahl successfully avoided capture for three days and two nights. The searchers finally found him, weak, exhausted, and nearly naked—he had spent three days without food or water—hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.

Even then, he put up a ferocious fight. The two gunmen who found him first were unable to subdue him. “He fought like a boxer,” [Afghan militant Hafiz] Hanif was told. It took five more militants to overpower him. Now back in custody, he is kept shackled at night, and his jailers are taking no chances.

Soon after publishing this blog post in May about Taliban prisoner exchanges, it became clear Bergdahl was the centerpoint of secret (and stalled) negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. government. The Bergdahl family released the details of the negotiations in an attempt to pressure the Obama administration into action. Robert Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, has also reached out to insurgents himself and is in “regular e-mail contact with a man he believes is a member of the Taliban with accurate knowledge of his son.” The Bergdahl family have told the media  they feel abandoned by the Obama administration and feel the need to try to secure their son’s release themselves.

The piece in Rolling Stone speculated, while naming anonymous sources, that there are elements within the Pentagon who are loathe to exchange prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for a potential deserter. Rolling Stone also speculated that the reluctance to negotiate on the part of the Obama administration is due to their not wanting to be seen negotiating with terrorists during an election year.

Whatever the reason for the breakdown in negotiations, one would hope the Pentagon and Obama administration’s number one priority remains the safety of an American soldier held captive by a terrorist organization as ruthless as the Taliban. During his imprisonment, Bergdahl’s health has visibly deteriorated as demonstrated on videos released by his captors. The anniversary of his capture was marked locally by friends and family in a massive Crossfit workout in honor of the missing soldier but was largely absent from the national consciousness. Going into his fourth year of captivity his family released a statement, which closed with:

We’d also like to ask each of you as individuals and as a nation for your continued awareness as Bowe begins his fourth year as a prisoner. We want this to be the year we see our only son safely returned home.

We owe it to Bergdahl and his family to keep his name in our hearts and minds as we, as a nation, prioritize his release as we would if Bowe were our own son or brother.

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Liberals Can’t Handle the Truth

Peter Baker of the New York Times writes about the Obama administration’s effort to explain the continuing unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. (Baker points out that just 32 percent supported the Affordable Care Act when it was approved in March 2010, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll; and as of a month ago, 34 percent supported it, virtually unchanged.)

The problem, Team Obama would have us believe, has nothing whatsoever to do with the defects in the law. The blame rests with an insufficiently effective PR effort.

“Unfortunately, we never had a really effective strategy around communicating to the public the benefits and the rationale behind health care reform,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a physician and University of Pennsylvania vice provost who was a top White House adviser involved in developing the program. “We never had a spokesperson, and the public never really understood what we were doing.”

That failure still baffles supporters like Dr. Emanuel, given the significance of health care to Obama’s legacy. Some see it as a result of the president’s own instinctive diffidence or the natural desire to move to the next challenge. Others note the complexity of the act itself, or criticize the president’s advisers for not being more assertive.

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Peter Baker of the New York Times writes about the Obama administration’s effort to explain the continuing unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. (Baker points out that just 32 percent supported the Affordable Care Act when it was approved in March 2010, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll; and as of a month ago, 34 percent supported it, virtually unchanged.)

The problem, Team Obama would have us believe, has nothing whatsoever to do with the defects in the law. The blame rests with an insufficiently effective PR effort.

“Unfortunately, we never had a really effective strategy around communicating to the public the benefits and the rationale behind health care reform,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a physician and University of Pennsylvania vice provost who was a top White House adviser involved in developing the program. “We never had a spokesperson, and the public never really understood what we were doing.”

That failure still baffles supporters like Dr. Emanuel, given the significance of health care to Obama’s legacy. Some see it as a result of the president’s own instinctive diffidence or the natural desire to move to the next challenge. Others note the complexity of the act itself, or criticize the president’s advisers for not being more assertive.

But as I showed in this essay in COMMENTARY, the White House was highly aggressive in its public advocacy for reform. In the summer of 2009, for example, it was “all Obama, all the time,” in the words of the Washington Post. The president was “so active in advocating health care reform in September that some commentators suggested he was in danger of overexposure,” according to presidential scholar George C. Edwards III. Nothing worked; the Affordable Care Act became progressively less popular the more the president spoke about it and the more the public learned about it.

Champions of the Affordable Care Act, however, cannot handle the truth. They therefore seek refuge in the all-purpose, easy-to-apply We Have A Communications Problem explanation. This is self-deception of a high order. But when you’re allied with the Obama administration, it’s often the only excuse you have left.

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Obama’s Systematic Assault on the Truth

The Democratic talking points have been issued and are being followed to the letter (see here and here). And they go like this: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not a tax; it’s a penalty. Those who suggests it’s a tax are wrong, in error, disingenuous, and dissemblers.

Here’s the problem, though: characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a tax isn’t simply the interpretation of Chief Justice John Roberts and a majority of the Supreme Court; it’s the interpretation of the Obama administration.

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The Democratic talking points have been issued and are being followed to the letter (see here and here). And they go like this: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not a tax; it’s a penalty. Those who suggests it’s a tax are wrong, in error, disingenuous, and dissemblers.

Here’s the problem, though: characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a tax isn’t simply the interpretation of Chief Justice John Roberts and a majority of the Supreme Court; it’s the interpretation of the Obama administration.

As this story put it:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the Court had a duty to uphold an act of Congress if there was a constitutional basis for doing so. And the basis he seized on was the fallback argument [Solicitor General Donald] Verrilli included in the briefs—that the Constitution gives Congress a broad power to impose taxes to “provide for the general welfare.”

The government’s legal brief said the insurance mandate operates in practice as a tax law. No one would be prosecuted or punished for not having insurance. If they had taxable income, however, they would be forced to pay a small tax penalty.

The chief justice agreed with this argument, and so did the four liberal justices. Though Congress may not “order” people to buy insurance, Roberts held in the 5-4 decision, it may impose a small tax on those who refuse.

The Affordable Care Act, then, was upheld as constitutional based on the tax argument put forward by President Obama’s legal team. And yet the Obama administration is now insisting the Affordable Care Act never was a tax, is not now a tax, and shall never be a tax.

This is yet another example of how Barack Obama is a thoroughly post-modern president. Words and facts have no objective standing; they are relative, socially constructed, a way to advance personal reality. If referring to the Affordable Care Act as a tax helps advance the Obama agenda, then it’s a tax. If referring to the ACA as a penalty helps advance the Obama agenda, it becomes a penalty.

You like tomato and I like tomahto.

That philosophy may be fine for liberal arts professors and even tolerable among community organizers. But when the president of the United States systematically assaults truth—if words mean whatever you want them to mean—it becomes rather more problematic. Yet that is precisely where the United States finds itself in the summer of 2012.

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U.S. Must Avoid Embrace of Morsi

Many in the Obama administration may have heaved a sigh of relief this morning when Egypt’s election commission declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi the winner of the country’s presidential election. There were justifiable fears that the Egyptian military would complete the coup d’état it began when the country’s high court tossed the Islamist-controlled parliament out of office by stealing the presidential contest for its preferred candidate. By choosing to attempt to live with the Brotherhood rather than attempt to destroy it, the army may have avoided a bloody civil war that would have drowned Egypt in blood and destabilized the region even further.

But as much as Washington is relieved that the next stage of life in post-Mubarak Egypt will not be one in which the military rules alone, President Obama must resist the impulse to embrace Morsi or to behave in any manner that might lend support to the Brotherhood leader in the power struggle in Cairo that will undoubtedly ensue. As much as the United States should support the principle of democracy, Morsi and his party are no apostles of freedom. Though worries about the U.S. being tainted by association with a military who wishes to perpetuate authoritarian rule are well founded, the danger from a rising tide of Islamism in the wake of the Arab Spring is far more dangerous to American interests.

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Many in the Obama administration may have heaved a sigh of relief this morning when Egypt’s election commission declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi the winner of the country’s presidential election. There were justifiable fears that the Egyptian military would complete the coup d’état it began when the country’s high court tossed the Islamist-controlled parliament out of office by stealing the presidential contest for its preferred candidate. By choosing to attempt to live with the Brotherhood rather than attempt to destroy it, the army may have avoided a bloody civil war that would have drowned Egypt in blood and destabilized the region even further.

But as much as Washington is relieved that the next stage of life in post-Mubarak Egypt will not be one in which the military rules alone, President Obama must resist the impulse to embrace Morsi or to behave in any manner that might lend support to the Brotherhood leader in the power struggle in Cairo that will undoubtedly ensue. As much as the United States should support the principle of democracy, Morsi and his party are no apostles of freedom. Though worries about the U.S. being tainted by association with a military who wishes to perpetuate authoritarian rule are well founded, the danger from a rising tide of Islamism in the wake of the Arab Spring is far more dangerous to American interests.

Too many in the administration have been taken in by the Brotherhood’s propaganda in which they have represented themselves as having no interest in imposing their fundamentalist principles on all of Egypt and the region. Inviting Brotherhood representatives to meet with senior administration officials earlier this year was mistake. As Eli Lake reported in the Daily Beast this week, this even extended to granting a visa to a known member of an active terrorist group.

The Brotherhood claims they will use Turkey’s Islamists as their model. That’s something that should provide little comfort to those who have watched as a secular state heads down the path of extremism at home and confrontation with Israel abroad. But the extremist character of the Islamist movement is difficult to conceal. Were the Brotherhood ever to seize control of all power in Cairo it would not only mean an end to any hope for democracy in Egypt, it would undermine the stability of other Arab countries.

That’s why it would be folly for President Obama to side with Morsi in the coming months or to give the impression that he supports the Brotherhood’s efforts to stop the military from acting as a check on its power.

It bears repeating that there are no good choices available to the United States in Egypt. President Obama has been woefully remiss in attempting to promote democracy, a policy that he seems to associate with the George W. Bush administration and therefore something to be avoided. There are not enough genuine liberals in Egypt, meaning the only real options are the military and the Brotherhood. America should choose neither.

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What is the Obama Administration Hiding, and Why Are They Hiding It?

Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

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Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

In a memo today from Republican Senator Charles Grassley, we’re informed, “The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder ‘inadvertently’ made that claim to the Committee. The Department’s letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation.”

Grassley went on to make this statement:

This is the second time in nearly seven months that the Department has gotten its facts wrong about gunwalking. Attorney General Holder accused Attorney General Mukasey, without producing any evidence, of having been briefed on gunwalking in Wide Receiver. The case Attorney General Mukasey was briefed on, Hernandez, is fundamentally different from both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious since it involved cooperation with the Mexican government. Attorney General Holder’s retraction should have included an apology to the former Attorney General.

In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.

So let’s consider where we are. Congress has been misled several times by the Attorney General. We don’t yet know if Holder committed perjury or was simply incompetent in making the claims he did. But we do know that President Obama, who was once a harsh critic of executive privilege when it came to his predecessor, has suddenly discovered a real fondness for it. Obama, in fact, is now invoking executive privilege in order to prevent Congress for getting the documents it needs in order to investigate a program that was, by any measure, a scandalous failure that led to the deaths of innocent Americans and Mexicans.

Which raises these questions: As Alana noted earlier, what is the Obama administration hiding? And why are they hiding it?

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SCOTUS Clerks Say Mandate Will Be Nixed

Via WaPo’s Sarah Kliff, this is a big shift from what we saw in the last poll of Supreme Court clerks:

A new poll of 56 former Supreme Court clerks finds that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned. That’s a 22-point jump from the last time the same group of clerks was surveyed, right before oral arguments. Back then, 35 percent thought the court would toss out the required purchase of health insurance.

Most of the clerks found the Supreme Court’s questioning to be more skeptical than they had expected. As one clerk put it to Purple Strategies’ Doug Schoen, who conducted the research, “I feel like a dope, because I was one of those who predicted that the Court would uphold the statute by a lopsided majority…it now appears pretty likely that this prediction was way off.”

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Via WaPo’s Sarah Kliff, this is a big shift from what we saw in the last poll of Supreme Court clerks:

A new poll of 56 former Supreme Court clerks finds that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned. That’s a 22-point jump from the last time the same group of clerks was surveyed, right before oral arguments. Back then, 35 percent thought the court would toss out the required purchase of health insurance.

Most of the clerks found the Supreme Court’s questioning to be more skeptical than they had expected. As one clerk put it to Purple Strategies’ Doug Schoen, who conducted the research, “I feel like a dope, because I was one of those who predicted that the Court would uphold the statute by a lopsided majority…it now appears pretty likely that this prediction was way off.”

The change among law clerks reflects change in conventional wisdom that the mandate now seems more likely to be struck down. Even if the Supreme Court just strikes the mandate and leaves the rest intact, Republicans have vowed to dismantle the entire law. This isn’t a fight the administration is going to give up easily, and they’ve already started a PR push about the job-creating benefits of the health care law. Health and Human Services issued this press release today:

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced awards of new grants made possible by the health care law to expand community health centers. The grants awarded to 219 health centers will help expand access to care for more than 1.25 million additional patients and create approximately 5,640 jobs by establishing new health center service delivery sites. …

Health centers are also an integral source of local employment and economic growth in many underserved and low-income communities. In 2011, health centers employed more than 138,000 staff including: 9,900 physicians, 6,900 nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and certified nurse midwives, 11,800 nurses, 10,300 dental staff, 4,400 behavioral health staff; and more than 12,500 case managers, health education, outreach and transportation staff.

In other words, if you want to repeal and replace ObamaCare, then you’re against job creation and health care in low-income communities.

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Beware Gulf States’ Role in Syria

Every day seems to bring fresh, horrific revelations of atrocities in Syria, which Amnesty International says amount to crimes against humanity. The latest news concerns the Sunni village of Al Heffa in the northwest, where UN monitors found “fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons.”

The Obama administration remains committed, it appears, to staying on the sidelines of this growing crisis, but it is finding it hard to ignore entirely the cause of the rebels. Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives have increased contacts with the opposition. But rather than provide arms directly to the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. representatives are content to let Gulf states do the dirty work. As the Journal notes, the “U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”

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Every day seems to bring fresh, horrific revelations of atrocities in Syria, which Amnesty International says amount to crimes against humanity. The latest news concerns the Sunni village of Al Heffa in the northwest, where UN monitors found “fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons.”

The Obama administration remains committed, it appears, to staying on the sidelines of this growing crisis, but it is finding it hard to ignore entirely the cause of the rebels. Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives have increased contacts with the opposition. But rather than provide arms directly to the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. representatives are content to let Gulf states do the dirty work. As the Journal notes, the “U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”

On the surface this may appear to be “smart power” in action: Why should the U.S. take the lead if allies are willing to do it? But actually this is a fundamentally dumb and dangerous policy which risks repeating the same mistake the U.S. made in the 1980s when we subcontracted the arming of the Afghan mujahideen to the Pakistanis and Saudis. Who did these fundamentalist-dominated states choose to support? Not surprisingly, the bulk of their support went to brutal Afghan fundamentalists such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyr–closely connected to an obscure Saudi financer named Osama bin Laden–rather than to more moderate and pro-Western figures such as Ahmad Shah Massoud. We are now paying the price for building up Haqqani, Hekmatyr, et. al: They have gone from fighting the Red Army to fighting NATO forces and their allies in Afghanistan.

For this reason, I am considerably alarmed by news of the growing Saudi, Emirati and Qatari role in Syria. These are not the countries we want determining the future of Syria. Yet the longer we stand on the sidelines, the more their role will grow. Heaven help us if their proxies come to power in Syria as they eventually did in Afghanistan.

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McConnell Vows to Defend Citizens United

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

The latest example is David Axelrod, who promised earlier this week that if Obama wins a second term, he will pursue any option — including a constitutional amendment — to restrict these rights:

“When we win, we will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment, to turn this back. I understand the free speech argument, but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that’s very concerning.”

At AEI, McConnell blasted Axelrod and the Obama administration for the proposal.

“Amending the First Amendment for the first time in history is an act of radicalism,” said McConnell.

There are other indications that the issue of political money will be back at the top of the news this summer. The Supreme Court reportedly met earlier this week to consider a Montana case that challenges some aspects of the Citizens United decision and a subsequent Appellate Court ruling on unlimited political contributions. The Los Angeles Times reports that the appeal isn’t expected to be denied, and the Supreme Court may either decide to hear the case or write a summary opinion defending the Citizens United ruling.

McConnell said as the election nears, some Republicans may be tempted “to take the issue off the table or make concessions.”

“My advice is to resist the temptation,” he said.

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Politics Dictates Deportations Policy

For three and a half years, Hispanic activists have complained the Obama administration was all talk and no action when it came to satisfying their demands for more lenient immigration guidelines. But with the president’s re-election campaign looking increasingly shaky, the need to solidify the Democratic base has led to a not terribly surprising policy about face. The announcement today of an executive order that the United States will cease any efforts to deport young illegal immigrants is just another instance of how politics rules all in the Obama administration.

The change, which resembles to some extent the Dream Act that would have granted a path to citizenship for youngsters who came to the country illegally, will mean that up to 800,000 undocumented people will be able to get a two-year deferral on steps to make them leave the country and then allow them to apply for work permits. Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the measure is not a form of amnesty and does not grant immunity, that is exactly what it is. While there is a strong argument to be made that such deportations are a waste of government resources and that the country will be better off if such persons have their status normalized, there is no question the motivation here is purely political. But whether the president’s fiat will help more with Hispanics than it hurts with the clear majority of Americans who take a dim view of policies that seek to legalize the presence of undocumented aliens is yet to be determined.

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For three and a half years, Hispanic activists have complained the Obama administration was all talk and no action when it came to satisfying their demands for more lenient immigration guidelines. But with the president’s re-election campaign looking increasingly shaky, the need to solidify the Democratic base has led to a not terribly surprising policy about face. The announcement today of an executive order that the United States will cease any efforts to deport young illegal immigrants is just another instance of how politics rules all in the Obama administration.

The change, which resembles to some extent the Dream Act that would have granted a path to citizenship for youngsters who came to the country illegally, will mean that up to 800,000 undocumented people will be able to get a two-year deferral on steps to make them leave the country and then allow them to apply for work permits. Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the measure is not a form of amnesty and does not grant immunity, that is exactly what it is. While there is a strong argument to be made that such deportations are a waste of government resources and that the country will be better off if such persons have their status normalized, there is no question the motivation here is purely political. But whether the president’s fiat will help more with Hispanics than it hurts with the clear majority of Americans who take a dim view of policies that seek to legalize the presence of undocumented aliens is yet to be determined.

Even Mitt Romney, who swung hard to the right on immigration, has said he was willing to accept some form of the Dream Act, as long as it solely covered those illegals who were willing to serve in the armed services. But public resistance to what might otherwise be considered a humanitarian and prudent course of action has been considerable. Support for stringent enforcement of immigration laws has never waned principally because most Americans see the porous border as a sign the rule of law is breaking down. Amnesty provisions such as this executive order make sense in that deporting all 800,000 illegal youngsters is no more feasible than deporting all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. But doing so effectively makes a mockery of the concept that laws on the books must be enforced.

However, the timing of the announcement at the start of a long general election campaign strips away any pretense that the decision has been dictated by anything but politics, especially because the president could have issued this executive order at any time in the last three years. As to the impact on the November election, it may help bring out the Hispanic vote for the president in some states, but it is also likely to create a backlash among the majority who believes illegal immigration is a serious problem. That makes it doubtful the move will have much effect on battleground states such as Arizona and New Mexico, where the large number of Hispanics who may be happy about the decision will be offset by other voters who see it as an example of how the administration has disregarded their concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on their communities.

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The Wages of Global Détente

A foreign policy that stands for nothing but easing tensions is yielding some very tense results. As Max notes, Russia is reportedly sending attack helicopters to Syria for Bashar al-Assad to better mow down Syrians. Hillary Clinton responded by describing the development. The shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” she said, and registered “concern.”

There are indeed multiple reasons to be concerned—even if you’ve decided that population slaughter is no longer any of America’s business. Vladimir Putin has used the Obama administration’s reset policy as an opportunity to elevate himself and humiliate America before the world. He is positively giddy about his good fortune. When the U.S. approached him to help ease Assad out of power he responded by arming Assad instead. He had three perfectly good reasons for doing this. First, Assad is his client (as this shipment demonstrates). Second, he and Assad are autocrats up against local manifestations of a global anti-autocratic revolt. Squelching such revolt in one place makes it easier to dampen it in the next. Three, going bold in Syria where the United States fears to tread gives him a much-needed boost at home. This is especially true among members of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church who fear an anti-Christian explosion in a post-Assad Syria. Needless to say, Syria is Iran’s closest ally. With additional boosts from Russia and no counter move from the U.S., there’s no reason to think Assad can’t put down the rebellion and survive as the mullahs’ link to the Mediterranean.

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A foreign policy that stands for nothing but easing tensions is yielding some very tense results. As Max notes, Russia is reportedly sending attack helicopters to Syria for Bashar al-Assad to better mow down Syrians. Hillary Clinton responded by describing the development. The shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” she said, and registered “concern.”

There are indeed multiple reasons to be concerned—even if you’ve decided that population slaughter is no longer any of America’s business. Vladimir Putin has used the Obama administration’s reset policy as an opportunity to elevate himself and humiliate America before the world. He is positively giddy about his good fortune. When the U.S. approached him to help ease Assad out of power he responded by arming Assad instead. He had three perfectly good reasons for doing this. First, Assad is his client (as this shipment demonstrates). Second, he and Assad are autocrats up against local manifestations of a global anti-autocratic revolt. Squelching such revolt in one place makes it easier to dampen it in the next. Three, going bold in Syria where the United States fears to tread gives him a much-needed boost at home. This is especially true among members of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church who fear an anti-Christian explosion in a post-Assad Syria. Needless to say, Syria is Iran’s closest ally. With additional boosts from Russia and no counter move from the U.S., there’s no reason to think Assad can’t put down the rebellion and survive as the mullahs’ link to the Mediterranean.

It’s one thing for the United States to implement bad policies; it’s another to approach the perfectly wrong people on a given issue and ask them to do something they’d never do in a billion years. The one-way reset policy has proved to be the mistake that keeps spoiling. Putin’s got Barack Obama’s number. He knows the United States is out of the superpower game and is now testing the limits of unfettered cynical realism.

The reset must be coupled with the Obama administration’s Libyan lead-from-behind strategy to see the dimensions of the corner we’re in regarding Syria. Would Assad be so comfortable with wholesale butchery in service of regime survival if America had led from the front in Libya? If Obama had given Muammar Qaddafi a short deadline to step down and then unapologetically led an international coalition in a short and devastating mission when he refused? If an American presence remained in Libya to track weapons, money, and terrorists? If Obama then made a credible statement that the United States would not fence-sit while anti-democratic rulers kill their people?

The truth is we can’t know for sure. But we do know that the strenuous effort to downplay our differences with bad actors hasn’t saved us any trouble. The point about a bold foreign policy that’s been lost is that it’s aimed at avoiding larger conflicts. With a pusillanimous American administration pushing a global détente, what reason does Russia or Syria—or China, North Korea, and Iran—have for checking their ambitions? And so, the global order spins further from our reach a little more each day.

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U.S.-Iran Trade Triples?

On the same day the Obama administration has exempted South Korean and Indian compliance with sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press is reporting that U.S. trade with Iran tripled between March and April 2012:

The latest figures and statistics of the Census Bureau said that despite the U.S-sponsored sanctions against Iran, the United States exported $43.8 million worth of goods to Iran in April. In March, the U.S. had exported. $13.9 million worth of exports to the Islamic Republic. The figure is the highest value of U.S. exports to Iran in the last 36 months. The figure also shows a 200 percent increase compared with April 2011.

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On the same day the Obama administration has exempted South Korean and Indian compliance with sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press is reporting that U.S. trade with Iran tripled between March and April 2012:

The latest figures and statistics of the Census Bureau said that despite the U.S-sponsored sanctions against Iran, the United States exported $43.8 million worth of goods to Iran in April. In March, the U.S. had exported. $13.9 million worth of exports to the Islamic Republic. The figure is the highest value of U.S. exports to Iran in the last 36 months. The figure also shows a 200 percent increase compared with April 2011.

If the Obama administration seeks to convince the world that solidarity on coercive measures are necessary to bring Iran productively to the table and that the White House is serious about denying Iran a nuclear weapons arsenal, this is not the way to do it.

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GOP Ramps Up Calls for Leak Investigation

Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:

A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.

“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News.  …

“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”

King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.

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Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:

A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.

“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News.  …

“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”

King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.

The Justice Department has already launched an investigation into the leaks, which could obviously pose some conflicts of interest. In a column in the New York Daily News today, King called for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate:

That is why I called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate these life-threatening leaks.

Attorney General Eric Holder cannot seriously be trusted to pursue crimes that may implicate senior officials in the administration. On Friday, he announced that two U.S. attorneys were selected to lead an investigation into the leaks. It is vital that this investigation be thorough and independent of Justice Department control.

While the administration has rightfully initiated an unprecedented number of leak prosecutions, these are all centered around nonpolitical, career employees who have, for the most part, leaked information having no direct bearing on the president.

The intelligence, law enforcement and military personnel who defend us, and the human sources who take great risks on our behalf, on the assurance that we will do our best to protect their security and identities, deserve no less.

As King notes, the Obama administration has been very serious in cracking down on leaks — but so far, it’s been non-political, mid-level government or military officials who have been prosecuted. In contrast, the latest leakers have clearly been high-level administration officials who have been privy to classified security briefings. And there has been a stark contrast between how the White House has handled these cases. With the latest leaks, the administration only initiated the DOJ investigation after an outcry from lawmakers.

It’s too early to say whether there will be enough pressure on the White House to force a special counsel investigation. In addition to Rep. King, Sen. John McCain, Sen. John Cornyn, and Sen. Roy Blunt have also called for one. And while some Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein have stopped short of calling for it, they haven’t ruled it out.

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WH Faces Pressure About Leaks

The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”

Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”

Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

For now they’re focused on getting through some legislation to combat administration leaks, whatever good that will do. If they really want to prevent future blabbing from the White House, a credible investigation is the best way to start. The FBI has already launched a probe, but there are concerns about its legitimacy, according to Rep. Rogers (via Politico):

Rogers said the bipartisan presence spoke to the seriousness of the issue. Of the leaks, he said: “It seems to be a pattern that is growing worse and more frequent. … Their inability to keep a secret, this has been as serious a problem as I have seen.”

Rogers also raised the possibility some of the leaks could be coming from the Justice Department or FBI. The Justice Department’s national security division has recused itself from part of the leak investigation, Rogers said.

“It appears the sources of these leaks could be in a position to influence the investigations,” he said.

Republicans are already calling for a special counsel to be appointed to the case, an idea that was oddly supported by David Axelrod on CNN today. He may have to eat those words, as The Hill reports the White House has since rejected the idea of a special counsel investigation:

In response to a direct question, Carney said “no,” the president would not agree to an independent counsel. But Carney said the president took the issue of the leaks “very seriously.”

“This is something that the president insists that his administration take all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk our counterterrorism operations,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One, according to a transcript.

An investigation like that could turn into a public relations nightmare for the administration — and is it all really worth the two-minute PR glow that has already faded?

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Senators Call for Investigation of WH Leaks

Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

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Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

Both Kerry and Feinstein rejected the idea the leaks were politically motivated, but all signs point to White House authorization for the recent New York Times pieces on cyber warfare and drone strikes. This administration has not been shy when it comes to prosecuting leaks in the past, and yet it’s been notably nonchalant about a breach of this scale.

For example, the author of the Times’s cyber warfare story, David Sanger, told Gawker that “No government agency formally requested that I not publish the story.” The White House obviously knew about the article, and could have asked the Times to hold off if it believed the story was dangerous — but declined to do so. Why? And why call an FBI investigation well after the fact?

What we don’t know is whether the leak originated from the White House in the first place, or whether administration officials simply added additional information to a story that was already being written with help from other government sources or even Israeli officials.

We also don’t know what the White House’s motivation could have been for working with Sanger. Maybe officials talked to him because he agreed to withhold information that was even more sensitive from the final story, or because they wanted to make sure the article did as little damage as possible. But because this is the second big White House leak this spring that plays into the Obama campaign narrative, McCain and Chaimbliss are right to be suspicious.

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Unleash Drones Against Our Enemies

Congratulations are due to the CIA, which carried out the strike, and to President Obama, who ordered it (and approved the target personally, as the New York Times has revealed) for the elimination of a major enemy of the United States–Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 commander. Like many of al-Qaeda’s operatives, Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan. He was the effective, day-to-day field commander of al-Qaeda, and his death will no doubt cause serious disruption to whatever operations al-Qaeda Central is involved in. The importance of his elimination is somewhat decreased, however, by the fact that so many of the terrorist organization’s operations have migrated outside of Pakistan, to regional affiliates from Mali to Yemen; Libi’s death probably will not have much impact on their operations.

This highlights the declining utility of targeting al-Qaeda Central: the organization has already been severely hurt by the continuous elimination of its top cadres. Such operations must be maintained to keep the pressure on, but they can no longer be the exclusive focus of counter-terrorism operations. It is good to see the drone campaign being ramped up in Yemen, but there are limits to what strikes from the air can achieve. There is a desperate need to expand lawful authority in such ungoverned areas to keep groups such as al-Qaeda from regenerating themselves. If the U.S. government has a plan to accomplish that in Pakistan, Yemen or other countries, from Mali to Libya, I have not heard of it.

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Congratulations are due to the CIA, which carried out the strike, and to President Obama, who ordered it (and approved the target personally, as the New York Times has revealed) for the elimination of a major enemy of the United States–Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 commander. Like many of al-Qaeda’s operatives, Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan. He was the effective, day-to-day field commander of al-Qaeda, and his death will no doubt cause serious disruption to whatever operations al-Qaeda Central is involved in. The importance of his elimination is somewhat decreased, however, by the fact that so many of the terrorist organization’s operations have migrated outside of Pakistan, to regional affiliates from Mali to Yemen; Libi’s death probably will not have much impact on their operations.

This highlights the declining utility of targeting al-Qaeda Central: the organization has already been severely hurt by the continuous elimination of its top cadres. Such operations must be maintained to keep the pressure on, but they can no longer be the exclusive focus of counter-terrorism operations. It is good to see the drone campaign being ramped up in Yemen, but there are limits to what strikes from the air can achieve. There is a desperate need to expand lawful authority in such ungoverned areas to keep groups such as al-Qaeda from regenerating themselves. If the U.S. government has a plan to accomplish that in Pakistan, Yemen or other countries, from Mali to Libya, I have not heard of it.

Admittedly, it would not be easy to design or implement such a strategy. Much easier, however, would be to expand the drone strikes to a group that has been curiously exempt from such attacks: namely the Taliban. There have been a few drone strikes on the Haqqani Network in and around Waziristan, Pakistan, but none, so far as I am aware, on the Taliban leadership headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan–nor on the operational Taliban hub at Chaman, Pakistan, just across the border from southern Afghanistan. These groups are actively killing Americans all the time–more than al-Qaeda Central can boast of these days. Yet we have not unleashed the CIA and Special Operations Forces to do to them what they have done to al-Qaeda. Why not? Largely because of the sensitivities of the Pakistani government which is an active sponsor of the Taliban and the Haqqanis.

But so what? The Pakistanis have declining leverage over us; they have kept their supply line to Afghanistan closed since last fall and it has not seriously disrupted NATO operations. The administration needs to figure out whether it’s serious about leaving a more stable Afghanistan behind when the bulk of U.S. troops are withdrawn. If it is, it will unleash the Reapers against the Taliban and Haqqanis–not just against al-Qaeda.

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Turk Faces Prison for Insulting Religion

During the last few days, I’ve been highlighting the undeniable social changes Turkey’s Islamist government is imposing. The situation is fast going from bad to worse, as the Turkish government transforms the country from one which upholds liberalism (beyond the Kurdish issue, that is) to one which now seems to be following the self-destructive path Pakistan forged in the early 1970s, when Islamabad pushed a more radical interpretation of Islam as its chief national identity.

The most recent outrage against tolerance in Turkey involves pianist Fazıl Say, who shared a tweet reading: “Wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” That sentiment may not be my cup of tea, but the basis of democracy is tolerance. Not so in Turkey. On June 1, an Istanbul court handed down an indictment charging Say with “insulting the religious values of a section of society.” He now faces 1.5 years in prison.

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During the last few days, I’ve been highlighting the undeniable social changes Turkey’s Islamist government is imposing. The situation is fast going from bad to worse, as the Turkish government transforms the country from one which upholds liberalism (beyond the Kurdish issue, that is) to one which now seems to be following the self-destructive path Pakistan forged in the early 1970s, when Islamabad pushed a more radical interpretation of Islam as its chief national identity.

The most recent outrage against tolerance in Turkey involves pianist Fazıl Say, who shared a tweet reading: “Wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” That sentiment may not be my cup of tea, but the basis of democracy is tolerance. Not so in Turkey. On June 1, an Istanbul court handed down an indictment charging Say with “insulting the religious values of a section of society.” He now faces 1.5 years in prison.

For President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to continue to promote Turkey as a model for countries seeking to blend Islam and democracy, is akin to promoting Greece as a model for fiscal discipline, China as a model for multi-party democracy, and Greenland as a model for tropical farming.

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Is Iraqi Kurdistan Iran’s Trojan Horse?

Last month, Max Boot and I debated here about what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of power meant. While we disagree on our assessments of Maliki, we do agree that that the Obama administration’s decision to throw the towel in on Iraq was a major strategic blunder, one which bolstered Iranian influence at a crucial time.

About the same time that Max and I were having our back-and-forth, Seyed Azim Hosseini, Iran’s consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave an interview in which he revealed that 70 percent of Iran’s Iraq trade is with Iraqi Kurdistan:

“‘The volume of trade between the two countries is officially $7 billion, but we believe the actual number in general is more than $10 billion, out of which 70 percent is with the Kurdistan Region.’ Hosseini said there are 500 active Iranian companies in the Region, and the number is increasing steadily.”

While journalists have reported on Kurdistan Regional Government oil smuggling to Iran, the proportion cited by Hosseini surprised me, so I check the figured with the Iraqi embassy in Washington; they confirmed the 70 percent.

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Last month, Max Boot and I debated here about what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of power meant. While we disagree on our assessments of Maliki, we do agree that that the Obama administration’s decision to throw the towel in on Iraq was a major strategic blunder, one which bolstered Iranian influence at a crucial time.

About the same time that Max and I were having our back-and-forth, Seyed Azim Hosseini, Iran’s consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave an interview in which he revealed that 70 percent of Iran’s Iraq trade is with Iraqi Kurdistan:

“‘The volume of trade between the two countries is officially $7 billion, but we believe the actual number in general is more than $10 billion, out of which 70 percent is with the Kurdistan Region.’ Hosseini said there are 500 active Iranian companies in the Region, and the number is increasing steadily.”

While journalists have reported on Kurdistan Regional Government oil smuggling to Iran, the proportion cited by Hosseini surprised me, so I check the figured with the Iraqi embassy in Washington; they confirmed the 70 percent.

There is an unfortunate tendency among the Washington foreign policy elite to be swayed by suave English-speaking representatives. Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, for example, too often took Bashar al-Assad at his word and so became useful idiots to a tyrannical regime. Qubad Talabani, Iraqi Kurdistan’s outgoing representative, massaged a bipartisan array of politicians, and helped channel senior retired generals and congressmen to Kurdistan where they were wined and dined in a highly stage-managed junket. Many U.S. senators swear by Barham Salih, a former Patriotic Union of Kurdistan representative who rose to the Kurdish premiership.  In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, Barham has cozied up with Muqtada al-Sadr in an effort to form an anti-Maliki coalition.

Three lessons can be drawn by Kurdistan’s pivot:

(1)  Exposure of Middle Eastern politicians to the West does not make them more Western; rather, it enables them to adopt a patina of liberalism in order to fool interlocutors.

(2)  Even if they are sincerely pro-Western (as I believe both Qubad and Barham are), such orientations go out the window when it comes to political survival. When the Americans are not present in strength, even the most pro-American peoples will make their accommodation with America’s enemies.

(3)  To assume that the Shi’ites will be Fifth Columnists is to display willful blindness—the Iranian regime will find many mechanisms to extend their interests, be they among Christians in Armenia, or Sunni Muslims in Kurdistan. Most Shi’ites have reason to resent Iran, although too often anti-Shi’ite sentiment among senior American officials forces them back into Iran’s embrace.

One thing should be clear, however: For America to lose Iraqi Kurdistan to the Iranians suggests the hemorrhaging of U.S. influence under President Obama is far worse than many in Washington would like to acknowledge.

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Iran Throwing its Weight around Kabul

Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.

On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.

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Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.

On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.

Afghans, like Iraqis, do not naturally favor the Islamic Republic. Persian culture is one thing; Tehran’s politics and its official ideology quite another. However, as Iranian proxies not too subtlety point out, “you may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbor.” But, Afghans have also never lost a war; rather, they defect to the winning side. With the sense that, under Obama, the United States has no staying power, the Iranian government is making its push to fill the vacuum—or as much as they can fill before Pakistan pushes back. Until Obama signals that victory matters more than the American political timeline, the Iranians will have the strategic advantage.

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Pakistan Gloats About U.S. Defeat

During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

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During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

There is an inverse relationship between pretensions of sophistication and the clarity of goals. Decades ago, the concept of victory was simple: To defeat the enemy. But today, diplomats  and Democrats convince themselves that rhetoric can substitute for victory, even with fundamental goals left unmet and the enemy unchastened. Alas, national security will never be built on rhetoric alone.

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