Commentary Magazine


Topic: the president

Grandstanding on Immigration

The immigration debate that stymied George W. Bush, nearly wrecked John McCain’s presidential aspirations, and engenders grand hypocrisy on the Left (it was, after all, Senator Barack Obama who backed a number of poison-pen amendments that helped sink the 2008 bill) is back with a bang. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill. (Yes, she’s a governor and what’s she doing making immigration law, you ask? More later on this.) And it is like 2007 all over again:

Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden, he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

Let’s begin with the constitutional problem. This state law seeking to regulate what is plainly within the federal government’s purview is almost certainly not going to pass constitutional muster. And for those who say, ah well, the courts will sort it out, conservatives should be the first to holler, “Wait a minute!” Every elected official has an obligation to uphold the Constitution. They didn’t much appreciate it when George W. Bush said that the courts would eventually sort out McCain-Feingold (they finally did). It’s not up to states to start requiring immigration documents and the Arizona governor should know better. But the temptation to meddle and to grandstand in this area is irresistible. (Recall how much time in the 2008 election was spent fighting about the immigration policies of the former New York City mayor and the former Massachusetts governor.)

Next on the annoying grandstanders’ list is the current president, who did his best to grind immigration reform to a halt in 2007, and is — after all — now the chief executive in charge of, among other things, border control. So if he had been a more conscientious senator in the past and a more adept executive today, governors might not be at wits’ end trying to handle the financial and social burdens of illegal immigration. If he doesn’t like states meddling in immigration law, he should propose his own legislation.

And finally, the third place on the grandstanders’ list goes to the Democratic leadership in Congress, which no doubt wants to bring up immigration reform now to both tie the Republicans up in knots and mollify pro-immigration activists who’ve noticed that the Democrats have done nothing on this issue for a year and a half. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have no intention of actually passing a bill (Big Labor, of course, would freak if they did); it’s simply another political Hail Mary to try to minimize the electoral wipe-out heading their way. Nothing like baiting anti-immigration activists into saying outlandish things to get the Hispanic vote energized, right?

At some point there will be some mix of Democrats and Republicans who want to take a serious stab at immigration reform. But we’re eons away from that point. But that won’t stop the Arizona governor, the president, and the Congressional Democrats from trying to get the most mileage out of the issue — while decrying everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing.

The immigration debate that stymied George W. Bush, nearly wrecked John McCain’s presidential aspirations, and engenders grand hypocrisy on the Left (it was, after all, Senator Barack Obama who backed a number of poison-pen amendments that helped sink the 2008 bill) is back with a bang. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill. (Yes, she’s a governor and what’s she doing making immigration law, you ask? More later on this.) And it is like 2007 all over again:

Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden, he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

Let’s begin with the constitutional problem. This state law seeking to regulate what is plainly within the federal government’s purview is almost certainly not going to pass constitutional muster. And for those who say, ah well, the courts will sort it out, conservatives should be the first to holler, “Wait a minute!” Every elected official has an obligation to uphold the Constitution. They didn’t much appreciate it when George W. Bush said that the courts would eventually sort out McCain-Feingold (they finally did). It’s not up to states to start requiring immigration documents and the Arizona governor should know better. But the temptation to meddle and to grandstand in this area is irresistible. (Recall how much time in the 2008 election was spent fighting about the immigration policies of the former New York City mayor and the former Massachusetts governor.)

Next on the annoying grandstanders’ list is the current president, who did his best to grind immigration reform to a halt in 2007, and is — after all — now the chief executive in charge of, among other things, border control. So if he had been a more conscientious senator in the past and a more adept executive today, governors might not be at wits’ end trying to handle the financial and social burdens of illegal immigration. If he doesn’t like states meddling in immigration law, he should propose his own legislation.

And finally, the third place on the grandstanders’ list goes to the Democratic leadership in Congress, which no doubt wants to bring up immigration reform now to both tie the Republicans up in knots and mollify pro-immigration activists who’ve noticed that the Democrats have done nothing on this issue for a year and a half. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have no intention of actually passing a bill (Big Labor, of course, would freak if they did); it’s simply another political Hail Mary to try to minimize the electoral wipe-out heading their way. Nothing like baiting anti-immigration activists into saying outlandish things to get the Hispanic vote energized, right?

At some point there will be some mix of Democrats and Republicans who want to take a serious stab at immigration reform. But we’re eons away from that point. But that won’t stop the Arizona governor, the president, and the Congressional Democrats from trying to get the most mileage out of the issue — while decrying everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing.

Read Less

Iran Strike, Out

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has unequivocally taken the option of a military strike off the Iran-policy table. Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a February 15 Al Jazeera interview:

MR. FOUKARA: Just as a follow-up to what you said about Iran, Madam Secretary, you said in your speech before the U.S.-Islamic World Forum that more pressure should be applied to Iran. And there are a lot of people in the Middle East wondering if the United States is planning, at any one time, whether before the withdrawal from Iraq or after the withdrawal from Iraq, planning to launch a military attack of one kind or another against Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran. I mean, that is how we see it. We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view.

And so, what we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take. But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, “We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond.” And we hope to try to influence the decision making within Iran. And that is our goal.

If you don’t believe that no means no, check out the follow-up:

MR. FOUKARA: So, Madam Secretary, now you are saying there is no plan on the part of the United States to launch an attack? Not in the immediate future, not in the middle term, not in the long term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are interested in changing Iran’s behavior and — now, we will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran. But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we’re focused on.

Anyone remember this? “I don’t think the President of the United States takes military options off the table, but I think that we obviously have to measure costs and benefits in all the decisions that we make.” — Barack Obama, the New York Times, January 11, 2007

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has unequivocally taken the option of a military strike off the Iran-policy table. Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a February 15 Al Jazeera interview:

MR. FOUKARA: Just as a follow-up to what you said about Iran, Madam Secretary, you said in your speech before the U.S.-Islamic World Forum that more pressure should be applied to Iran. And there are a lot of people in the Middle East wondering if the United States is planning, at any one time, whether before the withdrawal from Iraq or after the withdrawal from Iraq, planning to launch a military attack of one kind or another against Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran. I mean, that is how we see it. We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view.

And so, what we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take. But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, “We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond.” And we hope to try to influence the decision making within Iran. And that is our goal.

If you don’t believe that no means no, check out the follow-up:

MR. FOUKARA: So, Madam Secretary, now you are saying there is no plan on the part of the United States to launch an attack? Not in the immediate future, not in the middle term, not in the long term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are interested in changing Iran’s behavior and — now, we will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran. But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we’re focused on.

Anyone remember this? “I don’t think the President of the United States takes military options off the table, but I think that we obviously have to measure costs and benefits in all the decisions that we make.” — Barack Obama, the New York Times, January 11, 2007

Read Less

The Obami’s Engagement Dead End

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.’” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.’” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

Read Less