Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. State Department

Dems May Regret Steyer’s Keystone Payoff

After a lengthy study of the plans for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department issued an 11-volume report back in January confirming what most experts had already concluded long before then: the vital project would not damage the environment or increase the rate of carbon pollution. But liberal activists weren’t happy and have used the 90-day automatic review process that followed that report to furiously lobby the administration to stop the construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries. The key player in that effort was Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental extremist who has pledged to give $100 million to Democratic candidates who do his bidding. Though President Obama has flirted at times with doing the right thing and letting the project proceed, the result of the push from Steyer and the rest of the global warming alarmist crowd was as predictable as it was politically motivated. In a Friday afternoon news dump to guarantee minimal news coverage, the State Department announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision on approval of Keystone.

Like the numerous delays of implementation of many of the provisions of ObamaCare, the delay in the final decision on Keystone is blatantly political. By putting it off until after this year’s midterm elections, the president is hoping to both assuage left-wing donors who are essential to his party’s waning hopes of holding on to the Senate and to allow vulnerable red-state Democrats to avoid blame for a decision that would hurt the economy and the cause of energy independence. But though this seems like an astute compromise that will allow the president to play both ends against the middle, it is a case of the administration being too clever by half. Far from helping the cause of Democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, the Keystone delay has handed Republicans an issue with which they can batter these incumbents. Though liberals like Obama have sought to demonize GOP donors like the Koch brothers for trying to buy votes to advance their libertarian agenda, the Keystone decision is nothing less than a $100 million payoff to Steyer.

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After a lengthy study of the plans for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department issued an 11-volume report back in January confirming what most experts had already concluded long before then: the vital project would not damage the environment or increase the rate of carbon pollution. But liberal activists weren’t happy and have used the 90-day automatic review process that followed that report to furiously lobby the administration to stop the construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries. The key player in that effort was Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental extremist who has pledged to give $100 million to Democratic candidates who do his bidding. Though President Obama has flirted at times with doing the right thing and letting the project proceed, the result of the push from Steyer and the rest of the global warming alarmist crowd was as predictable as it was politically motivated. In a Friday afternoon news dump to guarantee minimal news coverage, the State Department announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision on approval of Keystone.

Like the numerous delays of implementation of many of the provisions of ObamaCare, the delay in the final decision on Keystone is blatantly political. By putting it off until after this year’s midterm elections, the president is hoping to both assuage left-wing donors who are essential to his party’s waning hopes of holding on to the Senate and to allow vulnerable red-state Democrats to avoid blame for a decision that would hurt the economy and the cause of energy independence. But though this seems like an astute compromise that will allow the president to play both ends against the middle, it is a case of the administration being too clever by half. Far from helping the cause of Democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, the Keystone delay has handed Republicans an issue with which they can batter these incumbents. Though liberals like Obama have sought to demonize GOP donors like the Koch brothers for trying to buy votes to advance their libertarian agenda, the Keystone decision is nothing less than a $100 million payoff to Steyer.

In her usual role as administration apologist, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was trotted out today on NBC’s Meet the Press to deny that the decision was politically motivated. But like so much of what comes out of Wasserman Schultz’s mouth, that assurance has zero credibility. The bottom line here is that a shovel-ready jobs project that will be good for the American economy and energy independence has been shelved, perhaps forever, because of the Democratic party’s dependence on a small group of environmental extremists with disproportionate financial and political clout.

Keystone critics howl about what they claim will be the negative impact on the environment from Canada’s recovery of oil from the sands of Alberta. But their claims are largely unproved. And, as far as the U.S. is concerned, spiking the pipeline won’t stop Canada from getting the oil out of the ground and shipping it somewhere. The only question is whether the resources will be kept in North America or sent to China or some other place.

Obama’s delays of Keystone are a symptom of an administration that talks about wanting to promote jobs but is far more interested in sweetheart deals like the Solyndra boondoggle than in getting the government out of the way of the private sector on projects that could actually put a lot of people to work. While their focus on alternatives to fossil fuels seems admirable, it actually betrays hostility to economic development and industries like oil refinement and coal that remain essential to the country’s future.

The Keystone delay is also symbolic of the way Obama’s indifference to energy independence has hindered U.S. foreign policy. At a time when European dependence on Russia as well as the Middle East has hampered efforts to defend Ukraine’s independence or to rally the world behind the cause of stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, the administration’s politically-motivated foot-dragging on Keystone is more evidence of how an unwillingness to lead by example has hamstrung Obama.

But the bottom line of the Keystone delay is that for all their talk about the Kochs and the supposedly malevolent forces financing the right, there is no longer any doubt that this administration is far more dependent as well as more in the pocket of men like Steyer than the Republicans are on any single contributor or group. When faced with a choice between Steyer’s $100 million and doing the right thing for both the economy and energy independence, Obama’s decision was never really in doubt. Democrats who think voters are too stupid to make this connection may rue this corrupt and foolish move in November.

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Dems Realizing Hillary’s Record Matters

Hillary Clinton’s likely presidential candidacy rests on two pillars: gender and resume. Just as electing the first African-American galvanized the country in 2008, Democrats think, and not without reason, that nominating the putative first female president would, in and of itself, be a conclusive argument in 2016. But at the same time, Clinton is also running on what is now a rather lengthy resume as a first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state. Yet after years of basking in the almost universal adulation of the mainstream media during her four years at Foggy Bottom, some rather pointed questions are starting to be asked about what it is she did–or didn’t do–while serving as the chief architect of American foreign policy.

As a front-page New York Times feature on the subject points out today, the crisis in Ukraine and the attention being given to other foreign-policy quagmires, such as Iran and the Middle East peace process, are forcing Democrats to ask themselves a question they had hoped not to have to ask, let alone answer: does Hillary’s record in office matter? Defining Clinton’s “legacy in progress” is a delicate question for the Times, and the story does its best to pose it in a sympathetic manner.

But while it might have once seemed plausible to think that she could merely coast to the presidency by touting her frequent flyer miles earned as secretary of state and mouth meaningless jargon about “soft power,” the unraveling of Obama administration foreign policy during a disastrous second term is bound to have an impact on her ability to win a general election. Though many Democrats see her as too hawkish for their taste, her farcical Russian “reset” and the failure of her attempts to appease Vladimir Putin are looking like a distinct political liability right now. The chances of another explosion in the Middle East and the fact that Iran is much closer to a nuclear weapon (developments made far more likely by her incompetent successor, John Kerry) are also undermining Clinton’s resume narrative. While none of this is likely to derail her coronation by the Democrats or encourage a serious primary opponent, the Times piece indicates that the media establishment is aware that she is a far more flawed candidate than many liberals are willing to admit.

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Hillary Clinton’s likely presidential candidacy rests on two pillars: gender and resume. Just as electing the first African-American galvanized the country in 2008, Democrats think, and not without reason, that nominating the putative first female president would, in and of itself, be a conclusive argument in 2016. But at the same time, Clinton is also running on what is now a rather lengthy resume as a first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state. Yet after years of basking in the almost universal adulation of the mainstream media during her four years at Foggy Bottom, some rather pointed questions are starting to be asked about what it is she did–or didn’t do–while serving as the chief architect of American foreign policy.

As a front-page New York Times feature on the subject points out today, the crisis in Ukraine and the attention being given to other foreign-policy quagmires, such as Iran and the Middle East peace process, are forcing Democrats to ask themselves a question they had hoped not to have to ask, let alone answer: does Hillary’s record in office matter? Defining Clinton’s “legacy in progress” is a delicate question for the Times, and the story does its best to pose it in a sympathetic manner.

But while it might have once seemed plausible to think that she could merely coast to the presidency by touting her frequent flyer miles earned as secretary of state and mouth meaningless jargon about “soft power,” the unraveling of Obama administration foreign policy during a disastrous second term is bound to have an impact on her ability to win a general election. Though many Democrats see her as too hawkish for their taste, her farcical Russian “reset” and the failure of her attempts to appease Vladimir Putin are looking like a distinct political liability right now. The chances of another explosion in the Middle East and the fact that Iran is much closer to a nuclear weapon (developments made far more likely by her incompetent successor, John Kerry) are also undermining Clinton’s resume narrative. While none of this is likely to derail her coronation by the Democrats or encourage a serious primary opponent, the Times piece indicates that the media establishment is aware that she is a far more flawed candidate than many liberals are willing to admit.

Clinton ran for president in 2008 as the more responsible of the two leading Democrats on foreign policy and lost, in no small measure, because Barack Obama positioned himself to her left on the war in Iraq as well as the war on Islamist terror. Yet once he appointed her as secretary of state, Clinton became the person delegated to execute his policies rather than her own. That contradiction has led to furious efforts on the part of Clinton supporters to depict her as the hawk in administration councils who urged the president to order the strike on Osama bin Laden as well as to intervene in Libya. This is exactly the profile Clinton will find useful in a general election—as opposed to a Democratic primary—but it is undermined by the fact that Clinton was the front for Obama policies that not only didn’t work, but which arguably set the stage for genuine disasters.

Obama administration defenders claim that the failure of the Bush administration to stop Putin’s Georgia adventure in 2008 demonstrates that the 44th president is not to blame for the mess in the Ukraine. But it needs to be remembered that when Ukrainians rose up in revolt in 2004-5 against the same Putin puppet in Kiev, Moscow didn’t intervene. It was only after Clinton demonstrated to Russia that the U.S. was no longer interested in opposing its adventurism and would give them a veto over efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program that Putin felt emboldened to strike.

Democrats may have believed that Clinton’s exasperated reply to questions about the lies told about the Benghazi terrorist attack—What does it matter?—was enough to ignore conservative sniping about a disaster that took place on her watch. But the violence in Ukraine and the possibility that worse is to come there and perhaps also in the Middle East only add to the doubts about her supposedly inevitable progression to an inauguration in January 2017. Now that she is re-entering the political fray, her poll numbers are beginning to decline. Stuck between her pose as the Democratic hawk and the reality of the failure of her efforts at appeasement, Clinton can no longer skate by with talk about flying about the world promoting American values.

If even the New York Times cannot assemble a coherent argument for her time as secretary of state as a success, then that is a poor omen for a general election in which she will have to account not only for her own political baggage but also the failures of a lame duck and increasingly unpopular Obama administration. Gender may remain a Clinton trump card in 2016, but the resume she built up so carefully over the last decade and a half since her husband left the White House is looking more like a problem than an asset.

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State Dept. Sides with Hamas Funders

Though it is no longer called the “war on terror,” the Obama administration has been eager to be seen as a scourge of international terrorism. It has continued many of the Bush administration’s security policies with regard to seeking intelligence on terror groups and has been so aggressive about pursuing a policy of assassinating terrorists that liberals like Ron Wyden and libertarians like Rand Paul have attacked it. But when it comes to shutting down the financing of some terrorists, the administration is something of a house divided. As the New York Times reports today, the State Department is pressuring the Department of Justice to intervene on behalf of a Jordanian bank in a federal lawsuit in which it stands accused of funneling money to terrorists who killed Americans. Apparently, Foggy Bottom wants the administration to support the Arab Bank’s effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn sanctions imposed by a lower court because of the financial institution’s refusal to hand over customer records.

While this sounds like a complicated litigation, the issues at stake here are not difficult to comprehend. At issue is whether the United States will ignore the standards it has applied to other terror-related cases as well as its past stands on foreign bank secrecy rules in order to help get a bank owned by friendly Arabs off the hook for their role in funding the murder of American citizens. If President Obama’s solicitor general does what the State Department is asking him to do, it will mean the nation is not only turning its back on American victims of Hamas terrorism. It will also show that the administration’s much ballyhooed toughness on terror doesn’t apply to its efforts to bring supporters of Palestinian murderers to justice.

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Though it is no longer called the “war on terror,” the Obama administration has been eager to be seen as a scourge of international terrorism. It has continued many of the Bush administration’s security policies with regard to seeking intelligence on terror groups and has been so aggressive about pursuing a policy of assassinating terrorists that liberals like Ron Wyden and libertarians like Rand Paul have attacked it. But when it comes to shutting down the financing of some terrorists, the administration is something of a house divided. As the New York Times reports today, the State Department is pressuring the Department of Justice to intervene on behalf of a Jordanian bank in a federal lawsuit in which it stands accused of funneling money to terrorists who killed Americans. Apparently, Foggy Bottom wants the administration to support the Arab Bank’s effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn sanctions imposed by a lower court because of the financial institution’s refusal to hand over customer records.

While this sounds like a complicated litigation, the issues at stake here are not difficult to comprehend. At issue is whether the United States will ignore the standards it has applied to other terror-related cases as well as its past stands on foreign bank secrecy rules in order to help get a bank owned by friendly Arabs off the hook for their role in funding the murder of American citizens. If President Obama’s solicitor general does what the State Department is asking him to do, it will mean the nation is not only turning its back on American victims of Hamas terrorism. It will also show that the administration’s much ballyhooed toughness on terror doesn’t apply to its efforts to bring supporters of Palestinian murderers to justice.

The case, Linde v. Arab Bank, revolves around the efforts of relatives of Americans killed by Hamas terrorists during the second intifada to use the federal Anti-Terrorism Act to bring those who funded the Islamist terror group to book for aiding and abetting these atrocities.

As the Israeli Law Center, the group that has pursued a relentless and courageous campaign to hold terror funders accountable, notes on its website:

The Arab Bank is a Jordanian financial institution that has funneled funds for organizations claiming they are legitimate charities. In fact, they were routing large sums of money to support the violent activities of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. These organizations served as agents of Hamas and used the Arab Bank to receive deposits and process wire transfers. The Bank was aware that these organizations are fronts that support terrorist activities, such that the Bank’s continued provision of services to these groups facilitated their illegal activities. One account number belongs to Hamas itself and was used to collect funds in support of its violent activities.

Further, the Saudi Committee In Support of the Intifada Al Quds (“Saudi Committee”) was established as a private charity in Saudi Arabia whose purpose was to support the intifada and the families of the terrorists who have died, as well as subsidize the Palestinian terror campaign. The Saudi Committee furnishes awards to terrorists’ families as a reward for suicide attacks. The Arab Bank is the exclusive financial administrator for the Saudi Committee. These payments create an incentive to engage in terrorist acts by rewarding all Palestinian terrorists, regardless of their affiliation with a particular group.

Despite the Arab Bank’s pleas of innocence, the facts of their funding of Hamas are not in dispute. But, as the Times notes, Secretary of State John Kerry doesn’t want to upset either Jordan or the Saudis any more than they have already been by Obama administration policies that have strengthened Iran at their expense. What he wants is for the U.S. government to plead diplomatic necessity to the courts and tie up the plaintiffs in circles.

But in doing so, the Justice Department would be flouting the same standards they have applied to other cases in which they have doggedly pursued the funders of al-Qaeda and other groups that have targeted Americans as well as in tax cases in which the U.S. has sought to override the efforts of foreign banks to maintain secrecy about their activities.

Claims of diplomatic necessity are contradicted by the experience of the post 9/11-era in which all banking institutions have been forced to disassociate themselves with terror or face the consequences. Jordan will survive a court defeat by the Arab Bank, as will the Saudis.

A decision by the administration to side with the Arab Bank against terror victims would be an outrageous abuse of power as well as of hypocrisy. U.S. law demands that the government allow those who have been hurt by terrorists to pursue the funders of murder. For President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to interfere with the course of justice would be yet another signal that their anti-terror principles don’t apply to the victims of Palestinian killers.

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Does Kerry Think Al-Qaeda is a Human Rights Organization?

The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

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The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

Alas, Kerry (and the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi) chose to ignore the U.S. Treasury Department terror designation of Alkarama founder Abdul Rahman Bin Umair Al Nuaimi’s and take information provided by him uncritically to castigate the United Arab Emirates, a reliable U.S. ally. The latest human rights report, for example, continues to lend credence to Alkarama’s accusation that the detention in the United Arab Emirates of Ummah Conference founder Hassan al-Diqqi is without merit. It is a case I previously blogged about, here, in the context of some Human Rights Watch report. Diqqi is no political dissident, as the State Department suggests; he is a full-fledged terror supporter, as worthy of life in prison as American Taliban John Walker Lindh or blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Make no mistakes: There are human rights problems in the United Arab Emirates, but to cast Diqqi as a victim simply tarnishes any legitimate criticism.

Perhaps it’s time that Secretary of State John Kerry stops considering miles flown as a metric of success and actually pay attention to what is going on in his home office unless, of course, he actually believes that his organization should consider Al Qaeda-affiliated groups to be impartial and credible sources of human rights criticism.

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Obama Wasn’t Alone Misreading Putin

Blame for the Ukraine mess lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, the failure to recognize Putin’s true character has infected American officials under both the Bush and Obama administrations. President George W. Bush gazed into Putin’s eyes and assured the Russian leader had a soul. Hillary Clinton had her reset. But, it was with the inauguration of President Barack Obama that so many senior diplomats and journalists engaged in an orgy of endorsement of Obama’s policy of blind engagement. “We will be no worse off if we try diplomacy and fail,” former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in a May 2009 hearing to justify Obama’s initiatives, for example. Within the State Department, diplomats cheered the end of Bush, and Obama’s new approach. Scholars concurred. Charles Kupchan, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar, likewise endorsed Obama’s approach in a March/April 2010 Foreign Affairs article. “Barack Obama owned Bush-Cheney in one day and got more concessions from Iran in 7½ hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling,” wrote Juan Cole, a leftist blogger and professor at University of Michigan.

It’s important to recognize that Obama did not lead the echo chamber. He reflected it. He embraced policies widely supported by the academics and diplomats never mind that those policies completely misunderstand the realities of international relations. The culture that has led Obama to fail completely in his assessment of Vladimir Putin isn’t going to end in 2016, when Obama exits the White House. It persists throughout the Foreign Service and, indeed, continues to be drilled into every new class of diplomats who join the State Department.

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Blame for the Ukraine mess lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, the failure to recognize Putin’s true character has infected American officials under both the Bush and Obama administrations. President George W. Bush gazed into Putin’s eyes and assured the Russian leader had a soul. Hillary Clinton had her reset. But, it was with the inauguration of President Barack Obama that so many senior diplomats and journalists engaged in an orgy of endorsement of Obama’s policy of blind engagement. “We will be no worse off if we try diplomacy and fail,” former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in a May 2009 hearing to justify Obama’s initiatives, for example. Within the State Department, diplomats cheered the end of Bush, and Obama’s new approach. Scholars concurred. Charles Kupchan, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar, likewise endorsed Obama’s approach in a March/April 2010 Foreign Affairs article. “Barack Obama owned Bush-Cheney in one day and got more concessions from Iran in 7½ hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling,” wrote Juan Cole, a leftist blogger and professor at University of Michigan.

It’s important to recognize that Obama did not lead the echo chamber. He reflected it. He embraced policies widely supported by the academics and diplomats never mind that those policies completely misunderstand the realities of international relations. The culture that has led Obama to fail completely in his assessment of Vladimir Putin isn’t going to end in 2016, when Obama exits the White House. It persists throughout the Foreign Service and, indeed, continues to be drilled into every new class of diplomats who join the State Department.

One of the revelations learned while writing my new book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, a study of a history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups is that the U.S. military spends more time in the classroom identifying and discussing mistakes than they often do in the field so that they can become better soldiers, sailors, and pilots. The State Department, however, has never convened a lessons learned exercise to determine why its approach on any episode has failed. If John Kerry is truly serious about being a diplomatic leader, he could do nothing better than convene a deep review of the “Reset” with Russia, its origins, the metrics by which the State Department planned to judge it, if they even bothered with metrics, and where they might have caught Putin’s insincerity. It’s not shameful to examine mistakes; it is crucial.

Alas, absent such a measure, expect the United States to get played far more in the coming years by enemies like Putin not because of the current occupant of the Oval Office, but rather because the philosophy he represents is taken as unquestioned wisdom among America’s professional diplomats.

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No Alternative to Israeli Self-Defense

To its credit, yesterday the State Department rightly declared that Hamas was responsible for the latest round of violence along the Gaza border and that Israel had the right to defend itself. Even the New York Times editorial page affirmed that Israel had that right this morning. But the Times, speaking as it does for liberal conventional wisdom, claimed that Israel’s government was wrong to exercise that right. Rather than taking out the head of the terrorist group’s military wing, it “could have responded as it usually has in recent years, avoiding high-profile assassinations while attacking rocket-launching squads, empty training sites and weapons manufacturing plants.” The Times also suggested Israel could have implored the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt to intervene on its behalf with its Hamas ally. It concluded by saying that an even better idea would have been to conduct peace negotiations with Hamas’s Fatah rivals.

This risible list of suggestions provides the background to the debate that will, no doubt, soon ensue as inevitably the discussion about what has happened begins to revolve around how zealously Israel should defend itself. Farcical stories, such as those claiming Hamas was willing to make peace or at least agree to a permanent cease-fire, and that this was only prevented by a cynical decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch a counter-attack, will be told and believed by those who always buy into the lies of the terrorists. It will be argued that Israel needn’t have treated the latest massive barrage of rockets on its southern region as a big deal. But all this will be merely a cover for what is really at stake: the right of the Jewish state to live in peace, irrespective of where its borders are drawn.

The problem with all of the helpful suggestions that Israel is getting this week is that these suggestions treat the basic premise of Hamas’s strategic plan as either normal or reasonable. What’s wrong with the calls for restraint or the barbed comments about better alternatives to retaliation is that they are based on the idea that Israel ought to be willing to tolerate a “normal” amount of terrorism emanating from Gaza.

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To its credit, yesterday the State Department rightly declared that Hamas was responsible for the latest round of violence along the Gaza border and that Israel had the right to defend itself. Even the New York Times editorial page affirmed that Israel had that right this morning. But the Times, speaking as it does for liberal conventional wisdom, claimed that Israel’s government was wrong to exercise that right. Rather than taking out the head of the terrorist group’s military wing, it “could have responded as it usually has in recent years, avoiding high-profile assassinations while attacking rocket-launching squads, empty training sites and weapons manufacturing plants.” The Times also suggested Israel could have implored the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt to intervene on its behalf with its Hamas ally. It concluded by saying that an even better idea would have been to conduct peace negotiations with Hamas’s Fatah rivals.

This risible list of suggestions provides the background to the debate that will, no doubt, soon ensue as inevitably the discussion about what has happened begins to revolve around how zealously Israel should defend itself. Farcical stories, such as those claiming Hamas was willing to make peace or at least agree to a permanent cease-fire, and that this was only prevented by a cynical decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch a counter-attack, will be told and believed by those who always buy into the lies of the terrorists. It will be argued that Israel needn’t have treated the latest massive barrage of rockets on its southern region as a big deal. But all this will be merely a cover for what is really at stake: the right of the Jewish state to live in peace, irrespective of where its borders are drawn.

The problem with all of the helpful suggestions that Israel is getting this week is that these suggestions treat the basic premise of Hamas’s strategic plan as either normal or reasonable. What’s wrong with the calls for restraint or the barbed comments about better alternatives to retaliation is that they are based on the idea that Israel ought to be willing to tolerate a “normal” amount of terrorism emanating from Gaza.

Throughout 2012 several hundred rockets have been fired from the Hamas-run enclave at southern Israel. Up until today, when three Israelis were killed in Kiryat Malakhi, there were no fatalities. But life under the threat of rocket fire in a region where more than one million Israelis live was never normal. Even the new and improved anti-missile systems the country can deploy are not good enough to prevent terrorist squads from taking pot shots at the country’s southern cities, towns and villages.

Many in the foreign policy establishment have spoken of Hamas as having embraced non-violence in the last year. But the group continued to not only fire rockets and to tolerate attacks from smaller organizations, it also continued to dig tunnels, such as the one found last week, designed to facilitate terrorist operations inside Israel and to build up its arsenal of rockets.

Some allege that Netanyahu’s decision to retaliate for the recent surge in rocket attacks is linked to his own political prospects in Israel’s January elections. But that reverses the truth about the fighting. It is Hamas that is playing politics with rockets as it seeks to upstage the Palestinian Authority and to solidify its popularity by demonstrating that it is attacking Israel.

Netanyahu is hoping that he can avoid a costly ground operation. Few in Israel want any part of an infantry battle inside Gaza or to return to governing the area that it abandoned in 2005. But the idea that Israel has reasonable alternatives to air operations intended to hamper Hamas’s ability to attack Israel is a myth. The peace process is dead in the water precisely because support for terror against Israel and opposition to its right to exist makes it impossible for any Palestinian moderates — and it is a stretch to claim that term applies to the PA and its Fatah leadership — to negotiate with Israel. If there is to be any hope for peace, Hamas terrorism must be stopped. The group provoked this battle because it believed that the fighting would enhance its standing with Palestinians while doing nothing to harm its warm relations with Egypt and Turkey. But its leadership must be made to understand that the cost of this fighting will be higher than it can afford to pay.

There may be no definitive answer to the threat from Hamas, but continuing to ignore it is no solution. Netanyahu’s problem stems in large measure from a willingness on the part of the international community to treat the existence of a terrorist state on Israel’s borders as something that it must be forced to live with. Those that ask Israel to go on living with “normal” terrorism and to take no serious measures to halt the constant barrage of missiles onto its territory are acting as if the lives of those who live under this threat are worth nothing. That is a premise no government can ever accept.

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Libya Attack Still an Inexplicable Failure

All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:

U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

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All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:

U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

This lapse is all the more shocking given the fact that the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security is known for taking an ultra-cautious approach to protecting America’s representatives abroad. Heads should roll over this failure. (They should also roll over the Anglo-American military failure to protect Harrier jump jets at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.) And senior officials in the Obama administration, starting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must explain how this inexplicable failure took place.

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Making a Federal Case Out of Jerusalem

Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!

Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.

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Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!

Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.

State’s spokesperson was tortured with a series of questions about whether Jerusalem is part of Israel. Given the position the administration is still defending in court, she had to refuse to acknowledge even West Jerusalem (where Zivotofsky was born) as part of Israel. She thus repeatedly had to dodge the question, obviously acting on instructions to say only that Jerusalem is an issue to be resolved by negotiations. She gave the same answer to the question, “What is the capital of Israel?”

The reporter might have referenced the State Department website, which identifies Israel’s capital as Jerusalem (and says Israel’s area is 20,330 square kilometers, “including Jerusalem”); or the CIA website, which says the same thing; or the Department of Defense website, which is replete with references to “Jerusalem, Israel” – including a picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu “during a working lunch meeting in Jerusalem, Israel.” But for the same reason the White House scrubbed its website of references to Vice President Biden in “Jerusalem, Israel” and scrubbed references even in Bush administration documents, the official policy had to be restated yesterday no matter how the question was asked.

This all could have been avoided if the White House had followed my advice last year; ended the charade about the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950; and stopped fighting a nine-year old boy’s passport designation in the Supreme Court and beyond. Sometimes I think the White House doesn’t read my posts.

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State Department Spin on Jerusalem Meltdown is Already Wrong

This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.

The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace. Read More

This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.

The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace.

As it so happens, the claim is false. Previous administrations have recognized Israel’s right to at least part of its capital city. The debate has turned on whether the Jewish State is entitled to “all” of Jerusalem, not whether it’s entitled to any part of the city. It was always about not prejudicing whether Israel would have share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state, not whether the entire city was up for grabs (let alone whether the Palestinians can retroactively veto Israel’s sovereign decision to make the parts of Jerusalem it controlled pre-1967 its capital).

White Houses have declined to move the embassy out of Tel Aviv because it would be treated as a symbolic acknowledgement of Israel’s rights over all Jerusalem, e.g. a statement that Israel wouldn’t have to share the city. Sitting on their hands on the embassy allowed presidents to dodge broader questions, which had the benefit of not running contrary to black-letter American law going back to 1995 recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Until now, no administration has ever put Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem as such on the table, or implied that even West Jerusalem was up for grabs. Bush even used to insert language into his waivers stating “My administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

Also, there’s this from President Clinton: “the benefits of the agreement… [include] the incorporation of most of the settlers into Israel, and the Jewish capital of Jerusalem recognized by all, not just the United States, by everybody in the world.”

Also, there’s this from President Bush: “Mr. Bush said the Palestinians must elect ‘new and different’ leaders who were not ‘compromised by terror’… As soon as the Palestinians changed their leadership, stopped terrorist attacks on Israel and moved towards democracy, the U.S. would boost their economy and push Israel into meaningful negotiations… He refused to speculate on the three major sticking points: Palestinian demands that Israel return the territory won in the 1967 war, share Jerusalem as the capital and allow millions of Palestinian refugees to return.”

Also, there’s this from Senator Barack Obama. Note that while he took back the part of the speech that spoke of Israel’s capital remaining undivided, even his clarification emphasized “that Israel has a legitimate claim on” at least part of Jerusalem. Apparently that position has changed in the last few years, but the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend this is just the way things have always been.

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