Commentary Magazine


Must We Ask a Rude Question About the Clintons?

On the surface, it isn’t that hard to understand the Clinton Cash scandal that Democrats are trying very hard to ignore this week. We have a former president making millions giving speeches and doing favors for wealthy foreign entities and nations that give massive sums to the Clinton family charity that subsidizes the lavish lifestyle of the former First Family. He did this at the same time as his wife spent four years as secretary of state where she made decisions that influence the fortunes of those donors. And all this was happening while said former first lady/secretary of state is planning to run for president herself at the next opportunity. No one can deny that this smells to high heaven of impropriety, and the best Billy and Hillary’s court of admirers and apologists can say in their defense is that the evidence of a conflict of interest is circumstantial and that there is no smoking gun proving their guilt. But there is another defense that Politico’s national editor Michael Hirsch hints at in a piece published yesterday: their marriage is so dysfunctional that any alleged coordination between the two is unlikely.

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On the surface, it isn’t that hard to understand the Clinton Cash scandal that Democrats are trying very hard to ignore this week. We have a former president making millions giving speeches and doing favors for wealthy foreign entities and nations that give massive sums to the Clinton family charity that subsidizes the lavish lifestyle of the former First Family. He did this at the same time as his wife spent four years as secretary of state where she made decisions that influence the fortunes of those donors. And all this was happening while said former first lady/secretary of state is planning to run for president herself at the next opportunity. No one can deny that this smells to high heaven of impropriety, and the best Billy and Hillary’s court of admirers and apologists can say in their defense is that the evidence of a conflict of interest is circumstantial and that there is no smoking gun proving their guilt. But there is another defense that Politico’s national editor Michael Hirsch hints at in a piece published yesterday: their marriage is so dysfunctional that any alleged coordination between the two is unlikely.

As Hirsh notes, to discuss the “impenetrable” Clinton marriage is a difficult task. Upon their arrival on the national stage in the 1992 presidential campaign, Americans have on the one hand been deluged with far more information about the Clintons’ relationship than we wanted, as he confessed to having “caused pain,” while never giving us any further explanations. A few years later Bill plunged the nation into a degrading debate about the definition of sex and whether it’s OK to commit perjury about acts of sexual harassment after his dalliance with an intern in the Oval Office. Since then we’ve been asked at one and the same time to sympathize with Hillary as the long suffering wife while also being warned to keep our noses out of their private business.

Would that we could. As Brit Hume recently noted on Fox, one of the key questions about Hillary’s presidential prospects is whether the “American people want another four, eight years of the Clintons and their weird marriage.”

That sounds pretty harsh and uncharacteristically ungentlemanly coming from the courtly Hume. But he’s on to something that can neither be ignored nor swept under the carpet. Having asked us to take them as a two-for-one package in 1992, the ordeal of watching their odd contortions as a couple has become a long national nightmare that, if she wins in 2016, will have no end in sight.

If the questions about them were merely the prosaic ones about whether their continuing union is one primarily of convenience like some royal dynastic pairing rather than a conventional marriage in which two people strive to love and stay together, any queries about their private lives would be rude and even inadmissible. Whether the Clintons are in any sense a romantic couple is none of our business. But if they are still a working political partnership, then we are entitled to know a great deal about their personal interactions. In particular, we deserve to learn about how large a role Bill played as an advisor to her when she was running U.S. foreign policy. We’re also entitled to know more about her role in their charity’s insatiable campaign to raise enormous amounts of cash from individuals, companies, and countries. In classic “pay for play” style, those donors thought they could do themselves quite a bit of good by giving to the Clintons rather than more established philanthropies that were not run by former and perhaps future presidents.

Other than merely claiming that we can’t prove it to a legal certainty without a smoking gun, Mrs. Clinton’s defense against the allegations raised in Clinton Cash rests on a few shaky limbs onto which her defenders can climb. One is to assert that the actions the Department of State took that benefitted Clinton donors were handled below her level. Which is to say she was, shades of Benghazi, not in the know about crucial decisions taking place on her watch. Which is to say she was an incompetent secretary of state.

Another possible defense raised by Hirsh is that Clinton was completely removed from major policy decisions in the Obama administration. This has a ring of truth to it as Obama distrusts the Clintons and runs a top-down administration in which Cabinet secretaries have little say on important matters, though that doesn’t absolve her on issues that the president did not decide. It also further undermines her claim that her experience as secretary of state entitles her to the presidency.

Yet there is an even more credible defense that Clinton’s clique can’t raise. It is that Bill and Hillary are just so disconnected a couple that the idea that they coordinated the family charity business with her foreign-policy ambitions is absurd.

Is this true? We don’t know for sure and, as with so much else about the Clintons, we may never know. Whatever their personal problems might be, their political and business partnership seems to be intact. Moreover, that defense didn’t work for an equally dysfunctional couple, Bob and Maureen McDonnell, when they faced prosecution for pay to play charges for their actions during his time as governor of Virginia.

Whatever form their personal relationship now takes, it’s too late to say that the vast charitable and political web they have woven is none of our business. Both Bill and Hillary have benefitted enormously from their charitable empire and so have those who donated to it.

Getting to the bottom of the Clinton Cash problem may require us, as Hirsh says, to “unscramble the omelet.” The putative 2016 Democratic Party candidate for president has shown no signs of being willing to speak candidly about these questions and a presidential campaign is a bad time for the pair to sort out their marriage for the public. It might be the best defense she can offer, but Hillary is unlikely to try to acquit herself of any involvement in the Clinton Foundation’s dirty business by telling us the truth about how disconnected the two really are.

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Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Can’t Be Saved

Throughout the last year former Middle East peace processor and Obama foreign policy staffer Dennis Ross has been sounding a note of caution about the nuclear talks with Iran. But after sober reflection, the veteran diplomat is endorsing the weak nuclear deal that has yet to be put to paper. But despite Ross’s optimism about the agreement’s ability to forestall Iran from getting a bomb for as much as 25 years, even he admits that the statements coming out of Tehran about the final written terms of the pact are troubling. Ross concedes Iran’s attitude can, in fact, render the framework a colossal failure if Western negotiators don’t stick to positions demanding transparency about their nuclear program. That’s true enough though why anyone would think President Obama would stand firm with the Iranians now it meant risking a deal he considers integral to his legacy is a mystery. That’s especially true after making concession after concession in order to get the deal. But scholar Michael Mandelbaum has an even better reason why this mess can’t be salvaged. As he explains in an article published in The American Interest, the problem here isn’t just bad negotiating tactics but a fundamental reordering of American foreign policy by Obama that undermines its credibility in enforcing agreements and restraining rogue regimes.

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Throughout the last year former Middle East peace processor and Obama foreign policy staffer Dennis Ross has been sounding a note of caution about the nuclear talks with Iran. But after sober reflection, the veteran diplomat is endorsing the weak nuclear deal that has yet to be put to paper. But despite Ross’s optimism about the agreement’s ability to forestall Iran from getting a bomb for as much as 25 years, even he admits that the statements coming out of Tehran about the final written terms of the pact are troubling. Ross concedes Iran’s attitude can, in fact, render the framework a colossal failure if Western negotiators don’t stick to positions demanding transparency about their nuclear program. That’s true enough though why anyone would think President Obama would stand firm with the Iranians now it meant risking a deal he considers integral to his legacy is a mystery. That’s especially true after making concession after concession in order to get the deal. But scholar Michael Mandelbaum has an even better reason why this mess can’t be salvaged. As he explains in an article published in The American Interest, the problem here isn’t just bad negotiating tactics but a fundamental reordering of American foreign policy by Obama that undermines its credibility in enforcing agreements and restraining rogue regimes.

Let’s give some credit to Ross for trying to learn from his own mistakes. Writing this week in Politico, Ross notes that it would be a blunder to take the recent statements about the nuclear agreement by Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as meaningless rhetoric intended for domestic consumption. Ross says it’s entirely possible that Khamenei’s comments are an indication that the Islamist regime has no intention of allowing rigorous inspections of its facilities or to own up to their progress toward military application of their nuclear research. Just as Yasir Arafat’s statements about his unwillingness to live up to the Oslo Accords should have been taken seriously, so, too, must Khamenei’s lest the nuclear deal wind up being trashed by the Iranians the same way the Palestinians made a mockery of the peace deal with Israel (though it is disgraceful that Ross attributes such complacence to “many of my colleagues” instead of admitting that he was just as guilty of covering up and ignoring Palestinian misdeeds as anyone else).

But, the problem goes deeper than merely having the sense to take your negotiating partner’s threats seriously. Nor is it enough to insist on agreements achieving their stated objectives as opposed to negotiation for its own sake, as appears to be the case with the president’s push for détente with Iran rather than merely stopping its nuclear program.

As Mandelbaum points out, the mistake in the administration’s strategy on Iran is that it is based on an abandonment of American military, political and economic leverage. By stating that the only alternative to a policy of appeasement of Iran is war and that war is unacceptable under virtually any circumstances, the president has ensured that Iran will get its way on every key point in the negotiations:

If the Obama administration is in fact resolutely opposed to the use of force to keep Iran from making nuclear weapons, then American foreign policy has changed in a fundamental way. For more than seven decades, since its entry into World War II, the United States has carried out a foreign policy of global scope that has included the willingness to go to war on behalf of vital American interests. There is no higher or more urgent current American interest beyond the country’s borders than keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of an aggressive, theocratic, anti-American regime located in a region that harbors much of the oil on which the global economy depends. If fighting to vindicate that interest has become unthinkable, then American foreign policy has entered a new era.

Mandelbaum’s trenchant observation illustrates the key flaw in Ross’s facile call for the president to finally stand up to Khamenei in the talks. Having discarded not only his leverage but signaled that he will not defend U.S. interests and will abandon allies in order to pursue an entente with Iran, President Obama has made any outcome but a weak and unenforceable deal impossible. Unless there is a fundamental change in the administration’s approach, there is no saving this deal. That is something senators should remember when they are eventually asked to vote on this fiasco.

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Israel’s President Should Recognize the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian genocide, the centenary of which is marked today, is a wound that has yet to close, perhaps because of the lack of official recognition by some Western countries. So it’s encouraging, as well as interesting from a geopolitical perspective, to note that there are rumors that Israeli President Ruby Rivlin will officially recognize the Armenian genocide in a meeting with Armenian community leaders this weekend. Here, for example, is what the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren tweeted out overnight:

The Armenian genocide, the centenary of which is marked today, is a wound that has yet to close, perhaps because of the lack of official recognition by some Western countries. So it’s encouraging, as well as interesting from a geopolitical perspective, to note that there are rumors that Israeli President Ruby Rivlin will officially recognize the Armenian genocide in a meeting with Armenian community leaders this weekend. Here, for example, is what the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren tweeted out overnight:

I happen to think that what was done to the Armenians a century ago by their Ottoman rulers amounts to genocide. I’ve always been a bit less insistent that various congresses and parliaments officially designate it as such, though I do wish they would, and I think individual politicians, even presidents and prime ministers, should say it was genocide if they do indeed think it was (which most of them seem to). This is slightly different than passing parliamentary resolutions, for procedural reasons, but also for reasons of honesty: if you believe something was genocide, and you were asked point blank if it was, then you should say so. Lying about genocide is a less-than-sterling political act.

I was recently recounting my experiences on the “March of the Living,” the annual trip for high school seniors to the death camps in Poland and then to Israel to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day. My most vivid memory has to do with scheduling. After visiting our last of the camps in Poland (I believe for our group it was Majdanek) we went straight to the airport to catch our flight to Israel.

Thousands of kids attend the trip each year, so the different buses break up into groups and have slightly different itineraries, or at least visit places in different orders. My bus had the great fortune of going straight from Ben-Gurion airport to the Western Wall. So my group had gone from the camps to the Kotel with no stops (or sleep) in between.

As you might imagine, it is an overwhelming experience, going from a place that marks the low point of our people to the place that marks the high. But that trip from Majdanek to the Western Wall either goes right through the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (I can’t remember which path we took), or at the very least right next to it. There is some glaring incongruity in that, due to Israel’s non-recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Is that too sentimental a basis on which to make policy? Maybe, but we’re talking about the return of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel after two thousand years wandering the earth. There’s really no eliminating sentiment here. (It was Ben-Gurion himself who said that in Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.)

What about geopolitical considerations? Well, they’re not nothing. But if it’s the right thing to do to recognize the genocide, then it’s the right thing to do. Also, geopolitical realities have shifted anyway, and Turkey’s drift into Erdogan’s Islamist nightmare should at least give some politicians an excuse now to lend a symbolic hand to the downtrodden.

Additionally, I believe that recognizing the Armenian genocide is, for the Jewish community, a strategic imperative. The Armenians were first subjected to mass demonization efforts to cast them as disloyal citizens. That laid the groundwork for the argument that they were thus a national-security risk, and that rounding them up was not simple bigotry but a sort of counteroffensive war measure.

There is no community more likely to be accused of imperfect loyalty, even–or especially!–in the “enlightened” West, than the Jews. And in every such country, they are a vulnerable minority. It does not make much sense, then, for the Jewish state to argue that the demonization and isolation campaigns against Jews even in Europe recall a dark genocidal chapter not too long ago, and yet not recognize it as such with regard to others.

Some argue that it could cheapen the designation of genocide to apply it to a situation that may not be so clear-cut. But I think, in the case of the Armenians, the opposite is true. I think it cheapens the term genocide to only use it, as the current American administration has, when it is easy to do so and to drum up support for military action, such as with the ISIS assault on the Yazidis.

It would be appropriate, therefore, for Israel to make this recognition. But it would also be appropriate for another reason. Ruby Rivlin has thus far had something of a remarkable presidency. The office of the president of Israel is mostly ceremonial. And Rivlin has used that to great effect. In October, he became the first Israeli president to attend the annual memorial ceremony for the victims of the 1956 massacre in the Arab village of Kafr Qasem. Israel has to “look straight at what happened in the Kafr Qasem massacre and teach all future generations about it,” Rivlin said. He’s also spoken out movingly against racism.

As a dedicated rightist, Rivlin caught many off-guard when he showed this appetite for atonement and reconciliation. So if any Israeli president were to recognize the Armenian genocide, it’s appropriate that it would be him.

At this point, they’re just rumors. But the reporting suggests that Rivlin is seriously considering it. He should, and he should walk through the Armenian quarter of his nation’s ancient capital with his head held high.

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Clinton Cash and Circumstantial Evidence

A few days into the Clinton Cash scandal and apologists for Hillary and Bill are starting to retreat. After days of focusing on smearing author Peter Schweizer, the investigative reports of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and now Fox News have made it harder to dismiss the discussion about the connection between the massive donations to the Clintons’ foundation and speaking fees for the former president and influence peddling at the State Department. Instead, they are relying on more legalistic defenses and saying that Schweizer and other journalists who have followed up on his reporting can’t prove that Hillary Clinton performed favors for donors to her family charity or those who paid her husband half-million-dollar honorariums. So far, that’s true as there is no “smoking gun” memo in which the Clintons make clear promises of corrupt action in payment for the largesse that had been bestowed upon them. But what Democrats and all Americans should be asking about this argument is why some people get prosecuted for corruption on such circumstantial evidence while others are considered likely to be elected president. If circumstantial evidence less compelling than that contained in Clinton Cash can lead to an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, why should we dismiss this story as just a political attack?

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A few days into the Clinton Cash scandal and apologists for Hillary and Bill are starting to retreat. After days of focusing on smearing author Peter Schweizer, the investigative reports of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and now Fox News have made it harder to dismiss the discussion about the connection between the massive donations to the Clintons’ foundation and speaking fees for the former president and influence peddling at the State Department. Instead, they are relying on more legalistic defenses and saying that Schweizer and other journalists who have followed up on his reporting can’t prove that Hillary Clinton performed favors for donors to her family charity or those who paid her husband half-million-dollar honorariums. So far, that’s true as there is no “smoking gun” memo in which the Clintons make clear promises of corrupt action in payment for the largesse that had been bestowed upon them. But what Democrats and all Americans should be asking about this argument is why some people get prosecuted for corruption on such circumstantial evidence while others are considered likely to be elected president. If circumstantial evidence less compelling than that contained in Clinton Cash can lead to an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, why should we dismiss this story as just a political attack?

The Menendez analogy is inexact but nevertheless worth thinking about. The New Jersey senator faces jail for having done favors that benefited the business of his longtime political donor and friend. The donor was a doctor who made a fortune via Medicare and there’s little doubt that Menendez helped smooth his path to riches. But what’s lacking in the case is any hard evidence that showed that this was a corrupt transaction between the two rather than just constituent service or a favor to a friend. Unless the doctor informs on the senator (something the federal prosecutors are hoping to achieve by over-indicting the senator’s alleged partner in crime with enough charges to keep him in prison for hundreds of years), it’s hard to see how they will obtain a conviction. Even if everybody in New Jersey and Washington probably thinks this is a classic example of pay for play, there is a huge gap between what looks fishy and the sort of thing that can put a senator in prison.

The same can be said of all the allegations about the Clintons since it is unlikely either they or their donors will tell on each other absent the possibility of legal coercion.

The latest shoe to drop is the report about the way the Clintons became the “gatekeepers” for any company that wanted to do business in Haiti during the reconstruction effort after a devastating earthquake in 2010. By the same set of curious coincidences that led those who profited from the sale of 20 percent of America’s uranium reserves to Russia to become donors to the Clinton Global Initiative and sponsors of highly paid speeches by Bill Clinton, a different set of “philanthropists” wound up getting contracts to aid reconstruction and infrastructure work in Haiti also after donating fortunes to the ubiquitous Clinton Foundation. The former president, who was co-chair of a recovery commission, and the State Department facilitated such access. One of the most egregious and embarrassing examples came when a company with little mining experience was granted a gold mining permit. By another astonishing coincidence, Tony Rodham, the secretary of state’s brother, was soon named to its board.

In reply to this and the shocking revelations about a Russian state agency acquiring an American uranium mine from Clinton donors, friends of the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate can only shrug their shoulders and demand that critics “prove” to a legal certainty that the favors done their benefactors was part of corrupt deal. They’re right. There probably isn’t a piece of paper lying around in which Bill or Hillary say what it will cost in terms of charitable gifts or honorariums to help potential donors. And if it was ever written in an email, we know that email and the server on which it was recorded have since been erased.

All we have left is the circumstantial evidence that shows that some of the nice people who gave to the Clintons’ charity the cash needed to do some good, but also make the former first couple immensely wealthy, wound up having some of their business affairs advanced by government action. Others clearly hoped that this would be so. After all, the Clinton Global Initiative is just one of many worthy causes and others have longer pedigrees and more impressive records of achievement. People gave to the Clintons because of the good they could have done for themselves rather than to merely do good.

But just because a prosecutor isn’t likely to haul the Clintons into court over all these astonishing coincidences (or at least not so long as the Democrats control the Department of Justice), that doesn’t mean their behavior doesn’t smell to high heaven. Nor should it allow their court of apologists to obscure the real issues here with personal attacks and diversionary tactics. The court in which the Clintons deserve to be condemned is that of public opinion. It is there that Hillary’s friends must be, like Bob Menendez will soon be doing in a federal courtroom, reduced to saying that the journalists who have dug up their secrets can’t prove they’re guilty of corruption even if the circumstantial evidence points in that direction. That may be enough to avoid jail, but what we’ll find out in the coming year is whether it is enough to get elected president.

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Young Arabs Agree: Israel Isn’t Arab World’s Major Problem

One of the most positive strategic developments for Israel of the past few years has been its marked improvement in relations with significant parts of the Arab world. Three years ago, for instance, the most cockeyed optimist wouldn’t have predicted a letter like Israel received this week from a senior official of the Free Syrian Army, who congratulated it on its 67th anniversary and voiced hope that next year, Israel’s Independence Day would be celebrated at an Israeli embassy in Damascus.

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One of the most positive strategic developments for Israel of the past few years has been its marked improvement in relations with significant parts of the Arab world. Three years ago, for instance, the most cockeyed optimist wouldn’t have predicted a letter like Israel received this week from a senior official of the Free Syrian Army, who congratulated it on its 67th anniversary and voiced hope that next year, Israel’s Independence Day would be celebrated at an Israeli embassy in Damascus.

Yet many analysts have cautioned that even if Arab leaders were quietly cooperating with Israel for reasons of realpolitik, anti-Israel hostility in the “Arab street” hadn’t abated. So a new poll showing that this, too, is changing came as a lovely Independence Day gift.

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which has been conducted annually for the last seven years, polls 3,500 Arabs aged 18 to 24 from 16 Arab countries in face-to-face interviews. One of the standard questions is “What do you believe is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East?”

This year, defying a long tradition of blaming all the Arab world’s problems on Israel, only 23 percent of respondents cited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the region’s main obstacle. In fact, the conflict came in fourth, trailing ISIS (37 percent), terrorism (32 percent) and unemployment (29 percent). Given that respondents were evidently allowed to choose more than one of the 15 options (the total adds up to 235 percent rather than 100), it’s even more noteworthy that only 23 percent thought the conflict worth mentioning.

A comparison to previous surveys shows that this figure has been declining slowly but steadily for the past few years: In 2012, for instance, it was 27 percent, a statistically significant difference given the poll’s margin of error (1.65 percent). But the 2015 decline is particularly remarkable because last summer’s war in Gaza made the past year the conflict’s bloodiest in decades for Palestinians. Hence one would have expected Arab concern about the conflict to increase. Instead, it dropped.

The poll also highlights another encouraging fact: The issues young Arabs do see as their top concerns–ISIS, terrorism, and unemployment–are all issues on which cooperation with Israel could be beneficial, and in some cases, it’s already taking place. For instance, Israeli-Egyptian cooperation on counterterrorism is closer than it’s been in years–not only against Hamas, but also against the ISIS branch in Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. Israel and Jordan cooperate closely on counterterrorism as well, and it’s a safe bet that quiet cooperation is also occurring with certain other Arab states that officially have no relations with Israel.

Egypt and Israel have also ramped up economic cooperation, even manning a joint booth at a major trade fair earlier this year.

In short, the issues currently of greatest concern to young Arabs are precisely the issues most conducive to a further thawing of Israeli-Arab relations.

What the poll shows, in a nutshell, is that young Arabs have reached the same conclusion Arab leaders made glaringly evident at the last year’s inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate: Israel simply isn’t one of the Arab world’s major problems anymore, if it ever was. Now all Israel needs is for the West to finally come to the same realization.

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Is Clinton Corruption Narrative the End of the “War on Women?”

Most of the candidates for president in 2016 have turned the announcement of when they’re going to announce into an announcement in itself, to drum up both attention and attendance for the big day. And so Carly Fiorina joined the meta-announcement crew two days ago by revealing she will announce her candidacy for president on May 4. This did not get a ton of attention, in part because the astounding revelations of Clintonian corruption have devoured the news cycle. But this also might not be temporary for Fiorina; she may have to get used to the strange way Hillary’s corruption could affect her own candidacy.

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Most of the candidates for president in 2016 have turned the announcement of when they’re going to announce into an announcement in itself, to drum up both attention and attendance for the big day. And so Carly Fiorina joined the meta-announcement crew two days ago by revealing she will announce her candidacy for president on May 4. This did not get a ton of attention, in part because the astounding revelations of Clintonian corruption have devoured the news cycle. But this also might not be temporary for Fiorina; she may have to get used to the strange way Hillary’s corruption could affect her own candidacy.

That’s because Fiorina is a perfect test case for how the full GOP field will tailor their attacks on Clinton according to the news cycle. This may sound obvious, but in fact it’s not: the media tends to be so far in the tank for major Democratic candidates that it’s a struggle to get the mainstream press to put Democrats on the defensive the way they prefer Republicans to be throughout the election.

But that’s simply not the case this time. Of course, Hillary’s corruption scandals do, to some degree, represent a media failure. After all, the latest revelations are that the Clintons were personally enriched by donors who they then helped access American uranium deposits only to sell them to the Russians, who were also supplying the Iranians while shoveling large sums of money at Bill Clinton, who facilitated the deal and whose wife, Hillary, signed off on it while she was secretary of state.

Which is to say, this is a monumental scandal involving the corruption of American foreign policy for profit while boosting America’s enemies at the expense of our own national security. Had the story come out when it happened, it could have ended Hillary’s political career by forcing her resignation from the State Department, and might have torpedoed President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and derailed whatever remained of the concessions Obama wanted to give Vladimir Putin as part of the failed “reset.”

That’s a worst-case scenario for this round of alternate history, but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t at least a possibility.

Additionally, some of this was prompted by conservative researcher and think-tanker Peter Schweizer, who endeavored to connect the dots that were hiding in plain sight. The New York Times, for example, should be commended for putting its resources behind expanding on Schweizer’s investigations. As Politico noted yesterday, “The fact that Schweizer’s revelations have now been vetted and reported out by the likes of the Times, POLITICO, etc., means the Clinton campaign can no longer be so dismissive.” That is true–and also quite an indictment of the reporting atmosphere in which Democrats can get away with far too much.

So the attempts to ghettoize conservative reporting this time around aren’t having much success. The stories themselves are far too explosive, and they’re not all coming from Schweizer either. Reuters, for example, revealed that the Clintons have been filing years of false tax returns in order to hide foreign donations. It turns out the Clintons are following neither the spirit nor the letter of the law, and that isn’t easy to hide in 2015.

And it changes the focus of Republican criticism as well. Now that the Clintons have failed to characterize the facts about their family foundation as right-wing conspiracy theories, the leftist game plan on the election has to be at least somewhat revised. Initial attacks on Hillary centered on her complete lack of accomplishments and sense of entitlement. To this, the left would respond by shouting “sexism!” In general, Hillary would like to steer the conversation toward all manner of “war on women” subjects.

But blatant corruption of the kind we’re seeing here makes it impossible for the Clintons to control the narrative right now. And the corruption storyline gives Republicans a way to criticize Hillary while avoiding the culture wars.

This is great news for the GOP field in general, but less so for Fiorina. As I wrote after her CPAC speech this year, Fiorina was able to talk about social issues and Hillary’s failings in a way that Republican men just weren’t. That’s not all there is to her candidacy; Fiorina speaks with fluency on a range of subjects, and her career in the private sector has given her both executive experience and an outsider’s perspective on government.

It’s possible the Clinton corruption stories will fade, or at least go through a lull at some point. Maybe Fiorina will still be in the race if that happens, maybe not. But if she was hoping for much of a poll bounce after her official campaign launch, she might find Clinton raining on her parade by, paradoxically, giving everybody something to criticize Hillary over.

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Six Reasons Why the Donor Primaries Won’t Decide the GOP Race

For the political left, there’s only one surefire antidote for the depression brought on by the spectacle of the Clinton Cash corruption: talk about big donors deciding the Republican presidential nomination race before it even starts. The focus on donors such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers is understandable. The casino mogul and the network of donors connected to the Kochs have the ability to inject tens of millions into the campaigns of favorite candidates. That sort of vital help can keep dying candidacies alive and maybe put strong ones over the top. So when Politico reports that Marco Rubio has “taken the lead in the Adelson primary” or Reuters claims that the Kochs are backing Scott Walker (or, according to Salon, backing away from the Wisconsin governor), it’s major political news. But before we start diving into the usual stories about Adelson and the Kochs deciding the identity of the nominee by writing a few checks, it’s time to take a reality check. Here are six reasons why the big donors won’t decide things for the Republicans:

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For the political left, there’s only one surefire antidote for the depression brought on by the spectacle of the Clinton Cash corruption: talk about big donors deciding the Republican presidential nomination race before it even starts. The focus on donors such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers is understandable. The casino mogul and the network of donors connected to the Kochs have the ability to inject tens of millions into the campaigns of favorite candidates. That sort of vital help can keep dying candidacies alive and maybe put strong ones over the top. So when Politico reports that Marco Rubio has “taken the lead in the Adelson primary” or Reuters claims that the Kochs are backing Scott Walker (or, according to Salon, backing away from the Wisconsin governor), it’s major political news. But before we start diving into the usual stories about Adelson and the Kochs deciding the identity of the nominee by writing a few checks, it’s time to take a reality check. Here are six reasons why the big donors won’t decide things for the Republicans:

The Big Donor Track Record Isn’t That Good

I know this runs counter to liberal conspiracy theories, but there’s no evidence that major donors have ever been able to buy an election for a candidate who would otherwise not have been taken seriously. The best example of this comes from Adelson who, next to the Kochs, is the conservative liberals love to hate the most. Adelson very much wanted to influence the 2012 Republican race but in Newt Gingrich, he picked a candidate who couldn’t win. Adelson’s donations kept Gingrich in the race perhaps long after he might otherwise have dropped out. But he couldn’t will him to victory. No amount of money could have.

There Are Too Many Big Donors to Allow Any One to Dominate

Another problem for conspiracy theorists is that America is a very wealthy country with a lot of really rich people, including some who are obsessed with politics. For every Adelson backing a Gingrich, there was a Foster Friess bankrolling Rick Santorum. And if Adelson doesn’t wind up embracing Rubio this time, the Florida senator’s longtime wealthy friend Norman Braman will. The Bush dynasty has their backers. Scott Walker’s small-government principles and battles with the unions may bring him the support of the Kochs, but many big donors who are also associated with their group may back Ted Cruz. Were all the Republican major donors to conspire together and back only one, that might make it hard for a challenger to compete. But that would be a description of what’s going on in the Democratic Party now as the Clinton cash machine enforces discipline on the left. Right now, that’s just not possible in a Republican Party whose donors are as diverse as the Democrats inaccurately claim their party to be.

The GOP Field is Too Big and Too Strong

Mega-donors like Adelson and the Kochs can have a disproportionate impact on elections when the choices are few. But that’s not the case for Republicans in 2016. The deep GOP bench has put forward a bevy of promising candidates with even those that many people think can’t win a general election, like Ted Cruz, demonstrating genuine appeal to a large number of Republicans. That creates an interesting dynamic that makes it harder for an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush to follow the Mitt Romney model of gliding to the nomination as weak opponents fall by the wayside. But it also makes it more difficult for any one donor or set of donors, like the many who fell in line behind Bush when he launched his candidacy in December, to have anything more than a marginal impact on the outcome. All of those candidates are going to need money to be competitive, but that just makes it more difficult for individual billionaires and millionaires to become kingmakers.

Many donors hedge their bets

The notion of a big donor tapping one person to be their personal Manchurian Candidate is the nightmare of leftists who fear Republican money will buy the presidency. But in practice, many large donors hedge their bets and give support to more than one candidate. That’s actually the genius of the group of donors that come together under the Koch brothers umbrella since many spread their wealth around. Given the fact that many of the GOP candidates share a worldview (Rand Paul is the one true outlier on foreign policy), it’s logical that a lot of givers find it hard to choose and don’t. The real impact of the Kochs will be after the Republican nominee is chosen when Republicans will try and unite around their standard-bearer. Until then, it will be a big money free-for-all rather than something in which a few individuals make a decision for an entire party.

Unions and Left-Wing Donors Still Throw Around As Much Money

The obsessive focus of the liberal mainstream media on Adelson and the Kochs ignores a key fact about American politics: liberals can always outspend conservatives. That seems counter-intuitive since it is assumed that most rich people would prefer lower taxes and therefore want Republicans in charge. But there are two problems with that thesis. One is that for every conservative mega-donor who is a libertarian like the Kochs or a foreign-policy hawk and dedicated friend of Israel like Adelson there appears to be a left-wing moneybags dedicated to opposing those views. Tom Steyer spends his money backing politicians who are environmental extremists while George Soros donates his loot to support those who oppose a strong America or Israel (or groups that seek to undermine Israel’s diplomatic stance and political support like J Street). More than that, the unions spend every bit as much as right-wing donors to keep Democrats and liberals in line. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reported last year, their spending far outranks those of big GOP donors. If anyone is buying elections, it’s them.

Money Doesn’t Guarantee Victory

Liberals justify their ongoing efforts to suppress political speech with complicated campaign-finance laws because they believe elections can be bought. But American political history is strewn with examples of well-funded candidates who flopped or fell short. Would-be presidents like John Connally (1980) and Phil Gramm (1996) are just the most blatant examples of how money can’t buy you love in politics if the voters don’t like what they see. Many wealthy men like Nelson Rockefeller and Mitt Romney have failed to win the presidency. In our modern and chaotic system, it is true that the ability to raise money is a requirement. But in that sense it merely acts as a test of a candidate’s appeal. Anyone who is incapable of inspiring support from a wide range of donors isn’t going to win anyway. But rich or poor, the voters always have the final say on nominations and elections. So while winning the Adelson and Koch primaries doesn’t hurt and can do a candidate a great deal of good, it is no guarantee of success.

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Hillary Clinton’s Bribery Scandal

Earlier this week I referred to Hillary Clinton’s “tangle of corruption.” It turns out I was being generous.

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Earlier this week I referred to Hillary Clinton’s “tangle of corruption.” It turns out I was being generous.

As the politically explosive story in the New York Times demonstrates, the depths of the Clintons’ corruption and avarice is stunning. The facts in the Times story are utterly damning and prima facie evidence of a conflict of interest. If foreign governments, including adversarial ones like Russia, paid the Clinton Foundation and/or Bill Clinton huge sums of money, they assured themselves favorable treatment. (Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was pursuing the purchase of a Uranium One, a uranium mining company.) What we’re talking about looks very much like bribery, as former Governor Mitt Romney told Hugh Hewitt.

It’s worth placing this revelation in context: The Clintons have known for years that Hillary would run for president–and yet they still undertook this transparently unethical and potentially politically catastrophic action. The same is true of Mrs. Clinton’s deletion of 30,000 emails, another breathtakingly inappropriate, and possibly illegal, act. (It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that some of those deleted emails included a discussion of Uranium One, the company the Russians assumed control over.)

All of this confirms what many of us have long believed: The Clintons are, in important respects, unethical and unscrupulous. They think the rules apply to other people but not them. They are self-indulgent, narcissistic, out of control. There don’t appear to be moral guardrails in place. They oversee a brutal political machine that destroys those who threaten their political viability.

The Clintons are so brazen in their transgressions and corruption that they are like figures from a Robert Penn Warren novel. But in this case, we’re dealing not with fiction but real life, not with make-believe characters but real people. One of them wants to win the presidency. But being engulfed by a bribery scandal won’t help her.

A recommendation to my Democratic friends: It’s time for Elizabeth Warren to start warming up in the bullpen.

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Another Jewish Charm Offensive Won’t Fix What Obama Has Broken

After several months of insults (chickensh*!t) and threats about re-evaluating U.S. policy, the Obama administration appears to have awakened to the fact that its feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone too far. As the New York Times reports today, the White House is making a conscious effort to play down its anger at the Israeli government, primarily by making nice with American Jewish groups. But what is sounding very much like another edition of the Jewish charm offensive that characterized administration statements about Israel during the year preceding President Obama’s reelection is not going to fix what has been broken by President Obama and his foreign-policy team. The problem is an American government that is intent on creating distance between itself and Israel, not misunderstandings rooted in a personality clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Its only purpose is to disarm Jewish groups and to persuade them to stay quiet during the impending debate about the Iran nuclear deal while still threatening Israel with diplomatic isolation over the Middle East peace process.

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After several months of insults (chickensh*!t) and threats about re-evaluating U.S. policy, the Obama administration appears to have awakened to the fact that its feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone too far. As the New York Times reports today, the White House is making a conscious effort to play down its anger at the Israeli government, primarily by making nice with American Jewish groups. But what is sounding very much like another edition of the Jewish charm offensive that characterized administration statements about Israel during the year preceding President Obama’s reelection is not going to fix what has been broken by President Obama and his foreign-policy team. The problem is an American government that is intent on creating distance between itself and Israel, not misunderstandings rooted in a personality clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Its only purpose is to disarm Jewish groups and to persuade them to stay quiet during the impending debate about the Iran nuclear deal while still threatening Israel with diplomatic isolation over the Middle East peace process.

As with the reelection year charm offensive, the administration is doing little to mend fences with an Israeli government that it has slandered and undermined. Rather, it is focused on holding the hands of Jewish groups that face the difficult choice between standing up to the president or keeping quiet in order to maintain their access to the White House.

The administration is rightly fearful that it’s public venting of anger about Netanyahu’s opposition to its push for détente with Iran and their insistence on blaming him and not the Palestinian Authority leadership for the latest collapse of the peace process is exposing the rift between much of the Democratic Party and the pro-Israel community. That doesn’t necessarily threaten the Democrats’ hold on the Jewish vote in 2016, but Obama isn’t really worried about Hillary Clinton’s fate right now. What bothers him is the prospect that a critical mass of American Jews will be sufficiently fed up with the president’s threats toward Israel and insufficiently sold on the virtues of the Iran deal that they will exert pressure on wavering Democrats to vote against the agreement if it is actually signed and then comes up for a vote sometime this summer.

That’s what’s behind the meetings with Jewish groups (though most of those invited to the tête-à-têtes at the White House have been either loyal administration cheerleaders like J Street and other left-wing groups or mainstream organizations that can usually be counted on not to make trouble for the powers that be) and, just as important, leaks from administration sources that lead to articles like today’s New York Times feature intended to calm the nerves of the paper’s liberal Jewish readership.

Despite the talk of recognition that, in the words of former U.S. ambassador to Israel and veteran peace processor Daniel Kurtzer, “anger was replacing policy,” the division between the two countries had little to do with pique on either side of the alliance. The White House temper tantrums about Netanyahu’s prickly personality, his acceptance of an invitation to address Congress without bespeaking Obama’s permission first, or even some of the things he said in the days before his election victory certainly added to the tensions that have been building for six years. But the real source of the problem lies in policy prescriptions not inadequate personal relations.

The president entered office convinced that the U.S. must distance itself from Israel and engage Iran and after years of effort, he finally seems to have accomplished both objectives. To that end, the president has consistently sought to pressure Israel to make concessions and blamed the Jewish state when these efforts failed, as they always have, to entice the Palestinians to make peace. Consistent Palestinian rejections of peace offers have convinced most Israelis that peace is impossible in the foreseeable future and to reelect Netanyahu, but the administration has reacted to the same facts by seeking more distance between Washington and Jerusalem and overtly threatening to abandon Israel at the United Nations.

Even more ominously, the White House has embraced a new bizarrely Iran-centric policy in the Middle East that has alienated both Israel and moderate Arab nations while negotiating an agreement that, at the very least, establishes Tehran as a threshold nuclear power and gives it two paths to a bomb, one by cheating and the other by waiting until the deal expires.

Neither of these problems can be papered over by mere meetings or statements. President Obama’s disingenuous efforts to convince the country that, despite everything that has happened during his time in office that would convince any objective observer to the contrary, he is true friend of Israel ring false even for many Democrats.

But Obama doesn’t need, as he did in 2012, to convince most supporters of Israel that he is one of them. After all that has happened in the last year, let alone the five that preceded it, that isn’t going to work despite his avowals of friendship. All he needs is to neutralize the mainstream groups that could make a lot of trouble for him if they decided to go all out to try and defeat an Iran deal that poses a potential mortal threat to the security of the West, regional security, as well as Israel’s existence. Such an effort on their part might be enough to tip many ostensibly pro-Israel Democrats to oppose the deal even though the president has tried to make support for the deal a test of partisan loyalty.

That’s why Obama says he won’t meet Netanyahu until after the Iran deal is finalized and approved even if he has to get that approval by stopping Congress from overriding his veto.

Supporters of Israel in both the Democratic and Republican parties need to recognize that what is needed are not feel-good meetings but a presidential promise that the final Iran deal will insist on the inspections and other points the Iranians currently refuse to countenance. They should also get guarantees that the president won’t stop backing the Jewish state in the United Nations when the Palestinians and their supporters seek recognition for their state without first being required to make peace.

Anything less than that is a diversionary tactic, not an effort to heal a breach the president has worked so hard to create.

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Hillary’s Bet: Voters Want More ‘House of Cards,’ Less ‘Veep’

One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

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One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

This raises a question: As much as Americans like their dark and cynical political fantasy, are they really ready to elect the Clintons and make it a reality?

One comparison to which the Clintons are often subjected is the Underwoods of the American adaptation of House of Cards. But I find this one unconvincing, not least because the Clintons don’t (despite some imaginative conspiracy theories) go around killing those who pose an obstacle to their accumulation of power. When it comes to House of Cards, truth really isn’t stranger than fiction.

But House of Cards does provide at least a useful discussion point because it seems to represent the dark fantasy of American politics. President Obama himself likes to joke that he wishes real life were more like the dead-souled politics of House of Cards. As Time reported in 2013: “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient,” Obama told tech industry leaders. “It’s true. It’s like Kevin Spacey, man this guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.”

It’s Obama’s version of Tomfriedmanism: every so often, a bit of ruthless authoritarianism is worth the further decay of freedom and democracy.

Of course, in real life, Washington D.C. far more closely resembles HBO’s Veep, in which those in power are awkward and bumbling and, well, human. There is perhaps something reassuring in the House of Cards model in the belief that things are a certain way because powerful people want them to be that way. But there is, in fact, not really such a thing as presidential stability, and often the more stable it looks from the outside the more it truly resembles a Jenga tower. (A good example is FDR, the closest thing since Washington that America has had to an indispensable man. Only in death did it become fully clear the democratic rot over which FDR presided.)

But the House of Cards frame is useful for another reason: while the Clintons are obviously not cold-blooded killers, they are unlike any other family in American politics. And as Hillary runs for president, she will be asking the country to vote its dark fantasies into reality. Do Americans like House of Cards for the escapism, or do they secretly wish life was really like that?

There is reason to think they’re beginning to get uneasy with this. As our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, according to Quinnipiac a majority of voters don’t think Hillary is honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents. Here’s Chris Cillizza on those numbers:

That’s a remarkable set of findings — and speaks to the divided mind the public has about the Clintons broadly and Hillary Clinton specifically.  There’s a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for. There’s also widespread distrust in her personally.  People admire her but don’t know if she’s honest.

And that is the central problem for Clinton with this series of stories today. It affirms for people that there is always some piece — or pieces — of baggage that come with electing the Clintons to anything.  It’s part of the deal.  You don’t get one without the other.

Make no mistake: Forcing people to decide whether Clinton’s readiness for the job outweighs the fact that it’s always something with these people is not the choice the Clinton team wants on the ballot in November 2016.

If it’s not the choice the Clintons want people to make, then they’re really not so confident that America’s ready for Claire Underwood. But there’s an argument to be made that such questions are fully irrelevant to the actual election.

For example, Democrats are mostly going to support Hillary, and Republicans will generally be happy to stay on their side of the dividing line. And Democrats are not going to vote Republican just because Hillary is dishonest and untrustworthy. In that Quinnipiac poll, she beats each major Republican candidate. The point is not that those numbers can’t or won’t change but that the same voters who say she’s untrustworthy and dishonest would still pick her over the other guy.

And without a serious Democratic primary challenger, Hillary can continue to rally support based on the premise that it’s either her or the Republicans. The GOP might hope for voter apathy come Election Day, but how many Democrats will stay home when they have another chance to make history?

Clintonian corruption is not a disqualifying factor to a great many voters–at least not yet. But on the other hand, the Quinnipiac poll was taken before the latest revelations that the Clintons were personally enriched by steering American strategic resources into the hands of the Russians (and thus the Iranians) when Hillary was secretary of state. There might be a limit, in other words, to how much voters are willing to stomach. And Hillary’s already making them queasy.

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The al-Qaeda Hostages and Deteriorating U.S. Intel

Today a grim-faced President Obama announced that he was taking “full responsibility” for the inadvertent death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda and killed in the frontier region of Pakistan by an American drone strike. He was right to do so, but it’s not an especially brave thing to do on the president’s part because few but the most perfervid partisans will blame him for this accident of the type that happens so often in the “fog of war.”

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Today a grim-faced President Obama announced that he was taking “full responsibility” for the inadvertent death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda and killed in the frontier region of Pakistan by an American drone strike. He was right to do so, but it’s not an especially brave thing to do on the president’s part because few but the most perfervid partisans will blame him for this accident of the type that happens so often in the “fog of war.”

The only people who might be remotely surprised by this mistake would be those technologists and futurists who once argued that advances in computing power would make possible “perfect information awareness,” thereby turning war into a sterile targeting exercise. The U.S. military in the 1990s to some extent bought into this orthodoxy, which became known as “network-centric operations.” Although the limitations of information technology were brutally exposed in Afghanistan and Iraq, where no number of precision airstrikes could defeat determined insurgencies, there has remained a political vogue for “precise,” “surgical” airstrikes—now done by drones rather than by manned aircraft. This has, in fact, become the preferred Obama way of warfare.

There is no question that drone strikes are a useful tool of counter-terrorism policy, but the mistaken killing of the two hostages shows the limits of our intelligence. It would be all too easy to kill the enemy if we knew precisely where he was, but we don’t—insurgents like to hide in plain sight and it takes a lot of work to distinguish them from the civilian population. To be sure, high-tech reconnaissance and surveillance can enable this process but human-intelligence is necessary too, both the kind acquired by spies and the kind acquired by interrogators.

As it happens, the Joint Special Operations Command under Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Adm. Bill McRaven became very, very good at doing battlefield interrogations without using torture. It was their success in getting detainees to talk that enabled JSOC operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that is now a lot harder to pull off because the U.S. is no longer holding detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have transitioned the detention process over to the Iraqis and Afghans, with predictably dismal results. Many hardened killers who have blood on their hands were set free.

Moreover, Obama is refusing to send any new detainees to Guantanamo and continuing George W. Bush’s policy of releasing detainees, roughly a third of whom return to their old tricks. Finally Obama, like all presidents, is averse to putting American troops on the ground in harm’s way. Thus the strong preference for U.S. counter-terrorism strikes is to kill rather than to capture terrorists. But dead men tell no tales. The fact that we are not capturing and interrogating more bad guys means, inevitably, that the quality of our intelligence is going down, thus raising the likelihood of mistakes such as the ones that killed hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” is fine for Westerns, but in the real world live terrorists are far more useful than dead ones.

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What Obama Should Be Apologizing For

President Obama stepped before the cameras this morning to apologize for the deaths of two Western hostages, including one American, in a U.S. drone strike on an al-Qaeda target. Speaking in a dignified and sorrowful tone that marked a strong contrast with most of his press appearances, the president expressed profound regret about the deaths on behalf of the government and vowed that it would do its best not to repeat the mistake. While the families deserved to hear his apology, the rest of us do not. But the American people are owed an apology for something else. As we add to the total of Americans killed as a result of terrorism by a group we were informed by the Obama re-election team was on the run and finished, sometime before the president leaves office it would be far more appropriate for him to own up to the mistakes he made that have led us to a moment in history when Islamist terror is more dangerous than ever.

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President Obama stepped before the cameras this morning to apologize for the deaths of two Western hostages, including one American, in a U.S. drone strike on an al-Qaeda target. Speaking in a dignified and sorrowful tone that marked a strong contrast with most of his press appearances, the president expressed profound regret about the deaths on behalf of the government and vowed that it would do its best not to repeat the mistake. While the families deserved to hear his apology, the rest of us do not. But the American people are owed an apology for something else. As we add to the total of Americans killed as a result of terrorism by a group we were informed by the Obama re-election team was on the run and finished, sometime before the president leaves office it would be far more appropriate for him to own up to the mistakes he made that have led us to a moment in history when Islamist terror is more dangerous than ever.

It’s important to give credit to the president for providing some transparency about the fate of both hostages. Going public with the news about the fact that the hostages were killed as a result of U.S. action was the right thing to do. So was the apology to the family. But, like his refusals to ransom other hostages held by terrorists, the president was right not to try to buy the freedom of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto and also correct to order the attack on an al-Qaeda stronghold even if the results of these decisions were tragic.

Second-guessing about specific operations is easy for critics but useless. No one seriously believes the strike would have been planned and approved had anyone known about the presence of the hostages. The only apologies truly needed for this incident should come from the terrorists who seized two innocent people—both aid workers who were in the region to help, not wage war—and are responsible for their deaths, no matter the origin of the bomb that ultimately killed them.

But any discussion about al-Qaeda must start and end with an honest evaluation of the administration’s counter-terrorism policy in the context of its broader foreign-policy goals. And it is here that apologies are warranted.

The president has taken a beating from some on the left as well as their unlikely libertarian allies on the right such as Senator Rand Paul for the extensive use of drones to kill terrorists. Those criticisms are largely unfounded. These are legitimate targets, and taking out these killers and their infrastructure is both necessary and justified.

The drone attacks are wrongly blamed for making the terrorists popular. As much as many in Pakistan and Afghanistan resent them, the factor that drives terror recruitment is the notion that they are prevailing in the struggle against the West, not resentment of successful attacks that prove they are not winning. But what isn’t working is the foreign policy that makes the context for military action and which has given the terrorists good reason to believe that they are succeeding.

We now know that administration decisions to pull out of Iraq precipitously rather than stay and negotiate a deal that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in the country facilitated the rise of ISIS. The same can be said for the president’s dithering about the civil war in Syria when decisive Western action in the opening months of the struggle probably also would have made it difficult for ISIS to establish a foothold there as well. In Afghanistan, the continued strength of the Taliban even after setbacks they experienced as a result of the surge the president ordered in his first term is largely due to Obama’s announcement of a pullout date for U.S. troops even as reinforcements were arriving.

The problem is that the president was so eager to declare wars over or ending that he forgot that the terrorists were not getting the memo about their being defeated. The same applies to al-Qaeda, whose defeat was supposed to be sealed with the death of Osama bin Laden, a centerpiece of the president’s reelection campaign rhetoric. Yet while the administration was trying to tell us that al-Qaeda was decimated or on the run or effectively out of business, it was continuing to dig in and expand. Now it appears that its affiliates are as strong or stronger than in bin Laden’s time. Combined with the efforts of their ISIS rivals, it’s clear terrorism is as great a threat to U.S. security as ever. Add in the ongoing activities of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Houthi in Yemen, all of which are prospering because of the active aid of Iran, a nation that is the object of the president’s efforts at détente, and the picture becomes even darker.

This is an administration that is more concerned with withdrawing from the Middle East than in showing that it will stay and fight until victory. The appeasement of Iran on the nuclear issue and the refusal of the president to insist that Iran stop supporting terror as part of the negotiations (indeed, his Democratic allies in the Senate successfully insisted that any accountability on terror be left out of the Corker-Menendez bill on the Iran deal) also undermine any notion that it is a priority.

It is that dismal situation and not a tragic if honorable failure to know that hostages might die with their terrorist captors in a drone strikes that merits a presidential apology.

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North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal Is Bigger Than We Thought

A few weeks ago, I wrote about North Korea’s nuclear breakout, and that the U.S. government was finally beginning to acknowledge the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could no longer be ignored. Yet even as the Obama administration continues to talk about the North Korean nuclear “program,” along come the Chinese, of all people, to tell us that North Korea is in reality a nuclear power, with a growing arsenal beyond what American experts suspected.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about North Korea’s nuclear breakout, and that the U.S. government was finally beginning to acknowledge the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could no longer be ignored. Yet even as the Obama administration continues to talk about the North Korean nuclear “program,” along come the Chinese, of all people, to tell us that North Korea is in reality a nuclear power, with a growing arsenal beyond what American experts suspected.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports on what many of us in Washington have been hearing for a while, namely that North Korea may possess as many as 20 nuclear weapons already, and that it could build 20 more by 2016, possibly having 75 nuclear bombs by 2020. The source of this latest intelligence (which, it must be acknowledged, is guesswork)? Chinese nuclear experts, who meet regularly with their American counterparts.

The American experts quoted in the piece take a lower-end estimate of Pyongyang’s nuclear inventory, but still believe that Kim Jong-un currently controls around a dozen bombs, with as many as 20 by next year. Combine either the Chinese or the American total with the North’s ability to launch a long-range ballistic missile that can travel up to 5,600 miles, covering most of America’s West coast, and the picture of strategic stability in Asia begins to look a little different.

By now, it must be clear to all but the most naive of observers that North Korea will never denuclearize. Any idea of returning to the moribund Six Party Talks to achieve that goal is a dangerous notion, as more negotiation over an unachievable outcome will only give Pyongyang more time to further build up its inventory and perfect its ICBM capability. Instead, it is time to put some intellectual firepower behind meaningful sanctions that harm the pocketbooks of North Korea’s leaders, and enhance anti-proliferation activities, to prevent the transfer of sensitive technology.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration may be guilty of hiding information of precisely such proliferation activities, so as to keep nuclear negotiations with Iran alive. Given the failed Bush-Obama attempts to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons during years of intense negotiations, the folly of pursuing a similar script with Iran becomes ever clearer. Now, North Korea is stockpiling an arsenal of nuclear weapons controlled by a paranoid, erratic, aggressive regime. Counting on Kim Jong-un’s rationality is a risky bet, but America’s diplomatic failures up to now give few other options for dealing with his threat. Thinking about the unthinkable may become fashionable again.

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Israeli Independence Day, Then and Now

Today marks Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. In honor of the Jewish State’s 67th year of independence, here, from the February 1948 issue of COMMENTARY, is David Horowitz, then chief economic adviser to the Jewish Agency (established to oversee Jewish immigration to Israel), on “Founding the New State: An Expert’s Estimate of the Tasks Ahead”:

A world of dreams has come true against the background of twenty centuries of martyrdom and a tenacious struggle for survival—this was the first, the emotional reaction to the United Nations decision on Palestine. More than a state and a haven of refuge were created in that fateful hour. The ethnic identity and continuity of Jewish national existence was reasserted. An epoch of national renascence was inaugurated.

Click here to read it all.

Today marks Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. In honor of the Jewish State’s 67th year of independence, here, from the February 1948 issue of COMMENTARY, is David Horowitz, then chief economic adviser to the Jewish Agency (established to oversee Jewish immigration to Israel), on “Founding the New State: An Expert’s Estimate of the Tasks Ahead”:

A world of dreams has come true against the background of twenty centuries of martyrdom and a tenacious struggle for survival—this was the first, the emotional reaction to the United Nations decision on Palestine. More than a state and a haven of refuge were created in that fateful hour. The ethnic identity and continuity of Jewish national existence was reasserted. An epoch of national renascence was inaugurated.

Click here to read it all.

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The ‘Clinton Cash’ Allegations Are a Test of the Democratic Party’s Health

The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

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The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

One thing about these stories is that they demonstrate the mainstream media have spent the Obama years resolutely not doing their jobs—which means that Hillary Clinton has not actually been vetted the way, say, every major Republican in the race has been. (Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the subject of intense scrutiny from Florida media, Scott Walker from Wisconsin media, Chris Christie from New York-area media, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz from Texas media, Bobby Jindal by Louisiana media, and so on.) This story—the story of the Clinton Foundation overall— has been hiding in plain sight from 2010 onward. Thus, Democratic voters who like her and believe she is the best person for them are operating on the basis of incomplete information owing to a systematic lack of scrutiny by a media largely unwilling (consciously and unconsciously) to do the deep digging into Obama administration troubles—especially during the first term, when such digging might have served the interests of Republicans in 2012.

But here we are. These stories and more are unavoidable now, and the classic Clinton dodges (which I detail today in a New York Post column) aren’t going to work very well in response to them.

Which brings up the Democratic party, its voters, and its overall health. The condition of the party is a complex one. At the presidential level, the results of the past five elections suggest Democrats go into 2016 with a mild structural advantage; it would seem that, all things being equal, they can depend on a nationwide floor around 48 percent, while the GOP floor is probably a point or a point and half below that. Brilliant get-out-the-vote innovations from 2008 and 2012 will doubtless be added to as we head into the coming year.

On the other hand, the national condition of the Democratic Party outside the presidential realm is terrible. Since 2009, Democrats are down 60 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. Republicans held 22 governor’s mansions in 2009; now they hold 31. Democrats have an astounding 910 fewer state legislators than they did when Barack Obama took office. The GOP has majorities in 67 of the 99 state legislative bodies in the United States, more than at any time since the 1920s.

So Democrats go into 2016 in good structural shape for a presidential bid but in horrendous overall shape as a political party when it comes to holding the levers of power everywhere else.

Hillary Clinton’s ability so far to clear the field—with the exception of a former governor of Maryland who ended office wildly unpopular in his own state—is a mark of the party’s sclerosis. Even when George H.W. Bush was running as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1987-88, there were six other serious contenders, five of them figures of note in the party: Senate GOP leader and one-time vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the wildly popular Rep. Jack Kemp, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Pat Robertson. If Bush had stumbled badly, or if scandal had surrounded him, Dole in particular was right there to pick up the slack.

That was the mark of a party that had been strengthened rather than weakened by its years in the White House.

The biggest polling news today—from a Quinnipiac survey completed before the blockbuster story—indicates that 61 percent of self-described independents find Hillary Clinton “untrustworthy.” That is a dangerous number for her and her party. If everything that has happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen to Hillary Clinton does not surface a challenger or two more threatening to her than Martin O’Malley, the party she will lead in 2016 will be more the wounded animal than the national force.

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Did We Just Find the Corrupt Hillary Clinton Cash Quid Pro Quo?

Hillary Clinton’s allies and surrogates have been working hard in recent days to discredit the allegations, contained in a forthcoming book, about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative influencing her decisions during her time as secretary of state. But Hillary loyalists are going to find it quite a bit harder to pooh-pooh the furor over Clinton Cash today after the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton State Department approved the sale of one of America’s largest uranium mines to a unit of the Russian state nuclear agency after those involved with the sale had donated a staggering $2.35 million to the Clinton charity and former president Bill Clinton had been invited to speak in Moscow by another firm with ties to the Kremlin for an equally astounding $500,000 honorarium. At the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest behind a decision that seems to strengthen one of America’s leading geopolitical foes is obvious. At worst, those searching for a clear case of a corrupt quid pro quo between the Clintons and foreign donors have found their answer.

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Hillary Clinton’s allies and surrogates have been working hard in recent days to discredit the allegations, contained in a forthcoming book, about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative influencing her decisions during her time as secretary of state. But Hillary loyalists are going to find it quite a bit harder to pooh-pooh the furor over Clinton Cash today after the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton State Department approved the sale of one of America’s largest uranium mines to a unit of the Russian state nuclear agency after those involved with the sale had donated a staggering $2.35 million to the Clinton charity and former president Bill Clinton had been invited to speak in Moscow by another firm with ties to the Kremlin for an equally astounding $500,000 honorarium. At the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest behind a decision that seems to strengthen one of America’s leading geopolitical foes is obvious. At worst, those searching for a clear case of a corrupt quid pro quo between the Clintons and foreign donors have found their answer.

Since the pre-publication publicity began about Clinton Cash, family loyalists have been faithfully trotted out on news shows to bash author Peter Schweizer as a right-wing hack and claim there was nothing new about anything contained in the book even as they admitted they hadn’t read it. But most tellingly, they have asserted that talk of any quid pro quo between foreign entities that funneled cash to the Clintons and U.S. policy from 2009 to 2012 is ridiculous.

To be fair, some of the leaks about the book’s content bolstered that point. To unpack just one of the allegations, it must be admitted that the notion that contributions from Colombia to the Clinton kitty was the reason why the Obama administration pushed ahead with a free-trade deal with that important American ally is absurd. But the sale of the Uranium One company that controls a major source of that rare and strategic material is something else entirely. The tale of how the Putin regime wound up in possession of American uranium mines is complicated. But boiled down to its essentials, the facts are clear. Those who stood to profit by the sale of the Canadian firm that controlled the mine to Rosatom, a company owned by the Russian atomic energy agency, poured massive amounts of money into the coffers of the Clinton Global Initiative. And Putin allies invited Bill Clinton, who had a history of involvement and profiting by his association with shady figures and governments in the former Soviet Union, to speak in Moscow for half a million dollars. Not long after, the State Department’s committee tasked with the duty of approving foreign investment in strategic materials in the United States approved the sale.

Clinton apologists are claiming today that there is no proof that the secretary of state intervened in the decision made by the department’s committee. But that means nothing. Cabinet officials have many ways of conveying their wishes to subordinates.

What is most suspicious about the involvement of the Clintons in this matter is the deceptive behavior of their foundation. Contributions from the Canadian who profited from the sale to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as others connected to his company and stood to gain from the deal were not fully reported and were only discovered when journalists examined the tax returns of those involved.

Even worse, these sorts of donations expressly violated the undertakings given by Hillary Clinton to President Obama upon accepting her appointment at State to publicly disclose all donors. That these donations were hid from public view is, at the very least, a sign of a mens rea—guilty knowledge and willful intent to do wrong, and not a mere oversight.

For the foundation to now tell us that they will be more transparent in the future and will not take money from countries that are not U.S. allies is meaningless. The avalanche of cash from less than savory foreign powers and businesses to the Clintons has already happened. The foundation that supports Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton in high style has accumulated $250 million in assets by trading on the influence not only of a former president but also of a sitting secretary of state and a possible future president.

Let’s be frank about these donations. While the Clinton Global Initiative is reported to have helped fund a lot of good work around the planet, the same can be said of many other charities that do far more. The reason why this charity and the three people who run it have grown immensely rich is not because of their much-publicized good intentions and good deeds but because foreign governments and international businesses believe donating to it will do them a world of political good. The nice term for such activity on the part of the Clintons is influence peddling. A less flattering way of describing it would be corruption.

As I wrote earlier this week, there is no precedent for an ex-president to be running such a large charity or for him to be doing so while his spouse serves as secretary of state and plotting a future run for the White House. None but the Clintons, who seem to play by different rules than everybody else on everything from perjury to government emails, would have even tried this, let alone get away with it. But now that Hillary is running for president, this can of worms is being opened and what we’re discovering isn’t pretty.

At this point, it’s no longer possible to dismiss the Clinton Cash controversy as recycled trash. Clinton has a lot of questions to answer about letting Putin get hold of American uranium after her family was funneled a ton of cash from Russian associates. Her only possible defense is that she made this decision because she genuinely believed in the comical “reset” with Putin’s Russia, which constitutes evidence of the sort of bad judgment that makes her time at State appear to be an even bigger failure than we thought. And her family foundation needs to answer questions about false tax returns and violated agreements.

This would be bad news for them even if Hillary were retiring to private life. But for a presidential candidate, even one with massive assets and without strong rivals for her party’s nomination, this is a potential catastrophe.

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Hillary, Obama, and the Corruption of American Foreign Policy

There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

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There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

We already knew the Russian “reset” was a humiliating failure, and that the Iran deal was well on its way to being one as well. But the latest Clinton scandal shows that the reset itself was also tainted by corruption and the product of Obama getting outmaneuvered even more than we previously thought. If you don’t think foreign policy is important in a presidential election, just take a look at how easily Obama was played by Putin and how detrimental to American interests Obama’s attempts to sit at the adult table have been.

Now we know, for example, that a Russian state energy company took control of one-fifth of American uranium production in a series of moves facilitated by Bill Clinton and approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as donations from the major players in this saga flowed into the Clinton family foundation and cash payments went directly to Bill Clinton from the Russians.

But there’s more. For obvious reasons, the official line was that the uranium mined here in the States by the foreign entities could not be exported without additional licensing. That was a lie–as the owner of a Wyoming ranch discovered when he noticed the uranium from his property leaving the country anyway:

Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license — which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing plant in Canada.

Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has, in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers, said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being shipped from the Wyoming mines.

Amazing. Even the truth is never the truth with the Clintons. They said don’t worry about exporting because Uranium One doesn’t have an export license. They just conveniently forgot to add that the license was given to the transport company instead. And the Clintons broke their agreement with the Obama administration to provide transparency on such deals and prevent direct foreign influence peddling, and they even filed false tax returns to hide their shenanigans from the IRS.

So it wasn’t only that Putin had run circles around Obama, using the “reset” to reach into Obama’s back pocket with one hand while shaking Obama’s hand with the other. He did so with the enabling of Obama’s own sitting secretary of state, who was running institutions of a parallel government allowing foreign dictators to circumvent U.S. rules to increase their control of American energy assets, all the while getting both the Russians and the Clintons rich.

Additionally, the Russian energy agency involved here, Rosatom, is a chief partner in Iran’s nuclear program with regard to reactors and uranium supplies. Sean Davis explains why this is such an important detail:

The former secretary of state has remained relatively silent on the proposed Iranian nuclear deal thus far, apparently for good reason. Her opposition could sink Rosatom’s 2014 deal to provide enriched uranium to eight Iranian nuclear reactors for their entire life cycles, potentially enraging the wealthy investors who funneled millions to her family’s foundation. And if she clearly endorses the deal and Iran ends up using the enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, opponents could blame Hillary for approving the deal that enabled Russia to provide all that uranium to the Iranians.

She is, it should be pointed out once again, running for president of the United States. In the meantime, the country is still dealing with the fallout of the institutional corruption Hillary brought to the State Department and to American foreign policy. That foreign policy is Obama’s too.

It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to clean up this mess. But that effort will only be stymied by the fact that this mess is still the operating principle of American foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran.

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A Serious Conversation About Torture

Back in December, as her swan song at the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a report written exclusively by Democratic staffers excoriating the CIA for torturing suspected terrorists and allegedly deceiving the executive and legislative branches about what it was up to. Feinstein’s report claimed that no useful information had been generated through coercive interrogations. Committee Republicans, along with the CIA itself, released blistering rebuttals denying that anyone had even been tortured, noting that senior executive branch and congressional leaders had been kept fully informed, and arguing that the information generated helped to track down Osama bin Laden.

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Back in December, as her swan song at the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a report written exclusively by Democratic staffers excoriating the CIA for torturing suspected terrorists and allegedly deceiving the executive and legislative branches about what it was up to. Feinstein’s report claimed that no useful information had been generated through coercive interrogations. Committee Republicans, along with the CIA itself, released blistering rebuttals denying that anyone had even been tortured, noting that senior executive branch and congressional leaders had been kept fully informed, and arguing that the information generated helped to track down Osama bin Laden.

A lot of ink was spilled in this battle royal by both sides. But the wisest commentary on this brouhaha arrives in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs in an essay written by Robert Jervis, an eminent political scientist at Columbia University who has also served as a CIA consultant. Jervis brilliantly exposes the pretensions of both sides, puncturing the Republicans’ argument that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not technically torture and the Democrats’ argument that nothing useful was learned from the interrogations.

Regarding the question of whether the CIA engaged in “torture,” he writes: “Prisoners went for days without sleep, often with their arms shackled to a bar overhead. Sometimes, handlers forced them to go to the bathroom in diapers (Bush expressed unease about this) and delivered food and water rectally (for medical reasons, the CIA claims). Whether these and other tactics, such as slapping or waterboarding, qualify as torture under the law remains subject to debate. But they certainly count as torture in the ordinary sense of the term.”

Regarding the question of whether the interrogations were “effective,” a point denied by the Democratic staffers, he writes, “On its face, that position is suspect. For it to be true, all 39 of the people the CIA tortured would have had to divulge everything useful they knew before being tortured or given up nothing once they were. In theory, it’s possible that’s what happened, but it seems unlikely, given the wide range of ways that different people respond to duress and pain. And if torture were uniformly ineffective, there would be no need for a treaty banning it—which the Geneva Conventions do.” Jervis goes on to note even if information derived through torture did not directly lead to bin Laden, it surely enabled the CIA to make sense of the mass of other information it had collected and pointed it in the right direction.

Jervis suggests we should stop debating whether enhanced interrogation techniques are actually torture and whether they worked, and start debating a harder but more meaningful question: “whether the interrogation program did more harm than good.” He notes: “Even if torture worked in the narrow sense, its costs might have outweighed its benefits: the negative global reaction to the CIA’s brutal methods decreased support for U.S. policies and may have helped terrorist groups win more sympathizers and recruits.”

Jervis is right to suggest that we need to have a grown-up conversation about the tradeoffs involved in employing torture instead of resorting to the simple, easy, and wrong talking points favored by partisans on both sides.

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Is Iran the Next North Korea?

Yesterday Foreign Affairs posted an article I had written with Sue Mi Terry, once the CIA’s foremost North Korea analyst, arguing that the experience of the Agreed Framework was an inauspicious precedent for the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. We wrote: “The case of North Korea clearly exposes the dangers of the United States seeking a nuclear agreement with a state that has no intention of abiding by one. The 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, which called on North Korea to freeze the operation and construction of nuclear reactors, collapsed within a decade of its signing. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, and today it is a full-fledged nuclear power. The United States’ experience with North Korea should make it wary of similar nuclear negotiations, especially with Iran.”

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Yesterday Foreign Affairs posted an article I had written with Sue Mi Terry, once the CIA’s foremost North Korea analyst, arguing that the experience of the Agreed Framework was an inauspicious precedent for the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. We wrote: “The case of North Korea clearly exposes the dangers of the United States seeking a nuclear agreement with a state that has no intention of abiding by one. The 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, which called on North Korea to freeze the operation and construction of nuclear reactors, collapsed within a decade of its signing. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, and today it is a full-fledged nuclear power. The United States’ experience with North Korea should make it wary of similar nuclear negotiations, especially with Iran.”

Today the Wall Street Journal runs an article exposing just how grave the danger is. According to the Journal, Chinese experts have concluded that the North Korean nuclear program is even more advanced than the U.S. intelligence community has believed: “The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year.”

To add to the danger, the Journal notes, “Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, said this month that defense officials believe North Korea can now mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile called the KN-08. U.S. officials don’t believe the missile has been tested, but experts estimate it has a range of about 5,600 miles—within reach of the western edge of the continental U.S., including California.”

It’s not too hard to imagine, a decade from now, reading similar reports about how Iran has dozens of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States, to say nothing of nearby targets such as Israel, which Iran can already strike with an arsenal of 50,000 rockets positioned in Lebanon. And there is no reason to believe that Iran is any more sincere than North Korea about giving up its nuclear program. Those who advocate the agreement with Iran imagine that we will be able to somehow monitor Iranian nuclear developments, but the North Koreans caught us by surprise by developing a secret plutonium enrichment program—and if the Journal report is accurate, North Korea continues to surprise us still.

The rapid pace of the North Korean nuclear and missile programs is alarming in part because of its implications for regional stability–will South Korea and Japan feel compelled to go nuclear too in their own defense? If so that could set off a nuclear arms race. South Korea and Japan have so far refrained from such actions, even though both have extensive civilian nuclear programs that could be weaponized in a heartbeat, because both countries shelter under the American nuclear umbrella.

Some suggest that our nuclear umbrella could be extended to states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to prevent them from going nuclear to counter the Iranians, but the major reason our security guarantees to South Korea and Japan have credibility is because we have tens of thousands of troops stationed in those countries. We don’t have any troops in Saudi Arabia, nor are we likely to put any back in, because we would regard that as a provocation for more terrorism. Absent Americans in harms’ way, however, any American security guarantees would be about as credible as the “red line” that Obama drew in Syria. Thus the U.S. would have little influence to stop an incredibly dangerous nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Another reason why the advanced state of the North Korean program should be of such concern is because North Korea is a notorious nuclear and missile proliferator. As the Journal notes, North Korea “previously exported nuclear technology to Syria and missile components to Iran, Yemen and Egypt.” North Korea could easily offer Iran a shortcut toward putting nuclear weapons on missile warheads, bypassing entirely all of the procedures put in place to monitor Iranian compliance with a nuclear accord—procedures which appear to be if anything less rigorous than those under the Agreed Framework.

And if Iran breaks out as a nuclear power after a bogus agreement with the West, as North Korea did, the consequences will be much more severe for the world. North Korea, after all, is a declining, bankrupt state whose leadership is primarily intent on staying in power. Its juche philosophy appeals to no one outside its borders, and few within. Iran is an expansionist state, by contrast, with a jihadist ideology that appeals to many Shiites and ambitions of dominating the entire Middle East.  The nuclear accord with Iran is, therefore, potentially far more dangerous than the Agreed Framework with North Korea—and we know how that worked out.

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Hillary’s Woes Help O’Malley Grow a Spine

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

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Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

O’Malley is now firing shots at Clinton about trade, indicating he plans to try to run well to her left. Though his chances of beating her still may be calculated as being somewhere around zero, O’Malley’s sudden switch from timidity to truculence toward the former first lady is significant because it illustrates how the accumulation of bad news for Clinton is changing perceptions about her vulnerability. Clinton’s shaky launch of her candidacy and her inability to evade the taint of scandal is making O’Malley’s challenge look less like an exercise in futility.

With a 50-point lead over O’Malley and any other possible rival, even a political earthquake may not be enough to derail Clinton’s path to coronation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next summer. But even Clinton loyalists must understand that the drip-drip-drip of scandals combined with her wooden campaign style is emboldening even seemingly tame opponents such as O’Malley.

Throughout the last several months, O’Malley has acted as if he wanted to ask the Clintons for permission before he said a word about Hillary. Such deference made it appear that he was running for a spot on her ticket, not to replace her on the top spot. But the strident tone adopted by O’Malley when he took after her today in the course of demonstrating his opposition to President Obama’s trade bill showed that the days of his saying, “please, may I” before even glancing at her are over.

Granted, most Democratic primary voters don’t care about Clinton’s callous disregard of the rules and any sense of accountability that her email scandal illustrated. Nor do many of them seem particularly worked up about the Clinton Cash accusations about the way former President Clinton raked in honorariums and contributions for the family charity from foreign donors while his wife was serving as secretary of state despite the obvious and unprecedented conflict of interest.

But Clinton’s attempt to play the populist in an attempt to head off a challenge from the left by Senator Elizabeth Warren—the one Democrat who is seen as having even a small chance of knocking her off—isn’t convincing even her most ardent fans. Nor are even they impressed by the stilted nature of her campaign so far. Despite her vast resources at her disposal as she begins raising the billions she plans on spending over the course of the next year and a half, as well as the fear that the Clinton attack machine inspires among most Democrats, O’Malley is sensing that all these advantages are masking some real weaknesses.

If the Clinton Cash charges stick rather than fade away as the chorus line of Clinton apologists trotted out on cable news keep insisting, then for the first time in this cycle it might be possible for a non-Clinton candidate to start eating into her enormous lead. That might lead to a scenario where O’Malley may finally benefit from being the only mainstream Democrat who had the chutzpah to challenge Hillary. Of course, that might lead Warren to come out of hiding and jump into the race. But if not, that’s the point where O’Malley will be transformed from a joke to a genuine thorn in Clinton’s side.

We’re a long way from that point, but O’Malley’s new boldness is a warning sign for Clinton that it’s not just Republicans who realize what a lousy candidate she still is. Many Democrats resent not having a competitive race and will be prepared to back a long-shot challenger if only to make things more competitive. Which means that far from coasting to the nomination, she may actually have to spend some of the billions she is planning on raising on winning the nomination. That’s good news for O’Malley as well as for Republicans who would relish the spectacle of Democrats turning on each other rather than merely lying in wait for whomever it is that emerges from the GOP primaries.

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