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Beau Biden Story Means Democratic Race May Be About to Get Interesting

For the last year, most Democrats approached 2016 with an air of smug confidence. Their assumption was that while the scrum of Republican presidential candidates would tear each other to pieces as they did in 2012, Hillary Clinton’s coronation as their nominee would enable their party to sit back and calmly await the GOP winner. That would allow the Clinton campaign machine to act as if she was an incumbent thereby saving money and allowing her to stay above the fray and continue freezing out the press. That scenario has been looking shaky as, burdened by scandal, plunging favorability and trust numbers in the polls as well as an unexpectedly vigorous challenge on the left from Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton has begun looking very beatable lately. But her problems may have only just begun. If reports about Vice President Joe Biden seriously considering a presidential run are true, the Hillary coronation will become the fight of her life.

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For the last year, most Democrats approached 2016 with an air of smug confidence. Their assumption was that while the scrum of Republican presidential candidates would tear each other to pieces as they did in 2012, Hillary Clinton’s coronation as their nominee would enable their party to sit back and calmly await the GOP winner. That would allow the Clinton campaign machine to act as if she was an incumbent thereby saving money and allowing her to stay above the fray and continue freezing out the press. That scenario has been looking shaky as, burdened by scandal, plunging favorability and trust numbers in the polls as well as an unexpectedly vigorous challenge on the left from Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton has begun looking very beatable lately. But her problems may have only just begun. If reports about Vice President Joe Biden seriously considering a presidential run are true, the Hillary coronation will become the fight of her life.

This week the stories about Biden associates meeting with contributors fed the rumors about the vice president considering a third try for the presidency. But today’s column in the New York Times from Maureen Dowd in which she claims that the veep’s late son Beau urging his father to run for the presidency from his deathbed not only gives the Biden boomlet urgency, it also creates a tragic back story that may seize the imagination of the public.

Though nothing could be more natural than an incumbent vice president looking to succeed his boss, the strength of the Clinton juggernaut seemed to shelve that notion. President Obama also appeared to be lending his blessing to Clinton’s candidacy. But if Biden had any lingering ideas about one last try for the Oval Office, most observers thought the tragic death of his son earlier this year ended that possibility. But, if Dowd is to be believed, the Beau factor may be what is driving Biden to run.

Dowd may be the queen of liberal snark and is rightly despised by conservatives. But it should be remembered that she won her Pulitzer with columns that directed her trademark snark at the Clintons back during l’affaire Lewinsky. Her contempt for the former First Family is barely disguised. She may also relish assuming the role, as Howard Fineman put it in the Huffington Post, of the “living bard” of “the last of the old breed” of Irish politicians that gave us the Kennedys.

Of course, the mention of the Kennedys brings to mind Bobby Kennedy’s run for the presidency in 1968. Kennedy didn’t dare challenge President Lyndon Johnson until Eugene McCarthy’s left-wing insurgency showed that LBJ was mortal. Sanders is currently playing the role of McCarthy to Clinton’s Johnson. While an elderly bloviator like Biden is ill-suited to channel the charismatic Kennedy, it may be that his ambition will fill in the gap.

Those who think Biden needs much persuading to get him to throw his hat in the ring don’t know much about the vice president. On “Meet the Press” today, Chuck Todd quoted people close to the vice president as saying this is the “first time he felt prepared to be president because of his experience at the center of power during the last six and a half years. But though many dismiss him as a goofy, loquacious gaffe machine, he has always thought of himself as presidential material. Indeed, while many dismissed his 2008 run as a “last hurrah” for his career, I saw it as the longtime Delaware senator giving the American people one last chance to do the right thing and make him president.

There are still some formidable obstacles to a successful Biden campaign. He would be starting very late in the cycle with most of the big-money Democratic donors already committed to Clinton. Moreover, even a happy warrior like Biden who loves the rough and tumble of politics has to regard a tussle with the Clinton attack machine with some reservations.

But though most Democrats have been pooh-poohing the Hillary’s email and latest Clinton Cash scandals as insignificant, they understand that she is already damaged. They’ve also noticed that her inauthentic and phony campaign style is an ominous sign of weakness that has fed her poor poll numbers. They know she is vulnerable to criticisms from the left that she is unwilling to take stands on their core issues like the Keystone XL pipeline controversy. They may think they can beat anyone that emerges from the Republicans, a belief that has gotten much stronger as Donald Trump has risen to the top of the heap, but they know Hillary isn’t the unbeatable candidate they hoped for.

But if anything can convince Democrats to pass up on the opportunity to try to elect our first female president, the Beau Biden story might just do it. The phrase “What would Beau do?” has the potential to become a powerful theme that makes Biden, who is already seen with great sympathy by liberals, an attractive candidate who could deliver the kind of coup de grâce to Clinton that Sanders won’t manage. The Beau Biden tale means the Democratic race may be about to get very interesting. That’s the worst news Hillary Clinton could get.

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Considering Iran on the 25th Anniversary of Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was a momentous event that unleashed a cascade of tragedy that included those who died in Kuwait’s occupation by the Saddam Hussein and then its liberation to the tremendous suffering that Iraqis experienced in subsequent years.

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was a momentous event that unleashed a cascade of tragedy that included those who died in Kuwait’s occupation by the Saddam Hussein and then its liberation to the tremendous suffering that Iraqis experienced in subsequent years.

What is worth considering with the hindsight of history, however, is to consider what if anything might have prevented the Iraqi invasion. Contemporaries poured scorn on April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who famously told Saddam during a meeting before the invasion that the United States had “no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” To single out Glaspie, however, would be to scapegoat her for representing a policy which, however flawed, had been embraced by a far greater portion of officialdom. Indeed, from the Reagan years onward, it had been the consistent policy of the White House and State Department both to seek rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.

In December 1983, President Reagan dispatched Donald Rumsfeld, at the time retired from government and in the private sector, as a special envoy to meet with Saddam in Baghdad. The State Department reported that Saddam was pleased with Rumsfeld’s visit: “His remarks removed whatever obstacles remained in the way of resuming diplomatic relations, but did not take the decision to do so,” a diplomatic cable from the time read. Rumsfeld himself recalled in his memoirs, “I began to think [during the meeting] that through increased contacts we might be able to persuade the Iraqis to lean toward the United States and eventually modify their behavior.” Of course, it did not. Shortly after, Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and, less than five years after Rumsfeld’s initial meeting, Saddam would order the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The Iraqi leadership may have been slaughtering Iranians, Kurds, and other Iraqis, but elite Washington society then as now treated engagement with rogues as chic and sophisticated. To object to rapprochement with Saddam’s regime was to privilege Israeli interests over those of America, diplomats and journalists suggested. Just as today journalists rush to secure interviews with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, 30 years ago the new Iraqi ambassador Nizar Hamdoon was the toast of the town. In December 1985, the Washington Post Magazine gave a swooning account of a dinner party Hamdoon hosted. It was the first of many.

Rapprochement continued into the George H.W. Bush administration. On October 2, 1989, Bush signed a national security directive declaring, “Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests,” and calling for the U.S. government to provide economic and political incentives to increase influence and encourage Iraq to moderate its behavior.

It didn’t work. Saddam Hussein executed a British-Iranian journalist and then bragged, “Mrs. Thatcher wanted him. We’ve sent him in a box.” Still, proponents of engagement refused to give up. Senator Arlen Specter traveled twice to Baghdad to meet Saddam. He was so impressed with what he interpreted as Saddam’s sincerity that he helped block military sanctions on Iraq. “There is an opportunity, or may be an opportunity, to pursue discussions with Iraq,” he explained, adding, “I think that it is not the right time to impose sanctions.” Less than two months later, Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Fast forward a quarter-century. Few argue that Saddam Hussein should have been a partner to the United States. Whether for or against Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, most diplomats and historians understand that Saddam Hussein was mercurial, cruel, and completely untrustworthy. During the Bush administration, progressives repeatedly castigated Rumsfeld for his efforts at diplomatic engagement with a rogue leader like Saddam. Now the same figures seek to lift military sanctions on Iran, reach out to Iranian leaders with blood on their hands, and argue that Iran can be moderated through trade and careful diplomacy. Just as diplomats once waved off Saddam’s rhetoric calling Kuwait his 19th province as hyperbole meant for a domestic audience, today Secretary of State John Kerry does similar dismissing Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s calls for Israel’s annihilation and ‘death to America’ as meant for a domestic constituency (as if Iran were a democracy).

Alas, it almost seems that a quarter-century since Iraq invaded Kuwait, the United States has learned nothing about the perils of appeasing rogue regimes or the dangers of facilitating their military build-ups.

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‘The Situation Is Bad’

The New York Times has just published the most scathing indictment I have read of the Obama administration’s grossly inadequate train-and-assist program for the Syrian rebels. It didn’t appear on the editorial page but, rather, in the news columns. It contains no overt editorializing and is all the more damning for it.

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The New York Times has just published the most scathing indictment I have read of the Obama administration’s grossly inadequate train-and-assist program for the Syrian rebels. It didn’t appear on the editorial page but, rather, in the news columns. It contains no overt editorializing and is all the more damning for it.

The article, written by three Times reporters, is pegged to the embarrassing news that the commander and deputy commander and six other fighters of the only contingent of Syrian rebels so far trained by the Pentagon — a total of 54 men — have just been abducted by the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda offshoot which evidently has more money, personnel, and weapons than the American-backed groups. Before being kidnapped, the rebel commander, Nadeen Hassan, had spoken to the Times of the troubles he and his men faced. He initially applied to train 1,200 men. But that number was quickly whittled down:

After screening, just 125 of his recruits were invited to the first course. Of those, more than half were thrown out or quit.

The rest, he said, had deployed back to Syria, but had not been told whether American warplanes would defend them if Syrian forces attacked.

Mr. Hassan said the Americans, worried about the lack of recruits, were recalling men they had once rejected. Some, expelled on suspicion of embracing “Islamic State doctrine,” are unavailable: They have since died in Syria, he said — battling the Islamic State.

Other problems cited by Hassan include the following:

Mr. Hassan said the Pentagon program had not provided night vision goggles to counter the Islamic State’s expert night attacks. Yet, he said Tuesday, trainers had been pushing his men to quickly join front-line insurgent groups, “so they can get results to show their bosses.”…

Better-financed groups are luring recruits awaiting the next course; they make $225 a month, and with no budget, Mr. Hassan said, “I can’t buy them lunch.”

“The situation is bad,” he said.

And then we come to the little matter of who the insurgents are supposed to be fighting. It is commonly believed among the rebels that they are being asked by the Americans to fight only ISIS — not Bashar Assad. The U.S. claims they are not being made to sign formal pledges not to fight Assad but they might as well be:

Trainees must promise “to defend the Syrian people from Daesh” and to refrain from harming civilians and prisoners. An English translation of the pledge, circulated through American military channels, does not mention Mr. Assad or the government.

But the insurgents’ misperception is understandable, given official statements. Trainees will lose American support, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the United States Central Command said recently, if they “vector off and do things that we haven’t designed them to do initially.”

And while U.S. aircraft might bomb to protect the trainees from ISIS, they won’t bomb to protect anyone from Assad, even though his forces have killed far more people than ISIS has.

This is the most dysfunctional foreign assistance program ever. And it makes a mockery of recent administration claims that the U.S. and Turkey have agreed to set up an ISIS-free zone in northern Syria. As the Times notes: “Mr. Hassan’s trainees were mainly from villages within the 68-mile strip along the Turkish border that the moderate insurgents are supposed to seize, and had long been slated for deployment there. But, Mr. Hassan said, they are so few ‘they can barely cover 200 meters.’ “

Such shortcomings could be addressed if Turkey, the U.S., or other powers were willing to deploy their own troops to safeguard this safe zone. But there is no sign of that, which suggests that the safe-zone plan is DOA — just like so many of the rebels that the U.S. is counting on to fight for a Syria dominated neither by murderous Shiite nor by murderous Sunni extremists.

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Zero Tolerance for Jewish and Arab Terror in the Middle East

Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.

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Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.

The arson murder came at the end of a week when a dispute over the status of illegally built structures in the West Bank settlement of Beit El threatened to escalate from verbal violence to something far worse. Fortunately, that standoff between settlers and the army was settled with a political compromise though that solution did little to enhance the credibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government that depends on supporters of the settlements for its narrow majority.

Only yesterday, Israelis were disturbed by the way residents of the community and some of their political supporters abused soldiers sent to the place to enforce the law and keep the peace. Many were shocked when one member of the Knesset threatened to “raze the Supreme Court” in retaliation for the destruction of a few buildings that had been erected without proper legal permission. Netanyahu assuaged the settlers with promises to build elsewhere in Beit El, something that highlighted the fact that his narrow majority rests on right-wing support. That all of this took place in the days after Tisha B’Av — the annual commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans that is attributed by Jewish tradition to disunity and senseless hatred — heightened the divisive nature of the incident. As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote, the willingness of some Jews to demonize their fellow citizens in uniform who defend them was outrageous. Indeed, at moments like this, the divisions within Israeli society seem as great as those that separate it from its Arab and Muslim foes.

But the attack on the Arab village made plain an even greater problem. Though the overwhelming majority of those Jews who live in the West Bank are peaceful and condemn violence against both Jews and Arabs, a minority of extremists also exists. They were the ones inciting hate and violence at Beit El earlier this week and it is likely from their ranks that the even smaller group of Jews who are prepared to act on those beliefs can be found.

Is the government of Israel at fault here?

To the extent that the authorities failed to sufficiently monitor and stop potential killers before they acted, there is probably plenty of blame to pass around. But it is wrong to say that the government has not acted against settler extremists where their actions escalated from mere rhetoric to actual terrorism. Indeed, if you listen to many settlers, they believe that the Israel Defense Forces are more interested in stopping Jews from attacking Arabs than in protecting settlers from Arab terror.

But the problem here goes deeper than one of law enforcement. The situation that led to the tragedy in Duma is one in which those in the West Bank live under constant threat of terrorism. As even the New York Times noted today, the village where the arson murder took place was close to the site of an attack where a Jew was fatally shot by Arab terrorists when he was driving home from a basketball game. Indeed, terror attacks on Jews in the West Bank are so commonplace that they are rarely covered at all by the Western press.

For some settlers, the crimes committed against them rationalize if not justify similar violence directed at Arabs. That is a position that is rightly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Israelis as well as their government. But at this point, as was the case after the heinous 1994 mass killing of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by a settler, more than lip service is needed for the effort to combat Jewish extremism. The settler movement, as well as its political supporters, must come to grips with the virus of Jewish terror and thoroughly wipe it out. Tolerance for those who might justify such horrible acts — especially the radical minority that do so in the name of Judaism — must come to an end.

But even as those who care about Israel condemn Jewish violence and applaud efforts to ensure that the extremists are isolated and, where necessary, prosecuted, we should not lose sight of the fact that much of what is being said about the crime in Duma from Palestinian and anti-Israeli sources is deeply hypocritical.

Unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Israeli government does not applaud terrorists; it seeks to prosecute them. There will be no parks or sports teams named after those who killed a child in Duma as there are for Palestinians who kill Jews. Nor will there be programs on Israeli television and radio extolling the deeds of the killers.

It is little consolation to either the Arab victims or dismayed Israeli onlookers to note that the culture of hate among Jewish extremists is a minority phenomenon while the one that prevails among Palestinians embraces a wide consensus of opinion and, indeed, is integral to their national identity. But it should not escape the notice of the world that the reaction of Israelis and their government to the death of an Arab child is shame while Palestinians routinely cheer the many instances where Jewish children are slain by Arabs. The three-fingered social media meme among Palestinians last year that mocked the plight of the three Israeli teenagers that were kidnaped and murdered by Hamas last summer was an indication of the moral chasm that divides these two societies.

The attack on Duma does also raise troubling questions about how peace might ever be attained. For some critics of Israel and many Jewish left-wingers, the answer is easy: get rid of the settlements and separate the two peoples. But even if Israel were to do so, the history of the past 20 years of attempts to make peace shows that this wouldn’t solve the problem.

Ten years ago Israel removed every single soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in the hope that that the separation would end the violence if not foster peace. But instead Israelis watched Gaza become a launching pad for terror attacks via rockets and tunnels. Far from fostering peace, the withdrawal seemed to encourage Palestinians to continue their war on Israel’s existence. If the overwhelming majority of Israelis consider such a withdrawal from the far more strategic West Bank to be unimaginable it is because they know that it would likely lead to the creation of another and even more dangerous terror base on their doorstep, not mutual coexistence. Even the so-called “moderates” among the Palestinians reject the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter its borders are drawn. So long as Palestinians view their national identity as inextricably linked to a violent war on Zionism, terror will continue and peace will be impossible.

But the events of the last week show that it isn’t good enough for Jews to merely condemn an Arab and Muslim political culture that will not allow peace to happen. It is also incumbent on Israelis and their friends to acknowledge that horrors such as those that occurred at Duma only serve to justify Arab hatred and serve the cause of the Islamist haters that are gaining ground throughout the Middle East. Just as we are right to ask Muslims to police their extremists, so, too, must Jews also act against their haters.

There should be zero tolerance for hate and terror among both Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, there seems little chance that Palestinians will isolate and reject Fatah-linked terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad the way Israelis are condemning the Duma killers. Indeed, the calls for more terror attacks on Jews in response to Duma from the government of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have already begun. But the answer begins with appropriate action against the terrorists and those who support them by the Israeli government.

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Hillary Clinton’s Privilege

Among the more charming preoccupations of the modern left is its newfound interest in a mock social science that involves divining forms of “privilege” allegedly enjoyed by otherwise undeserving individuals. The Appalachian family of five in the hills of West Virginia living on a logger’s salary and food stamps might be surprised to learn that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege,” but that is the supposedly dispassionate assessment of their classifiers toiling away at this or the other coastal opinion journal. Similarly, men, heterosexuals, those who identify as the gender of their birth, et cetera, et cetera, are also presumed heirs to a legacy of privilege that yields them unwarranted advantages. This is not a study characterized by the empiricism that typifies genuine scholarly discipline; more often, it is grievance and resentment in pursuit of a methodology that legitimizes base acrimony. What exposes this unhealthy myopia as something less than objective analysis is that so few of those consumed with identifying and condemning privilege cannot see it where it is most prominent: namely, with those who occupy positions of power. The very embodiment of unearned privilege is running for the presidency in 2016, but so few on the left seem equipped or willing to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has been afforded leeway that anyone else in her present position would be denied.  Read More

Among the more charming preoccupations of the modern left is its newfound interest in a mock social science that involves divining forms of “privilege” allegedly enjoyed by otherwise undeserving individuals. The Appalachian family of five in the hills of West Virginia living on a logger’s salary and food stamps might be surprised to learn that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege,” but that is the supposedly dispassionate assessment of their classifiers toiling away at this or the other coastal opinion journal. Similarly, men, heterosexuals, those who identify as the gender of their birth, et cetera, et cetera, are also presumed heirs to a legacy of privilege that yields them unwarranted advantages. This is not a study characterized by the empiricism that typifies genuine scholarly discipline; more often, it is grievance and resentment in pursuit of a methodology that legitimizes base acrimony. What exposes this unhealthy myopia as something less than objective analysis is that so few of those consumed with identifying and condemning privilege cannot see it where it is most prominent: namely, with those who occupy positions of power. The very embodiment of unearned privilege is running for the presidency in 2016, but so few on the left seem equipped or willing to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has been afforded leeway that anyone else in her present position would be denied. 

The appearance of malfeasance that burdens Clinton’s political ambition as did Jacob Marley’s chains has lost much of its shock value if only because new revelations about her alleged misconduct are a near daily occurrence. In just the last week alone, a variety of disclosures regarding Clinton’s past and present behavior have exploded onto the headlines. Their impact has, however, been muted.

Shortly after Clinton was sworn into office as secretary of state in 2009, the IRS began an investigation into Americans who held secret accounts in the Swiss bank UBS. Clinton intervened, a move the Wall Street Journal characterized as “unusual,” and negotiated a settlement that provided the IRS with just 10 percent of the account information it had sought. In the following months, donations from UBS to the Clinton Foundation increased from less than $60,000 in 2008 to $600,000 in 2014. What’s more, the financial institution joined the Foundation to launch a multi-million dollar inner-city loan program and paid President Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a handful of Q&A sessions with one of the bank’s administrators. There is no overt indication of wrongdoing here, but the Journal noted, “Her involvement with UBS is a prime example of how the Clintons’ private and political activities overlap.”

Involvement in Swiss banking activities, much less potentially shielding tens of thousands of secret American accounts from IRS scrutiny, used to be a fixation of the American left. Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and its allies spent countless man-hours creating the impression that Mitt Romney had avoided paying taxes by stashing his funds in a Swiss bank account. Vox.com writer Matt Yglesias, who wrote for Slate at the time, speculated that Romney might have been a beneficiary of the 2009 “Swiss bank account amnesty.” He speculated that this might have been one reason the GOP’s 2012 nominee declined to disclose his income tax filings. “But even though the amnesty would eliminate any legal or financial liability for past acts, it would hardly eliminate political liability,” Yglesias wrote. As Romney might say, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. By rights, liberals should perceive Clinton’s “political liability” as even more perilous than Romney’s, seeing as she was something of an architect of this “amnesty.” And, yet, to attack her as she deserves would be to handicap further Democrats’ chances of retaining the White House in 2016. Thus, Clinton is spared due censure.

And what of the latest developments in the sprawling email scandal that has robbed Clinton of the voters’ trust? For partisan Democrats, the news just keeps getting worse.

On the heels of a recommendation to the Department of Justice from two independent inspectors general requesting an investigation into the likelihood that Clinton mishandled classified information on her “homebrew” email server, more evidence has emerged that indicates Clinton flagrantly lied to the public when she contended that she neither sent nor received sensitive information via electronic mail. This week, an investigation conducted by McClatchy reporters revealed that, of the emails that had not been destroyed and to which the IGs had access, several of them contained classified information. In fact, Clinton had allegedly mishandled sensitive documents from U.S. intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Furthermore, Clinton attorney David Kendall, a civilian apparently without appropriate clearance, is currently in possession of the 30,400 emails Clinton declined to delete on a thumb drive. Senate Judiciary Chairman and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley requested the FBI and the DOJ investigate this potential breach of national security, but you would be well advised to not hold your breath while awaiting their compliance.

When pressed by U.S. Senate investigators on the prospect that sensitive information is not only in the hands of a civilian but is unaccounted for, Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill replied merely, “the thumb drive is secure.” He declined to elaborate, according to McClatchy. Nothing in Kendall’s public biography indicates that he is cleared to handle classified information, even if it was appropriate to keep those documents on a keychain flash drive. Anyone else in this position (including former CIA Director and U.S. Army General David Petraeus) would be subject to prosecution.

And what has been the Hillary campaign’s response to this brazen and unprofessional conduct and breach of the public trust? To attack the news outlets that initially misreported the bombshell. On Thursday, the Clinton campaign made public a letter they forwarded to New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet excoriating his outlet for initially reporting that the IGs had recommended to the DOJ that Clinton herself be criminally investigated. Team Clinton accused the Times of “egregious” errors and an “apparent abandonment of standard journalistic practices.” This overwrought reaction to a minor error in an otherwise accurate story is a reflection on her candidacy; it is a transparent effort to shift the focus of this story away from Clinton and onto the reporters covering her. The left’s cheering section has predictably taken the bait.

“In sports and politics, when athletes/candidates are complaining about the refs, it usually means they are losing. And it is NEVER becoming,” Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd wrote regarding Republican candidates complaining about the biases of the political press. Surely, this admonition applies to Clinton’s effort to misdirect the focus from her misconduct onto those media outlets that report on it. Perhaps Todd believes it does, but he has not yet said as much.

The political much less legal consequences for Hillary Clinton’s actions would be dire were she anyone other than Hillary Clinton. The former secretary’s status as the anointed heir to Barack Obama, the only Democrat with the ability to win the White House and secure his legacy, and her stature as the most prominent woman in American political life affords her the kind of privilege denied mere mortals. Somehow, progressives who obsess over barely perceptible or outright invented privileges that lurk behind every dark corner have failed to see the most glaring of double standards that fester right under their noses.

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For 2016 Dems Need a Mythical War on Voting Rights

When the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, America was a segregated nation. Many states, especially in the South, had discriminatory voting laws that worked to prevent African-Americans from voting. Despite furious opposition from the Jim Crow caucus within the Democratic Party, a bipartisan Congressional majority enacted the law. That began the process of redressing this historic injustice that was part of the unfinished legacy of the Civil War that had concluded a century earlier. We’ve come a long way since then. Jim Crow is but an awful memory and blacks not only vote in most of the South at the same rates that whites do but also can look to a large Congressional Black Caucus whose existence is largely due to subsequent court interpretations of the Act that created minority-majority districts. But for the left, it’s always 1965 and a revival of Jim Crow is just around the corner. That’s the gist of the cover story of this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “A Dream Undone,” that takes it as a given that minority voting rights are not only under attack but about to disappear.

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When the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, America was a segregated nation. Many states, especially in the South, had discriminatory voting laws that worked to prevent African-Americans from voting. Despite furious opposition from the Jim Crow caucus within the Democratic Party, a bipartisan Congressional majority enacted the law. That began the process of redressing this historic injustice that was part of the unfinished legacy of the Civil War that had concluded a century earlier. We’ve come a long way since then. Jim Crow is but an awful memory and blacks not only vote in most of the South at the same rates that whites do but also can look to a large Congressional Black Caucus whose existence is largely due to subsequent court interpretations of the Act that created minority-majority districts. But for the left, it’s always 1965 and a revival of Jim Crow is just around the corner. That’s the gist of the cover story of this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “A Dream Undone,” that takes it as a given that minority voting rights are not only under attack but about to disappear.

That this is palpably false is self-evident since efforts to single out blacks and prevent them from voting simply do not exist anywhere in the nation. Why then devote space to a nonexistent problem? The Times is singing from the Democratic Party hymnal heading into 2016 as Hillary Clinton attempts to scare African-American voters who are somewhat apathetic about her candidacy into turning out in the same numbers they did for Barack Obama. But if Democrats want to frighten their party’s base into thinking Jim Crow is on its way back, they’ll have to do better than arcane disputes about voter ID or early voting laws.

The conceit of Jim Rutenberg’s lengthy essay is that there is a clear continuum between the death rattle of the segregationists south that began to die in the early 1960s and today’s Republican Party. The superficial justification for this thesis is the way the “solid South” that was run by the racist wing of the Democratic Party was transformed into contemporary deep red South dominated by the GOP. That happened because conservative white voters abandoned the Democrats for the Republicans. But while liberals may view these voters with suspicion, there is no evidence that they are clamoring for a return to the past. One of the greatest victories of the struggle for Civil Rights was the way it transformed the white South from a bastion of racism to one in which racial equality was taken as a given. Race exists as an issue in the America of 2015, but comparisons with 1965 aren’t merely misleading, they are flat out falsehoods. That is especially true in the South, where blacks vote and hold office in numbers that are largely commensurate with their share of the overall population.

At the heart of the controversy are court rulings that have effectively ended federal supervision of voting laws in much of the South. States and localities have correctly argued that a regulation that was created to police the south of the 1960s has no relevance today. But the Obama administration and its liberal cheerleaders are desperate to try and revive the practice because it feeds the notion of a voting rights crisis even when they cannot prove there is one.

The current arguments about voter integrity laws have also been manipulated by the left into arguments about race. But to assume, as Rutenberg does with almost no attempts to persuade readers of the justice of this charge, is to betray the political agenda behind the opposition to voter ID. Liberals argue that laws that seek to have voters identify themselves at the polls with a picture ID disproportionately impact minorities, the elderly and the poor. But the disparate impact argument falls short of proof of racism. Blacks are just as capable of getting a picture ID (which are easily provided by the government even if you don’t have a driver’s license, a passport or some other form of identification) as anyone else. It’s also true that most of those who won’t bother to get a picture ID also won’t bother to register or vote. Moreover, polls have shown that like the overwhelming majority of Americans, blacks support voter ID rules.

It’s easy to understand why this is so despite the hyperbolic rhetoric about voter ID heard from Democrats and echoed in the Times Magazine article. Most Americans rightly think that if you need a picture ID to get on a plane or train, transact any business with the government or a bank, get a beer or alcoholic drink or even buy prescription drugs, then it only makes sense that you should do when doing something that is more important such as voting.

Interestingly, Rutenberg’s piece acknowledges something that most liberals won’t do when discussing voter ID: voter fraud is not a myth. The left claims that there is no such thing as voter fraud in contemporary America. Of course, making such an assumption requires us to forget everything we know about American political history as well as human nature. But the article does mention a prominent case of mass cheating in Florida that led to a major push for voter integrity laws. Rutenberg also trips over but doesn’t quite understand another major reason why there aren’t many cases of vote cheating scandals: the complete lack of interest in the subject on the part of the Obama administration which shelved all such investigations when Eric Holder was attorney general. Holder also acknowledges his disdain for calls for prosecuting Black Panther activists who were intimidating voters in Philadelphia during the election that brought his boss to power.

Philadelphia might have been a good spot for Rutenberg to examine the kind of suspicious vote totals in that Democratic stronghold that might yield more such examples. Indeed, Pennsylvania Republicans believed a voter ID law that was passed but never implemented might win them the state in 2012. That wasn’t because they planned on denying the vote to blacks but because they hoped it might deter Democrats from cheating. But he has no more interest in the topic than Holder since to do so might take the air out of his accusations of racism.

But, of course, voter ID isn’t the only reason why Democrats claim voting rights are in danger. They also to point to efforts to pull back on the movement for early voting throughout the nation. According to Rutenberg, North Carolina’s efforts to have only one week of early voting rather two or several is evidence of an effort to roll back black rights. But unlike with voter ID there is not even any real evidence of disparate impact.

What other evidence is there of a war on voting rights? The article also cites disputes about the drawing of district lines. But there is a clear problem with this line of attack. One of the most obvious changes between 1965 and 2015 is that there are a lot of blacks and Hispanics in Congress. That is not only due to the ability of more minorities to vote but to the drawing of districts in such a way as to create minority majority constituencies that more or less guarantee that a black or a Hispanic will win.

As Rutenberg writes, this practice has been challenged but it has largely been upheld even when the districts have no geographic continuity and can stretch across traditional political boundaries. But the big loser here has not been conservatives or Republicans. Instead it is Democrats who have been devastated by a form of gerrymandering that drains their most reliable supporters — African Americans — out of competitive districts and restricts them to non-competitive Democratic bastions. That has helped build a Congressional GOP majority but while Democrats often lament the impact of gerrymandering they often fail to acknowledge that the Voting Rights Act created the real problem for their party. But for Rutenberg it is all part of a narrative that points to an attack on voting rights.

Rutenberg begins and ends his article with an interview with Henry Frye, a black man who was denied the right to register in 1956 North Carolina. Today that same man not only lives in a country where such outrages are a part of the past, he also lived to see an America with a black president and attorney general. That doesn’t mean prejudice is gone but it does show that the Voting Rights Act achieved its purpose. But today, Frye believes disputes over voter ID and early voting is the moral equivalent to Jim Crow.

Democrats hope other blacks have bought into the same myth. But the comparison, like the shaky reasoning that underpins the entire article, has no basis in fact. But for liberals, a mythical war on voting rights must be invented if they hope to hold onto the White House next year.

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Will Republicans Fumble Their Planned Parenthood Victory?

The release of yet another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s macabre culture of callous disregard for the bodies of aborted fetuses and the marketplace for their dismembered body parts represents another blow to the organization’s status as privileged recipient of taxpayer funds. Planned Parenthood is panicking, acting erratically, employing crisis communications professionals, and concocting flimsy exculpatory narratives aimed at impugning the motives of their critics. That’s a far cry from just three years ago, when Planned Parenthood’s celebrity president, Cecile Richards, addressed the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention in prime time. The organization’s erstwhile Democratic allies are getting squeamish. The way is clear for the GOP to deliver the coup de grâce; momentum is on their side. Only Republicans can rob their party of a long-sought political victory. But as much as pro-life activists might hope to see the GOP act hastily at this moment, such injudiciousness would be self-defeating. Read More

The release of yet another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s macabre culture of callous disregard for the bodies of aborted fetuses and the marketplace for their dismembered body parts represents another blow to the organization’s status as privileged recipient of taxpayer funds. Planned Parenthood is panicking, acting erratically, employing crisis communications professionals, and concocting flimsy exculpatory narratives aimed at impugning the motives of their critics. That’s a far cry from just three years ago, when Planned Parenthood’s celebrity president, Cecile Richards, addressed the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention in prime time. The organization’s erstwhile Democratic allies are getting squeamish. The way is clear for the GOP to deliver the coup de grâce; momentum is on their side. Only Republicans can rob their party of a long-sought political victory. But as much as pro-life activists might hope to see the GOP act hastily at this moment, such injudiciousness would be self-defeating.

Just over 24 hours ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told one of New Hampshire’s leading newspapers that the revelations contained in the Planned Parenthood videos were “disturbing.” She could not have known how right she was. On Thursday, a fourth installment in the series was released, and it was as repulsive as anything that has yet been revealed to the public.

In the video, Colorado-based Planned Parenthood Vice President Dr. Savita Ginde is featured explaining how her organization violates the spirit if not he letter of the law prohibiting institutions from profiting in the trade of human organs obtained through abortion. “Ginde also admits on video that some of the organ harvesting takes place on babies delivered intact and potentially alive first, which would violate the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” HotAir’s Ed Morrissey recounted.

“It’s another boy,” one medical technician exclaimed in mock celebration after extracting another aborted fetus from the mother’s womb. “I just want to see one leg and one foot,” the technician added. “It’s a baby,” Dr. Ginde remarked as she observed the dismemberment of one of the extracted bodies.

In that moment, in which the aborted fetus is referred to as “a baby,” Planned Parenthood’s supporters’ most effective argument was shattered. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Christian Schneider has observed that the abortion industry’s defenders have conspicuously avoided making note of the fact that the byproducts of Planned Parenthood’s harvest are human body parts. In fact, they’re inclined to scold anyone who deviates from their preferred linguistic parameters:

Of course, we all know that in abortion lexicon, a fetus cannot be considered a “baby,” because ending a “baby’s” life is far less palatable than, say, “terminating a fetus.” Abortion advocates often denigrate human life by calling the child a “clump of cells” or an “embryo.”

In fact, the entire abortion industry coasts on a game of linguistics. In an article that forever euthanized satire, the New Republic called aborted babies “products of conception” and said referring to “baby parts” was an attempt to “anthropomorphize” the human fetus. “The term baby is medically incorrect as it doesn’t apply until birth,” said the article’s author, Dr. Jen Gunter.

Dr. Gunter has been undone, and by an ally no less.

As Planned Parenthood’s supporters begin to wither in the face of overwhelming if circumstantial evidence that grotesque inhumanity has become the defining feature of that institution, momentum is building in Congress to finally end the flow of taxpayer subsidies to the abortion provider. The bill to defund Planned Parenthood, written by freshman Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, directs all its funds toward other institutions that provide women’s health care-related services, like community hospitals and clinics. “There will be no reduction in overall federal funding available to support women’s health,” Senator Mitch McConnell said after promising to hold a vote on the measure before the August recess.

The reaction to the GOP’s move from traditional Democratic supporters of the abortion services provider has been surprisingly muted. Far from launching into a tirade of garment-rending lamentations about the GOP’s anti-women bigotry, Clinton called the Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood “regrettable.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeated the condemnation of the videos and the surreptitious methods used to obtain the damning footage. When pressed as to whether the president would veto such a measure, however, Earnest said Barack Obama opposed the bill but declined to say if he would veto it.

For the time being, the political moment favors Planned Parenthood’s opponents. The revelations that have been exposed over the last month are so abhorrent that few prominent Democrats appear willing to stand by the organization. But the obstacles to passing a defunding measure and sending it to the president’s desk where Obama would face the hard choice of either vetoing it outright or pocketing it are not pro-choice liberals but Republicans and centrist Democrats. GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois have already gone on record saying they will not support a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Democratic Senators Bob Casey and  Joe Manchin, too, have said they will not back such a bill.

With the House having already adjourned for the summer recess, the Senate has few incentives to pass such a controversial measure. To allow it to fester and generate controversy over the course of August would do the defund effort no favors — particularly considering that there is now talk of a new government shutdown over the defund effort. Even if there are enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass a defund bill after the August recess, it’s unclear that the provision would even be legal. “The laws governing Medicaid – the health insurance program for low-income families – prevent states from excluding certain providers solely because of other medical services they provide, like abortions,” CBS News reported. “Those laws also say Medicaid recipients must be allowed to seek treatment from anyone who is qualified to perform the services. This is sometimes called a ‘freedom of choice’ provision.” The report added that a 2011 Indiana law that sought to prevent Medicaid recipients from obtaining services from Planned Parenthood did not survive scrutiny in the courts.

But these delays may be a blessing in disguise. A Los Angeles area court recently granted an injunction request that prevents the release of further videos featuring Planned Parenthood administrators behaving ghoulishly. However, as Popehat blogger Ken White noted, the order may allow for plaintiffs to pursue satisfaction for damages done after the videos have been released, but it almost certainly cannot preempt their release entirely. That is especially true if the group behind the videos, the Center for Medical Progress, has already provided them to a third party. Therefore, expect the many repulsive videos to keep coming – as many as eight more are reportedly on deck. And every one that comes out forces one more prominent Democrat to soften his or her support for Planned Parenthood. Drip, drip, drip; over the course of a sleepy August in which the only game in town is the increasingly rote and boorish performance art piece masquerading as a presidential campaign, the revelations about Planned Parenthood’s conduct will find their audience.

The tide is perceptibly turning. Republicans would be foolish to let the pressure on Planned Parenthood lapse, but neither should they make themselves the focus of this story. Republicans should avoid being drawn into a convoluted debate on the legal merits of the defund effort, or its viability in the courts. They would also be well served if they were to ignore arcane whip counting and decline to opine on the politics of a presidential veto. As long as the debate is a philosophical one over whether we as a society should allow this kind of barbarism, conservatives will find themselves on the winning side. In the meantime, let the videos flow and enjoy watching Planned Parenthood supporters squirm in the sunlight.

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A French Dissent From Obama’s Iran Deal Party Line

The Obama administration party line on the Iran deal couldn’t be any clearer. Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry to the actors reading from a simplistic script in an agitprop advertisement extolling the agreement’s virtues have all been consistent on one thing: The only alternative to the deal is war. Any hope of getting a better agreement that would provide genuine scrutiny of their nuclear program or eliminate its infrastructure and ability to do research that will make a bomb a simple thing once this pact expires is, as Kerry keeps telling us, a “unicorn.” According to the president, 99 percent of the world (with the one percent being limited to Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress) agrees with this, especially America’s European allies who were crucial to the implementation of sanctions on Iran. But, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports, the French government may actually believe that a better deal is still possible even in the event that Congress votes the agreement down.

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The Obama administration party line on the Iran deal couldn’t be any clearer. Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry to the actors reading from a simplistic script in an agitprop advertisement extolling the agreement’s virtues have all been consistent on one thing: The only alternative to the deal is war. Any hope of getting a better agreement that would provide genuine scrutiny of their nuclear program or eliminate its infrastructure and ability to do research that will make a bomb a simple thing once this pact expires is, as Kerry keeps telling us, a “unicorn.” According to the president, 99 percent of the world (with the one percent being limited to Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress) agrees with this, especially America’s European allies who were crucial to the implementation of sanctions on Iran. But, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports, the French government may actually believe that a better deal is still possible even in the event that Congress votes the agreement down.

This crack in the supposedly solid wall of support for the notion that there is no alternative to the deal comes at an unfortunate moment for the administration. The polls are showing that voters aren’t happy with the deal and Congressional Republicans seem certain to vote it down, leaving the outcome in the hands of a few Democrats whose support will be necessary for an override of an expected Obama veto. The best argument for the deal isn’t on its merits since even most Democrats know it falls far short of what the administration had set as its goals when this process began. But the notion that there is no alternative and that all of our allies will immediately abandon the U.S. position if Congress votes the deal down is persuasive to many. But what if that isn’t so?

That’s the upshot of Rogin’s piece, which reports that Jacques Audibert, the senior diplomatic advisor to French President Francois Hollande told two members of Congress that Kerry’s predictions were false. As Rogin writes:

According to both lawmakers, Audibert expressed support for the deal overall, but also directly disputed Kerry’s claim that a Congressional rejection of the Iran deal would result in the worst of all worlds, the collapse of sanctions and Iran racing to the bomb without restrictions.

“He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage,” [Democratic Rep. Loretta] Sanchez told me in an interview. “He thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal.”

The French embassy denied the report, but Sanchez and Rogin are obviously telling the truth about a moment of refreshing candor from Audibert.

Kerry told Congress there’s no way he could go back to Iran for a better deal and that Europe, which is eager to start doing business with the Islamist regime, would not support any effort to strengthen its terms. But the French, who reportedly took a tougher stand at some points during the negotiations than the Americans, know that this isn’t true.

This is an important admission that proves a better deal is no unicorn. In fact, it goes to the heart of everything that was wrong about the administration’s approach to the negotiations. Every time the Iranians said “no” during the last two and a half years — whether it concerned their right to enrich uranium, the extent of their nuclear infrastructure, inspections, an agreement that expired rather than was permanent, past military research and a host of other issues — Obama and Kerry simply backed down. They did so because they told themselves that there was no alternative short of war. But what was really animating their decision was, contrary to their promises, a belief that any deal at any price was better than none at all.

This means that, if they are capable of resisting partisan pressures, Congressional Democrats should be able to vote “no” on the deal with an easy conscience. The talk about war being the only other option has always been a big lie. It was Obama who fecklessly threw away the West’s enormous economic and political leverage over Iran when he signed the interim agreement that began the process of dismantling sanctions and giving approval to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But a return to the negotiating table would provide the Islamist regime with a wake-up call because it would force them to realize that a pushover president isn’t calling all the shots and able to ram through an agreement based on appeasement, rather than a defense of U.S. interests.

There were already a lot of good reasons for Congress to vote down the deal. But with this embarrassing French dissent from Obama’s talking points, it just received one more that ought, if Democrats are being honest about making their decisions on the basis of what is good for U.S. security, persuade fair-minded members to tell the president that this weak deal isn’t good enough.

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Terrorism and the Latest Iran Deal Distraction

Though the polls show increasing opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama seems to be winning in the court of public opinion on the issue this week. The reason is that a series of inflammatory comments about the agreement from Republican presidential candidates have made it appear as if its critics are nothing but a pack of cynical partisans seeking to gain ground on Donald Trump by trying to outdo each other with outrageous insults of the president. Like Mike Huckabee’s crack about President Obama marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Senator Ted Cruz’s line about the pact making “the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of Islamic terrorism” has been widely panned. The president termed it “outrageous” and even Mitt Romney tweeted that it “was way over the line” and “hurts the cause” of those trying to stop it in Congress. Romney’s right in the sense that this kerfuffle is helping the president to pose as the adult in the conversation and being used by the administration to help portray its critics as crackpots or warmongers. But though it would be foolish to deny that these candidates to help their campaigns are using Iran, there’s more substance here than is being acknowledged by most of those commenting on it. The terror angle to the Iran agreement has been largely swept under the rug by the administration. Though Cruz’s effort probably won’t lead to much serious thought about it, that has more to do with the media’s antipathy for him and willingness to follow Obama’s lead than it does with the facts of the case.

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Though the polls show increasing opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama seems to be winning in the court of public opinion on the issue this week. The reason is that a series of inflammatory comments about the agreement from Republican presidential candidates have made it appear as if its critics are nothing but a pack of cynical partisans seeking to gain ground on Donald Trump by trying to outdo each other with outrageous insults of the president. Like Mike Huckabee’s crack about President Obama marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Senator Ted Cruz’s line about the pact making “the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of Islamic terrorism” has been widely panned. The president termed it “outrageous” and even Mitt Romney tweeted that it “was way over the line” and “hurts the cause” of those trying to stop it in Congress. Romney’s right in the sense that this kerfuffle is helping the president to pose as the adult in the conversation and being used by the administration to help portray its critics as crackpots or warmongers. But though it would be foolish to deny that these candidates to help their campaigns are using Iran, there’s more substance here than is being acknowledged by most of those commenting on it. The terror angle to the Iran agreement has been largely swept under the rug by the administration. Though Cruz’s effort probably won’t lead to much serious thought about it, that has more to do with the media’s antipathy for him and willingness to follow Obama’s lead than it does with the facts of the case.

Like Huckabee, Cruz is in a difficult position right now in the presidential race. While both were always long shot candidates, the Donald Trump boom has marginalized them, and the rest of the conservative field since the reality star seems to have cornered the market on outrage about Obama and illegal immigration. While Cruz has been waging a scorched earth campaign against Washington and the Republican establishment since he entered the Senate in January 2013, Trump’s outrageous behavior and willingness to say anything about anyone has seemingly rendered the Texan obsolete. Though that may change, there’s no doubt that there seems even less room for a Cruz or a Huckabee in the presidential sweepstakes than there was before.

But no matter what his motivations — and Cruz has been a consistent critic of administration policy on Iran throughout his brief career — may be, merely dismissing the terror angle to the deal isn’t sufficient.

It is true that the remarks are being interpreted as an accusation that President Obama actually wants to aid international terrorism rather than this result being an unfortunate result of a misguided policy. The same was true of Huckabee’s “oven” comment that was seen as an accusation that the president actually wanted Israel to be incinerated by an Iranian bomb rather than the deal being the fruit of Obama’s illusions about the Islamist regime’s willingness to change.

Obama dismissed Cruz by saying, “We’ve had a sitting senator, who also happens to be running for president, suggest that I’m the leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

It’s true that it would be inaccurate to say that Obama is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. That title belongs to his Iranian negotiating partners, as the State Department recently acknowledged.

But, as Cruz was pointing out, one of the key items in the nuclear deal that the president is championing, is the release of $100 billion to the regime that had been denied them due to economic sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Iran won’t be able to use those funds to support its Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon, its Hamas allies in Gaza, or the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But as even National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted, once it is their hands, they will be free to do with the money, as they like. Kerry may have lectured members of Congress this week that it is already illegal for Iran to aid these groups. Yet those strictures haven’t hampered them in the past, and there’s no reason to believe that they will in a future in which the world is rushing to do business with Iran. Like it or not, the released funds are fungible, and some of it will, one way or another, wind up in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas.

This is not a small point or a semantic argument. By choosing to strike a deal with Iran that deliberately ignored its role as a state sponsor of terror, its quest for regional autonomy, its tyrannical abuses at home or its oft-stated goal of destroying Israel, the president essentially gave all these elements of the regime Western sanction. The administration may say that it disapproves of all of it and will seek to curb Iranian excesses in the future. But the goal here is not merely a shaky nuclear deal that in the best-case scenario will only put off an Iranian bomb for a decade. The president’s objective has been something far more ambitious: a détente with Iran that will allow it “to get right with the world.” We may well scoff at such naïveté but, in order to buy into the Iran deal, you have to actually think that Iran will stop aiding terror or fomenting conflict throughout the Middle East. Once you discard this absurd hope, you have to accept the fact that the funds the U.S. is agreeing to release to Iran will soon be paying for a Hezbollah or Hamas rocket aimed at Israel or a murder squad roving Europe in search of some enemy of the Islamist regime.

So while Cruz’s comments were, like Huckabee’s (which alluded to the fact that Iran is threatening Israel with another Holocaust even if this time, the Jews are in a position to defend themselves rather than being marched to the slaughter as an indifferent West looks on) easy to distort or dismiss as an Iran deal distraction, they point to something all too real, not political hyperbole. If the administration wishes to make its case for the deal, it must do better than merely dismissing the likelihood that what it is doing is aiding terror, since that is very much what will happen.

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What If Conservatives Threw a Revolution and No One Came?

Republicans are on edge. The “base” is restless. Incandescent outrage over the way that the GOP’s elected representatives have dismissed and ignored their core voters is boiling over. Donald Trump, we are told, is the walking, bloviating manifestation of their righteous ire. A full-scale revolt is in the works, we are forever warned by the commentary class. It’s only just over the horizon. And yet, the revolution never seems to materialize. A look at the polls in the summer of an off year suggests that much of this dissatisfaction with Republican leaders, real as it is, is not shared by a critical mass of the party’s core voters.  Read More

Republicans are on edge. The “base” is restless. Incandescent outrage over the way that the GOP’s elected representatives have dismissed and ignored their core voters is boiling over. Donald Trump, we are told, is the walking, bloviating manifestation of their righteous ire. A full-scale revolt is in the works, we are forever warned by the commentary class. It’s only just over the horizon. And yet, the revolution never seems to materialize. A look at the polls in the summer of an off year suggests that much of this dissatisfaction with Republican leaders, real as it is, is not shared by a critical mass of the party’s core voters. 

Surely, spectacular and unequivocal failure wasn’t exactly what North Carolina Republican Representative Mark Meadows had in mind when he mounted a quixotic coup against House Speaker John Boehner this week. While he had to know the effort was doomed to fail from the start, perhaps he thought that his martyrdom would spark a grassroots movement of likeminded conservatives who have had enough with the House GOP leader. The measure Meadows submitted to remove Boehner from his post must be passed out of the Rules Committee where the GOP members, all of whom have Boehner to thank for their positions, are unlikely to look favorably upon it. “It isn’t deserving of a vote,” the House Speaker said, signaling that the measure’s fate is sealed.

Boehner dismissed the failed coup as merely a quirk of the American system whereby any majority that is large enough will always be near impossible to control. “We’ve got a member here, a member there, who are off the reservation,” he averred. “No big deal.” True, the Republican conference is a herd of cats. Even Nancy Pelosi faced grumbling among Democratic House Caucus members following a historic Democratic victory in 2008 for failing to embrace sufficiently left-wing policy prescriptions. She even faced a primary challenge that year from the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. But there was no leadership challenge from a representative of the ascendant progressive Democratic base. Indeed, after the party expanded its majorities in 2008, the only substantial change in Democratic leadership occurred when Henry Waxman took control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from John Dingell. If Boehner cannot keep his members in line, perhaps it is time for a change at the top.

It would be a mistake, however, to confuse a lack of faith in GOP leadership for a vote of confidence in the insurrectionists. The loudest and most boisterous voices within the conservative movement appear eager to register their dissatisfaction with GOP leadership in whatever way possible, but their prominence and overrepresentation among activist elements within the conservative firmament may be presenting a distorted view of their actual influence. Polls suggest that there is far less dissension in the GOP’s ranks than is apparent at first glance.

A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month revealed that the GOP’s favorability ratings have collapsed, and that implosion is due almost entirely to a loss of faith among self-identified Republicans. “Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago,” Pew revealed. “About two-thirds (68%) express a favorable opinion of their party, the lowest share in more than two years. Six months ago, 86% of Republicans viewed the GOP positively.” So you might expect to see some of that antipathy expressed as frustration with the party’s elected leaders and a reduction in support for its candidates. So far, that has not occurred.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday indicated that the GOP is still winning the generic congressional ballot tests ahead of the 2016 election. By 39 to 37 percent, more voters would back the Republican candidate for House races. Similarly, the Senatorial GOP candidate bests the Democratic candidate by 40 to 38 percent. In both cases, the GOP secures the support of 90 percent of self-described Republicans. Democrats, by contrast, are only able to maintain 86 and 87 percent support respectively. That indicates that the Democratic “base” is slightly more restive than even the GOP’s.

As for disaffection, Republicans remain far more enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than are their Democratic counterparts. A CNN/ORC survey released this week showed that 31 percent of Republicans are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting in 2016 whereas just 18 percent of surveyed Democrats said the same. The story is not all that different for self-described conservatives. By 27 to 22 percent, more conservatives than liberals would describe themselves as “extremely enthusiastic.”

If there is a grassroots conservative revolt in the works against the GOP “establishment” that serves as the boogieman for so many political commentators, it’s so sub rosa that it’s virtually imperceptible. There is plenty of evidence that indicates that conservatives — and Americans in general — are deeply dissatisfied with their congressional representatives. There is not, however, much evidence to support the contention that the “establishment” is days away from a revolt of the masses that will result in a radical realignment. In fact, the opposite is the case; Republican voters seem prepared if not eager to affirm their support for the party next November.

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Our Morally Disoriented Times

I’m not a big game hunter. I like animals, we have a dog that is beloved by my family, and I don’t know why anyone would take particular delight in shooting a lion. But the world-wide reaction to the killing of Cecil (which is briefly touched on by John Hinderaker here) is both amazing and illuminating on the times in which we live.

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I’m not a big game hunter. I like animals, we have a dog that is beloved by my family, and I don’t know why anyone would take particular delight in shooting a lion. But the world-wide reaction to the killing of Cecil (which is briefly touched on by John Hinderaker here) is both amazing and illuminating on the times in which we live.

Walter James Palmer, the dentist who illegally but apparently mistakenly killed the famed lion, is now a notorious and hated figure. There are reports that he’s had to go into hiding. He’s been the subject of death threats. Celebrities and supermodels are excoriating him. The comedian Jimmy Kimmel was so overwhelmed by emotions that he teared up and almost broke down during his monologue.

I understand why Cecil’s death touched people’s human sympathies. But here’s my question: Why doesn’t the dismemberment of unborn children do at least the same thing? Indeed, why are so many people who were so profoundly moved by the killing of a lion so indifferent to the butchery that is routinely performed by Planned Parenthood and that’s been documented in several videos by the Center for Medical Progress? Will Jimmy Kimmel draw attention to, and weep over, the wholesale destruction of unborn children and the sale of their body parts — by an organization that receives taxpayer support, no less?

I rather doubt it. It’s fair to ask, I think, what is it about progressives in particular that causes them to be so deeply disturbed by the killing of an animal and so deeply committed to allowing unborn children to be aborted that they would even invent a constitutional right to allow it?

It would certainly be worthwhile to have this question posed to people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the leadership of the Democratic Party. But it never will be, in part because so many journalists share their attitudes, worldview and moral intuitions.

The killing of a single beautiful lion triggers a massive outpouring of emotion and grief and rage; the massive slaughter of unborn children is ignored when it’s not viewed as a sign of liberation and enlightenment. Such is the morally disoriented state in which we find ourselves.

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Grist for Israel’s Defamers

For those who have followed the discussion of my essay on the documentary film Censored Voices, I bring your attention to my “last word” on the subject at Mosaic Magazine. There I suggest that the film is fairly close on the spectrum to Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” (in his bestselling book My Promised Land and in The New Yorker), which I dissected at length a year ago, also at Mosaic Magazine. That’s a resemblance worth further elaboration, so here it is.
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For those who have followed the discussion of my essay on the documentary film Censored Voices, I bring your attention to my “last word” on the subject at Mosaic Magazine. There I suggest that the film is fairly close on the spectrum to Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” (in his bestselling book My Promised Land and in The New Yorker), which I dissected at length a year ago, also at Mosaic Magazine. That’s a resemblance worth further elaboration, so here it is.

Shavit purports to reveal the details of a forgotten Israeli massacre of Palestinians in July 1948, which he rediscovered by interviewing Israeli veterans twenty years ago. For his account, he went back to his tapes. The director of Censored Voices, Mor Loushy, purports to reveal the censored details of Israeli war crimes committed in June 1967 against Palestinians and other Arabs—crimes she rediscovered in tapes of discussions among Israeli soldiers.

The notion of hidden war crimes preserved on privately-held tapes is almost irresistible. Is anyone bothered that no one else has access to these tapes, which (like all evidence) need to be scrutinized critically? Does anyone care if the case for war crimes rests on isolated quotes, summations, and soundbites? I’ve called on Shavit and Loushy to place all their material in a public archive where it can be examined by historians. It’s reprehensible to put these “crimes” on the public agenda, yet continue to monopolize the supposed evidence for them.

Both Shavit and Loushy use numbers — in fact, the same number —to embed their narratives in the minds of readers or viewers. Shavit claims that Israeli soldiers, in the course of a broader massacre, cut down seventy persons who had taken refuge in a mosque in Lydda—a number he repeats five times in his book. This is what I call a sticky statistic. When I told a friend that I would be looking closely at the mosque “massacre,” he replied: “Where seventy were killed, right?” I was taken aback: the statistic, through its repetition, had stuck. As I later showed, the “seventy” isn’t attested by any source except local Palestinian lore, and contemporary Israeli sources put the number at less than half of that. (They also totally contradict the “massacre” claim.)

Loushy (and her partner and producer Daniel Sivan) use the same number to describe the scale of the “brutal censorship” that kept the Six-Day War “crimes” secret for so long. They allege that seventy percent of the original testimonies of soldiers were cut by the Israeli military censor in 1967, and thus consigned to oblivion. (For example, Sivan repeats the figure twice in this one interview.) This statistic is also sticky, and it has surfaced in just about every review of the film, as well as in the Economist, where you expect statistics to have been vetted. As I show, this “seventy” is a fiction. The extent of official censorship of the original testimonies, according to a careful assessment by their foremost historian, was negligible.

The agonized soldiers, the forgotten tapes, and the memorable numbers are all vehicles to deliver this message: Israel is guilty of crimes in the two wars that gave it independence and its current borders, 1948 and 1967. It is too late for individuals to be tried for these crimes, but there must be atonement. For Shavit and Loushy, that atonement is self-evident: Israel must end the “occupation.” Only thus can it cleanse itself of sins.

The ascendence of this argument in the Israeli mainstream left isn’t accidental. The Second Intifada, the debacle of Gaza, Palestinian refusal to talk — all of these have undercut the rationale for peace as a transaction between Israelis and Palestinians. How can Israelis and Jews be persuaded that a Palestinian state is still an urgent necessity — so much so that it might even justify unilateral withdrawal? Some invoke demography, but others instill guilt. Yes, a Palestinian state is a huge risk. Yes, there is no partner. Yes, the rockets may fall. Yes, the blood may flow. But if we end the “occupation,” we will cleanse ourselves of guilt. If this is the aim of such revelations, then the desired effect is only enhanced by exaggerating the “crimes,” ripping them out of context, and claiming they were somehow covered up.

This is the present-day purpose of these historical exposés. But that isn’t necessarily their present-day effect. Israel’s critics adduce the claims of Shavit and Loushy as evidence that Israel repeatedly commits and covers up the same crimes. Israel’s history, writes one defamer (while generously quoting from Shavit), is “a history of Lyddas piling up into a mountain, remembered or almost forgotten except by the survivors.” A reviewer of Loushy’s film insists that “year after year since 1967, including in recent weeks, Palestinians, with faces and names, are still expelled, imprisoned without trial and killed.”

Incredibly, both Shavit and Loushy are oblivious to this use of their work. Shavit: “Even the most difficult parts of my book were not used by Israel’s enemies because they were afraid to quote something that is written by a really devoted Zionist.” Loushy: “I find it difficult to believe that someone would attack Israel because of the film.” Shavit and Loushy grossly underestimate the resourcefulness of Israel’s enemies, who will mine any vein for historical evidence of Israeli misdeeds and then deploy it to condemn Israel in the present. This isn’t a reason to avoid research critical of Israel’s history. It is a reason to establish facts scrupulously, from a full range of sources, and put them in broader context. Famed journalists and beginning directors don’t get a pass on that.

Much of Israel’s self-critical output makes its way to discussions at American synagogues and Sabbath tables. Even sophisticated audiences often take too much of it at face value. As Censored Voices moves into Jewish film festivals and American theaters, I’ll be watching to see who passively accepts it and who reports the evidence that its very premise is fabricated. I’m guessing most viewers won’t question what they see on the screen. How many is “most”? Oh, probably around seventy percent.

(Again, my “last word” at Mosaic Magazine, here.)

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When Is It a War Crime to Defend Yourself? If You’re an Israeli.

Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of  particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.

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Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of  particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.

The incident that generated the reported took place on August 1, 2014. On that morning, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was put into effect that sought to end the war that had begun a month earlier. The conflict started when a Hamas terror cell kidnaped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then escalated when the group began firing rockets at Israeli cities and towns. Several thousand of these missiles would be launched at Israel before the war ended. In addition to that, Hamas attempted to employ tunnels it had dug underneath the border with Israel to conduct more such kidnap/murder raids. Though the Israelis tried at first to halt the attacks with air power, when that didn’t work, ground forces were required to stop the terrorists. Though the August 1st cease-fire — like the one that later finally did end the shooting — left Hamas in place and in possession of its rocket arsenal, Israel agreed to it.

But only an hour after the fighting was supposed to stop, a Hamas terror squad ambushed a group of Israeli soldiers in the city of Rafah along the border with Israel. Two were killed and the body of one, Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was dragged into the tunnel from which his attackers had emerged. That set off a desperate search and counter-attack aimed at recovering him and/or his body. That directive, known by the code name, “Hannibal” aims to use maximum force to prevent terrorists from escaping with a hostage. The order is always controversial because some interpret it as encouraging Israeli forces to even endanger the life of the captured soldier rather than standing down and subjecting both the individual and his country to a protracted hostage negotiation that inevitably involves the release of a disproportionate number of terrorist murderers.

In this case, Amnesty accuses Israel of using artillery fire in such a way as to conduct “disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks” on civilian areas with no regard for the lives of innocents who might be killed in the barrage. According to Amnesty and its Palestinian sources, the Israelis fired 1,000 shells and 40 bombs on the area where the Hamas assault took place resulting in 135 Palestinian deaths.

But while the loss of life during this battle was regrettable, the focus of the Amnesty report is remarkably skewed.

After all, the one war crime that we can be sure that took place was the attack on Goldin and his squad. It was a deliberate violation of a cease-fire that might have been a godsend for ordinary Palestinians, but which didn’t serve the purposes of Hamas. Having bled Gaza white for weeks, the leaders of the terrorist group were not yet satisfied with the toll of casualties among their own people. Hamas places its missile launchers and terror squads among civilians in order to deliberately expose them to Israeli fire. While there are plenty of fortified shelters in the strip for Hamas fighters and their massive arsenal, there are few for civilians. In Hamas-run Gaza, the shelters are for the bombs, not the people.

That means that any fair-minded observer of the events of August 1, 2014 must concede that the responsibility for all of the casualties the ensued as Israeli and Hamas forces fought in Rafah that day belongs to those who cynically ordered the attack on the Israeli soldiers that ended the cease-fire. The tunnel they used ran through residential areas, and the flight of these terrorists was such that they deliberately and with malice aforethought endangered the lives of all those who lived in the area. Their goal was not only to spirit away a hostage but also to create the kind of havoc that would result in more accusations against Israel.

But the minute analysis of every round fired by the Israelis by Amnesty not only doesn’t take that into account or put their accusations in a reasonable context. It also treats the effort to rescue Goldin — who probably did not survive the initial attack — as wrong while treating the assault on the Israelis as a reasonable and even legal action. But even in the course of its effort to demonize the Israeli actions by pouring on the details of bullets and shells fired amid a chaotic battle amid the fog of war, Amnesty cannot help falsifying their indictment. The report fails to take into account that along with the civilians who were sadly killed or wounded as a result of terrorist actions, some of the casualties they lament were actually Hamas or Islamic Jihad personnel.

But no matter how you break down the battle, the talk of disproportionate fire frames the discussion in a way that inevitably skews it toward treating the Israelis as the transgressors rather than a combatant. Would any nation, including Western democracies or the United States, be any less “indiscriminate” in its fire on terrorists attacking its cities and its troops than the Israelis? The answer is obviously not. As General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in his comments about the Gaza war, the conduct of the Israelis in the fighting was a model that U.S. forces seek to emulate in their own conflicts in the Middle East. Indeed, the same accusations of “disproportionate” fire are often, and sometimes with more reason, lodged against Americans fighting in Afghanistan or bombing Taliban or al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

As for the “Hannibal” directive, the discussion is a controversial one even within Israel. But the assumption that it means that soldiers are ordered to kill one of their own rather than let them be taken is probably a misunderstanding. Any hostage in a war zone is, by definition, in harm’s way and faces a good chance of becoming a casualty. The Israelis rightly seek to prevent the capture of their people. Doing so spares the country and the individual from a terrible ordeal. Efforts to prevent these crimes deserve the praise of fair-minded people, not their condemnation.

The effort to turn the effort to save Hadar Goldin was, like the entire counter-offensive that Israel conducted in Gaza last summer, entirely justified. The blame for the deaths of Palestinians needs to be placed at the door of the Hamas terrorists that started the conflict and then broke a cease-fire in a conscious effort to set in motion the tragic events that then unfolded.

In the meantime, the family of Lt. Goldin still awaits the return of his body from Hamas that may be holding his remains in order to exact another gruesome exchange for live killers. If Amnesty wants to live up to its claim of advocacy for human rights, it might want to get involved in that issue. More to the point, the group and its financial backers need to understand that by conducting such attacks on Israel, it cannot pretend that is rationalizing the actions of one side in the conflict. In this case, their version of human rights advocacy appears to be indistinguishable from rationalizing the crimes of terrorists and seeking to hamstring the efforts of those seeking to stop them.

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The Daily Beast’s Unfair Attack On Trump Will Benefit Him

I’m no great fan of Donald Trump, as readers of this site know. But I agree with Fox’s Howard Kurtz, who wrote that this story on Trump in The Daily Beast should not have been published — and certainly it should not have been published in this way. Justifying its story based on what Mr. Trump said about Mexicans coming across the southern border being “rapists,” The Daily Beast wrote. Read More

I’m no great fan of Donald Trump, as readers of this site know. But I agree with Fox’s Howard Kurtz, who wrote that this story on Trump in The Daily Beast should not have been published — and certainly it should not have been published in this way. Justifying its story based on what Mr. Trump said about Mexicans coming across the southern border being “rapists,” The Daily Beast wrote.

It was an unfortunate turn of phrase for Trump—in more ways than one. Not only does the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination have a history of controversial remarks about sexual assault, but as it turns out, his ex-wife Ivana Trump once used “rape” to describe an incident between them in 1989. She later said she felt “violated” by the experience.

But as Kurtz points out, “we’re talking here about a single allegation, made in the heat of a highly contested divorce, that Ivana [Trump’s first wife] largely walked back then — and dismisses today. And to tie that to Trump’s controversial comment about Mexican illegal immigrants including ‘rapists’ is to use a very thin reed indeed.”

I don’t pretend there are obvious standards regarding when and how to write a story like this. The past, at least parts of the past, are fair game for those running for president. The question here is one of judgment as to whether this story should have been published — and if so, what the proper tone, rhetoric, and placement of the story should have been. If you take everything together, I agree with Kurtz who said it “reads like a hit job calculated to harm Trump.”

That doesn’t excuse, by the way, the thuggish threat made against the reporters by Trump’s counsel, Michael Cohen, and which is quoted in the Kurtz story. It seems to me his words are newsworthy and indicative of something alarming about the ethos of the Trump campaign. It’s the original story, though, that troubles me.

My guess is it doesn’t particularly trouble Mr. Trump. He thrives on this kind of political combat, and this story will be perceived by many on the right as being more reason to support him. The thinking goes something like this: If liberal news outlets attack Trump, he must be doing something right. And: we’re obligated to rally to Trump’s side when he’s being unfairly targeted by the press. In this instance, I think he was.

I have multiple concerns with Donald Trump, but the story that appeared in The Daily Beast is not one of them. Reporters have to try to play it straight, even (and maybe especially) with candidates they like and don’t like. The story on Trump came across to me, at least, as advocacy journalism, as a story that was guided by ideology more than a disinterested analysis of the facts. If that’s true of me, I’m sure it’s true of those who are more favorably disposed to Trump than I.

The Daily Beast may have thought this story would hurt Donald Trump. My bet is it will help him.

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Good Advice Abroad but Not at Home

The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an editorial praising President Obama’s speech in Kenya. It was indeed praiseworthy. Read More

The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an editorial praising President Obama’s speech in Kenya. It was indeed praiseworthy.

He noted that sub-Saharan Africa has had a bleak history for the last 500 years. First the infamous slave trade and more recently colonial rule that was often oppressive and denied Africans their rightful place in the sun. But he noted that those days are over and now it is up to Africans to make their own future. As the Wall Street Journal put it:

…he argued that history is no excuse for a failed future.

“For too long, I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent,” he said. He notably confined his discussion of U.S. aid to two oblique paragraphs, while devoting the better part of his speech to urging Africans to build stronger and more tolerant democracies. Traditions such as female genital mutilation, or keeping girls out of school, or sticking to Masai, Kikuyo, Luo or other tribal identities, he said, “may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.”

At times Mr. Obama reminded us of Paul Wolfowitz, the former World Bank president who ran afoul of that organization by insisting that it actively fight corruption instead of merely pushing aid money out the door. Graft, the President said, is “not something that is just fixed by laws, or that any one person can fix. It requires a commitment by the entire nation—leaders and citizens—to change habits and change culture.”

This was very good advice, but I wonder why he confines this advice to Africans. After all, African-Americans shared much of the same bleak history. They were ripped from their homelands, forced to work for the benefit of others, and, even after the abolition of slavery, suffered an all-pervasive bigotry and discrimination. But here, too, those days are over. Instead of encouraging black Americans to look to the future and not wallow in the past, to make the changes necessary in the black community to break the culture of dependency, however,  the Democratic Party and most black leaders do exactly the opposite.

The reason is not hard to see. It suits the political interests of liberals and black leaders such as Al Sharpton to encourage black dependency on government. After all, if more and more blacks moved up into the middle class, they would be less inclined to vote Democratic.

As the Journal noted, “Mr. Obama has the personal background and standing to make these points to an African audience with an unapologetic clarity and a resonance that other Western leaders can’t match.” Equally, the country’s first black president has the personal background and moral authority to make the same points at home. The fact that he has not is one of his greatest failings as president.

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Hillary Clinton Pours Salt in Planned Parenthood’s Open Wound

Since the moment that the videos featuring Planned Parenthood officials haggling over the discarded aborted infant body parts began trickling out, each one more morbid than the next, pro-choice activists have contended that they are simply not newsworthy. Planned Parenthood defenders who actually watched the videos (a surprising number of those backing the organization confess after sufficient prodding that they’ve not seen the footage firsthand) insist that all that has been revealed is a bit of desensitization; professionals who have grown inured to how laymen view their perfectly legal and morally unambiguous work. But Planned Parenthood’s behavior and those on the left who depend on the organization’s largess betray the significance of the slow-motion scandal by downplaying it. This week, an unlikely source, Hillary Clinton, delivered a blow that could ultimately prove fatal to Planned Parenthood’s privileged status as a beneficiary of taxpayer subsidization. Read More

Since the moment that the videos featuring Planned Parenthood officials haggling over the discarded aborted infant body parts began trickling out, each one more morbid than the next, pro-choice activists have contended that they are simply not newsworthy. Planned Parenthood defenders who actually watched the videos (a surprising number of those backing the organization confess after sufficient prodding that they’ve not seen the footage firsthand) insist that all that has been revealed is a bit of desensitization; professionals who have grown inured to how laymen view their perfectly legal and morally unambiguous work. But Planned Parenthood’s behavior and those on the left who depend on the organization’s largess betray the significance of the slow-motion scandal by downplaying it. This week, an unlikely source, Hillary Clinton, delivered a blow that could ultimately prove fatal to Planned Parenthood’s privileged status as a beneficiary of taxpayer subsidization.

For those who decline to watch the gruesome videos featuring unspeakably brutish callousness toward humanity – infants, no less – you’ll be spared the details of the videos. Suffice it to say that they feature Planned Parenthood officials revealing the scope of the marketplace for organs from aborted fetuses. National Review’s Ian Tuttle summarized one macabre moment the latest installment in the multipart series of investigative videos:

At the 10:22 mark of the Center for Medical Progress’s latest video, released today, there is a picture of a hand. By the curve of the thumb and the articulation of the fingers, one can see that it is a right hand. It was formerly the right hand of an 11.6-week-old fetus; it is now part of the various organic odds and ends being sifted through on a plate in the pathology lab of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

In the latest video, while opining on whether her organization would prefer infant organs individually or in bulk, Dr. Savita Ginde, Vice President and Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) in Denver, Colorado, tells her interlocutor she would prefer them in their most profitable form. “I think a per-item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it,” she says.

If there were truly no profit motive at work here, as the law stipulates there must not be, then there would be no incentive to “see how much we can get out of it.” It’s entirely possible that Planned Parenthood is not abiding by the letter of the law, but even if it were there is clearly a market for human organs that the public would surely be interested to learn more about. Sadly for the public, the press is utterly incurious.

Despite the fact that these videos set off a firestorm, despite that a push is underway in Congress to deprive Planned Parenthood of its taxpayer funding, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood executives are implicating themselves in immoral practices prompting the head of that institution to apologize for their cold-bloodedness; there has been precious little coverage of this rolling scandal in major media outlets. It’s not hard to see why.

This week, Planned Parenthood secured the services of the famous Democratic public relations firm SKDKnickerbocker to manage this crisis. It is a highly capable firm that is replete with former Democratic officials and reporters who left journalism in pursuit of a paycheck. It is telling that their first course of action was to reach out to news outlets to suppress the further dissemination of these damning videos. “The group circulated a memo to reporters and producers late Monday that discouraged them from airing the undercover videos, arguing that they were obtained under false identification and violated patient privacy,” Politico reported. “Those patients’ privacy should not be further violated by having this footage shared by the media,” the memo read, despite the fact that patients were not featured in these videos. Still, the tactic might be effective. It is not hard to envision media outlets jumping the flimsy excuse provided to them by their friends and former associates at SKDKnickerbocker to not report on a story they’d prefer to see buried in the first place.

Those defenders of Planned Parenthood who have mustered the courage to watch the videos have offered only unconvincing defenses of the organization. Calling the exposé a “hit job,” the often-thoughtful Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum insisted that there was simply no substance to the latest Planned Parenthood video. After comparing the queasy feeling a human being should experience while bearing witness to haggling over dismembered infant parts as though they were chicken gizzards on display in a Marrakesh bazaar to the same feeling one gets while dissecting a frog in seventh grade science class, Drum insisted the practice was no different from organ donation.

“This is no different,” Drum insisted. “It’s every bit as altruistic and admirable as harvesting useful tissue from adults. Period.” At the risk of reopening an argument Drum surely thought he had concluded with the declarative addition of the word “period” to that sentence, there most certainly is a difference. Organ donation is consensual. The dismemberment of another human being in utero is, by definition, not consensual. This contention opens a whole new philosophical debate about the agency of the unborn and whether or not they deserve rights similar to those provided to their mothers. It’s a debate worth having. While those on the left can be reasonably certain that unpopular and legally problematic personhood laws would not be its result, such a debate might result in more restrictions on the marketplace for fetal organs. When it becomes a question of whether or not we should as opposed to whether or not we can, the terms of this debate will no longer favor Planned Parenthood.

Which leads us to Hillary Clinton. In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Clinton was asked about the Planned Parenthood videos. “I have seen pictures from them and obviously find them disturbing,” Clinton said. She noted that Planned Parenthood does good work in providing a variety of services that are not abortion-related, but she also did not criticize Republican efforts to investigate the institution. “And if there’s going to be any kind of congressional inquiry, it should look at everything and not just one (organization),” Clinton added, presumably referring to the nefarious types who had the temerity to observe Planned Parenthood officials behaving ghoulishly.

The earthquake in Clinton’s comments is that she found the videos “disturbing.” Those media outlets that were burying the Planned Parenthood story or framing it as just another peculiar conservative fixation have lost that cover. Hillary Clinton stole it from them. If they are to report on Hillary Clinton’s comments, they must also report on what she is commenting upon. To ignore what amounts to a denunciation of a liberal taxpayer-funded organization by someone soon to be the nation’s most prominent Democrat would be to embrace a level of unalloyed corruption that any journalist with a conscience would reject. News outlets are now obliged to either show the videos or to describe them in all their lurid detail.

The coming days will be clarifying. They will prove whether we have an objective press or merely a class of aspiring Democratic public relations professionals.

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Obama, Kerry Sacrificing U.S.-Israel Alliance for Iran Deal

It’s the perfect metaphor for American foreign policy these days. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East next week to discuss the Iran deal with various American allies, but he’s leaving out one important stop: Israel. According to Israel Army Radio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the snub by saying, “He really has no reason to come here.” Unfortunately, the prime minister is right. Though the trip is just one of many that Kerry has made, it is a telling symbol for the approach of the Obama administration on the most important issue facing both countries: the Iran nuclear deal. President Obama and Kerry kept Israel out of the loop during the negotiations and ignored its vital interests when signing off on Iran’s demands. Combined with the rhetoric coming out of both men that seeks to isolate and threaten Israel, Kerry’s pointed omission of the Jewish state on his tour is just one more indication that they seek to expand what is already a serious rift between the two countries. Though friends of Israel are rightly focused on persuading Congress to vote down a terrible Iran deal, they must also ponder the long-term impact of the administration campaign against the Jewish state.

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It’s the perfect metaphor for American foreign policy these days. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East next week to discuss the Iran deal with various American allies, but he’s leaving out one important stop: Israel. According to Israel Army Radio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the snub by saying, “He really has no reason to come here.” Unfortunately, the prime minister is right. Though the trip is just one of many that Kerry has made, it is a telling symbol for the approach of the Obama administration on the most important issue facing both countries: the Iran nuclear deal. President Obama and Kerry kept Israel out of the loop during the negotiations and ignored its vital interests when signing off on Iran’s demands. Combined with the rhetoric coming out of both men that seeks to isolate and threaten Israel, Kerry’s pointed omission of the Jewish state on his tour is just one more indication that they seek to expand what is already a serious rift between the two countries. Though friends of Israel are rightly focused on persuading Congress to vote down a terrible Iran deal, they must also ponder the long-term impact of the administration campaign against the Jewish state.

Throughout the six and a half years as well as during the course of the negotiations with Iran, President Obama has maintained that he is a steadfast friend of Israel and will always look out for its security. If he criticized or sought to pressure its government it was, he has told us, only for its own good or because, as he noted in his recent speech to a Washington, D.C. synagogue, he wanted to help return Israel to a mythical past when it had the affection of Western liberals.

At this point, that pretense of friendship is wearing very thin. Secretary Kerry can quote a few stray retired Israeli security experts who endorse the Iran deal, but these largely disgruntled figures with political axes to grind against Netanyahu don’t speak for an Israel whose political leadership from right to left has united against the Iran deal. But the problem here goes deeper than even the profound differences over a pact that grants Iran’s nuclear program Western approval along with the end of sanctions and a vast cash bonus. The crisis in the alliance also transcends the personal disputes between Obama and Netanyahu.

The fact that the United States refused to give Israel all the details on the Iran deal that were part of its confidential appendices even after it was concluded also speaks not merely to the lack of trust between the two governments but also to the desire of the administration to cover up the extent of its effort to appease Tehran. Though it asserted there were no side deals with Iran, the appendices and the failure to make them available to Congress or the public compromise that claim. Even now, European diplomats visiting Israel are still refusing to divulge the contents of these documents to their hosts, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully gauge the problem facing the Jewish state. All the Israelis do know at this point is that the U.S. has agreed to protect the Iranian program against further efforts to sabotage it. Along with the cooperation that now exists in Iraq and Syria between Washington and Tehran, it now appears that Israel is just one more American ally in the region and not the most influential one. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s bitter reflection about Kerry having no reason to come to the country may be unfortunate but it is also accurate.

The administration’s arguments that the alternative to the deal is a quicker Iranian path to a bomb or war are unpersuasive. Congress knows that tougher sanctions brought Iran to the table but that Obama’s abandonment of Western economic and political leverage over Iran during the talks is what left the U.S. with such dismal choices, not an inevitable need to bow to the dictates of the Islamist regime. But just as dangerous are Obama and Kerry’s other arguments aimed at silencing Israel and its friends.

Some of Netanyahu’s Israeli political opponents blame him for the estrangement between the countries. Those criticisms are not entirely off base because there is no secret about the fact that Obama and Netanyahu have a terrible relationship that has been exacerbated by the prime minister’s prickly personality. But the U.S.-Israel crackup isn’t a tabloid romance gone sour. The differences between the two countries are rooted in the administration’s reckless pursuit of an entente with Iran at the cost of its friendships with both Israel and moderate Arab states. That pursuit began in Obama’s first months in office, and nothing Netanyahu could have done or said would have deterred the president from this course of action. His success was achieved by a series of American concessions on key nuclear issues and not by pique about Israel’s stands on the peace process with the Palestinians or perceived rudeness on the part of Netanyahu.

Despite the attempt to portray Netanyahu’s interventions in the debate about Iran as a partisan move or an insult to Obama, keeping silent would not have advanced Israel’s interests or made more U.S. surrenders to Iran less likely. At this point, Israel has no choice but to remind U.S. lawmakers of the terrible blow to American credibility and regional stability from the Iran deal. It is the White House that has turned the Iranian nuclear threat — which was once the subject of a bipartisan consensus — into a choice between loyalty to the Democratic Party and its leader and friendship for Israel.

It is almost a given that the next president — no matter who he or she might turn out to be — will be friendlier to Israel than Obama. But the president’s legacy may not only be the strengthening of a terror state in Tehran. It has also chipped away at the U.S.-Israel alliance in a way that will make it that much harder to maintain the across-the-board pro-Israel consensus in Congress in the coming years. Given the growing dangers that the deal poses to Israel this is something that should have both Republicans and Democrats deeply worried.

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Mullah Omar’s Death and the Future of Global Islamic Radicalism

The death of Osama bin Laden had serious geostrategic implications — beyond the important fact that it helped to ensure Barack Obama’s reelection. Although al-Qaeda central survived his demise, it was never the same without him. His successor, Ayman Zawahiri, was never Bin Laden’s equal in charisma and he has faded from view. That has pushed power to the periphery — not only to al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen) and the al-Nusra Front (Syria) but also to a new and rival jihadist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Read More

The death of Osama bin Laden had serious geostrategic implications — beyond the important fact that it helped to ensure Barack Obama’s reelection. Although al-Qaeda central survived his demise, it was never the same without him. His successor, Ayman Zawahiri, was never Bin Laden’s equal in charisma and he has faded from view. That has pushed power to the periphery — not only to al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen) and the al-Nusra Front (Syria) but also to a new and rival jihadist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Will the death of Mullah Omar, assuming that he really has died, have similar implications? It could. To understand why requires a short review of Omar’s history and significance.

Little is known about Omar; there are perhaps one or two pictures of him extant, and that’s about it. We do know that he fought as a mujahideen soldier against the Soviets in the 1980s, losing an eye in the process. Afterward he became a village mullah outside Kandahar. After the fall of the Soviet-allied Najibullah regime in 1992, chaos reigned in Afghanistan as different muj factions fought for control. To quell the anarchy, Omar mobilized a few dozen followers among religious students (“taliban”) recruited out of Afghan madrassahs and the refugee camps in Pakistan. By the end of 1994 he had captured Kandahar, one of the three biggest cities in Afghanistan. In 1996 he donned a cloak supposedly belonging to the prophet Mohammad and proclaimed himself “Commander of the Faithful.” Later that year Kabul fell to Omar’s men. The savage rule of the Taliban had begun.

On its face, this is an extraordinary rags-to-riches story that far exceeds the slow slog of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other eventual dictators who required many years, even decades, to seize power. And perhaps it is true that Omar was an organizational genius and one of the 20th Century’s greatest insurgent leaders. But more likely he was simply a convenient front man for a movement that was guided and supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

After the fall of the Taliban in the fall of 2001, Omar fled along with Osama bin Laden and other Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders to Pakistan. The likelihood is that he has been living as a ward of the state ever since. That would seem to be consistent with reports that he died a couple of years ago in a hospital near Karachi. If there was little chance that the ISI was ignorant of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, there was even less chance with Mullah Omar. The Taliban’s Quetta Shura, its governing council, is firmly under the ISI’s thumb.

With Pakistani support, the Taliban staged a dismaying resurgence. By 2005, they were once again a major threat to the government in Kabul, and so they have remained. It is hard to know what if anything Mullah Omar contributed to this long and brutal guerrilla war because he has been virtually invisible throughout. Indeed rumors of his death have circulated for years. Whether this time they are accurate remains to be seen. In any case, there is little doubt that the Taliban have a deep bench of commanders, including Omar’s son Yaqub, who will be able to carry on their fight without him — as long as they continue to enjoy Pakistani support.

So why might Omar’s death matter? Not because it is likely to presage a change of Taliban policy. The government of Afghanistan has already expressed its hope that with Omar gone, the Taliban might take peace talks more seriously. And no doubt some Taliban leaders would like to conclude a peace treaty. But the obstacle standing in the way has not been Mullah Omar but rather the ISI, which doesn’t want to see its Afghan proxies give up the fight. Until Pakistan changes its policy, peace will be impossible.

No, the real significance of Omar’s death is likely to lie elsewhere, in a matter of Islamic law. In 2001 Osama bin Laden formally pledged allegiance (bayat) to Mullah Omar in his role as “commander of the faithful” and emir of the Islamic state of Afghanistan. That pledge, as the invaluable Long War Journal noted, was publically renewed by al-Qaeda in 2014.

But by that time a new rival “commander of the faithful” had arisen: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, proclaimed himself not only “commander of the faithful” but also as caliph of a new Islamic State whose boundaries are essentially infinite. The last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, had been formally abolished in 1924 along with the sultanate based in Istanbul. Now Baghdadi is claiming that all Muslims owe him allegiance — a more far-reaching claim than Mullah Omar ever made and one that al-Qaeda is likely to continue resisting. But the spell that the Islamic State has cast is strong at the moment, and with Mullah Omar gone, it is possible that some significant jihadists will shift their allegiance from the Taliban/al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.

This should be of concern not least because of indications that Islamic State is organizing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, just yesterday USA Today published an article about an ISIS document captured in Pakistan that lays out a campaign to trigger a war with India and thus provoke an Armageddon. The goal may be far-fetched, but ISIS’s ambitions are real, and it is possible that ISIS will benefit from Mullah Omar’s demise (assuming he is indeed gone). If that were to happen, it would be worrisome. Bad as the Taliban are, ISIS is even worse.

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Israel Reaches Consensus on Gaza, Diaspora Jews Reject It

Israel marked the 10th anniversary of its unilateral pullout from Gaza this week with a rare consensus: The disengagement was a disaster. Even opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog admitted that “from a security perspective, the disengagement was a mistake. While he still considers it “essential” demographically, he isn’t sure he would have voted for it had he known then what he knows now. And this is the man who, back in 2005, declared that, thanks to the disengagement, “for the first time in decades there is genuine hope” for “lasting peace.” Read More

Israel marked the 10th anniversary of its unilateral pullout from Gaza this week with a rare consensus: The disengagement was a disaster. Even opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog admitted that “from a security perspective, the disengagement was a mistake. While he still considers it “essential” demographically, he isn’t sure he would have voted for it had he known then what he knows now. And this is the man who, back in 2005, declared that, thanks to the disengagement, “for the first time in decades there is genuine hope” for “lasting peace.”

Equally remarkable was a poll of Israeli Jews earlier this month asking whether they supported or opposed the pullout at the time. An overwhelming majority of respondents – 59 percent – asserted that they had opposed it, while only 34 percent admitted to having supported it. That, of course, is far from the truth; polls at the time consistently showed solid pluralities or majorities favoring the disengagement, while only about a third of Israelis opposed it. But this revisionist history accurately reflects Israelis’ current view of the withdrawal: Many of those who once backed it are now convinced they must actually have opposed it, because they simply can’t imagine they would have supported any idea as disastrous as this one proved to be. And even among those still willing to admit they once supported it, almost one-fifth now regret doing so.

It’s not just the obvious fact that the Palestinians turned Gaza into a giant launch pad from which some 16,500 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel over the past decade, whereas exactly zero have been fired from the Israeli-controlled West Bank over the same period. It’s not just that quitting Gaza has resulted in more Israeli soldiers being killed, and also more Palestinians, than occupying Gaza ever did. It’s not just that after Israel withdrew every last settler and soldier from Gaza, the world has sought to deny it the right to defend itself against the ensuing rocket attacks by greeting every military operation with escalating condemnation, accusations of war crimes, and attempts to prosecute it in the International Criminal Court. It’s not just that the withdrawal ended up worsening global anti-Semitism, since every military operation in Gaza has served as an excuse for a massive upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks worldwide. It’s not just that Israel received zero diplomatic credit for the pullout, with most of the world not only still insisting that Gaza is “Israeli-occupied territory,” but excoriating Israel with escalating ferocity, and even threatening sanctions, for its reluctance to repeat this disastrous experiment in the West Bank, while assigning Palestinians zero responsibility for the impasse.

All these are certainly reasons enough to consider the pullout a disaster. But there’s one final negative outcome, as reflected in another poll released last week: Due to this Israeli reluctance, born of hard experience, a majority of overseas Jews now deems Israel insufficiently committed to peace. And that, in some ways, is the worst betrayal of all. Most Israelis don’t expect much from the Palestinians or the UN or Europe. But they do expect their fellow Jews to sympathize with their fear that withdrawing from the West Bank would simply replicate the Gaza disaster on a much larger scale.

After all, none of the negative consequences that ensued in Gaza can be blamed on the popular distinction between the “moderate” Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, and the “hardline” Hamas. For Gaza wasn’t handed over to Hamas, but to Abbas. He’s the one who first enabled the escalation by refusing to use his forces to stop it; consequently, there were more than four times as many rocket attacks in 2006, the first year after the disengagement, as in either of the previous two years. And he’s the one who lost Gaza to Hamas in a bloody coup in mid-2007 when the latter decided it no longer needed a fig leaf.

Thus Israel has no reason whatsoever to think giving Abbas the West Bank wouldn’t produce the same result, except with even more disastrous consequences. Hitting major Israeli population centers from Gaza requires long-range rockets; from the West Bank, easily produced short-range rockets suffice. Nor should we forget suicide bombings, which, during the second intifada (2000-2005), caused more Israeli casualties in four years than all the terror attacks of the entire previous 53 years combined. Those attacks were launched almost exclusively from parts of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and they stopped only when the Israeli army retook control of these areas – meaning Israel’s previous experiment with ceding parts of the West Bank was even less encouraging than the Gaza experiment has been.

Most Israelis would still be willing to trade land for peace, but they’ve had enough of trading land for terror. And until overseas Jews can produce a convincing argument for why the next pullout would be any different than all the previous ones, it would be nice if they instead practiced the traditional Jewish value of giving fellow Jews the benefit of the doubt. To interpret caution born of grim experience as disinterest in peace isn’t merely unfair; it’s downright malicious.

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Democrats Own the Disaster in the Middle East

“Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule,” said then-Senator John Kerry in the final months of the 2004 presidential campaign. He was referring to the dismal state of affairs in Iraq 19 months after the coalition invasion. “Now if you break it, you made a mistake. It’s the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you’ve got to fix it and do something with it.” 11 years later, and Kerry is the highest-ranking Cabinet official in an administration that has presided over a proliferation of conflicts in the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s attempts to radically transform regional power dynamics makes George W. Bush look like a custodian of the status quo. Today, the Middle East and North Africa are in a state of crisis. But what looks outwardly like chaos is, in fact, a predictable realignment brought about by the president’s eager and overly ambitious effort to extricate the United States from regional affairs. The results of this project have been devastating to America’s stature in the Middle East and the long-term security of the West. Read More

“Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule,” said then-Senator John Kerry in the final months of the 2004 presidential campaign. He was referring to the dismal state of affairs in Iraq 19 months after the coalition invasion. “Now if you break it, you made a mistake. It’s the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you’ve got to fix it and do something with it.” 11 years later, and Kerry is the highest-ranking Cabinet official in an administration that has presided over a proliferation of conflicts in the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s attempts to radically transform regional power dynamics makes George W. Bush look like a custodian of the status quo. Today, the Middle East and North Africa are in a state of crisis. But what looks outwardly like chaos is, in fact, a predictable realignment brought about by the president’s eager and overly ambitious effort to extricate the United States from regional affairs. The results of this project have been devastating to America’s stature in the Middle East and the long-term security of the West.

The menace of the Islamic State militia movement — a proto-state that devours the corpses of Iraq and Syria from within and which threatens the viability of the very Westphalian system of nation-states with defined borders – is an immense and growing one. Only after intense external pressure did Obama agree to craft two distinct coalitions to fight the same war on either side of the functionally nonexistent Iraqi-Syrian border. Nearly one year after the commencement of initial coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets, the ragtag militia group and the territory it controls remains largely intact. More disturbingly, the strategy the president embraced to prevent American involvement in the conflict is faltering.

By this point, the administration had hoped to train a substantial number of the thousands of Syrian rebels it needed to roll back ISIS in Syria. As of July, only 60 had been trained and equipped. Similarly, the Iraqi Security Forces and the Shiite militias aligned with Baghdad that were to serve as the indigenous “boots on the ground” in Iraq have only enjoyed limited successes. The ground forces on which the West pinned its hopes have largely failed to stem the ISIS tide. The Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria that have made substantial gains against ISIS are the exception to this rule. It is a testament to the fecklessness of the West’s strategy to combat ISIS that its most productive ally on the ground is now being targeted from the air by another.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apparently decided to use the opportunity provided by Islamic State terror attacks inside Turkey and on the Syrian border to launch a regional war on the region’s Kurdish population. While Ankara has also mounted a series of belated airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria, Turkish warplanes are also invading Iraqi airspace and targeting Kurds linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Marxist Kurdish militia, though ideologically aligned against the West and which the president called “terrorists” just two years ago, has nevertheless served as an effective partner in the war on ISIS. “Some senior U.S. and British diplomats said the time has come for the U.S. and some European states to consider a broader rapprochement with the PKK,” the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Not if Turkey has anything to say on the matter.

Turkey’s airstrikes on Kurdish positions in Iraq has sent shockwaves through the anti-ISIS alliance. “In Iraq, which is fighting to regain large areas from Islamic State militants, the government declared the Turkish attack on the P.K.K. in Iraqi territory ‘a dangerous escalation and an offense to Iraqi sovereignty,’” the New York Times noted. “A senior American official, discussing operational planning on the condition of anonymity, said over the weekend that the Turkish attacks on the P.K.K. were ‘complicating the relationship’ with the Syrian Kurdish militias. The official said the United States was pressuring Turkey not to attack the Syrian Kurds.” But Turkey, a NATO member state, is not listening. For now, Ankara has refrained from engaging in hostilities with other Kurdish militias – the PKK-aligned Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and its armed forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – but it does not appear inclined to allow the opportunity to neutralize Kurdish separatists in Iraq and Syria go to waste.

The chaotic course of the war against ISIS is merely one facet of the realignment in the Middle East facilitated by Barack Obama’s ideologically motivated desire to extricate the U.S. from regional security matters. The kinetic military dimensions of that realignment are only the most outwardly perceptible sign of this tectonic shift. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have conducted unannounced airstrikes on militants in the shattered Libya that NATO forces failed to secure after speeding the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. A ten-member Sunni coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, continues to conduct strikes on Yemeni territory where the Iran-backed Houthis are stationed. Iran, the world’s foremost sponsored of state terrorism and the beneficiary of a grand rapprochement in the form of a nuclear accord with the West, maintains its campaign of terror across the region. The sustained target of its wrath, Bahrain, a nation the Islamic Republic regards as its “fourteenth province,” suffered a deadly terrorist bombing just Monday in which two police officers were killed and six others wounded. “Early information suggests that the explosives used in today’s terrorist attack are of the same type that were recently intercepted coming from Iran,” Bahraini state television reported prior to the announcement that the government in Manama had recalled its ambassador in Tehran.

The diplomatic repercussions of the president’s withdrawal from the region are even more striking. Anwar Sadat’s determination to decouple the fate of Egypt from that of the U.S.S.R. has been all but undone by Obama’s disinterest in the region coupled with Vladimir Putin’s revanchist determination to revive Soviet glories. Russia has compensated for the military aid the United States cut off to Cairo following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has even flirted with membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, an economic zone comprised of former Soviet Republics designed to compete with the EU. The Saudi Kingdom, too, has turned away from its suddenly untrustworthy allies in Washington. Riyadh instead turns toward France and Russia in pursuit of nuclear technology in the event that it must prepare for an atomic arms race with Iran. They host the Yemeni government-in-exile that was chased out of Sana’a by a Houthi militia group that Washington courted and sought to legitimize despite its virulent anti-Americanism and links to Tehran. Most strikingly, Washington’s favoritism toward Iran has compelled the Saudis to, for the most part, bury their historic animosity toward Israel. This represents an astounding détente, particularly considering Riyadh’s rejection of the Camp David accords that yielded normalized relations between Jerusalem and Cairo. But whereas Jimmy Carter ensured that the United States was central to that new understanding between formerly hostile powers, today America is on the outside looking in as Israel and the Saudis reconcile.

If you break it, you own it. That’s the supposed rule that Democrats imposed on the Bush administration as it allowed Iraq to descend into bloody chaos. If George W. Bush owned the Iraqi disaster, Barack Obama owns the implosion of America’s position in the Middle East. The region he will bequeath to his successor makes the Middle East he inherited appear placid and stable by comparison.

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