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Twice yearly we come to you for support for COMMENTARY’s signature purposes—promoting the truth about Western greatness and American goodness, bearing witness to the evil of anti-Semitism, and speaking out for the national aspirations of the Jewish people. Today, we are needed more than ever, with ISIS on the march in Iraq and Iran on the verge of an Obama-guaranteed right to nuclearize, with the anti-Israel movement on campuses tipping directly into pure Jew-hatred, and American liberals tipping into old-fashioned anti-Americanism yet again. We rely not only on subscribers but on the generosity of our visionary donors to get the word out. That is why I am asking for your help. You can make your tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

Twice yearly we come to you for support for COMMENTARY’s signature purposes—promoting the truth about Western greatness and American goodness, bearing witness to the evil of anti-Semitism, and speaking out for the national aspirations of the Jewish people. Today, we are needed more than ever, with ISIS on the march in Iraq and Iran on the verge of an Obama-guaranteed right to nuclearize, with the anti-Israel movement on campuses tipping directly into pure Jew-hatred, and American liberals tipping into old-fashioned anti-Americanism yet again. We rely not only on subscribers but on the generosity of our visionary donors to get the word out. That is why I am asking for your help. You can make your tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

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If Obama Wants a Nuclear Deal, He Must Free Iran’s U.S. Hostages

After having consistently outmaneuvered, out-negotiated and out-waited President Obama during the course of the last two years of negotiations over their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders think they are holding all the cards as the clock ticks down toward a June 30 deadline to complete a pact with the West. They may be right about that but not content with merely taking advantage of Obama’s zeal for a deal as they have throughout the process, the Iranians are also reminding the U.S. that they have other forms of leverage: American hostages. The plight of imprisoned Washington Post report Jason Rezaian has gotten increased coverage in recent weeks as Tehran prepared to bring him to trial on bogus espionage charges before a revolutionary court judge known for harsh sentences. The message to Obama was clear. Don’t try to hold our feet to the fire on key nuclear issues such as inspections or the snapping back of sanctions or we will make Americans in our hands pay the price of your principles. His message in reply should be equally clear: Release the hostages now or forget about the economic windfall that will be yours if the nuclear deal is passed by Congress. That such a response from Washington is unthinkable tells us all we need to know about how the current weak deal was negotiated.

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After having consistently outmaneuvered, out-negotiated and out-waited President Obama during the course of the last two years of negotiations over their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders think they are holding all the cards as the clock ticks down toward a June 30 deadline to complete a pact with the West. They may be right about that but not content with merely taking advantage of Obama’s zeal for a deal as they have throughout the process, the Iranians are also reminding the U.S. that they have other forms of leverage: American hostages. The plight of imprisoned Washington Post report Jason Rezaian has gotten increased coverage in recent weeks as Tehran prepared to bring him to trial on bogus espionage charges before a revolutionary court judge known for harsh sentences. The message to Obama was clear. Don’t try to hold our feet to the fire on key nuclear issues such as inspections or the snapping back of sanctions or we will make Americans in our hands pay the price of your principles. His message in reply should be equally clear: Release the hostages now or forget about the economic windfall that will be yours if the nuclear deal is passed by Congress. That such a response from Washington is unthinkable tells us all we need to know about how the current weak deal was negotiated.

That Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini and businessman Amir Hekmati are all hostages is not in doubt. The trumped up charges on which they are all held are transparent efforts to gain leverage over the United States. As with other cases of Americans held by Iran, we know the only way they will ever gain their freedom is if the United States buys it.

In the past, this has generally been in the form of American concessions to the Iranians on whatever issues or disputes that existed between the two governments. That’s the same pattern that applied during the nuclear talks when Obama steadily retreated form positions demanding the end of Iran’s nuclear program and wound up endorsing a deal that left them in possession of thousands of centrifuges, continuing their research in a pact that will eventually expire and let Tehran do as it likes.

The problem wasn’t just Iran’s tough minded negotiating style but an administration that acted as if a deal that would end the Islamist regime’s economic isolation was wanted more desperately by the United States than the ayatollahs. That’s why Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been laying down markers about the agreement as part of the prelude to the final weeks of talks. By demonstrating his unwillingness to contemplate the sort of inspections and sanctions rules that the president has said are required for the completion of the agreement, Khamenei has dared Obama to walk away from what would obviously be a bad deal. But since he knows that Obama regards a nuclear-based entente with Iran as essential to his vision of American policy in the Middle East, the chances that the president will make good on his threats are small.

The hostages are merely extra insurance for Iran. Just as Iran might allow Obama to get them to back down a smidge on their refusals on inspections to agree to a procedure that would still allow them to cheat, so, too, do they understand that throwing in these victims of circumstances might sweeten up even a bad deal enough to ensure that it gets through Congress one way or the other.

The problem here is not that Obama doesn’t want to win their freedom. It’s that he is going about in the wrong way. Instead of continuing to negotiate the text of the deal with their fate hanging in the balance, the president ought to be issuing some stern warnings of his own. The freedom of Rezaian, Abedini and Hekmati should be the price of continued American participation in the talks, not a present to be given or withheld from the U.S. if its representatives behave themselves in the negotiations. Without their freedom, the deal should not go forward.

Just as important, it should be made clear to the president by Congressional Democrats that he should not even bother submitted a deal for their approval if the hostages are not already safely released. The nuclear pact ought to be rejected on its own merits. But if Americans are still being held in Iran when it is considered, it ought to be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Even more to the point, unless they are freed before the deal is sealed, Congress will know that the agreement will be one that ought never to have been signed.

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Why Won’t Obama and the Palestinians Push on Netanyahu’s Open Door?

Israel’s critics didn’t need much prompting to damn the latest government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But his appointment of tough-minded figures from his own party and inner circle to hold key foreign policy posts (as I pointed out here and here), has led to an increase of lamentations about the Israelis putting a fork in any hope for a two-state solution. But if they were listening closely to the prime minister’s statements in the last week, they would see he’s leaving the door wide open for a new round of peace. Earlier this week, Netanyahu stated his willingness to enter into talks about defining settlement blocs that would be kept by Israel and leaving open the possibility of settlement freezes elsewhere and with it the possibility of territorial compromise. Today, he doubled down on that by saying the “general idea” behind the 2002 Arab peace initiative was “a good idea.” But we didn’t have to wait long to learn that the Palestinians want no part of any new negotiations with the Israelis. The reason for that tells us more about their intentions than whether or not Netanyahu is being sincere.

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Israel’s critics didn’t need much prompting to damn the latest government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But his appointment of tough-minded figures from his own party and inner circle to hold key foreign policy posts (as I pointed out here and here), has led to an increase of lamentations about the Israelis putting a fork in any hope for a two-state solution. But if they were listening closely to the prime minister’s statements in the last week, they would see he’s leaving the door wide open for a new round of peace. Earlier this week, Netanyahu stated his willingness to enter into talks about defining settlement blocs that would be kept by Israel and leaving open the possibility of settlement freezes elsewhere and with it the possibility of territorial compromise. Today, he doubled down on that by saying the “general idea” behind the 2002 Arab peace initiative was “a good idea.” But we didn’t have to wait long to learn that the Palestinians want no part of any new negotiations with the Israelis. The reason for that tells us more about their intentions than whether or not Netanyahu is being sincere.

Netanyahu’s last minute pronouncement before the March election that a Palestinian state wouldn’t be created on his watch is still held against him by those urging a two-state solution. His subsequent explanation when he walked it back after winning was that all he was saying was that given the Palestinians refusal to talk or recognize Israel as a Jewish state, there was no way a peace deal could ever be concluded. He was right about that, but his bluntness about this obvious fact made it appear that he was opposed to a two-state solution in principle when his conduct during his previous three terms in office makes it clear that he has consistently shown a readiness to talk about the possibility.

So there should be no surprise that now that he’s safely back in office, he’s sending signals to Washington and the Arabs that they should try him. The settlement bloc proposal would, if the Obama administration or the Palestinians were serious about making incremental progress toward peace, be of special interest to them.

The question of the blocs has been part of the reality of the peace talks for the past 15 years. Israel’s retention of them was implicitly endorsed in a letter signed by President George W. Bush as part of Israel’ agreement to completely withdraw from Gaza. And even President Obama implied that Israel would keep them when he endorsed the concept of territorial swaps in the context of his advocacy of using the 1967 lines as the basis for future peace talks.

It is true that defining them would allow Israel to go on building there thus putting a stop to the pointless controversies with the Obama administration that have erupted every time homes are built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or built-up communities close to the 67 lines. But defining them would also make it clear that all the settlements that are not included in the blocs are essentially on the table for withdrawal. That means a settlement freeze in areas that amount to most of the West Bank. It would also be a clear signal that a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would control that territory was theoretically in reach.

But the Palestinians want no part of it. Instead they repeated their old, tired demands for negotiations that would start on the basis of a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem as well as the release of another batch of convicted terrorists. Moreover, even if an Israeli government was weak or insane enough to agree to negotiations in which they would be committing themselves to giving up all their chips in advance, that still doesn’t seem to be enough to persuade the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

The Palestinians say they won’t recognize Israel’s rights to any part of the West Bank or the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. For them, it is a zero-sum game in which they view the retention of any land by Israel, even in the context of a peace that would give them a state as intolerable. That is only understandable in the context of their repeated refusals of statehood and sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem. They said no in 2000, 2001, and 2008, and refused to talk two states even when Netanyahu agreed to a U.S. framework for such a deal in 2013 and 2014.

The key point here is that if Obama were as dedicated to peace and defending Israel as he keeps telling us he is, he wouldn’t be lecturing the Israelis to live up to his ideas about them but prodding the Palestinians to take advantage of this opening. The president won’t because he is far too obsessed with scolding the Israelis than in recognizing that it has a Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible is the real obstacle to an end to the conflict.

American critics of Netanyahu can be as cynical as they want about him and his flip-flopping about two states. But if they aren’t willing to push on the door he has opened for them, then their laments about his opposition to peace must be labeled as being far more insincere than anything he has said or done.

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An Heir But No Spare

The slow drip of scandal surrounding the Clintons continues apace.

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to release the 55,000 emails that Hillary Clinton turned over as being concerned with official business on a monthly basis, all of them by next January, before the first primary. The 300 emails that the State Department released late on Friday afternoon last week (just before a three-day weekend, a classic ploy to minimize attention) proved more than newsworthy, so one can only wonder what is in the remaining 54,700.

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The slow drip of scandal surrounding the Clintons continues apace.

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to release the 55,000 emails that Hillary Clinton turned over as being concerned with official business on a monthly basis, all of them by next January, before the first primary. The 300 emails that the State Department released late on Friday afternoon last week (just before a three-day weekend, a classic ploy to minimize attention) proved more than newsworthy, so one can only wonder what is in the remaining 54,700.

It has also come out that Bill Clinton formed a shell company in Delaware as a pass-through to receive income. Even more interesting is the fact that it was formed on December 3rd, 2008, two days after President-elect Obama named Hillary as his secretary of state.

And yesterday as Swiss authorities were rounding the upper echelons of FIFA, which governs professional soccer, for decades of corruption, it turns out that one of the major donors to the Clinton Foundation (between $250,000 and $500,000) is (wait for it!) FIFA. As Paul Mirengoff of Power Line puts it, “where’s there’s corruption, there’s the Clinton Foundation.”

Candidates can suddenly become non-viable. In 2002, Senator Bob Torricelli of New Jersey was running for re-election when it came out that David Chang, who had ties to North Korea, had made illegal campaign contributions to him. He had no choice but to withdraw and be replaced on the Democratic line by former Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Could it happen to Hillary? You bet. There is an ever-growing legion of reporters, sniffing blood, looking into the Clintons’ tangled affairs. The slow drip could turn into a torrent and Hillary might have no choice but to decide to spend more time with her grandchildren.

So it seems to me that the Democratic Party should follow the traditional plan of royalty and have both an heir and a spare.

But who could the spare be? Joe Biden? He would dearly love the job, but he’ll turn 74 in November, 2016, far older than any previous president’s first election, and he’s generally regarded as a bit of a joke. Elizabeth Warren? She’s no spring chicken herself at 65, and she’s so far to the left that she’d be George McGovern in a pants suit. Bernie Sanders? He’s announced, but he’ll be 75 on Election Day and he’s an avowed socialist who advocates a 90 percent tax rate for high earners. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland? Well, at least he’s not receiving Social Security (he’s 52).  But his own lieutenant governor couldn’t carry this deep blue state in last year’s election, despite O’Malley’s energetic campaigning for him. Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia? He’s a centrist, which means the Democratic base would go ballistic (not to mention stay home on Election Day).

Who else is there? I really can’t think of anyone.

The Democrats, in their own self-interest, had better start looking for a spare, in case the heir implodes.

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Dennis Prager: COMMENTARY’s Courage

I have been a reader of COMMENTARY since I was in college and graduate school in the late 1960s-early ’70s. Twenty years later I wrote that COMMENTARY is the most important magazine in the English language. I believe that it still is. Why? Because it discusses the most important questions in life–including those of religion generally and Judaism specifically; American and international politics; and all the great moral questions. And because it has the rarest of all the positive human traits–courage. Click below to give.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

I have been a reader of COMMENTARY since I was in college and graduate school in the late 1960s-early ’70s. Twenty years later I wrote that COMMENTARY is the most important magazine in the English language. I believe that it still is. Why? Because it discusses the most important questions in life–including those of religion generally and Judaism specifically; American and international politics; and all the great moral questions. And because it has the rarest of all the positive human traits–courage. Click below to give.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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The Small Man in Gracie Mansion

If Vox.com were granted the divine power to craft their perfect politician from scratch, the famously self-assured liberal website could still not have conceived of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. A little man somehow occupying a grand office, the mayor occupies himself with every manner of minutia and frivolities – all of which he appears to think are of more importance than managing the affairs of the city he was elected to govern. Read More

If Vox.com were granted the divine power to craft their perfect politician from scratch, the famously self-assured liberal website could still not have conceived of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. A little man somehow occupying a grand office, the mayor occupies himself with every manner of minutia and frivolities – all of which he appears to think are of more importance than managing the affairs of the city he was elected to govern.The progressive’s progressive, de Blasio wages a relentless war on progress. The latest front in the battle to contain the excesses of innovation comes in the form of the mayor’s determination to regulate the competing ride-hailing services Lyft and Uber. In a gift to the city’s Paleolithic livery drivers’ union, de Blasio has proposed compelling these services to cough up $1,000 to the city in order to get approval to upgrade the user interface on their smartphone applications. The proposal is a stab at the heart of these services’ ability to innovate. What is today a process that develops at the speed of thought and ingenuity would, under the mayor’s proposal, become a draconian slog through a bureaucratic morass.

And what problem is the mayor addressing? Only something as comparatively trivial as political constituency maintenance. “The spat puts de Blasio in the middle of a fight between the technology industry, which accounts for about 300,000 jobs and $30 billion in yearly wages, and cab companies that contributed more than $500,000 of the $10.6 million he raised in his campaign,” Bloomberg reported. The aim is not to help the majority of New York City residents make use of this service, but to prevent them from accessing it.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The Bill de Blasios of the world are now The Man; the Ubers and Lyfts of the world are the rebels,” National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke opined. “We now have a clear choice as to how our future will look: Will it resemble the taxi commissions and the labor unions and the government departments that were founded in the 1930s, or will it resemble Silicon Valley?”

But that’s not the only minor irritation presently consuming parochial liberal bloggers that New York City is compelled to address. A report in the website Gothamist revealed that the latest paranoid fad of the feminist left has actually become something of a policing priority. The Police Reform Organizing Project revealed recently that the NYPD recently arrested two men for the crime of “man spreading,” or the scourge of men failing to demurely close their knees, while riding on the subway.

“On a recent visit to the arraignment part in Brooklyn’s criminal court, PROP volunteers observed that police officers had arrested two Latino men on the charge of ‘man spreading’ on the subway, presumably because they were taking up more than one seat and therefore inconveniencing other riders,” the organization’s report read. “Before issuing an [adjournment contemplating dismissal] for both men, the judge expressed her skepticism about the charge because of the time of the arrests: ‘12:11AM, I can’t believe there were many people on the subway’”

The trivialities that serve as prohibitive preoccupations for outrage-stoking Jezebel bloggers are now the subject of quality of life policing. All the while, actual quality of life policing cannot be performed, lest the city and its police force be accused by those same peevish scribes of some or another form of racism, classism, or “hobophobia.”

A source of graver concern for this mayor should be the spiking homicide rate; a statistic on the rise not merely in the outer boroughs alone. “Murders are way up so far this year in Manhattan,” the New York Post reported this week. “Sixteen people were killed around the borough between the first of the year and Sunday. Over the same period last year, the figure was 11. That’s an increase of about 45 percent. Shootings in the borough have also soared.”

In a city in which the mayor and his police force are forever at odds – a conflict that led to a veritable police strike in protest – you might think that de Blasio would be wracked with concern over the city’s future. You would be wrong.

“After 16 months as mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio seems determined to escape the confines of his day job and to prompt a national liberal movement — even as he leaves himself open to criticism that he is not making problems at home a priority,” the New York Times reported last month. The city’s mayor today spends his time crafting liberal manifestos with the likes of Susan Sarandon and Van Jones, giving mock presidential campaign speeches in Iowa, and reveling in the attention lavished upon him by a brazenly left-of-center press.

Great cities deserve great mayors, and they have a way of making petty men appear that much smaller. Today, it should be perfectly apparent to most observers that there is a very small man in Gracie Mansion.

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Amnesty’s Reports on Hamas Refute Its Allegations Against Israel

Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

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Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

Amnesty turned its attention to Hamas only after months of reporting on alleged Israeli crimes. First came a March report on Hamas’s rocket fire, then one this week on its extrajudicial killings of alleged collaborators. Each undercuts a key claim against Israel.

The most interesting finding in the March report was that Hamas’s rockets killed more civilians in Gaza than they did in Israel. Altogether, Amnesty said, the rockets killed six Israeli civilians and “at least” 13 Palestinian civilians. Where did the latter figure come from? From a single misfired rocket that killed 13 civilians in the Al-Shati refugee camp. In other words, Amnesty didn’t bother checking to see whether other Hamas rockets also killed civilians; it simply cited the one case it couldn’t possibly ignore, because it was reported in real time by a foreign journalist at the scene.

But according to Israel Defense Forces figures, roughly 550 rockets and mortars fired at Israel fell short and landed in Gaza, including 119 that hit urban areas. And it defies belief to think those other 549 rockets and mortars produced no casualties.

After all, unlike Israel, Gaza has no civil defense system whatsoever. A 2014 study found that Israel’s civil defense measures reduced casualties from the rocket fire on sparsely populated southern Israel by a whopping 86%. But Gaza has no Iron Dome to intercept missiles, no warning sirens to alert civilians to incoming rockets, and no bomb shelters for civilians to run to even if they were warned. Thus in densely populated Gaza, with no civil defense measures, those misfired rockets would almost certainly have killed at least dozens, and quite possibly hundreds, of civilians.

One of the main claims against Israel made by Amnesty and other human rights groups is that it caused excessive civilian casualties. Most such groups simply parrot the UN claim (which came straight from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry) that 67% of the 2,200 casualties were civilians; Israel has consistently said the civilian-to-combatant kill ratio was roughly 1:1. While there are many reasons to think the Israeli figure is closer to the truth, even the UN/Palestinian ratio of 2:1 would be drastically lower than the international norm of 3:1.

But once you acknowledge that some portion of those civilian casualties was actually caused by misfired Hamas rockets rather than Israeli strikes, then the claim of excessive civilian casualties becomes even more untenable. Indeed, it means the civilian-to-combatant fatality ratio from Israeli strikes was likely even below 1:1.

Then there’s Amnesty’s report this week on Hamas’s extrajudicial executions. Its most interesting finding, as Elhanan Miller reported in the Times of Israel, is that “Hamas used abandoned sections of Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, ‘to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center.’”

That goes to the heart of the other main allegation against Israel made by Amnesty and its fellows: that Israel repeatedly targeted civilian buildings rather sticking to military targets. Israel countered that these “civilian” buildings doubled as military facilities – weapons storehouses, command and control centers, etc. – and were, therefore, legitimate military targets, but human rights groups pooh-poohed that claim.

Now, however, Amnesty has admitted that Hamas used Gaza’s main hospital as a detention, interrogation and torture center. And if Hamas was misusing a hospital in this way, it defies belief to think it wasn’t similarly misusing other civilian buildings for military purposes. Once you admit that Hamas did so once, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t do so again. And, in that case, the allegation that Israel wantonly attacked civilian structures also collapses.

Thus in its reports on Hamas, Amnesty has effectively demolished its two main allegations against Israel. And if it had a shred of honor and decency left, it would admit it. But, needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

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Does Hillary Clinton Think Bill Clinton’s Presidency Was a Disaster?

If and when journalists get the chance to sit down across from Hillary Clinton, they will have a bear of a time picking and choosing the subjects on which to grill her. From her private email server, to her family foundation’s myriad improprieties, to the increasingly deteriorating global security situation that began its backwards slide under her watch as America’s chief diplomat; reporters have an embarrassment of riches in the form of issues on which to press Clinton. But the Steve Krofts of the world like to take a 30,000-foot perspective in the gauzy profile packages to which American television audiences will be privy, and the granular details above might seem to Clinton’s interlocutors minutia that won’t capture the viewer’s attention. In order to sate the press’s desire to both make news and to ensure the viewing audience doesn’t tune out, I’d submit the following question: Does Hillary Clinton believe her husband’s presidency set the Democratic Party back?

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If and when journalists get the chance to sit down across from Hillary Clinton, they will have a bear of a time picking and choosing the subjects on which to grill her. From her private email server, to her family foundation’s myriad improprieties, to the increasingly deteriorating global security situation that began its backwards slide under her watch as America’s chief diplomat; reporters have an embarrassment of riches in the form of issues on which to press Clinton. But the Steve Krofts of the world like to take a 30,000-foot perspective in the gauzy profile packages to which American television audiences will be privy, and the granular details above might seem to Clinton’s interlocutors minutia that won’t capture the viewer’s attention. In order to sate the press’s desire to both make news and to ensure the viewing audience doesn’t tune out, I’d submit the following question: Does Hillary Clinton believe her husband’s presidency set the Democratic Party back?

Of course, Clinton’s reflexive answer would be an emphatic “no.” She might also posture indignantly for effect, a road-worn tactic that nevertheless retains its inexplicable ability to spook reporters into apologetic retreat. But there is precious little evidence that Clinton really does believe her husband’s presidency was a success. In fact, there are many indications that would lead a neutral observer to conclude that Bill Clinton’s presidency is anathema to modern Democrats.

Bill Clinton was elected to office as a Southern Democratic centrist with the aid of the Democratic Leadership Council, a policy shop designed to help rehabilitate a party brand that was at the time still reeling from the Jimmy Carter-era perception that it had become too liberal to represent the nation. Political observers had every reason to believe that, despite his 370 Electoral College vote victory, Clinton’s election was no mandate for Democrats but rather a rejection of George H. W. Bush. Clinton won merely 43 percent of the popular vote in a three-way race, and only won his party’s nomination after a come from behind victory over the more doctrinaire liberals seeking the nomination. If Clinton had a mandate, it was to govern from the center. With the exception of his pursuit of a significant tax hike in 1993, that’s precisely what he did.

Fast-forward to today, and Hillary Clinton has been compelled on a variety of occasions to renounce her husband’s greatest achievements. In the wake of the unrest in Baltimore last month, Clinton delivered a speech in which she advocated for an end to “mass incarceration” in America. Inherent in that address was her contention, one shared by her husband, that the landmark 1994 crime bill was discriminatory.

During his tenure, Bill Clinton signed into law measures that expanded the death penalty, promoted longer prison terms, funded the construction of new prisons, eliminated inmate amenities, barred felons from living in public housing, and discouraged judicial discretion. “We went too far,” Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin lamented on May 1 when reflecting on the Clinton presidency’s approach to crime and justice. “I think that the results,” Hillary Clinton said of the justice reforms that she lobbied for strongly in 1994, “have been an unacceptable increase in incarceration across the board.”

Surely, only a handful of Democrats lamented the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law just weeks before Bill Clinton was easily reelected. In 2013, former President Clinton expressed regrets for signing that law, but not for running campaign advertisements on Christian radio stations in 1996 bragging about that achievement. Moreover, Clinton’s decision to sign into law federal restrictions on allowing HIV-positive travelers to enter the United States, a ban only lifted in 2009 by Barack Obama’s administration, has long been regarded by the gay and lesbian community as a betrayal.

In a contentious interview with NPR host Terry Gross last year, Clinton lashed out when she was asked why she only came out in support of same-sex marriage after both Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In that argumentative interview, Clinton insisted that DOMA was designed to prohibit the Congress from enacting sexually discriminatory laws by kicking the issue down to the states. As The Atlantic’s Connor Friedersdorf noted, however, Clinton had “distorted” the history of DOMA. “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages,” Bill Clinton said in 1996, “and this legislation is consistent with that position.”

And what of the signature welfare reform bill that Bill Clinton deftly negotiated with a newly GOP-dominated Congress? That measure was presaged when the 42nd President declared in his 1996 State of the Union address that the “era of big government is over,” and, a decade later, was responsible for a marked decline in poverty rates. So what does Hillary Clinton have to say about this landmark reform? No comment. “A Clinton aide declined to answer whether Clinton still supports her husband’s welfare reform law,” Vox’s Jonathan Allen reported after noting that minority Democrats were and remain suspicious of that package of reform laws. A simple “yes” would have sufficed if that is what she believed. Apparently, the answer Clinton would like to give is more complex than that.

Don’t even ask about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That controversial free trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico has only grown more controversial for those on the left as progressives condemn President Barack Obama and his pursuit of a similar arrangement with a variety of Asian nations. Clinton once vocally supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but she has since moderated her position on the issue by insisting she doesn’t have one.

But what of Hillary Clinton’s preferred approach to foreign crises? Bill Clinton’s approach to containing Saddam Hussein’s post-Gulf War Iraq was to launch attacks on government targets in 1993, 1996, and 1998. Hillary Clinton now insists it was a mistake to topple that vile regime, and she regrets voting to provide George W. Bush with that authority even if the world is better off without Hussein.

Clinton’s husband pursued a policy of rapprochement with Iran by compensating the Islamic Republic for the deaths of over 250 Iranians who died after an American naval vessel in 1988 shot down their plane and by essentially apologizing for the 1953 CIA-assisted coup that overthrew former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddiq. Today, Hillary Clinton ostensibly supports Barack Obama’s efforts to seal a mutually beneficial nuclear deal with Iran, she is “skeptical that the Iranians will follow through and deliver.” Don’t sweat the cognitive dissonance.

Formerly a vocal supporter of the once vogue academic notion of America’s “responsibility to protect” civilian life (R2P), Clinton justified intervention in the Libyan civil war by noting America has a moral imperative to protect noncombatants when and where it can. This was logic similar to that which her husband applied before committing to multinational foreign intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1998. Clearly, that formerly preferred praxis went out of style the moment Bashar al-Assad began deploying chemical weapons against his own civilian population. While Hillary Clinton has insisted that she would have vetted and armed moderate Syrian rebels faster than the Obama administration, she opposed to introducing American boots into the Syrian conflict as recently as last autumn.

While it takes a fair bit of inference to identify Clinton’s stances on these issues, seeing as she is fond of maintaining vague and amorphous policy positions, it’s clear that Hillary Clinton does not regard her husband’s presidency as one replete with successes. That’s not a personal conviction, of course; you would be hard pressed to identify any sincerely held and necessarily constricting values espoused by the former secretary of state. Her disparagements of her husband’s legacy are solely designed to appeal to an influential subset in the Democratic Party that has veered wildly leftward in the interim 15 years. If Hillary Clinton is to win the White House, it seems that her fellow Democrats will make sure that she is compelled to renounce all her husband’s works in the process.

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Will Hillary Jump Start Fiorina’s Candidacy?

Yesterday, Carly Fiorina went to Columbia, South Carolina intending to ambush Hillary Clinton who was there for a speaking engagement. Clinton was, as is her usual practice, not offering any press availability. So while the crowd of journalists following the former First Lady offered Fiorina a large media audience, they vented their frustration on her and subjected the former Hewlett-Packard CEO to the kind of tough questioning that Clinton has so far evaded. It made for a difficult few moments for Fiorina and the encounter left some observers wondering whether she was hurting herself more than helping by seeming to shadow Clinton. In a race with up to 20 candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination where all are fighting for attention, it appears that being the scourge of Hillary has become both Fiorina’s political identity and her only shot at edging her way into contention. Will that be enough?

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Yesterday, Carly Fiorina went to Columbia, South Carolina intending to ambush Hillary Clinton who was there for a speaking engagement. Clinton was, as is her usual practice, not offering any press availability. So while the crowd of journalists following the former First Lady offered Fiorina a large media audience, they vented their frustration on her and subjected the former Hewlett-Packard CEO to the kind of tough questioning that Clinton has so far evaded. It made for a difficult few moments for Fiorina and the encounter left some observers wondering whether she was hurting herself more than helping by seeming to shadow Clinton. In a race with up to 20 candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination where all are fighting for attention, it appears that being the scourge of Hillary has become both Fiorina’s political identity and her only shot at edging her way into contention. Will that be enough?

Heading into 2015, Fiorina’s candidacy seemed to be pointless. She had no political experience other than an unsuccessful run for a California Senate seat in 2010. Nor had she a claim on the loyalty of any of her party’s key constituencies like the Tea Party, social conservatives, foreign policy hawks or the establishment. But over the course of the last several months, she has parlayed a tart speaking style and clever barbs aimed at Hillary Clinton into some attention if not good poll numbers.

There’s no question that her reception at campaign cattle calls and on the stump has been good. Republicans seem to like her. And they love her ability to call out Clinton. Her stock attack lines about the former secretary of state needing to learn that “flying is an activity, not an accomplishment,” has made her something of a GOP star.

The fact that liberals are starting to attack Fiorina and deriding her as lacking the qualifications for the presidency and merely being a GOP version of affirmative action shows that her arrows have found their target. The resentment against Fiorina from liberals, and especially liberal women, is visceral. Their ire is not so much about her views on the issues as it is the fact that Fiorina’s gender allows her to take shots at Clinton in a manner that no man could do without being excoriated for sexism.

That makes her a useful weapon in the GOP arsenal. But is it enough to make her candidacy viable? The jury is still out on that question.

So far, all the good press she’s gotten hasn’t yet translated into a surge in the polls. The latest Quinnipiac Poll that was published today shows her with just two percent support. That’s not laughable in a field that big and with there being a five-way tie for first place. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all have just ten percent. But it still leaves her in a statistical tie for tenth place trailing Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and even the comical Donald Trump ahead of her. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has neither campaigned nor declared his intention to run, is tied with her at two percent.

Being ahead of Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham is not a negligible achievement but it also means she is in great peril of not finishing in the top ten and being, therefore, ineligible for the first GOP debate on Fox.

Thus, while it is fair to say that merely being the Republican’s designated hitter on Clinton doesn’t do much to highlight Fiorina’s case for the presidency, it does get her some attention that she might otherwise never get. The problem is that there is a difference between assuming the role of the thorn in Clinton’s side and being a serious presidential contender.

Fiorina is an impressive speaker and the more she gets a chance to appear on national forums, the better she is likely to do. But that doesn’t change the fact that she hasn’t got a core group of voters or base within the party. So long as that is true most political observers will continue to believe that she is really running for the vice presidency or a Cabinet post in a future Republican administration.

But right now, her goal is to get on the stage at the Fox debate in August. If she keeps hitting Clinton hard while also avoiding gaffes, she has a fighting chance of making the first cut and raising enough money to continue her effort. Whether or not Democrats like it, Fiorina’s anti-Hillary barbs have been hitting home. They may be enough to keep Fiorina in the race until the voting starts next winter. Though it may not provide her with a path to the nomination, let alone the presidency, Hillary is jump-starting Fiorina’s campaign.

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The Left’s Free Trade Freak Out Is Not About Trade

There is perhaps no more prolific liberal conceit than the notion that their concerns are shared by the masses they purport to represent. Take your pick: “women’s health,” AKA access to elective abortions, climate change, police militarization, et cetera. The left has at one point seen each of these as the most urgent of matters, and has insisted that the vast majority of thinking Americans would necessarily agree. Only the latest example of this myopia is the left’s collective freak out over the nature of free international trade agreements, and specifically a proposed trade deal with a variety of Asian nations. But like so many other matters of paramount importance to the left, they simply don’t resonate outside the vast and comfortable liberal bubble.

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There is perhaps no more prolific liberal conceit than the notion that their concerns are shared by the masses they purport to represent. Take your pick: “women’s health,” AKA access to elective abortions, climate change, police militarization, et cetera. The left has at one point seen each of these as the most urgent of matters, and has insisted that the vast majority of thinking Americans would necessarily agree. Only the latest example of this myopia is the left’s collective freak out over the nature of free international trade agreements, and specifically a proposed trade deal with a variety of Asian nations. But like so many other matters of paramount importance to the left, they simply don’t resonate outside the vast and comfortable liberal bubble.

Before we achieve escape velocity and take a look at the world beyond the center-left media complex, it’s worth reviewing the apoplexy that the latest proposed free trade agreement has inspired on the left.

“Free trade isn’t about trade,” The Nation’s Mike Konczal revealed. “Free trade is about bureaucrats. And guns.”

“Why, in the year 2015, is the White House teaming up with Republican leaders essentially to defend the practice of slavery?” a team of Huffington Post reporters asked, citing an element of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that now includes Malaysia despite the prolific human trafficking that occurs in that nation.

Some liberals have even noted without a hint of irony or self-awareness that the pro-trade side of the aisle is guilty of stoking undue fears to advance their agenda. “At a news conference earlier this month, Obama warned that without TPP, ‘China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses,’” The New Republic’s David Dayen scoffed. “Clinton/Obama free trade agreements are not just good in their own right, but models for the world to follow. Veterans of both administrations will admit that didn’t work for NAFTA; why should we believe it for TPP?”

And, of course, progressive icon and Bay State Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ongoing efforts to undermine a Democratic White House that seeks authority to ink necessarily opaque free trade agreements has heightened the left’s sense of urgency on the matter.

The apocalyptic tone of the internecine spat over this relatively parochial issue has been perhaps amplified by the fact that, as this presidency winds to a close, the far left is consumed not with Barack Obama’s achievements but the opportunities he failed to take full advantage of over the course of his tenure.

Now let’s ascend to cruising altitude and take a look at how the rest of the nation views the left’s wildly disproportionate fit of pique over a prospective trade deal. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the vast majority of Americans are generally favorable toward free trade agreements. 58 percent of all Americans, including a majority of every subgroup sampled, believe free trade is good for the United States. That includes 58 percent of self-described Democrats, and 59 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats.

Interestingly, the groups most predisposed to view free trade arrangements with suspicion are those who identify as conservative Republicans and those age 65 or older. But 50 percent of both of these constituencies still see trade as ultimately beneficial. “There are only modest partisan differences on views of free trade agreements’ effects on economic growth, with Republicans somewhat more likely (40%) than either Democrats (30%) or independents (32%) to say they slow the economy,” Pew revealed.

Given this revelation, where is the uproar from Republican circles over the extension of trade promotional authority to President Barack Obama from a GOP-dominated Congress? While it certainly exists, the concern over free trade is far more muted on the right than the polls would suggest it should be. So, what gives? In part, the energy being expended on the left over a trade deal that Democrats largely support is a proxy war over the future ideological and programmatic direction of the Democratic Party. The fierceness of this family feud is certainly not justified by the general public’s interest in the subject.

So, the next time that you see Democrats engaged in heated debate over the issue of free trade and wonder where the passion comes from given the disinterest outside of media circles, remember that they’re probably not talking about trade.

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Rubio’s Warning on Faith Wasn’t a Gaffe

As far as the many on the left are concerned, Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the possible implications of the acceptance of gay marriage makes more opposition research about the 2016 Republican presidential contender unnecessary. By telling an interviewer for the Christian Broadcast Network that he believed that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he supplied liberals with the sort of fodder they used to confirm their stereotypes about rabid, scare-mongering conservatives. If Rubio becomes the Republican nominee, expect this quote to be constantly thrown in his face as confirmation of his bigotry against gays. But while no one can halt the left-wing hate machine from operating in this fashion, it’s important to state now before the quote becomes the stuff of left-wing legend, that not only was it not a gaffe, it was a reasonable statement of fact that serious people on the left, as well as the right, should ponder in its entirely.

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As far as the many on the left are concerned, Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the possible implications of the acceptance of gay marriage makes more opposition research about the 2016 Republican presidential contender unnecessary. By telling an interviewer for the Christian Broadcast Network that he believed that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he supplied liberals with the sort of fodder they used to confirm their stereotypes about rabid, scare-mongering conservatives. If Rubio becomes the Republican nominee, expect this quote to be constantly thrown in his face as confirmation of his bigotry against gays. But while no one can halt the left-wing hate machine from operating in this fashion, it’s important to state now before the quote becomes the stuff of left-wing legend, that not only was it not a gaffe, it was a reasonable statement of fact that serious people on the left, as well as the right, should ponder in its entirely.

Let’s start by conceding, as Rubio clearly does, that the culture of the country has shifted on gay marriage. Where only a few years ago, even liberal Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were opposing it, now acceptance of it is on its way to becoming close to a consensus issue. But the question Rubio raises is not a frivolous one or scaremongering.

As we saw with the massive overreaction to the debate over Indiana’s passage of its own version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the culture shift did not stop at mere approval of gay marriages. The opprobrium being hurled at isolated individual store owners who state their religious-based opposition to the concept even if they are willing to provide service and courtesy to those with whom they disagree, is a dangerous sign. We have gone in almost a blink of an eye from such views being mainstream to them being marginalized.

That isn’t the problem. The problem is if those who stick to their religious beliefs about social issues stop being treated as a minority whose views deserve respect to one in which they are, as Rubio says, being treated as no longer deserving legal protection.

As we saw with the debate over the Hobby Lobby case, one didn’t have to agree with opponents of birth control or abortion-inducing drugs to realize that when we compel people to subsidize practices that violate their beliefs we are promoting a new cribbed view of the First Amendment that undermines the concept of religious liberty. If such views are only permissible inside a church or the home but no longer in the public square, then what we will only have is liberty for religious beliefs that are popular and none for those that are not.

Critics of Rubio mock his fears by pointing to the fact that Massachusetts has had gay marriage for years without anyone shutting down Catholic churches in the Bay state. That’s true, but Catholic charities have been driven out of adoption services. If we get to the point where clergy that will not perform gay marriages are viewed as practicing discrimination — something that is no longer unimaginable — then faiths that dissent on the practice will begin to be subjected to the sort of official discrimination that will give the lie to any talk of live and let live.

It would be wrong for anyone to pretend that we are at such a point now. Indeed, as Santorum noted, we are at “the water’s edge” of viewing such traditional beliefs as beyond the pale, is a reasoned debate by which we can accept the will of the majority on gay marriage while leaving room in the public square for those who believe this contradicts their faith and values.

Is that possible? To judge by the mob mentality that forced Brendan Eich out of his CEO job at Mozilla and the way Indiana was ostracized after its RFRA was passed, maybe not. Liberals don’t want to just win the culture war, as their treatment of stray Christian bakers and photographers who dissent on gay marriage indicates, they are not interested in taking prisoners.

That’s a trend that should scare all people of faith, as well as those who do not believe. Though Rubio will take a beating on this from the left and be cheered by social conservatives, his thoughtful and unprejudiced approach to the issue actually stands up to scrutiny in a way that ought to serve to start a productive discussion about how intolerance can come from the left as easily as the right. The illiberal and nature of the attack on religious conservatives ought to give pause to many on the left who once rightly condemned the marginalization of those on their side of such issues. Perhaps by demonstrating, at least to those who are willing to listen rather than merely engage in ad hominem attacks, that this is about freedom rather than bigotry, the senator has given us a chance to have a reasonable discussion about an issue on which tolerance and reason has always been in short supply.

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Yuval Levin on COMMENTARY’s Dazzling Balancing Act

Every month in print, and every day online, COMMENTARY somehow manages to pull off a dazzling balancing act: intellectual but unpretentious, serious but never boring, timely but not fleeting. On the leading questions of the day, it offers fresh and unfamiliar insights. And on the emerging questions that will dominate the years to come, it often sees things first and clearest. It is simply indispensable.

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Every month in print, and every day online, COMMENTARY somehow manages to pull off a dazzling balancing act: intellectual but unpretentious, serious but never boring, timely but not fleeting. On the leading questions of the day, it offers fresh and unfamiliar insights. And on the emerging questions that will dominate the years to come, it often sees things first and clearest. It is simply indispensable.

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Exactly Why Are These People Running?

Four years ago I greeted Rick Santorum’s entry into the 2012 Republican presidential race by comparing him to his favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Just as those perennial cellar-dwellers could be in first place on Opening Day of the baseball season, so, too, I joked, could Santorum claim to have a legitimate shot at the presidency only on the day he declared his candidacy. But the following winter Santorum made me (and just about everybody else) eat crow as he came out of nowhere to win 11 primaries and caucuses to be the runner-up to Mitt Romney (and, yes, in the intervening years, the Pirates have become a playoff team too just to make my prediction completely ridiculous). The memory of that inspiring effort has impelled Santorum and a few other candidates who must be considered long shots at best to try in 2016. In a much larger field without any real frontrunner like Romney, perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable for Santorum and the likes of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki to think they too can come from out of nowhere next year and make a splash. But nevertheless, you have to wonder exactly what any of these characters are smoking to make them think that they aren’t wasting their time.

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Four years ago I greeted Rick Santorum’s entry into the 2012 Republican presidential race by comparing him to his favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Just as those perennial cellar-dwellers could be in first place on Opening Day of the baseball season, so, too, I joked, could Santorum claim to have a legitimate shot at the presidency only on the day he declared his candidacy. But the following winter Santorum made me (and just about everybody else) eat crow as he came out of nowhere to win 11 primaries and caucuses to be the runner-up to Mitt Romney (and, yes, in the intervening years, the Pirates have become a playoff team too just to make my prediction completely ridiculous). The memory of that inspiring effort has impelled Santorum and a few other candidates who must be considered long shots at best to try in 2016. In a much larger field without any real frontrunner like Romney, perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable for Santorum and the likes of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki to think they too can come from out of nowhere next year and make a splash. But nevertheless, you have to wonder exactly what any of these characters are smoking to make them think that they aren’t wasting their time.

Santorum’s 2016 effort is noteworthy because it is likely to put to bed forever the notion that the runner up in a GOP presidential race automatically becomes a front runner the second time around. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain all succeeded in winning the nomination after prior losing efforts. But Santorum’s chances of following in their footsteps must be evaluated as being slim and none. While he wound up having the social conservative vote to himself in 2012, the competition for a demographic that can be decisive, especially in the Iowa Caucus, is much stiffer this time with Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee (another candidate hoping to recapture past glories in Iowa), Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry all claiming the same mantle

The field is deeper this time with a bevy of serious candidates as well as interesting outsiders. Though neither Carly Fiorina nor Ben Carson are likely to win, they may provide some energy that some of the less likely 2012 candidates lacked. Rand Paul may not now be in as strong a position as he thought he would be, but he’s still taken more seriously than his father Ron was in 2012. More mainstream candidates like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush all have their weaknesses but all will have enough money to run competitive campaigns.

Nevertheless, Santorum does bring to the table a coherent approach to the race. He’s betting not only on retaining social conservatives but being able to position himself as the champion of working class Americans. The former Pennsylvania senator rightly chided the GOP for appealing only to business in 2012 and forgetting those at the base of the economic pyramid. But the problem there is that he isn’t running only against a plutocrat like Romney or even Bush, but against men like Walker, Rubio or Cruz whose origins are as humble as his own.

Thus, while Santorum may think he earned the right for another shot with his strong showing last time, it’s not clear that there is anything like a path to victory or even contention for him.

But however scant his chances will be, he looks like a favorite when compared to Pataki. The three-time New York governor has a resume of winning tough races (he’s the one who retired the late Mario Cuomo in 1994) but he left his party in ruins when he left office in 2006 and since then the New York GOP has been a joke. Though his record in office looks good compared to some of his successors, he was no model of conservative governance. Since then, he’s been out of both politics and the public eye. He has neither an ideological raison d’être nor a compelling life story or personality. The only thing his candidacy indicates is that it’s sometimes very hard for some politicians to accept the fact that their moment in the sun is truly over.

Graham is another candidate without a path to the nomination. Though a respected voice on defense issues, he is disliked by the party base for his stand on immigration. He mainly seems to be there to debate Rand Paul about foreign policy. But since it seems highly unlikely that he can break into the top ten in poll ratings, he probably won’t even get that chance because of the debate rules intended to avoid having 20 people on the stage.

All of these candidates have candidates have every right to take their chances and run if they like. And if donors are foolish enough to give them money, they can keep running until they flop in the early primaries and leave the podium to the ones with more credible chances of winning.

What makes them do it? Call it ego or the lure of the big stage. Perhaps some are delusional enough to think they can win. But though I’m taking the chance of making the same mistake with them that I made with Santorum, what I said about him in 2011 applies to him and a number of his fellow hopefuls: the high point of their candidacies is likely to be to their announcements.

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Confirmation Bias and the Limits of Human Knowledge

You could choose from among a seemingly infinite number of issues, but let’s mention just two that have been in the news recently: The unrest and violence in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Liberals and conservatives both argue that they reveal structural problems in our nation. But that’s where the agreement ends and the real arguments begin.

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You could choose from among a seemingly infinite number of issues, but let’s mention just two that have been in the news recently: The unrest and violence in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Liberals and conservatives both argue that they reveal structural problems in our nation. But that’s where the agreement ends and the real arguments begin.

In each instance, those in opposing ideological camps have drawn completely different lessons from what occurred. For liberals, the two incidents highlight racial divisions, problems with law enforcement and lack of spending. For conservatives, they underscore anti-police bias, liberal failures and the harmful effects of broken and never-formed families.

In the case of Ferguson, both sides saw what they wanted to see. Conservatives pointed to the fact that Officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown and that the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was false. Liberals pointed to a Department of Justice report showing that in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system, African Americans are impacted in a negative and unfair way. The result is that both sides talk past each other.

These are but two examples of an endless, recurring dance in American politics, in which event after event is used to confirm what we already believe. Time and again incidents merely justify our pre-existing views. I’ve seen this happen to people whose views I disagreed with; to people whose views I share; and to me. You may even have experienced it happening to you.

What cognitive scientists call confirmation bias is an unavoidable feature of political life. It often plays out in the almost instantaneous reaction most of us have when our views are challenged. We go in search of data and arguments not to learn so much as to confirm. Sure we already possess the truth, we’re not interested in processing inconvenient facts; we want to refute them.

Implicitly, the thinking process goes something like this: “I don’t want my opponents’ claim to be true. It therefore can’t be true. Now let me find evidence to prove it’s untrue.” If we heard ourselves or others say such a thing, we would be appalled. But here’s the dirty little secret: Everyone acts this way some of the time, even if we don’t publicly admit it.

Under the influence of this cast of mind, politics takes on a zero-sum quality. Once someone settles on a point of view, all the arguments of those with whom they disagree must be discredited. So if you’re in favor of tighter gun control, every argument the NRA makes must be wrong and every study that shows gun control laws doesn’t reduce crime must be dismissed. And if you believe anthropogenic global warming is a hoax, every claim by the world’s major science academies needs to be challenged and explained away as evidence of pervasive corruption. To make it so, you’ll believe arguments so thin you’d never take them seriously on most subjects, and you’ll desperately search for any hole, however small, in the arguments of an opponent so that you don’t have to face the core of his case.

Confirmation bias is something we can easily identify in others but find very difficult to detect in ourselves. (If you finish this piece thinking only of the blindness of those who disagree with you, you are proving my point.) And while some people are far more prone to it than others, it’s something none of us is fully free of. We all hold certain philosophical assumptions, whether we’re fully aware of them or not, and they create a prism through which we interpret events. Often those assumptions are not arrived at through empiricism; they are grounded in moral intuitions. And moral intuitions, while not sub-rational, are shaped by things other than facts and figures. “The heart has its reasons which reason itself does not know,” Pascal wrote. And often the heart is right.

Without such core intuitions, we could not hope to make sense of the world. But these intuitions do not stay broad and implicit: we use them to make concrete judgments in life. The consequences of those judgments offer real-world tests of our assumptions, and if we refuse to learn from the results then we have no hope of improving our judgments in the future.

Politics isn’t (and shouldn’t be) some kind of technical exercise. It is properly also an arena of moral judgment and philosophical disagreement. But it is an arena in which our views are tested in practice, and so we have to allow it to be a venue for learning from experience. For that to happen, we need to leave our intellectual cul-de-sacs from time to time, and to allow at least a few unlike-minded people to have standing in our lives and, when necessary, challenge our interpretation of things. “If you bring people together who disagree,” Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, has said, “and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason.”

Acknowledging the existence of confirmation bias is not enough. In fact, that alone can lead us to become only more cynical and closed-minded. Seeing the limits of our knowledge would, in a perfect world, make us humble, not arrogant. We have to see that the existence of such bias doesn’t mean that no one’s arguments are ever true; it only means that no one’s—not even yours or mine—are always true. The truth exists, but none of us fully apprehends it. At best, we see only parts of the whole, which is why our politics will always be properly partisan.

But the fact of that partisanship—that politics consists of groups locked in debate, each possessed of part of the truth—makes it even harder to overcome our biases. The desire to defend our “team” is often an even more powerful inducement to ignore contrary arguments than the desire to confirm our own personal assumptions.

This fact is surely an obstacle to a rational democratic politics. And if confirmation bias has always been with us, it appears to be more prevalent today than in the past. According to the Pew Research Center, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.” Anecdotal evidence by lawmakers, who report unprecedented levels of polarization, reinforces this finding.

But the solution is not to despair of self-government. In fact, the answer is less cynicism, not more: We should not conclude that no one makes rational arguments in our politics, but rather than even people we disagree with make rational arguments, and so perhaps we should hold our views a little more lightly than we do and try to be less sure and to listen.

This isn’t an argument for being perennially uncertain; nor does it mean that all of us share the same amount of wisdom or that we’re all equidistant from the truth. Some people are a good deal closer to it than others. We should, however, be more willing to hold up our views to refinement, and to acknowledge the ubiquity of human limitations. We should go into arguments believing we have something to learn.

This really should be easier for us – for me — than it tends to be. And the reason it’s so hard should also make us humbler. The fact is that we are frequently not interested enough in deepening our understanding of things. We enter politics like lawyers looking to win a case for our clients no matter what, rather than like citizens looking to improve our common lot—or like seekers after wisdom looking to better understand the world. That has a lot to do with why our politics so often become personal, polarized, and heated.

To close off the possibility of change, self-reflection, and self-criticism is to elevate ideology over truth and to disfigure reality in the service of dogmatism. There is quite enough of that going on already.

But in the end, we must remember that precisely because no one knows the whole truth, even a more honest, wisdom-seeking democratic politics will always be partisan. Our dynamic, diverse country will always be full of people who disagree with you, and you will always worry about what might happen if they win the next election. That’s why fully recognizing the ubiquity of confirmation bias should ultimately leave us grateful, including for a system of government that tries not to give any person, party, or institution too much power all at once. And grateful for a constitution built upon a deeper recognition that most of us ever possess of the limits of human knowledge and the depths of human imperfection.

 

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Bret Stephens: COMMENTARY Lights the Way

COMMENTARY is America’s most important monthly journal of ideas, period. For nearly seven decades it has published the best and most exciting writing from the most important thinkers: Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling; Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; Paul Johnson and Ruth Wisse; Cynthia Ozick and–of course–Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. Is there anything remotely like it? No. It is the lamp by which America, and Israel, and the Jewish people, may find their way to safety. I’m proud to be published in its pages. Please click below to donate.

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COMMENTARY is America’s most important monthly journal of ideas, period. For nearly seven decades it has published the best and most exciting writing from the most important thinkers: Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling; Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; Paul Johnson and Ruth Wisse; Cynthia Ozick and–of course–Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. Is there anything remotely like it? No. It is the lamp by which America, and Israel, and the Jewish people, may find their way to safety. I’m proud to be published in its pages. Please click below to donate.

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The White House Treats a Foreign Policy Disaster Like a Political Crisis

Nearly one year after the ISIS hordes charged screaming over the Syrian border and sacked Mosul, they’ve repeated the feat in Ramadi – the capital of the restive Anbar province, and a city located just 70 miles from Baghdad. Simultaneously, ISIS forces launched an offensive to the north and captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In the face of this humiliation more than nine months after the start of renewed coalition bombing missions over Iraq, the White House dubiously continued to insist that everything was going according to plan. Except, there never was any plan.

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Nearly one year after the ISIS hordes charged screaming over the Syrian border and sacked Mosul, they’ve repeated the feat in Ramadi – the capital of the restive Anbar province, and a city located just 70 miles from Baghdad. Simultaneously, ISIS forces launched an offensive to the north and captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In the face of this humiliation more than nine months after the start of renewed coalition bombing missions over Iraq, the White House dubiously continued to insist that everything was going according to plan. Except, there never was any plan.

“Look, there were several things that surprised us about ISIL,” outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told PBS reporter Martin Smith in a recent exit interview. “The degree to which they were able to form their own coalition, both inside of Syria — and inside of northwestern Iraq; the military capability that they exhibited — the collapse of the Iraq Security Forces. Yeah, in those initial days, there were a few surprises.”

The concession that the fall of Mosul was a source of astonishment for American military planners prompted former senior Iraq CIA officer John Maguire to demand Dempsey resign. While the Pentagon surely deserves some censure for the current state of affairs in the Middle East, it’s perhaps unwise to scapegoat Gen. Dempsey when it is the administration’s shortsightedness that merits criticism.

The New York Times revealed this week that the administration has steadfastly refused to shift tactics in response to ISIS’s shocking gains. The coalition air campaign over Iraq manages to conduct an average of 15 sorties per day; an embarrassingly small number of airstrikes compared to prior engagements that leaves the observer thinking that this war is being conducted in a perfunctory and halfhearted fashion. “The administration’s commitment or lack thereof sends a loud and clear signal to Iraqis: the US has little willingness to fight ISIS,” Max Boot noted. “And that message in turn undermines the fighting spirit of the Iraqis.”

By contrast, ISIS’s strategic approach to its war of conquest has been strikingly dynamic. “Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.” The report added that the ISIS forces are converting captured American armored vehicles into “megabombs,” each with the destructive force equivalent to one of the devices used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

What’s more, ISIS forces operate with virtual impunity outside the frontlines. Beyond the occasional special forces operation — admittedly inspiring feats of derring-do by American servicemen that yield tangible benefits — ISIS operatives apparently have little to fear from U.S.-led coalition airpower.

“[T]he sorties flown so far have been minimal, and damage inflicted still less, even as ISIS held a parade in broad daylight in Rutba, Iraq, last week,” former CIA case officer Kevin Carroll revealed in a recent Journal op-ed outlining some of the tactical shifts the U.S. needs to contemplate. “That is the kind of target our aviators dream of. Rules of engagement need to be loosened, U.S. air controllers sent to the front to call in strikes, and more combat aircraft put into the fight.”

In a lamentably predictable display of political spinning from this administration when faced with adversity, the White House’s response to ISIS’s victories in Iraq and Syria has been utterly incoherent. In response to the fall of Ramadi, the president contended that he does not believe “we’re losing” the fight. Though dispiriting — “not losing” is a far cry from winning — this was perhaps an attempt by the president to raise ebbing morale. Days later, however, a variety of administration officials shifted blame for the collapse of the anti-ISIS effort back onto Iraqis which, some contended, lacked the will to resist ISIS’s advance.

Finally, after a considerable amount of blame shifting and reluctance to address suboptimal realities, the White House has conceded that it needs to consider a shift in tactics. On Wednesday, White House Communications Director Jennifer Psaki conceded that they do need to “adapt our strategy” to contend with the ISIS threat. It is, however, possible that this was merely Psaki veering wildly off message. She did, after all, note that that tactical shift would consist primarily of arming, training, and equipping Iraqi forces that she maintained in the next breath have neither the will nor the competence to successfully beat back ISIS. Still, this modest moment of self-critical awareness is worthy of praise, even more so if it presages some concrete policy adaptations from this administration.

In the meanwhile, ISIS has begun the familiar process of cementing its hold over its newly acquired territories by first executing the irreplaceable Iraqis who cooperated with the government in Baghdad. At least 500 were killed, and another 25,000 displaced in the immediate wake of the fall of Ramadi – the new tide of refugees all swarming on the increasingly beleaguered capital. And still the administration treats this grave security threat as though it were a domestic political issue that would disappear if only the White House could settle on the right messaging.

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The Economics of Birth Control Drugs

The Hill is reporting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is introducing a bill that would require drug companies that produce birth control drugs to apply to the FDA to have them be sold over the counter. These drugs have been on the market now for decades with few if any side-effects, and most such drugs go over the counter quite soon. Senator Gardner has six Republican co-sponsors.

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The Hill is reporting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is introducing a bill that would require drug companies that produce birth control drugs to apply to the FDA to have them be sold over the counter. These drugs have been on the market now for decades with few if any side-effects, and most such drugs go over the counter quite soon. Senator Gardner has six Republican co-sponsors.

It’s only common sense to make safe drugs with no abuse potential as easily available as possible, right? But guess who opposes the measure. Planned Parenthood, among other liberal organizations. They have one stated objection and one unstated. The latter is that if a woman can just walk into a drug store and buy birth control pills, she won’t need to go to Planned Parenthood first to get a prescription. Planned Parenthood would become, in effect, the world’s largest abortion clinic.

But their stated objection is that if birth control is OTC, then insurance companies might stop paying for it, just as they don’t pay for aspirin, cold medicines, and Tums.

Of course, insurance companies shouldn’t be paying for it even if it’s a prescription drug.

Insurance is meant to protect people and organizations from large expenses that cannot be predicted, such as a house fire or an automobile accident. Everyone who sends a premium to an insurance company hopes that he won’t have to make a claim. What insurance does not and should not cover are routine, predictable expenses, such as, with automobiles, oil changes. Equally, health insurance should cover large, unpredictable expenses, such as serious illness. They should not cover routine, predictable expenses such as birth control. But Obamacare forces them to, at great expense to the women who take birth control pills.

Here’s the economics-101 reason:  Covering such expenses is not insurance at all, it’s a prepayment plan and a very expensive one.

Because insurance companies don’t cover oil changes, the car owner drops by the garage four times a year, gets his oil changed, pays the garage $25 and drives off, for an annual expense of $100. But if the federal government in its infinite wisdom were to decide to force automobile insurance companies to pay for oil changes, the garage owner would bill the insurance company instead. But because that requires clerical effort and he has to wait for his money, the garage owner won’t charge $25, he’ll charge, say, $30. When the insurance company gets the claim, it will run it through its own clerical process and, eventually, cut a check and send it to the garage.

But that overhead has to covered by the premium as well, as does the company’s need to make a profit. So the insurance company will jack up the premium by, say $10 per oil change. So now, instead of the four annual oil changes costing $100, they cost $160 in increased insurance premiums.

And liberals think that birth control, thanks to Obamacare, is now “free.”  Milton Friedman, call your office.

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Why Hillary’s Listening Tour Is a Mistake

Not everything is going as planned in Hillary Clinton’s world. The putative Democratic presidential nominee’s listening tour is intended to ease her transition into the race providing her with maximum visibility and minimal exposure to press scrutiny. However, the controversies over her emails, the Clinton Cash scandal, and her Sidney Blumenthal connection and questions about the former First Family’s ethics have overshadowed her campaign appearances. Her refusal to grant even occasional press availabilities also turned into a story. Just as problematic is the fact that the dog-and-pony shows that were set up for her have a phony feel to them that has done little to shake off her political rust or to convince voters she really cares about them. But there are a couple of other serious problems to ponder here as she sits and listens to people recruited to talk to her. One has to do with the listening tour idea itself, and the other is how it is affecting her campaign.

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Not everything is going as planned in Hillary Clinton’s world. The putative Democratic presidential nominee’s listening tour is intended to ease her transition into the race providing her with maximum visibility and minimal exposure to press scrutiny. However, the controversies over her emails, the Clinton Cash scandal, and her Sidney Blumenthal connection and questions about the former First Family’s ethics have overshadowed her campaign appearances. Her refusal to grant even occasional press availabilities also turned into a story. Just as problematic is the fact that the dog-and-pony shows that were set up for her have a phony feel to them that has done little to shake off her political rust or to convince voters she really cares about them. But there are a couple of other serious problems to ponder here as she sits and listens to people recruited to talk to her. One has to do with the listening tour idea itself, and the other is how it is affecting her campaign.

Let’s start by granting that there is something appealing about a powerful person deigning to listen to the concerns of the people. Americans like their politicians to at least pretend that they care about them. Some, like Hillary’s husband Bill, turned it into an art form. But unlike her spouse, Hillary isn’t very good at the show of “feeling the pain” of others. Though she asks questions and listens intently, these photo ops have the feel of an audience with a queen rather than a politician humbly asking for support.

More to the point, instead of Democrat central casting providing peasants and villagers as props for Clinton, the notion of a candidate who only listens or pretends to do so, is counter-intuitive to the presidential election process. What citizens in a democracy need from our candidates is not so much the opportunity to tell a monarch our problems as to know what they think and want to do if we give them the power they are asking us for.

This is especially true for Clinton who has never seemed as comfortable in her own skin as better politicians like her husband or Barack Obama, the man who beat her in 2008, the last time her party was about to hand her their nomination on a silver platter. Is Hillary the tough centrist that ran eight years ago? Or is she a rebooted Elizabeth Warren clone who can rally the left wing of a party that thinks of her being as too close to Wall Street donors for their comfort?

We don’t know the answers to those questions and we’re not likely to get any so long as she is posing as the nation’s listening post.

But while a listening tour was a reasonable tactic during a period of the campaign in which she would do best to merely tread water, Clinton’s response to the people she meets is accentuating the authenticity problem.

As the New York Times reports, Clinton is bombarding her policy shop headquartered back in Brooklyn with ideas that come up as a result of her encounters in Iowa. One day, she’s fascinated with helping small businesses in what appears to be a case of her adopting the Republicans “you built that” theme from their 2012 national convention. The next, she’s back to talking about student loan debt. Then it’s back to health care, her first national political disaster.

These are all things we want our candidates to know about, but one gets the impression that Hillary is using these audiences with her public in a way that isn’t entirely healthy for her campaign. It’s not just that her campaign is short on concrete ideas and proposals. It’s that her lack of core beliefs and willingness to say whatever people want helps create an incoherent narrative that undermines any sense that she has a coherent vision of what her presidency would stand for.

Perhaps Clinton is so well-known a political brand that, unlike other candidates, she doesn’t have to convince people to identify her with a particular set of beliefs or stands on the issues. But what comes through in her listening tour is the idea that she’s taking notes on what worries voters, and she’ll get back to us later on how to incorporate those concerns in her rhetoric. The Clinton candidacy isn’t so much listening, as it is a marketing firm for a product conducting focus groups in order to mold their commodity into something people would buy.

For a candidate whose greatest flaw is a lack of authenticity, this is the worst possible strategy that can be imagined. Clinton can’t feel our pain with sincerity any more than she can tell us why she is running for president other than to give us our first woman commander-in-chief. That’s not an unworthy goal, and might be enough to win her the presidency if the Republicans field a weak candidate to oppose her. But at a stage of the election cycle when she should be establishing her identity, all she seems to be doing is reminding us that she’s still working on creating one.

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Rand Paul is Running for the Wrong Party’s Nomination

After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

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After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

The most stalwart libertarian supporters of the Paul clan grew disenchanted with the prodigal son when it became apparent that he was vying to actually win his party’s presidential nomination, and was thus compelled to appeal to the broadest base of Republicans possible by adopting more moderate stances on matters relating to foreign affairs.  For a moment, it appeared as though Paul might prove an attractive candidate for a majority of war-weary conservatives leery of the intrusive security state. But the wave of anti-government sentiment among conservatives that crested in 2013 was dashed against the rocks of renewed fears about Islamist terrorism, the rise of ISIS, and revanchism evidenced by state actors like Russia, China, and Iran. Today, rather than broadening his base, Paul clings as desperately as he can to that meager coalition that inspired nearly 11 percent of GOP primary voters to cast their ballots for former Rep. Ron Paul in 2012.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, Paul channeled his father when he was asked whether the present incarnation of ISIS, the successor organization to the defanged and exiled al-Qaeda in Iraq, would have arisen had the United States aggressively contained the Syrian Civil War in Syria in 2012-2013. “[Sen. Lindsey] Graham would say ISIS exists because of people like Rand Paul who said, ‘Let’s not go into Syria,’” Scarborough noted. “What do you say to Lindsey?”

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite,” Paul replied. “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS.”

“These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier,” he added. “They created these people.”

This is a rather juvenile and unconvincing effort to square a predetermined conclusion with contradictory evidence. The responsibility the West shirked in Syria was the maintenance of the prohibition on the battlefield use of chemical weapons, not in combating terrorism. President Barack Obama declined to mete out the consequences he promised Bashar al-Assad should the Syrian dictator continue to use chemical weapons, and instead relied on Russia to broker an arrangement that preserved their client in Damascus and helped Obama to save face. Nearly two years later, chemical weapons are regularly deployed in Syria, and the world is a more dangerous place as global actors test the parameters of America’s commitment to its word. Apparently, Rand Paul thinks that this is sound form of statecraft.

Paul’s instinctual aversion to interventionism may be principled if not wrongheaded, but it is a losing approach to the Republican presidential primaries.

“Nearly three-quarter of Republicans now favor sending ground troops into combat against the Islamic State, according to a CBS News poll last week,” a February report in the New York Times read. “And in Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states, Republicans said military action against the group was, alongside economic matters, the most important issue in the 2016 election, according to an NBC survey released last week.”

“When Pew asked respondents to choose between ‘using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world’ and ‘relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,’ last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent,” the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman noted in that same month.

Regardless of what you think of Paul’s approach to governance, his is not a strategy aimed at winning the support of even a plurality of Republican primary voters. It is increasingly unclear, however, if Paul is even interested in securing the GOP nod. The junior Kentucky senator seems to find himself more at home in liberal enclaves than he does in the Republican Party’s geographic heartland. A recent Times dispatch noted that Paul recently found himself warmly received in a manner not often reserved for Republicans in the liberal bastion of Manhattan. “Paul played to the crowd,” the report read, noting that his speech “had echoes of the messages of his father.” The Bluegrass State senator is equally eager to reach out to atypical Republican voters in places like the Bay Area. Paul’s decision to open an office near San Francisco in order to appeal to libertarians in the Silicon Valley last year was framed as an outreach effort when, in reality, it’s more likely constituency maintenance.

Rand Paul is no longer waging a broad-based campaign to win the Republican nomination. His candidacy looks more and more like a factional effort to compel the Republican Party to embrace the libertarian foreign policy prescriptions of retrenchment and disengagement; policies already espoused by the present occupant of the Oval Office and which must be defended by his party’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton.

The promise of Rand Paul’s campaign was that it would build his father’s political base into a mainstream force that would shift the GOP in a libertarian direction. While Paul’s adherence to his principles, as dangerous as they are, is laudable, they render him as niche a candidate as his father ever was.

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Damned Lies and Fact-Checkers

If Mark Twain were around he would have to modify his famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to add another category of lies–reporter’s attempts at fact-checking politicians. This practice has become prevalent in recent decades, but more often than not it is simply a way for reporters to sneak dubious editorializing into the guise of an ostensibly straight news story — to try to put forward their own spin and bias in opposition to the politicians’ spin and bias.

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If Mark Twain were around he would have to modify his famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to add another category of lies–reporter’s attempts at fact-checking politicians. This practice has become prevalent in recent decades, but more often than not it is simply a way for reporters to sneak dubious editorializing into the guise of an ostensibly straight news story — to try to put forward their own spin and bias in opposition to the politicians’ spin and bias.

Case in point is this article from the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler awarding Jeb Bush “four Pinocchios” for his alleged lack of truthfulness. What is it that Bush said that is so wrong? Did he claim that Obama was a secret Muslim? That one of his GOP rivals was a Ku Kluxer? That Hillary Clinton had ordered the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi?

Not quite. Here is the statement from Jeb that so offended Glenn Kessler:

“ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.”

Kessler claims this is a lie because “to a large extent, the Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda of Iraq,” and AQI came into being while George W. Bush was president. AQI even proclaimed an Islamic State in Iraq in 2006 after the death of its founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

It’s certainly true that ISIS is an outgrowth of AQI, but what Bush said was right, not wrong. While the chaotic conditions of Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003 allowed AQI to flourish, it was largely defeated during the surge in 2007-2008. Kessler cites a 2009 US intelligence assessment that AQI “is likely to retain a residual capacity to undertake terrorist operations for years to come.” But the rest of the report, which Kessler, to his credit, also cites, goes on to note:  “AQI, although still dangerous, has experienced the defection of members, lost key mobilization areas, suffered disruption of support infrastructure and funding, and been forced to change targeting priorities.”

I would go further and say that by the time the U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011, AQI, while still in existence, was no longer a significant strategic threat to the well-being of the Iraqi state. It had, in a word, been defeated.

What happened next? A civil war broke out in Syria, the US did little to stop it, and the chaotic conditions which then prevailed in Syria allowed AQI to get a fresh lease on life. Soon it had metamorphosed into the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, and using Syria as its base, it expanded back into Iraq. In 2014 it proclaimed a caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq–a new Islamic State that never previously existed.

What Jeb Bush said, then, is certainly true: the Islamic State did not exist when George W. Bush was president, and al-Qaeda in Iraq was essentially defeated during his administration. It emerged stronger than ever in no small part because of Obama’s neglect of the region.

You can criticize Jeb for failing to note that it was his brother’s policies — specifically the failure to establish security in Iraq in 2003-2006 — that made AQI a threat in the first place, but what he said was truthful if not necessarily complete. To argue otherwise is tendentious — akin to calling a politician a liar for saying that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 because its predecessor, the Whig Party, had been founded in 1833.

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America Deals A Heavy Blow to FIFA

Doubtless, there will be some soccer fans who, this morning, are grimacing at the news that fourteen top officials of FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, have been indicted on corruption charges brought against them by, of all countries, the United States. I am not one of them.

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Doubtless, there will be some soccer fans who, this morning, are grimacing at the news that fourteen top officials of FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, have been indicted on corruption charges brought against them by, of all countries, the United States. I am not one of them.

Americans are widely mocked for referring to the game that everyone else calls football as “sawker.” But that cultural anomaly aside, it is thanks to American efforts that soccer, dogged for years by allegations of corruption and bribery, just may be on the cusp of recovering its integrity.

A mere two days before FIFA is due to begin its 2015 Congress in Switzerland, plainclothes Swiss police swooped upon the five star Baur au Lac hotel near Zurich, where they arrested seven of the fourteen indictees, who will now be extradited to the United States on federal corruption charges. A few hours after those arrests were carried out, the Swiss authorities seized computers and electronic data from FIFA’s headquarters.

American involvement in stamping out corruption in FIFA’s corridors stems from the 350-page report compiled by Michael J. Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which exposed astonishing levels of corruption in the bidding process that resulted in Russia and Qatar winning the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively. Garcia spent almost two years on the investigation, but the publication of his conclusions was suppressed by FIFA in October last year. It’s safe to assume that Garcia – who, by all accounts, has no interest in soccer as a sport – is having the last laugh today.

Garcia’s report pointed out that many of the bribery transactions were allegedly carried out on American soil, thereby enabling U.S. jurisdiction over the case. According to a statement released by the Swiss Office of Justice, “these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks.” Among the seven officials who will stand trial in an American courtroom is the former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner, a particularly nasty anti-Semite who put the blame on “Zionism” when he was compelled to resign from his post in 2011, shortly before Garcia began his investigation.

Indeed, until today’s news broke, “Zionism” was poised to become the main item on the FIFA Congress agenda, due to the attempt by Jibril Rajoub, a convicted Fatah terrorist who heads the Palestine Football Association, to have Israel suspended from FIFA. As the Israeli legal NGO Shurat HaDin pointed out in a letter to FIFA, among Rajoub’s many inflammatory statements was his declaration that if the Palestinians “had nuclear weapons, we’d be using them” against Israel.

Rajoub’s initiative – formally predicated on the accusation that Israel has prevented Palestinian soccer players from participating in international matches on security grounds – is more properly understood as an element of the wider Palestinian strategy to isolate Israel in international bodies ranging from the UN to FIFA. As my colleague, Aiden Pink, observes in an article for The Tower magazine, Rajoub’s gambit,

 …is another facet of the Palestinian Authority’s escalating efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in bodies like the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court—politicizing organizations that could theoretically serve a noble purpose if they weren’t so consumed with anti-Israel animus. One of FIFA’s only saving graces over the past few years has been that it has done a decent job at staying neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while successfully working to develop soccer in both countries: In the last two years, FIFA has invested $4.5 million in infrastructure and stadium upgrades in the West Bank, and selected Israel to host the Men’s Under-21 and Women’s Under-19 European Championships. Approving the Palestinian proposal would mean that, like a brilliant goal-scoring run called offside, it was all a lot of effort with nothing to show for it.

While there was always doubt over whether Rajoub would succeed in his quest, today’s arrests at FIFA, coupled with the news that UEFA, the powerful European section of FIFA, will oppose the Palestinian proposal, should hopefully mean that Israel is in the clear. I say “hopefully” because one should always be careful when it comes to predictions over FIFA’s behavior, but the portents for Israel now look much more positive than they did earlier this week.

The aim now should be to demand that FIFA revoke both Russia’s and Qatar’s hosting rights for the next two World Cups. FIFA has already stated rather weakly that it has ruled out such an outcome, but the organization’s President Sepp Blatter – a dictatorial figure currently seeking a fifth term at FIFA’s helm – is likely to face unprecedented pressure to revise that decision.

For all its talk of “respect” and “equality,” soccer, and sport more generally, has never been wary of cozying up to the world’s most repugnant regimes. The Nazis hosted the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, and the Soviet Union and China were given the same honor in 1980 and 2008. In 1978, the World Cup was hosted by Argentina when that country was in the grip of a horrendous military dictatorship. Awarding Vladimir Putin the World Cup despite his invasion of Ukraine, and extending the same privilege to Qatar, which uses slave labor to build soccer stadiums, is therefore simply more of the same. But because of the tenacious efforts of American law enforcement officials, the writing is, at long last, on the wall.

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