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Communists Don’t Like Him? NY Times Gives Rubio Candidacy More Help

Do the publishers of the New York Times secretly want Marco Rubio to be elected president? The answer to that question is, of course not. The left-wing and partisan Democratic slant of the Grey Lady’s news coverage (not to mention its equally biased and partisan editorial page) in recent years places Rubio squarely in the category of a candidate the paper wishes to stop at all costs. Hence, the series of background stories about Cruz that bore the unmistakable trademarks of hit pieces intended to chip away at his image. But unfortunately for the Times, their previous stories on Rubio— which focused on the speeding tickets he and his wife had received or the fishing boat that was wrongly labeled a “luxury speed boat” — generated an unintended reaction. It wasn’t just that the tickets reinforced his youthful image. The focus on trivial charges was viewed as biased journalism that generated sympathy for the Rubio candidacy among Republicans and seemed to validate his status as a candidate liberals feared. But whatever the ultimate intentions of those who make decisions at the Times, their latest installment in the category of Rubio hit pieces is likely to produce the same result. By publishing a piece that focused on the reactions to Rubio’s candidacy in Cuba from the communist government’s functionaries or ordinary people whose only knowledge of the senator is from Castro regime propaganda, the Times has once again given him an unwitting boost.

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Do the publishers of the New York Times secretly want Marco Rubio to be elected president? The answer to that question is, of course not. The left-wing and partisan Democratic slant of the Grey Lady’s news coverage (not to mention its equally biased and partisan editorial page) in recent years places Rubio squarely in the category of a candidate the paper wishes to stop at all costs. Hence, the series of background stories about Cruz that bore the unmistakable trademarks of hit pieces intended to chip away at his image. But unfortunately for the Times, their previous stories on Rubio— which focused on the speeding tickets he and his wife had received or the fishing boat that was wrongly labeled a “luxury speed boat” — generated an unintended reaction. It wasn’t just that the tickets reinforced his youthful image. The focus on trivial charges was viewed as biased journalism that generated sympathy for the Rubio candidacy among Republicans and seemed to validate his status as a candidate liberals feared. But whatever the ultimate intentions of those who make decisions at the Times, their latest installment in the category of Rubio hit pieces is likely to produce the same result. By publishing a piece that focused on the reactions to Rubio’s candidacy in Cuba from the communist government’s functionaries or ordinary people whose only knowledge of the senator is from Castro regime propaganda, the Times has once again given him an unwitting boost.

As I wrote last month about the previous Rubio stories in the Times, anyone who runs for president should and ought to expect intense scrutiny. Given the mindset of the liberal mainstream media, that sort of attention is going to be disproportionate if you’re a Republican rather than, say, someone whose last name is Clinton. But the more the Times attacks Rubio, the more likely it is that the Republican voters he needs in order to win the nomination will view him as someone they trust. The Cuba article only reinforces that point.

The conceit of the piece was to probe the reaction of Cubans to the possibility that the son of a couple that fled the island for a better life in the 1950s might be elected president. The responses were entirely predictable. While the Obama administration has decided to re-open a U.S. embassy in Havana as part of a historic rapprochement, the repressive nature of the Castro regime is unchanged. As I wrote last week, though President Obama think U.S.-Cuba policy should not be “imprisoned by the past,” the Communist rulers of the nation have no compunction about jailing dissidents, including prominent artists who speak out for human rights and democracy. Thus, the idea that either ordinary Cubans or government officials speaking on the record would do anything but echo the Communist party line about Rubio is absurd. A Cuban-American like Rubio who has spent his career advocating for Cuban freedom rather than détente with tyrants is always going to be denounced by any resident of the island nation who wants to stay out of jail.

Thus, the predictable denunciations of Rubio by those interviewed by the Times as an “enemy” of the Cuban people “who wants to kill us” ought to be taken with a truckload of salt. But as, Rubio indicated both in his comments to the Times as well as on Twitter after the piece ran, he’s proud that the regime views him as a threat to its continued rule. He rightly pointed out that the rote recitations of regime talking points the Times recorded and dutifully published merely reflects the truth of what he has been asserting about the unchanged nature of life in Cuba. Despite President Obama’s confidence that his engagement with the Castros will open up a new chapter of history, the only thing we can be sure of is that the regime and its supporters will profit from the move and the Cuban people will remain silenced. Moreover, does anyone at the Times think such barbs thrown at Rubio from regime operatives harms his chances of the presidency or diminishes his popularity among Cuban-Americans who largely share his views on the subject? Do they think it helps mobilize more support for President Obama’s proposal to end the embargo on Cuba?

But, as with the other hit pieces on Rubio, there is another unintended benefit to Rubio. Even as Times reporter Jason Horowitz collected attack quotes on the senator wherever he went, he also crafted a narrative that shows just how humble Rubio’s origins truly are. The notion that the son and grandson of working class Cubans could be president of the United States is a “storybook” scenario that awes even those who have been instructed to denounce Rubio. Just as the Times’s focus on Rubio’s supposed flaws (a youthful love of fast cars and a desire to get ahead) makes him more appealing, so, too, do stories that validate his “only in America” life story. Though Rubio tweeted about the Times story with the ironic hashtag #nicetry, he really ought to be encouraging them to do more of these. A few more such “negative” stories is exactly what he needs as he seeks to maintain his standing as a first tier Republican candidate with fierce competition.

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The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Troubling Silence

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking. Read More

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking.

The IRGC role in the military aspect or military ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program must be taken seriously. After IRGC General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam perished in a 2011 mishap at an IRGC missile base, the Iranian press reported that his last will and testament requested that his epitaph read “The man who enabled Israel’s destruction.” Much of the concern with regard to Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program centers on work done on various IRGC bases (see the Annex starting on page 11 of this IAEA document). And while Zarif has promised access by some drawn out process, the Iranian officials who control the gates to the military bases are not in the foreign ministry, but in the IRGC or Defense Ministry which have made clear what they think of access to their sites.

I noted last week the disturbing parallels between the Iran and North Korea deals, especially when it came to diplomats’ willingness to dismiss evidence of cheating. The irony is greater because State Department official Wendy Sherman was involved in both processes. The Clinton-era negotiations with Yasser Arafat should also provide lessons: At the Camp David II Summit, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached a deal. Arafat flew in and not only refused to accept what his negotiators had agreed to, but he also refused to make any counteroffer. It seems that in their quest to get a signature on paper, the Obama team is replicating the mistake of not identifying whose signature they need to get on the paper.

If the IRGC is really going to abide by this nuclear deal, it’s essential to get Jafari’s explicit agreement. Absent that, start the stopwatch on the unraveling of what Obama and Kerry would like to see as a historic moment.

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The GOP’s Snake Oil Salesmen

Amid a truly devastating period for conservative culture warriors, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed last week that those who consider themselves allies of the social conservative movement so often do it a disservice. “Politicians who stand with them on policy mislead them on politics,” he observed. The events that occurred following this remark proved Douthat prescient.  Read More

Amid a truly devastating period for conservative culture warriors, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed last week that those who consider themselves allies of the social conservative movement so often do it a disservice. “Politicians who stand with them on policy mislead them on politics,” he observed. The events that occurred following this remark proved Douthat prescient. 

Prisoners as they are of the news cycle, Republicans in the political consulting class have taken to rending garments over the reality television star Donald Trump’s alleged entry into the presidential race (a complete financial disclosure must be filed in 10 days in order to participate in the first debate) and the negative impact he will have on the GOP brand. I have written that I believe they are overestimating the impact Trump will have on the electorate and his fellow candidates. But what these consultants fear most, and what they say freely and honestly, is that Trump will tap into a strain of ascendant populism within conservatism that will infect the party’s grassroots. They fear that a sizable minority of aggressive, xenophobic self-described Republicans will rise up and happily express their impolitic attitudes for the media’s cameras.

Trump’s supposed popularity within the GOP presidential field is wildly overstated. It is no great feat for a figure with near universal name recognition to secure the support of roughly 10 percent of barely tuned-in voters. That performance is only estimable relative to the rest of the crowded presidential field, and Trump’s star is likely to fade as the race’s frontrunners break away from the pack. Still, Republican Party officials are consumed with fear over what Trump represents, and the damage he can do in the interim between his announcement and the inevitable suspension of his campaign.

When conservatives are asked why they think Trump’s candidacy is resonating with the right, they most commonly reply, “He is saying things that people want to hear.” This says less about the electorate than it does about the candidate capturing so many disaffected imaginations. When voters are faced with unpleasant realities, there will always be a market for comforting fictions; just ask the Greeks. A legitimate problem for the GOP is, however, that too many believe that Trump is disseminating hard truths when the opposite is the case.

Republican voters love to hear Trump contend that a new Great Wall across the Mexican border, inexplicably paid for by the Mexican government, will permanently curtail illegal immigration. They love to hear the claim that America is getting a raw deal when it engages in exchanges with its second-largest trading partner, the People’s Republic of China. They love the notion that a more steely-eyed negotiator would pacify Russia without the commitment of substantial treasure and the requirement of sacrifice on the part of the West. Everyone loves a salesman when he’s pitching the deal of the century.

What’s more, those on the right who fairly resent illegal immigration and who oppose the incentives this administration has created for border crossers appreciate hearing Trump express the most acerbic condemnations of illegal immigrants. “If you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything, coming in illegally to the country, they’re mind-boggling,” Trump recently insisted. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Conservatives who instinctually nodded their heads along should have the intellectual consistency to resent the fact that the only person misleading them in this case was Trump.

“Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course,” observed University of Massachusetts Sociology Professor Bianca Bersani in a study published in Justice Quarterly. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted, the Pew Research Center helped quantify Bersani’s work and discovered that native-born Americans are most likely to have committed one crime in the last 12 months followed closely by second generation Americans. “Since undocumented immigrants are more than a quarter of the immigrant population, it’s nearly impossible that the overall-immigrant crime rate could be so much lower if the undocumented-immigrant crime rate were significantly higher,” Bump observed.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a subset of bright, honest, demoralized conservatives to reject this data in favor of the bias-confirming fiction weaved by Trump; particularly because he has attracted at least one prominent enabler: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

While the rest of the field of GOP presidential candidates was condemning Trump and the rhetoric he used to mislead his supporters, Cruz saluted him. This is not a surprising move for the former Texas attorney who is cursed with being acutely aware of his own considerable intellectual faculties. Too often, the junior Texas senator succumbs to the instinct to manipulate his supporters in a transparent manner that is, at times, too clever by half.

Take, for example, Cruz’s decision to stoke the flames of revanchism among aggrieved cultural conservatives in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. “Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it,” said the former Texas Solicitor General in an interview in which he advised states to, likely illegally, ignore the Court’s mandate which compels states to recognize gay unions in order to comport with the Fourteenth Amendment. Ted Cruz knows that course of action is ill advised, but he apparently finds this manner of misinformation useful in his quest to cast himself as a Washington outsider nobly confronting establishment Republicans who have sold out their enervated base.

Cruz’s contention that he would support a constitutional amendment that would subject Supreme Court justices to retention elections also exemplifies his apparent intention to deceive his way to the top of the GOP heap. In the modern era, calls for a constitutional amendment is simple buck-passing; the modern equivalent of a defeated army sending its remaining partisans into the hills to ignite a quixotic guerilla rebellion. If a GOP-dominated congress couldn’t pass a marriage amendment supported by a Republican president in 2004, it’s not happening today. Similarly, the fact that a Democrat-led Senate could barely secure the votes required to debate an amendment that would limit the First Amendment freedoms loathed by the likes of Bernie Sanders was a concession that their cause was an obscure one. For true believers, however, the amendment process remains a viable option, and those who oppose it simply lack the passion. Again, Cruz misled his supporters for temporary personal gain.

Even if such an amendment could pass, its effects on the constitutional order would be disastrous – a reality of which Cruz is likely aware. As the columnist George Will observed, Cruz’s retributive amendment is as “progressive” as anything Hillary Clinton has proposed. “[Teddy Roosevelt] embraced the core progressive belief that the ideal of limited government, and hence the reality of the separation of powers, are anachronisms,” he wrote. “Imagine campaigns conducted by justices. What would remain of the court’s prestige and hence its power to stand athwart rampant executives and overbearing congressional majorities?”

Cruz has calculated that, like Trump, the fleeting value gained by embracing these maximalist positions is worth the damage his reputation will endure. For some on the activist right, however, Cruz and Trump will suffer no consequences advancing a series of comforting fictions. There is no reward for honesty when that forthrightness dashes cherished hope. The conservative movement would, however, do well to ask itself whether it is best served by the charlatans in their midst who are more concerned with selling their product than preserving the integrity of their party or addressing the problems facing the republic.

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Voice of America Shuns Professionalism, Embraces Deal

Well, this piece by Voice of America (VOA) entitled, “As Potential Deal Draws Near, Iran Talks Critics Out in Force,” just crossed my desk: Read More

Well, this piece by Voice of America (VOA) entitled, “As Potential Deal Draws Near, Iran Talks Critics Out in Force,” just crossed my desk:

While talks continue in Vienna critics are out on the Internet in force, accusing American and Iranian diplomats of making a deals with the enemy. “They are saying the same thing, whether you are in Tehran or in Washington,” noted Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.  “They are all saying that ‘the negotiation team is selling their country short. They are agreeing to everything.  They are giving too many concessions.  This will be a disaster.  This is the worst thing that ever happened.” Some of the critique, he says, may come from supporters of Iran’s rivals who fear the country will grow stronger. But analysts say some hardliners are also subscribing to an out-of-date view of international relations, according to Yan Saint Pierre, who heads Berlin-based security firm MOSECON in an interview on Skype. “Their point is based on their impression of Iran and the United States out of the 1980s and the 1990s of both sides being ideologically opposed,” Saint Pierre said.   This mindset is not constructive and is not adaptive to the context of 2015.”

The whole piece is worth reading; it really is astounding. The VOA — an organ which seeks credibility through balance — reports that the “critics [are] out in force,” and yet fails to quote a single critic. Instead, it gives voice to two outspoken proponents of the deal — one of whom once declared that everything he does, he does for Iran and neither of whom are actually American citizens (Parsi is Iranian-Swedish) — and allows them to make straw man arguments that make light of the very real arguments against the nuclear deal as it appears to be shaping up. There are the inconsistencies between what Obama administration officials said the deal would achieve, for example, and what it actually may achieve. There is the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry has crafted the deal to be unenforceable by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international body charged with monitoring any deal. Nor does Saint Pierre’s point make much sense unless he means to suggest that, in 2015, the United States is aligned with groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and other Iranian proxies. This isn’t just an issue with one journalist, but rather broader considering the editorial process through which any article goes.

Now, some might suggest that the VOA is meant to be just that—the voice of American policy. I am certainly sympathetic to that view, after more than a decade of frustration with the tendency of some at VOA to seek to build credibility through self-flagellation or promote the arguments of those loyal to the Islamic Republic over those seeking its downfall. But American policy is not the personification of President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. The United States is not a dictatorship and they do not define acceptable discourse by fiat, no matter what State Department spokesman Marie Harf might suggest. There is seldom unanimity in Congress, but the overwhelming majority of senators and representatives have expressed unease at the concessions offered to Tehran and the normalization of Iran’s nuclear program under current terms. Perhaps VOA meant to suggest that the Congress’s “mindset is not constructive”?

Now, there’s little that can be done of course unless Congress calls VOA directors to account and use the power of the purse to create a cost for such a lack of professionalism. When VOA actually publishes a piece on the deal’s critics and then apparently fails to speak to any, it certainly raises questions about the value of the taxpayer support. After all, can’t private media like MSNBC or CNN do the same thing?

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Bernie’s Greek Crisis Stance Points to America’s Entitlement Crisis

Americans have the luxury of viewing the drama surrounding the Greek vote to reject a European Union bailout of their bankrupt economy with some detachment. If Greece goes bankrupt, few American financial institutions are directly affected in even a minor way. The consequences for European unity and the future of the Euro currency are not unimportant to the global economy but, again, that is not something that will have immediate consequences for the United States. But the Greek crisis does teach us a lesson and we have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank for a reminder yesterday as to why Americans should not only care about what is going in Greece but should take a lesson from their folly. By endorsing the decision of a large majority of Greek voters to, in essence, keep spending without being compelled to pay their debts, the increasingly popular left-wing challenger to Hillary Clinton highlighted a basic difference between Democrats and Republicans about our own looming entitlement spending crisis heading into 2016.

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Americans have the luxury of viewing the drama surrounding the Greek vote to reject a European Union bailout of their bankrupt economy with some detachment. If Greece goes bankrupt, few American financial institutions are directly affected in even a minor way. The consequences for European unity and the future of the Euro currency are not unimportant to the global economy but, again, that is not something that will have immediate consequences for the United States. But the Greek crisis does teach us a lesson and we have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank for a reminder yesterday as to why Americans should not only care about what is going in Greece but should take a lesson from their folly. By endorsing the decision of a large majority of Greek voters to, in essence, keep spending without being compelled to pay their debts, the increasingly popular left-wing challenger to Hillary Clinton highlighted a basic difference between Democrats and Republicans about our own looming entitlement spending crisis heading into 2016.

Let’s specify that Greece’s situation is not directly comparable to the ongoing debate as to how to stop adding to the national debt that has grown exponentially on President Obama’s watch, adding to the admittedly dismal records of most of his recent Republican and Democratic predecessors. Though some politicians, like Rep. Paul Ryan, have sought to highlight the impending fiscal catastrophe unless entitlement spending is reined in, common sense on this issue has been hard to find. Out-of-control spending is a bipartisan affliction, but Democrats have consistently sought to derail debates about how to cap entitlements into partisan rumbles in which Republicans are depicted as wishing to throw wheelchair-bound grandmothers over the cliff. The result is that we continue to spend money that we don’t have (or rather have borrowed from China) but to add to the problem by creating new entitlements such as ObamaCare subsidies that may have a noble purpose but have also massively expanded the scope of government spending and power.

Americans are by nature an optimistic people, and many of us continue to think that we can grow or tax our way out of any problem we create. Growth is essential to the country’s future. But taxes that will depress an economy that continues to struggle despite an anemic recovery (while strengthening government) are not a sensible solution. While we can debate the right answers to the problem, what should not be in dispute is that Americans cannot afford to walk blindly into the future compiling debts that our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay. Nor can we continue to increase the burden of entitlement spending which ultimately compels the nation to sink further into debt.

That is why the Greek fiasco is so instructive for America’s own political debates. As our John Steele Gordon explained here last week, in essence, Greek voters have decided that they want to have their cake and eat it too. Having compiled debts via massive spending on entitlements of various kinds that they couldn’t pay for, the Greeks demanded that the rest of Europe bail them out. However, when presented with a bill for this assistance in the form of economic reforms that compelled them to live within their means, they cried foul. In the Greek context, a much-needed austerity program is viewed not as a necessary corrective to irresponsible spending, but as a form of oppression being imposed on them by wicked Germans. Though it is 70 years since the end of the Second World War, the Greek people, like many others, have a right to view the Germans with skepticism. But this dispute has nothing to do with the crimes of a previous generation and everything do with the question of whether some Europeans will be forced to pay for the profligacy for others without the irresponsible parties having to change their ways.

While our immediate situation isn’t quite so dire as that of Greece, Americans, too, continue to pile up debt while expecting others to pay. That happens in cities and states across the country where public employee contracts threaten to send municipalities into bankruptcy. And it is happening on the federal level as we continue to spend on a growing list of entitlements that cannot possibly be sustained in the future except with ruinous taxes that will cripple the economy.

The response to this problem from liberal Democrats like Bernie Sanders is very much like that of the Greek voters who don’t think they should balance their national checkbook or to stop spending other people’s money to give themselves what they want. The left says keep spending, break up financial institutions, and tax the businesses and investors who provide the engine for growth in order to pay for an ever-expanding government.

Though Sanders won’t be elected president next year, he is clearly in position to make a decent showing in some of the Democratic primaries. Consequently, he is pushing Hillary Clinton farther and farther to the left as she tries to compete with Sanders for the votes of Democrats who would probably prefer to nominate Senator Elizabeth Warren. That puts Clinton and other Democrats in a position where they will continue to be an impassible obstacle to the kind of entitlement reform the United States desperately needs no matter who wins the 2016 elections.

Rather than merely observing the agony of Europe and Greece with bemused indifference, Americans should think seriously about our own future. We’re a long way from being Greece, but the principle remains the same. The shift to the left among Democrats is an ominous sign that the notion of fiscal accountability is one that is equally applicable to American politics as it is that of Greece. We ignore the willingness of Sanders and other liberals to demagoguery about Europe at our peril.

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When Political Correctness Blinds Iran Reporting

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor has a short piece at the newspaper’s “WorldViews” blog about “How Not to Write about Iran.” In short, he chides Western writers for bias and argues that they err when ascribing any culturally specific or different mindset to Iran that they would to other countries or adversaries. Read More

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor has a short piece at the newspaper’s “WorldViews” blog about “How Not to Write about Iran.” In short, he chides Western writers for bias and argues that they err when ascribing any culturally specific or different mindset to Iran that they would to other countries or adversaries.

He begins, for example:

In the Western imagination, Iran has long been a kind of bogeyman. It’s the land of hostage crises and headscarves. It was part of the Axis of Evil (whatever that was). Its leaders grouse about defeating Israel, an American ally. Its mullahs, say Iran’s critics, plot terror and continental hegemony.

Put aside the fallacy of this straw man. The reality is that more people understand Iran in senior levels of the U.S. government, thanks to the legacy of the Peace Corps and the children of American businessmen who grew up in Iran as well as the vibrant role Iranian Americans play in American society, than comparatively understand opaque countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, but it’s a useful straw man so long as a journalist need not produce proof.

Tharoor then complains about the tendency to see Iran “as the other” dating back to the ancient Persian Empires. “As Europe’s empires gained in power,” he continued, “the Orientalist clichés hardened and served to bolster the West’s own sense of racial and moral superiority. Even in the present day, many of the old tropes have been trotted out during the nuclear talks,” citing a number of analogies to how Iranians bargain as if in the bazaar. He concludes by citing a couple authors who complain how unfair it is overemphasize a country’s history in its culture and attitudes:

“Iran is an ancient civilization with a rich culture that definitely has roots in its old history,” Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi tells WorldViews. “But to stereotype modern Iran and Iranians based on what happened thousands of years ago is wrong.” Mortazavi argues that you would never see such simplistic, overreaching appraisals of American allies: “Do we view today’s Europe through the affairs of the Vikings? No. Do we look at Saudi Arabia through the lens of its old Islamic Empire when it was taking over the world? No.” Arash Karami, the Iran editor of the Middle East news site Al-Monitor, dismisses the idea “that Iran has imperial ambitions in the Middle East simply because of its history.” He adds that “most Iranians only have a vague understanding” of the long-gone Achaemenid dynasty or the medieval Safavids.

Tharoor, alas, is allowing political correctness to trump accuracy. Multiculturalism is not simply about appreciating each other’s holidays or cuisine, but rather recognizing that different peoples can think in very different ways. Rather than acknowledge differences and history, he engages in projection: assuming that everyone shares our values. Firstly, it is no secret that Iranians take pride in their historical legacy; it is what sets Iran apart from so many other countries and peoples in the region, and the reason why so many non-Persians among Iran’s neighbors suggest that Iranians are condescending toward their neighbors.

History does matter. Most Iranians are nationalist. Iranians have a term, Iranzamin, to describe the notion of a greater Iran based on areas historically under Persian control. That doesn’t mean that Iranians physically want to reclaim lost territory (although in 2007, Ali Shariatmadari, the Supreme Leader’s appointee to edit the official daily Kayhan, suggested just that in the case of Bahrain), but Iranians do have a concept of “near abroad” not unlike that which Russian President Vladimir Putin and many Russians embrace with regard to the states of the former Soviet Union and perhaps Eastern Europe as well. In 1996, while attending a language institute in Tehran affiliated with the University of Tehran, our Iranian teacher assigned every student in our class to prepare an oral report on an Iranian province which he had taken from a second or third grade textbook. I got Daghestan; it has not been part of Iran since 1828, and yet it remains in the curriculum. Back to Vladimir Putin: Would Tharoor suggest that history does not matter in the Russian case as well? Or the Balkan warlords and their constituents apply the same rational to diplomatic engagement that other European powers might?

Tharoor peppers his essay with various references to Orientalist literature or extreme examples. There is a link to James Morier’s Hajji Baba of Ispahan, published in 1824 by a British diplomat pretending to be a Persian author. It’s a delightful, satirical book, often translated into Persian, and long embraced by Iranians. Here’s a sort article about the novel, its background and significance from Encyclopaedia Iranica, for example. That Tharoor appears more sensitive to satires about the Iranian character than Iranians themselves is unfortunate. Perhaps the original sin was that Morier pretended to be a Persian. If so, then what about Iraj Pezeshkzad’s “My Uncle Napoleon,” a hugely funny book that also made fun of Iranian culture and character and, serialized on television before the revolution, to this day remains the Iran’s most popular television comedy.

Then, of course, there’s the usual assumption that Orientalism—sometimes-exaggerated depictions of ‘the other’—is one way. That may be the way the late literary critic and polemicist Edward Said depicted it, but his book was faulty in terms of both fact and logic. Iranians often characterized ‘the other’ in their own writings. During the Safavid era, for example, there were numerous Persian geographies depicting lands and peoples near and far, seldom in complementary terms. But, for the more recent, Tharoor might want to consider Nineteenth Century ruler Nasir al-Din Shah’s diary with regard to his trip to Europe or, if he wishes a more academic treatment, he could consider the work of the late British diplomat and Iranophile, Sir Denis Wright (in whose private library I conducted a portion of my dissertation research). And while Tharoor picks out opponents of the nuclear deal for the pillory because of their supposed racism, he ignores even more famous examples from those supportive of diplomacy. Take, for example, the famous “How to Negotiate with Iranians,” transmitted from Tehran to Washington in August 1979 by Bruce Laingen, at the time the senior diplomat in Tehran.

The simple fact is this: civilizations as old as Iran develop a literature, culture, and philosophy that builds on itself over generations. Just as Western strategy and concepts of diplomacy have evolved from the days of Machiavelli and been influenced by Judeo-Christian values and history, Iranians might trace the evolution of their diplomacy from the works of Nizam al-Mulk and other examples of “princely literature” and they might also recognize the influence of Zoroastrianism and Islam on their philosophy. As for bazaar bargaining, there is a reason why Americans and Europeans going to purchase goods in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, in Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square, or Kabul’s Chicken Street get fleeced if they are not accustomed to haggling. Haggling is part of some cultures, but try to bargain at the cash register at a Walmart and it’s likely a quick ticket to a police report. Culture matters. Tharoor might have wanted to project sophisticated sensitivity and chide other journalists and writers for getting Iran wrong. What he succeeded in accomplishing, however, was quite the opposite: His essay illuminates the dangers of parachute journalism and superficiality even at America’s top tier papers.

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1967: Who Censored the Voices?

In January, the New York Times ran an article by its Jerusalem correspondent, Judi Rudoren, about a new documentary film entitled Censored Voices. The film is based on the original recordings of Israeli soldiers’ testimony from the 1967 Six-Day War—conversations that provided the basis for a 1968 bestseller entitled Siah Lohamim (Soldiers’ Talk) in Hebrew and published in the United States under the title The Seventh Day. The film includes material that wasn’t in the book, consisting of allegations of Israeli brutality and actions tantamount to war crimes. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in Utah, but it’s been shown since then mostly at European festivals and it’s been running for over a month in Israeli theaters. It’s slated for American theatrical release in the fall.

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In January, the New York Times ran an article by its Jerusalem correspondent, Judi Rudoren, about a new documentary film entitled Censored Voices. The film is based on the original recordings of Israeli soldiers’ testimony from the 1967 Six-Day War—conversations that provided the basis for a 1968 bestseller entitled Siah Lohamim (Soldiers’ Talk) in Hebrew and published in the United States under the title The Seventh Day. The film includes material that wasn’t in the book, consisting of allegations of Israeli brutality and actions tantamount to war crimes. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in Utah, but it’s been shown since then mostly at European festivals and it’s been running for over a month in Israeli theaters. It’s slated for American theatrical release in the fall.

Here at COMMENTARY, Jonathan Tobin did a quick dissection of the documentary as reported by Rudoren. The message of the film is, since the “occupation” of the West Bank is a sin, it must have arisen from an original sin, and that original sin was the very conduct of the Six-Day War. Even without seeing the documentary, Jonathan pretty much had it pegged.

But one aspect of the film’s back story especially intrigued me: The claim that the original transcripts of the tapes had been massively censored in 1967 by the Israeli military censor, so that most of the soldiers’ voices had been excluded from Soldiers’ Talk. In various interviews and in the film’s promotional material, the director Mor Loushy even put a figure on the extent of the official censorship: 70 percent of the original material had been axed. Not only had Israel committed crimes; it had silenced voices that dared to speak them. Censored Voices now gives us those voices.

Something about this tidy narrative seemed to me utterly contrived. Of course, Israel had (and has) military censorship. But the “silencing” trope has become so fashionable on the Israeli left that I wondered whether the 70-percent story might be an exaggeration or fiction, deliberately quantified so as to lodge itself in the minds of audiences. So I looked deeper into the editorial history of Soldiers’ Talk.

Read the results of my investigation over at Mosaic Magazine. It turns out that there was massive censorship of Soldiers’ Talk back in 1967. But the official censor didn’t do it. The man who did do it is, in fact, the hero of Censored Voices, and he’s facilitated and promoted the film. It’s one of the stranger stories out of Israel you’ll read this year. In the course of it, I also ask whether the stories chosen for Censored Voices, especially those alleging expulsions of Palestinians and killings of prisoners, are either reliable or meaningful to our understanding of the Six-Day War.

The fall theatrical run of Censored Voices will be designed to qualify it for a possible Oscar nomination in the documentary feature category. That means it will have to play in Manhattan and Los Angeles theaters, and be reviewed in the prestige press. Hopefully, my piece will lead viewers and reviewers to ask some hard questions that the makers of Censored Voices so far have managed to avoid.

“Who Censored the Six-Day War?” by Martin Kramer, here.

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Will Russia Revoke Recognition of Baltic Independence?

On July 3, Max Boot wrote here asking whether Russian aggression could trigger the next great war; he is right, of course. Russia is increasingly aggressive. Vladimir Putin is feeding off President Obama’s weakness. And Boot is right to frame the question as “What’s the best way to avoid the risk of war with Russia?” He suggests three options. First, kick the Baltics out of NATO, essentially condemning them and perhaps other states in Eastern Europe to Russian dominance. Second is a policy of ambiguity, but given the widespread beliefs that Obama’s red lines are meaningless, adversaries don’t see much ambiguous in what the White House might see as strategic ambiguity. The third option, should Russian forces move into the Baltics is war with Russia. Deterrence, after all, is a military and not simply a rhetorical strategy.

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On July 3, Max Boot wrote here asking whether Russian aggression could trigger the next great war; he is right, of course. Russia is increasingly aggressive. Vladimir Putin is feeding off President Obama’s weakness. And Boot is right to frame the question as “What’s the best way to avoid the risk of war with Russia?” He suggests three options. First, kick the Baltics out of NATO, essentially condemning them and perhaps other states in Eastern Europe to Russian dominance. Second is a policy of ambiguity, but given the widespread beliefs that Obama’s red lines are meaningless, adversaries don’t see much ambiguous in what the White House might see as strategic ambiguity. The third option, should Russian forces move into the Baltics is war with Russia. Deterrence, after all, is a military and not simply a rhetorical strategy.

The problem the West will face is that the moment Russia launches its campaign against the Baltics will never be clear-cut. To invade the Crimea, the Kremlin initially used spetsnaz soldiers wearing no insignia to provide enough plausible doubt to those unwilling to believe that Russia would invade another country in the 21st century. By the time those in denial recognized what had happened, it was too late.

The Russian annexation of the Crimea violated the Budapest Memorandum, the 1994 agreement in which Moscow, Washington, and London agreed that Ukraine would forfeit its inherited nuclear program in exchange for full recognition of its borders by all parties. The United States gave Ukraine security guarantees which the Obama administration ignored and, so, today, the Crimea is effectively Russian territory.

The problem with allowing the violation of red lines is that it seldom ameliorates conflict; rather, it catalyzes it. Obama’s willingness to cast aside American security commitments has convinced Putin that he loses nothing by challenging other international agreements.

The Open Source Center has just published new analysis describing how the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office is considering the validity of the 1991 Soviet recognition of the Baltic countries. It was the same office that previously had determined that the 1954 Soviet transfer of Crimea to the Ukraine was illegal.

Russian officials on 1 July minimized the significance of news reports that the Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating the legality of the Soviet Union’s 1991 recognition of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The reporting followed an earlier determination by the Prosecutor General’s Office that the Soviet Union’s 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine was illegal. Dmitriy Peskkov, the presidential press secretary, has like a true press flak, denied direct knowledge of the investigation. This is not credible, however, given that it was Putin’s United Russia party that initiated the legal query.

Baltic leaders are right to be furious with the Russian provocation. But if they believe that the United States has their back, they are naïve. Over the past six years, security commitments and alliances have ceased to have any meaning in Washington. Sophisticated diplomats now rationalize provocation rather than confront it. The danger is not war while Obama is in office. Putin may be weak, but Obama is weaker. Rather, the true danger is how adversaries will test the next president should he or she ever seek to restore American credibility.

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Europe’s Horrible Choice

It’s high noon in Europe. In Greece, the far-left Syriza had long promised the Greek people auspicious outcomes that they could never deliver. When the government in Athens failed to muscle their way out of a debtor’s obligations through sheer force of personality and overwrought rhetoric, they sought a plebiscite that would allow them to evade making the tough choices a government often confronts. Unsurprisingly, when asked if they would prefer the harsh reality imposed on them by the nation’s creditors to a fantasy, the Greeks resoundingly voted “No.” The standoff the Greeks inaugurated appears set to resolve itself in the worst of ways. They have presented Europeans with a horrible choice: Follow up on their threats and invite the conditions that could lead to Greece’s exit from the Eurozone, or fold in the face of threats and sow the seeds of political chaos that could tear the continent apart.

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It’s high noon in Europe. In Greece, the far-left Syriza had long promised the Greek people auspicious outcomes that they could never deliver. When the government in Athens failed to muscle their way out of a debtor’s obligations through sheer force of personality and overwrought rhetoric, they sought a plebiscite that would allow them to evade making the tough choices a government often confronts. Unsurprisingly, when asked if they would prefer the harsh reality imposed on them by the nation’s creditors to a fantasy, the Greeks resoundingly voted “No.” The standoff the Greeks inaugurated appears set to resolve itself in the worst of ways. They have presented Europeans with a horrible choice: Follow up on their threats and invite the conditions that could lead to Greece’s exit from the Eurozone, or fold in the face of threats and sow the seeds of political chaos that could tear the continent apart.

According to Syriza’s preferred whimsy, the “No” vote would demonstrate that democracy would always triumph over the cruel burdens imposed upon the Greek people from far-flung creditors in Northern European capitals. The referendum would compel Greece’s benefactors to forgive some or all of their debt to preserve the integrity of the Eurozone, and would forestall reforms in the form of pension benefits cuts and tax increases. The wide-eyed academic-turned-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis promised his country that, in the wake of the referendum, not 48 hours would pass before a new and more favorable deal with the country’s creditors would be inked. Less than 24 hours after all the ballots had been counted, Varoufakis resigned.

For weeks, Europe’s leaders had been issuing stinging condemnations of Greek profligacy and threatening that a “No” vote would likely lead to Greece’s forced expulsion from the European Union’s common currency. Today, that scenario is no longer a troubling prospect but a terrifying reality. Writing in the New York Times, Neil Irwin identified the horrible choice Europe now faces: Let Greece go and endure the destabilizing effects that will follow, or retreat from their position and usher in an era of ultimatums and extremism in the E.U.’s debtor nations.

As Irwin observed, the Greek crisis is no longer a matter of monetary policy. The debate over whether the European Central Bank’s terms can be altered to a point at which they are mutually agreeable, or Athens can secure a bailout, debt relaxation, and favorable new loans is irrelevant. “The fact is that the time for those debates is over for now,” he wrote. “[W]e’re in the realm of power politics, not substantive economic policy debates.”

Already, European leaders are growing visibly uncomfortable about the prospect of essentially forcing Greece out of the Union. If the Eurocrats acquiesce to Greece’s ultimatum, they will invite similar tactics in countries like Portugal, Spain, and Italy; nations that have substantial debt burdens and have embraced the politically costly financial reforms imposed on them by their creditors. “Parties of the left in Italy, Portugal and Spain will have a new argument to make against the reforms that have begun to show some progress: Vote to reject the reforms that creditors demand, and the creditors will reward you anyway,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board fretted. “This could doom the center-right Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy as it goes to the polls later this year.”

The response to Greece’s “No” vote has been hailed as a welcome development by an unlikely union of far-left and fringe right political leaders. No doubt, a capitulation to the Greeks’ unreasonable demands will only facilitate the rise of extremist political elements on the continent.

The alternative to this course is to stand strong, cut off funds, force the Greek banking system into collapse, and compel the country to reinstitute a currency that they can value as they see fit to attract new investors and tourists from abroad. The easy part of this lamentable state of affairs would be the reprinting and reintroduction of the Drachma – and that will be a substantial challenge. A financial hardship of a kind unknown in a developed nation for generations will soon descend across the archipelago. A Greece that is suddenly untethered to Europe for the first time in nearly 70 years will present an inviting target for revanchist powers intent on overturning the present geopolitical order.

Near the open of America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, he relates an anecdote that serves as an illustration for how the Pax Americana began. Shortly after the end of World War II, as Greece and Turkey were descending into a crisis that many feared would lead both nations to tip into the Soviet sphere of influence, the British informed members of the Truman administration that they could no longer maintain their traditional role as guarantors of financial and military stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. The urgency of the crisis led to the development and practice of what became known as the Truman Doctrine, which held that the United States would support any nation threatened by Soviet communism in service to Kennan’s policy of containment. Just as a crisis in Greece heralded the beginning of America’s embrace of its global hegemonic status, a new crisis in Greece could signal the start of a new geopolitical epoch.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, an irredentist who is acutely vexed by the lost Soviet empire, is surely aware of all that Greece represents. He has spent political and hard capital reintegrating the “near abroad” into Moscow’s orbit by any means necessary and is busily doing the same for those nations that were once Soviet vassals. Moscow recently cajoled Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, chafing from what he perceives to be the rejection of Cairo’s allies in Washington, to request military aid from the Kremlin and to join Russia’s competing free economic zone, the Eurasian Economic Union. The EEU, a single market of nearly 200 million people with a GDP of over $4 trillion, is going to appear an attractive alternative to the European Union if Athens is suddenly cast adrift.

While Scandinavian countries openly flirt with the prospect of NATO membership in response to Russian threats – a possibility they did not seriously indulge even at the height of the Cold War – the Kremlin has to view demonstrating the fragility of at least one European alliance as a chief foreign policy priority. For their part, the Greeks may willingly aid Moscow in this pursuit. Given Syriza’s friendliness toward Russia and the Greek cultural affinity for its Orthodox brethren, the choice between East and West might not be all that difficult.

The choice facing Europe is a terrible one. There is no good option before them; do they invite the disintegration of their Union from within or allow it to be newly and uniquely assailed from without? In either case, dark days are ahead for the continent.

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CNN Claims Jerusalem’s Old City Endangered But Has No Room for Palmyra

The rise of ISIS has been a tragedy for historical sites in the Middle East. Just as the Taliban destroyed monumental historical artworks in Afghanistan in the 1990s now the new Islamic “caliphate” has taken to undertaking the same sort of vandalism in Iraq and Syria in areas that have fallen under their control. The latest example came in the Syrian city of Palmyra — a UNESCO World Heritage site that is thousands of years old where the Islamists have begun pounding precious artifacts to dust this past week only days after ancient tombs were similarly destroyed. So, as media watchdog Honest Reporting notes, it was not inappropriate for CNN to publish a list of “the world’s most endangered structures on the verge of extinction” on its website. But astonishingly, ancient Palmyra, which according to its own reporting is under direct threat at this moment, didn’t make the CNN list. Not surprising, though disappointing, is the fact that the first item on the list was “the Old City of Jerusalem,” whose preservation, it said, was being prevented by “political tension” that exists “between Israel and UNESCO. This is an outrageous libel against the state of Israel, backed up by not a shred of proof (either on the CNN or the UNESCO websites) and perpetuates the most vicious myths propagated by Palestinian groups intent on whipping up anti-Semitic sentiments among Muslims.

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The rise of ISIS has been a tragedy for historical sites in the Middle East. Just as the Taliban destroyed monumental historical artworks in Afghanistan in the 1990s now the new Islamic “caliphate” has taken to undertaking the same sort of vandalism in Iraq and Syria in areas that have fallen under their control. The latest example came in the Syrian city of Palmyra — a UNESCO World Heritage site that is thousands of years old where the Islamists have begun pounding precious artifacts to dust this past week only days after ancient tombs were similarly destroyed. So, as media watchdog Honest Reporting notes, it was not inappropriate for CNN to publish a list of “the world’s most endangered structures on the verge of extinction” on its website. But astonishingly, ancient Palmyra, which according to its own reporting is under direct threat at this moment, didn’t make the CNN list. Not surprising, though disappointing, is the fact that the first item on the list was “the Old City of Jerusalem,” whose preservation, it said, was being prevented by “political tension” that exists “between Israel and UNESCO. This is an outrageous libel against the state of Israel, backed up by not a shred of proof (either on the CNN or the UNESCO websites) and perpetuates the most vicious myths propagated by Palestinian groups intent on whipping up anti-Semitic sentiments among Muslims.

In terms of the omission of Palmyra from the list, it’s difficult to imagine the thought processes of those involved in creating this article. Though the piece is the work of CNN’s Style section rather than its main news division, surely even the people working there ought to be aware that sometimes the news must influence even travel features. Indeed, the hyped language of its opening would seem to betray the notion that those responsible actually watch the news:

Go see them now, before it’s too late: threatened by neglect, the elements, changing architectural trends or ruthless developers, these outstanding buildings are all fighting a hard battle for survival.

Many of the structures that are listed after the Old City are of historical significance, but some are of questionable importance. Two from Britain, the Preston Bus Station and the Robin Hood Gardens of East London, date only back to the last half century and are examples of “brutalism” and are rather ugly structures that were not designed by UNESCO as worth saving for good reasons. Most are also not endangered by architecture critics or have outlived their original purposes like those two structures but are simply falling down due to neglect.

Including Palmyra on such a list, indeed listing it at the very top, would have made the article both newsworthy as well as accurate. Palmyra is a unique ancient city filled with amazing artifacts that would be worth visiting if it were not located in a country that has gone from a brutal dictatorship to a strife-torn battleground much of which now is in the thrall of fanatical Islamists determined to destroy any vestige of history that predates the Muslim conquest.

Which leads us to the obvious question as to why Jerusalem’s Old City should be included on a list of places that are about to disappear. The Old City is in the middle of an ongoing dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. However, it is not about to collapse. Even more important, to say that its preservation is being prevented by Israel is a flat out lie.

To the contrary, the city’s reunification under Israeli sovereignty in 1967 marked the beginning of efforts to preserve and protect it for both its citizens and the world. The walls of the Old City were preserved, their grounds beautified through the efforts of the Jerusalem Foundation created by the city’s late mayor, Teddy Kollek, and turned into a beloved tourist attraction. The Jewish Quarter of the city, which lay in ruins before June 1967, was rescued from 19 years of vandalism at the hands of Jordanian authorities (Jordan illegally occupied the city from 1949-1967). Its homes have been preserved and its ancient historic synagogues (which were destroyed by the Jordanians) have been rebuilt. The Western Wall, which was used as a dump by the Jordanians was similarly honored by preservation of the ancient tunnels (an act protested by the Palestinians) and an archeological park and was created ensuring that this ancient and precious site will never again be treated in this manner.

It is true, as CNN says, that the Old City has been on a UNESCO list of endangered sites longer than any other. However, its placement there at the request of Jordan had nothing to do with any actual threat to the place. Rather, it was simply a political ploy by the Arab world that considers Jewish control over any part of Israel’s ancient capital to be illegitimate. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel allowed the Jordanians to be given a say over the Temple Mount and its mosques. But the mention of the mosques and the Muslim Wakf that controls them independent of any intervention by the Israelis should lead us to a discussion of what is really threatening Jerusalem and its Old City.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site of Judaism as well as the place where Muslims can worship at mosques that were placed there on the site of the ancient Jewish temple by Islamic conquerors. For the last century, Palestinian leaders have sought to convince their people that that returning Jews wished to destroy the mosques. Such canards were used to foment bloody riots and pogroms against Jews in 1921, 1929, and 1936. Even in the last year, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has tried to whip up similar sentiments to justify terrorism simply because some Israelis — opposed by the Netanyahu government — think Jews should be given the right to pray on the Temple Mount, the one vestige of the Jordanian practice of denying Jews access to their holy places.

More to the point, free from any interference from Israeli authorities seeking to preserve the Temple Mount, the Muslim Wakf has been undertaking construction on the site where antiquities dating back to the past — particularly the era when the Temples stood on the site — are being thrown out like garbage. But neither UNESCO nor CNN has anything to say about that.

So long as Israel maintains control over the Old City, the free access to its holy sites for all that only began in 1967 will be preserved along with its precious treasures and archeological excavations such as those being undertaken just outside the walls at the historic City of David. The only possible threat to its existence would be if the Old City were to fall into the hands of the Palestinian Authority, which has a history of allowing Jewish sites under its control to be destroyed, such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and an ancient synagogue in Jericho. Those who treat a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that would mandate Jerusalem’s partition must understand that such demands are tantamount to ensuring the destruction of World Heritage sites. But in the meantime, ignorant or malevolent media cheerleaders for Palestinian propagandists, such as those at CNN, will continue to spread libels about Israel rather than focusing on the real threat to ancient Jerusalem and completely ignoring the depredations of Islamist vandals.

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Cementing the Bad Deal

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

Happy Monday from Vienna. The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini arrived yesterday and told reporters: “As you know I have decided to reconvene the ministers. They will be arriving tonight and tomorrow. It is the third time in exactly one week. That’s the end, the last part of this long marathon.” Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif already held an impromptu meeting this morning. The overarching consensus – which is almost certainly correct – is that whatever gets announced will be announced no later than tomorrow afternoon. It might very well happen tonight.

As to what that announcement might be, there are a few options. In order of increasing probability:

0% chance: Kerry might make good on the comments that he made yesterday to reporters, and walks away from a bad deal.

Very low probability: the parties might come to a full-blown agreement ready to be implemented immediately. This scenario was never likely by June 30, and became functionally impossible after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set out a range of new red lines a few weeks ago. Also, the Iranians gave a background briefing earlier today in Vienna where they provided their interpretation of an emerging final deal. Among other things they have some interesting views on what military-related restrictions will be lifted, which are in tension with how the Americans have been describing the deal. Those differences will have to be overcome, and they won’t be in the next few days.

Low-probability: the gaps might still be too significant to even colorfully announce a deal, and the parties would extend the interim agreement all the way through the summer. The option would be more attractive to the Obama administration than taking another 2 or 3 weeks. If the administration sends Congress a deal after July 9 then the Corker clock – how long a deal sits in front of Congress – goes from 30 days to 60 days. But if they get all the way through the summer, it goes back down to 30 days. The administration has obvious reasons to prefer that.

Most likely: there will be a non-agreement agreement. The parties will announce they’ve resolved all outstanding issues but they still have to fill in some details. Then the P5+1 and Iran would move in parallel to implement various commitments, and the Iranians would in particular have to work with the IAEA on its unresolved concerns regarding Iran’s weapons program (PMDs). In the winter the IAEA would provide a face-saving way for the parties to declare Iran is cooperating – IAEA head Amano said earlier this week that the agency could wrap up by the end of the year if Iran cooperates – and then a deal would officially begin. The option is attractive to the administration because it puts off granting Iran all of its anticipated sanctions relief until the IAEA makes some noises about the Iranians cooperating. The alternative would be poison on the Hill. This way the administration can tell Congress that of course PMDs will be resolved before any sanctions relief is granted; and after Congress votes, if the Iranians jam up the IAEA but demand relief anyway, lawmakers will have no leverage to stop the administration from caving.

The focus will then shift to Congress, where the debate on approving or disapproving of the deal will take place over the next month. Some of the questions will get technical and tangled – the breakout time debate is going to be mind-numbing – but lawmakers will also use a very simple metric: Is the deal the same one the President promised he’d bring home twenty months ago? Back then the administration was very clear about what constituted a good deal and emphatic that U.S. negotiators had sufficient leverage to secure those terms. The U.S. subsequently collapsed on almost all of those conditions, and lawmakers will want to know how the deal can still count as a good one.

In line with those questions, here is a roundup from the Foreign Policy Initiative on where the administration started and how dramatically it has moved backwards. From the overview of the analysis:

Over the past three years, the Obama administration has delineated the criteria that any final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran must meet. In speeches, congressional testimony, press conferences, and media interviews, administration officials have also articulated their expectations from Tehran with repeated declarations: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” This FPI Analysis… compiles many of the administration’s own statements on nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past three years, and compares them with current U.S. positions. It also examines U.S. statements on a range of other issues related to U.S. policy toward Tehran, and assesses whether subsequent events have validated them.

The web version has embedded links for each of the statements, so if you need them just click through on the url at the top. You might just want to do that anyway, because the web version is more readable.

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Investors Turn Sour on Iraqi Kurdistan

It’s long been the dream of Iraqi Kurdish leaders to transform Iraqi Kurdistan into a new Dubai. Kurds have long bridged the delicate balance between the United States, Turkey, and Iran. While huge swaths of the country from Baghdad to Mosul and Kirkuk devolved into sectarian chaos and civil war, portions of Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) remained relatively stable and secure. The KRG sold the rights to explore for oil and gas and international oil companies found vast reserves. Here, for example, is the website to KRG’s campaign to encourage international investment. Ordinary Kurds had every expectation they would benefit from this windfall as money poured into the region. It didn’t work, however. Read More

It’s long been the dream of Iraqi Kurdish leaders to transform Iraqi Kurdistan into a new Dubai. Kurds have long bridged the delicate balance between the United States, Turkey, and Iran. While huge swaths of the country from Baghdad to Mosul and Kirkuk devolved into sectarian chaos and civil war, portions of Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) remained relatively stable and secure. The KRG sold the rights to explore for oil and gas and international oil companies found vast reserves. Here, for example, is the website to KRG’s campaign to encourage international investment. Ordinary Kurds had every expectation they would benefit from this windfall as money poured into the region. It didn’t work, however.

The KRG consistently has reneged on payments to oil conglomerates and on commitments to investors, often blaming Baghdad for failing to remit its portion of Kurdistan’s budget and, more recently, the strains of fighting the Islamic State.

Blaming Baghdad is often a successful strategy to deflect public blame away from the true costs of corruption and mismanagement. After decades of discrimination and worse, Kurds readily accept the narrative that the fault lies in Baghdad. But not only is a Kurd now Iraq’s finance minister, he is also Masoud Barzani’s uncle; he treats KRG with transparency. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also struck an oil deal with the KRG shortly after taking office. When Kurdish salaries were not paid in December 2013 in Sulaymani, for example, the reality was that Baghdad had transferred the money to the KRG, but the money had somehow gone missing between Erbil and Suleimani. And while the cost of fighting the Islamic State is high, a portion of that expense is money siphoned from the treasury and paid to ‘ghost’ peshmerga; troops which exist on paper but not in reality. Indeed, the ghost employee scam is one reason why the KRG is so reluctant to embrace modern banking and electronic transfer of salaries.

The KRG regularly disparages any independent Kurdish journalist who writes about corruption or nepotism and, like the Iraqi government under the Baath party, regularly interrogates Kurds returning from travel abroad — including State Department-organized International visitor programs — to ensure they have not spoken to analysts or journalists whom the KRG fears would report critically about the situation in the KRG. Conversely, the KRG showers former U.S. government officials, retired military officers, and think tank analysts with gifts, contracts, and cash in order to sing the KRG’s praises.

Journalists may be superficial — they parachute in and out of a region quickly — but responsible investors and the international markets are not so easily swayed by rhetorical flak. They want to know the facts, see the books and, in areas where opacity is the rule, be convinced that the government line is rooted in reality.

Well, as cash has dried up, the KRG has recently tried to tap international debt markets for a five year, one billion dollar bond.  The market told them it would cost 12 percent.  In comparison, Ivory Coast debt with a much longer maturity — December 2032 — yields 6.43 percent, and Iraqi government debt with a 2028 maturity trades at 8.2%.  Twelve percent for a five-year paper is a slap in the face and a sign of complete lack of confidence in the KRG’s stewardship. Indeed, while the Kurdish government drops hints about its desire for a referendum leading to independence — hints it drops every few years but upon which it never acts — the international market now signals that the Kurds are very close to insolvency and that they believe the KRG has driven the Kurdish economy into the ground. Indeed, it says a great deal that international investors now have far greater confidence in the future of Iraq than in the future of Iraqi Kurdistan.

If Kurdistan were truly as democratic as its representatives say it is, it is long past time for the Kurdish parliament to ask very tough questions about the president and premier’s stewardship of the economy, investor relations, and rule-of-law.

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Israel Should Stop Courting Europe, Turn to Asia

European officials and European civil society often like to think of themselves as the pinnacle of human rights and morality. In reality, Europe has become a moral vacuum and, once again, a breeding ground for casual hate, racism, and anti-Semitism. This has become clear not only through the example of sophisticated elites like former Irish President Mary Robinson, British Labor politician Jeremy Corbyn, or Daniel Bernard, the late French ambassador to the United Kingdom, but also in the increasing European obsession with stable, democratic Israel, while countries surrounding Israel degenerate into anarchy, generate millions of refugees, promote genocide, and incite and sponsor terrorism. Read More

European officials and European civil society often like to think of themselves as the pinnacle of human rights and morality. In reality, Europe has become a moral vacuum and, once again, a breeding ground for casual hate, racism, and anti-Semitism. This has become clear not only through the example of sophisticated elites like former Irish President Mary Robinson, British Labor politician Jeremy Corbyn, or Daniel Bernard, the late French ambassador to the United Kingdom, but also in the increasing European obsession with stable, democratic Israel, while countries surrounding Israel degenerate into anarchy, generate millions of refugees, promote genocide, and incite and sponsor terrorism.

A lot can be written about why so many in Europe — or, for that matter, within the Obama administration and increasingly among other Democratic stalwarts — have become so hostile to Israel and its ability to defend itself against threats ranging from Hamas, to Hezbollah, to Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Sinai. Perhaps it was the end of conscription in many countries which widened the divide between those with military service and understanding, and those without. Perhaps it was the insulation that developed from having outside powers guarantee security so that individual states seldom had to. Perhaps it’s the legacy of European anti-Semitism, the most virulent kind, which can no longer be masked by European smug self-righteousness. And perhaps it’s the “old Europe, new Europe” divide once described by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Poles, Czechs, and Romanians remember what it is like to live under tyranny while time has diluted “Old Europe’s” understanding of reality.

Israel has long considered itself almost a European country; the European immigration that marked early Zionism shaped that character, even if geography and immigration from Turkey, Iran, India, and the Arab world also bestowed Israel with a Middle Eastern character. Indeed, Tel Aviv is much like Alexandria and Beirut once were, and like Istanbul still is, at least for the time being: a veritable mixing grounds of east and west.

For too long, however, Israel has if not ignored Asia than put it on the backburner. Sure, there was been sporadic outreach to China, but this was both half-hearted and misguided: When it comes to the Middle East, Beijing is the ultimate realist. Immediate commercial concerns means everything, broader principle mean little if anything.

India—the world’s largest democracy—was largely hostile to the Jewish state for the same reason it was hostile to the United States. Indian nationalist diplomat Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon coined the term ‘non-alignment’ in a 1953 United Nations speech, and the following year Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement. In theory, it sought a third path separate from the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States but in practice it was marked by disproportionate hostility to the West.

Non-alignment, a fondness for socialism, and a suffocating bureaucracy hostile both to direct foreign investment and free market enterprises long restrained India’s economic potential. While India still has a way to go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to bring India’s economy, political culture, and foreign into the 21st century. He recognizes how much India and Israel have in common. They are both democracies in a region where democracies otherwise have not thrived. And Islamist radicals target them both. In the case of both, land disputes — be they have Jerusalem and its environs in Israel’s case, or the Kashmir in India’s — are only an excuse for a far more murderous agenda.

Earlier this year, Modi announced that he would become the first Indian leader to visit Israel. Among tech-savvy Indians, the twitter hashtag #IndiaWithIsrael is trending. Nor does it seem that Modi’s looming visit will be the end-all and be-all of warming ties. As COMMENTARY readers know, the UN Human Rights Council has long been a cesspool of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias. Consider these statistics of cumulative Council condemnations from its founding in 2006 to the present: Israel has been condemned more than 60 times, yet slave-holding Mauritania, blogger-whipping Saudi Arabia, journalist-repressing Turkey, freedom-extinguishing China, migrant worker-killing Qatar, and expansionist Russia have faced no condemnation. Condemning Israel has become a knee-jerk reaction around the world and, for decades, it has been India’s position as well. But on Friday, July 3, India shocked the Council by abstaining on its condemnation of Israeli actions in last year’s Gaza War. Now an abstention isn’t the same as a vote against, but clearly India-Israel relations are on the upswing, or could be if Israeli leaders are willing to work hard to cultivate them.

But India is not alone. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has long sought to cultivate ties between Israel and other Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and even Malaysia. The momentum is promising, as have been the results considering the relatively small scale. If Israel made a concerted effort to cultivate these ties, they might find a much more receptive audience than in past years. Not only would this create a strategic buffer, but it might also correct the narrative that all Muslims embrace the radical, anti-peace positions put forward by more rejectionist Arab states and European and American proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. After all, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country on earth by population, and India the second largest, even though it is not even majority Muslim.

Such diplomacy need not be an either-or scenario, but just as Washington navel-gazes and forgets that the United States and the targets of our interest are not alone in the sandbox, so, too, do Europeans forget that they are not the world’s moral barometer or the doyens of the elite club with which everyone wants favor. Not only is Southeast Asia booming as many of its countries largely abandon ruinous socialist practices and authoritarianism, but many now also face the same Islamist terror threat which Israel has been confronting for decades. There is a convergence of interests; let us hope that Israeli officials stop wasting undue energy on the Sisyphean task of pleasing European officials inclined to dislike them and recognize that such efforts might lead to greater results with a new eastern push.

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How An Act of Grace Changed the Republican Party

As those of us who were not directly touched by the horrifying massacre in Charleston begin to move on, it’s worth trying to put some of the events in a broader context. How the Republican Party became the dominant party of the Old Confederacy – first benefiting from it, then struggling because of it, and finally distancing itself from one of the Confederacy’s most toxic symbols – is among the more fascinating political stories of modern times.

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As those of us who were not directly touched by the horrifying massacre in Charleston begin to move on, it’s worth trying to put some of the events in a broader context. How the Republican Party became the dominant party of the Old Confederacy – first benefiting from it, then struggling because of it, and finally distancing itself from one of the Confederacy’s most toxic symbols – is among the more fascinating political stories of modern times.

It starts just over a half-century ago, after President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation.” Actually, it was two generations — and counting.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act, the South was a Democratic stronghold. Democrats held all of the governors’ offices and Senate seats in the region. Yet by 1972, Richard Nixon carried more than 70 percent of the vote in the Deep South. Today, it’s rare to find Democrats holding top political offices in the South. The sweep has been nearly complete.

With a vise-like grip on the South came a large number of electoral votes but also baggage, most especially having to do with the symbols of the Old Confederacy. This was true in South Carolina, where Democrats were responsible for first flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol in 1962 but which Republicans soon became associated with.

The flag became a political problem for Republicans as the nation became more ethnically and racially diverse and less culturally accepting of the symbols of slavery. For several election cycles, Republican presidential candidates refused to criticize flying the Confederate flag on state grounds for fear of losing the South Carolina primary. This stance, however, sent an alienating message to minorities and suburban voters: Key Republicans were publicly agnostic when it came to a symbol of white supremacy and secession. In a rather odd historical inversion, the party of Lincoln became identified with the symbol of slavery.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was over. An issue in which the battle lines had been long drawn changed suddenly changed. Why?

As many people have pointed out, the proximate cause was a tragedy: Nine African-Americans gunned down during a Bible Study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The alleged killer, Dylann Roof, is a racist who had been photographed posing with the Confederate flag. But, by itself, that set of facts wouldn’t have changed much at all since no one could plausibly blame the Confederate flag for the massacre.

Something else was at play: The way the people of Charleston responded in the aftermath of the killings. No riots. No violence. No unrest. Instead, there were calls for unity and solidarity. But even that, by itself, would not have been enough.

The key event occurred when the relatives of people slain were able, less than 48 hours after the killings, to speak directly to Roof at his first court appearance. It was a sublime moment. Grieving family members spoke in honest, unaffected ways about the grief and heartache of their loss, and yet they somehow found it within themselves to bestow forgiveness on the man who had killed their beloved.

The people and the politicians of South Carolina, having witnessed this profound demonstration of grace, wanted to find a way to extend it to others. They did. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley – who had previously rebuffed efforts to remove the flag from the grounds of the state legislature – reversed her position, acknowledging that what had occurred “calls upon us to look at this in a different way.” She added, “By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven.”

This change in policy didn’t come about because of pressure and coercion and intimidation from without; it arose from a change of heart from within. So powerful was it that other states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, took steps to put aside the symbols of the Confederacy.

While not nearly as historically significant and on a vastly smaller scale, there are some parallels to what happened a few weeks ago in Charleston and the Civil Rights era, when the most direct challenge to segregation came from within the Christian tradition and the black church. There was a profound dignity and strength in how those opposing segregation carried themselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. eschewed violence and spoke instead about justice and love. “The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil,” King said in a stunning 1957 sermon on loving your enemy. “Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.”

A few weeks ago, in a courtroom in Charleston, a handful of saints decided to cut off the chain of hate and injected the element of love. In doing so, they moved hearts in a state and a nation. They caused people to alter old assumptions. They changed American politics.

They even changed the Republican Party.

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Don’t Lose any Sleep Over United Church of Christ Divestment

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose. Read More

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose.

Although one cannot deny that this turn of events is a victory for the movement to boycott Israel, I doubt it is a significant one. First, as Jonathan Rynhold has explained in his recent The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture, hostility toward Israel is a great mainline Protestant tradition. Henry Van Dusen, no fringe figure he, was more provocative than but not unrepresentative of elite mainline opinion when he described Israel’s actions in the Six Day Way as “the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation.”

Second, as the reference to mainline “elite” opinion is meant to suggest, there is no reason to think that the actions of the delegates, any more than the divestment actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last year, represent the opinion of mainline rank and file. An April 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of white mainline Protestants sympathized with Israel more than the Palestinians, compared to just 11 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. That is not much different from the U.S. average. Similarly, although the delegates at the Synod plainly think that even the Obama administration is not hostile enough to Israel, the poll finds that a plurality of white mainline Protestants (42 percent) think the Obama administration’s level of support is right. Twenty-four percent think President Obama supports the Palestinians too much and only 7 percent think he supports Israel too much. Again, this is hardly different from all Americans polled. A February 2015 poll, also conducted by Pew, found that 43 percent of white mainline Protestants held a favorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared to 24 percent who held an unfavorable opinion. That’s slightly better than Netanyahu fared with the U.S. adult population overall. In short, mainline leadership appears far, indeed, from mainline non-elites on Israel.

Third and finally, the UCC is small and getting smaller, presently accounting for four-tenths of one percent of the adult U.S. population. Between 2000 and 2010, the UCC lost over 300,000 members, an astronomical loss for a group that, in fall 2014, put its membership at less than a million. Of those who remain, 67% are 50 or over.

No one should be losing any sleep over this.

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When Conservatives Latch on to the Wrong Causes

Sometimes there are moments in which the differences within your own political and philosophical movements become particularly clear. That happened to me over the course of two days last week. Read More

Sometimes there are moments in which the differences within your own political and philosophical movements become particularly clear. That happened to me over the course of two days last week.

I was driving in my car and, as is my wont, skipping around to different radio stations, some carrying sports shows and others carrying conservative talk programs. On consecutive days, I tuned into The Mike Gallagher Show. Gallagher’s show is popular, rated #10 on the list of Talkers.com’s most important radio talk show hosts. I’ve been on his show several times over the years, and I’ve always had a cordial relationship with Gallagher, although sometimes we’ve had some sharp disagreements.

In any event, while tuning in to parts of his program over two days, Gallagher was speaking out in defense of Donald Trump, flying the Confederate flag, and parents who oppose vaccinations for their children. And I thought, “This branch of conservatism is one I don’t particularly identify with.”

Gallagher is, in my judgment, wrong on each of these issues. But it’s not just that I believe he’s wrong; it’s the passion he brought in defense of them that was striking to me. Why would he feel moved to give defense to the anti-vaccination movement when vaccinations are one of the greatest achievements of biomedical science and public health? (Gallagher tends to frame this as a parental rights issue, but also argues that “we don’t know” whether autism is caused by vaccinations, when in fact there’s no link based on any credible science.) Why, given the fact that the Confederate flag was the symbol that represented succession and slavery, would Gallagher criticize South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney for reversing his stance on flying the flag on state grounds? (Gallagher argued that the same logic that led to bringing down the Confederate flag could lead us to bring down the American flag.) And why defend Donald Trump, who is hardly a conservative, for his crude and misleading statements on illegal immigrants from Mexico? (Trump didn’t say that we should secure the southern border and there are bad people who sometimes come across it illegally; he said Mexico is sending us people who are criminals, drug deals and rapists — and some, “I assume,” are good people.)

I don’t want to overstate things. Gallagher and I come down on the same side on most public policy issues. We’re both critical of President Obama and liberalism. We both disagree with the most recent Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage. We both respect the Founders, the Constitution, and Ronald Reagan, in whose administration I worked.

Yet there I was, listening to Gallagher over the course of two days defending with some passion people and positions in ways I find quite problematic. And it did underscore for me how there are competing impulses and tropisms within conservatism today. This doesn’t make us enemies or unable to find common cause and co-exist in the same movement. There are already too many loud and agitated voices on the right urging excommunication for those who disagree with them.

But it’s clear, too, that there are real differences rooted in temperament and to some degree in philosophy; in how we view empirical evidence and science; and in how we understand conservatism, where it needs to go and who best represents it in our time. And I will add this: If conservatism is associated in the public mind with defending Donald Trump, the Confederate flag, and the anti-vaccination movement, it’s going to rapidly shrink in size and influence and intellectual seriousness.

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Pro-Palestinian Activists Only Respect the U.N. When It Suits Them

The hypocrisy of the claim that flotillas to Gaza are a “humanitarian” endeavor has now been fully exposed: As Jonathan Tobin noted last week, the latest proved to be carrying a mere two cardboard boxes worth of aid. But pro-Palestinian activists are also guilty of an even more egregious form of hypocrisy: They proclaim all anti-Israel U.N. decisions to be binding international law, but openly flout U.N. decisions that happen to be in Israel’s favor. The Gaza flotillas are a perfect example. Read More

The hypocrisy of the claim that flotillas to Gaza are a “humanitarian” endeavor has now been fully exposed: As Jonathan Tobin noted last week, the latest proved to be carrying a mere two cardboard boxes worth of aid. But pro-Palestinian activists are also guilty of an even more egregious form of hypocrisy: They proclaim all anti-Israel U.N. decisions to be binding international law, but openly flout U.N. decisions that happen to be in Israel’s favor. The Gaza flotillas are a perfect example.

According to the flotilla activists, their goal was “to break the illegal blockade on Gaza.” But a blue-ribbon international commission appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2010 concluded that the blockade is in fact a “legitimate security measure” that fully complies with international law. So the same activists who lambaste Israel for noncompliance with anti-Israel U.N. resolutions – like those against the settlements, or the one ostensibly granting Palestinian refugees a “right of return” to Israel – feel it’s perfectly fine for them to ignore U.N. decisions that don’t serve their cause.

Nor is the Gaza blockade the worst example. Far more egregious is the way pro-Palestinian activists – and indeed, every country in the world except Israel – simply ignores U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, despite it being hands-down the most frequently cited resolution relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

That resolution was deliberately worded to allow Israel to retain some of the territory it captured in 1967. This isn’t mere speculation; the American and British ambassadors to the U.N. at the time, who drafted the resolution, both said explicitly that this was the purpose of its wording. And as legal expert Eugene Kontorovich noted in a terrific analysis in December, the same conclusion emerges from a comparison of 242 to 18 other U.N. resolutions demanding territorial withdrawals. He discovered that 242’s demand for a withdrawal from unspecified “territories,” rather than from “the territories” or “all the territories” or “the whole territory” or to the status quo ante, is unique. And this reinforces the conclusion that the drafters indeed intended to allow Israel to retain some of the territory rather than ceding it all.

Yet today, both America and Britain – along with the entire rest of the world – simply ignore this resolution and insist that Israel must retreat to the pre-1967 lines.

To be clear, I would have no problem with ignoring the U.N. altogether; it’s an organization dominated by dictators that no self-respecting democracy should legitimize, so a principled refusal to honor any of its decisions would be eminently understandable. I’d also have no problem with a position rooted in genuine international law, which is that U.N. decisions are binding and enforceable only when adopted by the U.N. Security Council under Chapter VII. That’s what’s actually written in the U.N. Charter, and what U.N. member states agreed to when they signed the charter, and therefore, no state ever made a legal commitment to obey any other U.N. decision.

But pro-Palestinian activists selectively treat U.N. decisions that favor their cause as “binding international law” while simply ignoring decisions that don’t favor their cause. And that position makes a travesty of the most fundamental principle of any kind of law: that it must apply equally to all parties in all cases, regardless of whether it helps or hurts a particular cause.

Thus, anyone who claims to support international law should be the first to denounce this abuse of U.N. decisions. And the fact that so many self-proclaimed advocates of international law instead lend tacit support to this travesty is precisely why no self-respecting person should accept their interpretation of anything.

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Independence Day and the Left’s Unseemly Vanity

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices. Read More

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it has become more pronounced as the present era of progressivism reaches a zenith and invites what history suggests will be a correction in a more conservative direction. The latest example of this unattractive tendency was submitted by Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews who, in a sprawling tome, contended that the American Revolution was a mistake, an unfortunate accident of history, and that mankind would be better off had it never occurred.

Matthews based this contention on three pillars. The first is that the practice of African slavery in North America would have been abolished perhaps twenty years earlier and perhaps without any bloodshed had the colonies continued to fly the British flag. This claim is easy to make for someone who has so consciously determined to ignore the rebellious and individualistic nature of the American character. If Americans were so passive that they would simply accept British abuses in the late 18th Century, surely the planter class in the American South would have been equally servile in the early 19th Century. In Matthews’ fantasy, Southerners would have given up on the practice of slavery peacefully in response to an edict drawn up by an unrepresentative parliamentary body in London.

Matthews’ second contention is that, like American slaves, Native American tribes preferred the British to the American colonists and fought on their behalf during the Revolutionary War. What’s more, he contends that they were right to do so. “Absent the revolution, Britain probably would’ve moved into Indian lands. But fewer people would have died,” he averred. Matthews ignores or is simply unaware of many tribes who fought on the behalf of the Colonists. George Washington personally requested and was provided with Maine’s Passamaquoddy warriors. Massachusetts passed a resolution calling for the employment of 500 Malisset and Micmac Indians by the Continental Army. Indeed, those tribes that did side with the rebellious Americans did so because they believed siding with the devil they knew would better preserve their political neutrality. There was and remains no monolithic Native American position on the Revolutionary War, and to suggest that there was is nothing short of misinformation.

But the many paragraphs Matthews devoted to his self-flagellating sop to identity politics are a mere smokescreen that disguises his true aim: the condemnation of republicanism itself. “In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that,” Matthews remarked. “Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than presidential systems.” He goes on to insist that the American governmental system is lamentably democratic insofar as it gives “Wyoming the same power as California” in the upper chamber of Congress, and that the need to craft national consensus in order to advance his policy preferences is a lamentable millstone around the neck of “progress.”

It is tempting to dismiss Matthews’ self-loathing tract as just the latest example of ham-fisted provocative “takes” written and published only in order to attract views; a modern example of Barnum’s American Museum, a low form of entertainment in which oddities and curiosities violate taboos and titillate the intrigued. But this would be a disservice to Matthews and the tyrannical progressivism he represents. Though his is supposedly a sermon in praise of constitutional monarchy, he only celebrates the British system’s least democratic elements. Matthews wrote in praise of undiluted authoritarianism. On the left, he is not alone in this impulse. His admiration for anti-democratic governance is not all that dissimilar from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s desire to see America be “China for a day.”

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks,” Friedman graciously conceded. “But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.” Among those disadvantages Friedman underemphasized is the persistent historical fact that one-party autocracy tends not to surrender its power after that one productive day in the absence of considerable social upheaval and, often, butchery.

But Matthews and Friedman shouldn’t be dismissed as mere click-seekers. Their honesty in admiration for the authoritarianism that our enlightened Founders sloughed off in favor of revolutionary democratic republicanism is admirable. Conservatives would do well to note often and frequently that their opponents on the left are not fans of the messy and inefficient process of seeking public approval for their policy preferences. The left’s most honest voices openly concede that they would prefer you be made to accept their edified fiat at gunpoint.

A less toxic example of this grotesque self-assuredness was demonstrated by President Barack Obama’s White House this week. In keeping with this president’s desire to see every holiday politicized and to foist upon exhausted families one of his true believers who will ceaselessly proselytize in favor of the president’s policies, the administration asked its devotees to praise and promote the Affordable Care Act over the Fourth of July weekend. In a blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services provided administration supporters a script that they can recite for the unbelievers in their midst. “With greater access to affordable, quality health insurance, the Affordable Care Act is helping individuals and strengthening our economy!” HHS invited its backers to exclaim. “Now would you like more corn?”

This suggestion is in keeping with past administration behavior. It is, however, almost more unseemly for the secularists in this government to infringe upon the solemnity of the celebration of America’s birth than it is to invite Obama’s backers to spoil overtly or inherently religious affairs like Christmas or Thanksgiving. At a time when Americans should be reflecting on the sacrifices of the Founders and those subsequent generations who sacrificed so much to preserve freedom and self-determination, the administration’s narcissists prefer that you revel in their own accomplishments. This sentiment is of a kind with that expressed by first lady Michelle Obama who remarked that she had never been prouder of the United States than when it appeared set to elect her husband to the presidency. Rather than reflect on the sacrifices of those Americans who toiled so that we might enjoy our present comfort and security, those like Matthews, the first lady, and this administration prefer the reflection in the mirror.

Most Americans still know that the Founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor were not penning some frat house oath; in revolt against the Crown, those things were truly in the balance. Most Americans do not pine for the legislative efficiency of dictatorial government; they have voted for a divided Washington consistently since 2010, and only the most arrogant would contend that the voters simply don’t know what they want. Most Americans value the country that is still the shining city upon the hill, the golden door besides which Emma Lazarus eloquently noted the lady in the harbor lifts her lamp. Most Americans give thanks that their nation is the Arsenal of Democracy, and know innately that other less altruistic powers would fill that vacuum in her absence. Most Americans – left, right, and unaffiliated — are not as infatuated with themselves as are those who populate pro-administration blogs with content.

Most Americans do not cringe when they hear their neighbor unashamedly wish them a happy Independence Day, and they do not recoil when that is followed by the appeal to heaven that seeks God’s blessing on America. That was so for 239 years, and may it ever be thus.

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Will Russian Aggression Trigger a New Great War?

Over at Vox, Max Fisher has a long and interesting article suggesting that the risk of a nuclear war between Russia and the U.S. is growing.

He quotes pundits close to the Kremlin suggesting that Vladimir Putin feels genuinely threatened by the U.S. and that he may try to stage a Ukrainian-style revolt in Estonia or one of the other Baltic states in order to confront NATO with an unpalatable choice: Either risk World War III or allow the alliance to disintegrate, thus letting Russia regain its traditional sphere of influence in eastern Europe. Read More

Over at Vox, Max Fisher has a long and interesting article suggesting that the risk of a nuclear war between Russia and the U.S. is growing.

He quotes pundits close to the Kremlin suggesting that Vladimir Putin feels genuinely threatened by the U.S. and that he may try to stage a Ukrainian-style revolt in Estonia or one of the other Baltic states in order to confront NATO with an unpalatable choice: Either risk World War III or allow the alliance to disintegrate, thus letting Russia regain its traditional sphere of influence in eastern Europe.

The possibility of such a conflict spinning out of control is all the greater because Russian military doctrine is fairly permissive in the use of nuclear weapons to compensate for a conventional disadvantage such as the one that the Russian military currently suffers from when arrayed against NATO. Fisher even quotes experts comparing the current situation to Europe on the eve of World War I.
There is, to be sure, an element of Russian information warfare evident here which Fisher does not mention: Putin wants us to think he’s crazy enough to trigger a nuclear war if he doesn’t get his way. That makes it much less likely that we will do anything serious to stop him. But the concerns raised by Fisher cannot be entirely dismissed. In fact, I heard similar warnings not long ago from a senior NATO general.

The question is, what should the West do about it? Or, put another way: What’s the best way to avoid the risk of war with Russia?

One obvious alternative would be to abrogate the NATO treaty, kick the Baltic States out, and make clear to Putin that we will do nothing to risk war over their fate. But this would have the effect of dismembering the alliance, as Putin intends, and it risks undoing all of the progress seen in Eastern Europe since 1989. The region is stable, democratic, and relatively prosperous for the first time in its long and troubled history. States such as Poland are enjoying a golden age that would have been impossible to imagine in centuries past when their territory was the plaything of neighboring autocrats. Abandon the Baltics, and you effectively abandon Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and all the rest, because then NATO guarantees will be meaningless. The political stability that has been necessary for the region’s development will collapse, and we are likely to see the rise of extremist parties of both left and right — a development already evident to some extent in Hungary.

Assuming that we are not ready to destroy NATO and abandon Eastern Europe, what then should we do to avoid conflict with Moscow? We can continue on our present path of exercising U.S. forces in the NATO states of the Baltics and Eastern Europe without permanently stationing them there, and of providing non-lethal aid to Ukraine but refusing to provide the arms necessary to stop Russian aggression. This is designed to be a middle path of reassuring allies without unduly alarming Russia. But it isn’t working: The U.S. is doing just enough to provide fodder for Putin’s propagandistic claims of “encirclement” but not enough to effectively dissuade Russia from further aggression.

It can, in fact, be argued that the U.S. is repeating the mistake that Britain made on the eve of World War I. In 1904, Britain entered into an Entente Cordiale with France, but it was unclear what this actually meant. In 1911, the British diplomat Sir Eyre Crowe wrote:

“The fundamental fact of course is that the Entente is not an alliance. For purposes of ultimate emergencies it may be found to have no substance at all. For the Entente is nothing more than a frame of mind, a view of general policy which is shared by the governments of two countries, but which may be, or become, so vague as to lose all content.”

The key ambiguity that the Entente Cordiale created was whether, in the event that France was attacked, Britain would come to its aid. The fact that Britain might leave France to her fate — and the fact that the British Army pre-1914 was laughably small — encouraged the German General Staff to conclude that it could carry off its famous Schlieffen Plan unchecked: That is, that the German army could invade France and knock it out of the war swiftly, and then turn to deal with the Russian armies in the east. If the Germans had been convinced that British forces would block their designs (as in fact happened), they might never have launched the attack in the first place and the Great War might have been avoided.

The risks of ambiguity were made clear once again in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea after Secretary of State Dean Acheson had proclaimed the south outside the American “defensive perimeter.” The Korean War, too, might have been prevented by sending a clearer signal in advance that aggression would be met with a substantial response.

The lesson that I draw for the present day is that we had better make clear to Putin that aggression against the Baltics will, in fact, trigger a war with NATO. Given that Putin is hardly suicidal, he will presumably shy away from a conflict he must know he cannot win — and one that could well lead to the incineration of much of the Russian population. But to deter Putin will require taking steps — such as stationing substantial U.S. ground forces in eastern Europe, providing arms to the Ukrainians, and stopping the reduction in U.S. military spending in general and army end-strength in particular — that the Obama administration has refused to take. There are, to be sure, risks in this course of action, but the greatest risk of all, I believe, is to continue on our current path of drift, which exacerbates strategic ambiguity (will NATO fight for the Baltics or not?) and thus increases the risk of a catastrophic conflict that no one wants.

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BDS Rejected by Episcopal and Mennonite Churches

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and Jewish Voice for Peace activist Seth Morrison has supplied us with an amusing example of the phenomenon. Read More

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and Jewish Voice for Peace activist Seth Morrison has supplied us with an amusing example of the phenomenon.

Morrison just penned a piece entitled “Does Church Vote Signal BDS Tipping Point?” The question mark notwithstanding, Morrison plainly thought the answer was yes.  Reflecting on last week’s gay marriage victory and this week’s pro-BDS vote by the United Church of Christ, Morrison exulted at length:

Another movement for equal rights, the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom from Israeli occupation, is currently facing significant opposition. But as with the LGBTQ movement just a few years ago, the tides seem to be shifting.

The United Church of Christ has just voted to boycott and divest from Israeli occupation, becoming the second mainline U.S. church to take action to end its complicity with Israeli human rights abuses. Last summer, the Presbyterian Church voted to divest, and two more churches, the Episcopal Church and Mennonite Church, are considering similar steps at their conventions this week.

And then he spiked the football: “Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

That was on July 1st. On July 2d, as Legal Insurrection has reported, the Episcopal Church voted down a BDS resolution and the Mennonite Church voted to table one until the next meeting, which takes place in two years.

It was disingenuous of Morrison to claim that BDS seeks only to push Israel out of the West Bank, rather than the end of Israel as a Jewish state. And it was silly for Morrison to think that the hyper-liberal leadership of the very liberal United Church of Christ is a major trendsetter. Indeed, even if every aging and shrinking mainline denomination were to declare for BDS, it would hardly constitute a tipping point—the mainline church leaders have been among Israeli’s harsher critics for the past forty years. But one could hardly have hoped—I for one thought the Mennonite Church was sure to pass BDS–the comeuppance would arrive so swiftly.

Correction (of Morrison): I quote Seth Morrison quoting Gandhi. However, as Legal Insurrection has observed, there is no evidence that Gandhi said the words Morrison and other BDSers attribute to him

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