Commentary Magazine


Pledge-Drive

COMMENTARY Needs Your Help

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

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

Read Less

Rand’s Sad Tale of Two Filibusters

It’s hard to recapture the magic the second time around. As Senator Rand Paul is realizing this week, that’s cliché applies as much to politics as it does for romance. A 2013 filibuster about drone policy transformed the Kentucky libertarian from cranky extremist Ron Paul’s son to a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But with his candidacy failing to get much of a boost from his formal announcement and finding himself stuck in the middle of the pack in the large GOP field, Paul tried the filibuster trick again. It was, just like the first one, an impressive performance. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect. In 2013, even Republicans like Marco Rubio who basically disagreed with him on the policy question felt compelled to offer him some support. This time his biggest cheerleader was the editorial page of the New York Times. That not only demonstrated Paul’s basic affinity with the left on foreign policy but also showed that his moment had passed. Where his first filibuster showed he had transcended his father’s base, this one illustrated the fact that he has been forced to fall back on it in order to revive his flagging candidacy.

Read More

It’s hard to recapture the magic the second time around. As Senator Rand Paul is realizing this week, that’s cliché applies as much to politics as it does for romance. A 2013 filibuster about drone policy transformed the Kentucky libertarian from cranky extremist Ron Paul’s son to a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But with his candidacy failing to get much of a boost from his formal announcement and finding himself stuck in the middle of the pack in the large GOP field, Paul tried the filibuster trick again. It was, just like the first one, an impressive performance. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect. In 2013, even Republicans like Marco Rubio who basically disagreed with him on the policy question felt compelled to offer him some support. This time his biggest cheerleader was the editorial page of the New York Times. That not only demonstrated Paul’s basic affinity with the left on foreign policy but also showed that his moment had passed. Where his first filibuster showed he had transcended his father’s base, this one illustrated the fact that he has been forced to fall back on it in order to revive his flagging candidacy.

Let’s give due credit to Paul for a bravura performance on the floor of the Senate as he sought to rally opposition to renewal of the Patriot Act. Just as he was in his first filibuster, he was articulate, passionate and principled. So why can’t it rally conservatives to his side the same way they did before?

The first and most obvious reason is that this is a different moment in time. In 2013, even many on the right though President Obama was right when he spoke of al-Qaeda and Islamist terror as having been licked. Today, Americans know that not only are the Islamists as dangerous as ever, but ISIS now controls much of Iraq and Syria and is expanding elsewhere. The idea that the terror threat is overstated or doesn’t require the country to empower its security apparatus some leeway for spying doesn’t have the same appeal today as it did two years ago.

It is true that many on the right are cynical about government, and it’s hard to disagree with Paul when he says that if you give it power, abuse is sure to follow. That’s an argument that is easy to make with a president who is prepared to act outside the law on so many issues as Barack Obama has done. But if you’re seeking the nomination of a party whose core foreign policy beliefs are rooted in intense Ronald Reagan-style patriotism and belief in a strong defense, ranting against the National Security Agency isn’t necessarily the formula for success. That is especially true at a time when the terrorists they are tasked with fighting are burning and beheading people and taking over countries.

This is not just because his attacks on the NSA and the Patriot Act are wrongheaded. The NSA has not acted improperly nor is the Act unconstitutional. But it goes deeper than that.

Rand’s problem is that the libertarian surge of 2013 has ebbed. That’s not because conservatives no longer care about personal liberty or think the government can always be trusted. But it hasn’t been lost on most Republicans that his stands on foreign policy are much closer to those of Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party than they are to those of the rest of his party. Like the left, his basic instincts are to suspect American power rather than to think of it as a force for good. Like the left, he believes the U.S. should shy away from confronting forces of evil rather than standing up to them.

Yet the most discouraging thing about the filibuster for Paul’s supporters is that it showed that he has failed to meet the basic assumption that most of us had about him two years ago. Back then, even those of us who were critical about him assumed that he was about to break through to mainstream support and expand beyond the libertarian base he inherited from his father. But as the polls show, it hasn’t happened. Indeed, given the stiff competition for Tea Party and even libertarian-oriented voters, he can’t even count on doing as well as Ron Paul did in 2012. Just as ominous for his chances is the fact that many of those Paulbots are unhappy with Rand’s attempt to shift to the center away from hardcore libertarian positions on foreign policy issues as he maneuvered for the presidential race. The filibuster was an attempt to rally that base.

That may well work, and if it does it might give him a fighting chance in a crowded field where none of the contenders can claim to have more than a fraction of the GOP electorate. But even if it does, it still leaves him far short of the support he needs to ultimately win the nomination. Rather than recapturing the magic, the filibuster confirmed it is gone. If he were really on track to be a potential nominee he would have transcended stunts like filibusters. All it proved was that Paul is still only a factional leader rather than someone with the potential to unite his party, let alone lead it to victory against the Democrats.

Read Less

The Press Leaps to Protect Obama, Hillary From Abusive Anonymous Twitter Users

A strikingly candid New York Times dispatch published on Friday has apparently spooked Hillary Clinton’s cadre of supine acolytes. The arch-conservatives at the Times noted accurately that Clinton only reluctantly broke her 28-day streak of ignoring inquiries from the press after Fox News Channel White House correspondent Ed Henry aggressively prodded her. The Times dispatch from journalist Jason Horowitz observed truthfully that the media has only barely been able to conceal their “annoyance” with the former first lady’s stonewalling.

Read More

A strikingly candid New York Times dispatch published on Friday has apparently spooked Hillary Clinton’s cadre of supine acolytes. The arch-conservatives at the Times noted accurately that Clinton only reluctantly broke her 28-day streak of ignoring inquiries from the press after Fox News Channel White House correspondent Ed Henry aggressively prodded her. The Times dispatch from journalist Jason Horowitz observed truthfully that the media has only barely been able to conceal their “annoyance” with the former first lady’s stonewalling.

“In Iowa, Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table distribute alms to the clamoring press,” Horowitz later tweeted. This editorializing inspired a backlash from the coterie of palace guards at Media Matters for America, but it was also perfectly justified. If you haven’t had the opportunity to review Clinton’s response to Henry’s question, and I highly recommend you do, her unconcealed disdain for the Fox reporter’s impertinence is best described as similar to that of a sovereign.

“Maybe when I finish talking to the people here,” Clinton said response to Henry’s query. Adopting a wry smile while surrounded by a group of Iowans handpicked by her campaign to represent a random sample, the likely Democratic presidential nominee added, “How’s that?”

“You’ll come over?” Henry probed.

“I might,” Clinton replied, chin pointed toward the heavens. “I have to ponder it, but I will put it on my list for due consideration.”

All that was missing was a reference to herself in the first person plural.

Clinton earned and received some due mockery for this display of airs both within and outside the journalistic establishment. But that is itself a problem for some in the world of political reporting. Some in the media have begun to concern themselves with the problematic nature of those insolent Americans who have the temerity to mock and even insult both the president and his heir apparent.

It seems that both the Times and Politico discovered this week the existence of the microblogging site Twitter, and the fact that anonymous users on that site can be, gasp, mean to public figures in positions of authority.

This week, Politico published a bizarre dispatch focused entirely on the “trolls,” or social media users who behave in an intentionally provocative fashion, that hound Clinton’s online presence.

“Some call her names like ‘witch,’ ‘dictator,’ ‘monster,’ and even ‘Hitlary,’” the report read, “all reminders of how polarizing Clinton can be — a feminist hero and glass-ceiling cracker to supporters; an untrustworthy, pandering operative to the haters.”

Politico noted that Clinton’s Twitter presence is followed by more people than the entire Republican 2016 field combined, “But that formidable footprint comes with a price.”

[S]he also trumps her opponents in terms of her legions of trolls, who sometimes overwhelm the conversations she generates, picking at the scabs and scars Clinton has accumulated over nearly four decades in public life.

When Clinton recently tweeted “Healthy women ? healthy communities. Sign up if you agree with Hillary,” one quick response to that relatively anodyne message was, “On average how much does Bill spend on hookers each week?”

Indeed, even Clinton’s “physical appearance is not considered out of bounds” for those anonymous cads who dare speak above their station. Apparently, one unnamed micro-blogger who saw the former secretary of state walking down a street near her Brooklyn headquarters as “a human pear.” How vulgar.

The Times, too, lashed out on Friday at the uncivilized elements on social media who hurl slurs at their betters. In a 1,113-word dispatch, the Times noted that Twitter is full of coarse barbarians who have a penchant for slinging repulsively racist insults at the president.

This week, President Barack Obama revealed that he would use Twitter when he leaves office and unveiled the account handle from which he will send out 140 character messages. This revelation yielded a slew of racially insensitive comments that would surely sap anyone’s faith in their fellow man.

“The posts reflected the racial hostility toward the nation’s first black president that has long been expressed in stark terms on the Internet, where conspiracy theories thrive and prejudices find ready outlets,” the Times reported. “But the racist Twitter posts are different because now that Mr. Obama has his own account, the slurs are addressed directly to him, for all to see.”

But there was one measure of a specific slur. According to analytics compiled by Topsy, a research company that collects and analyzes what is shared on Twitter, the number of postings that included Mr. Obama’s name and one particular racial epithet jumped substantially on Monday, the day of the president’s first posting, to 150.

One Twitter user who did not use that specific racial slur responded to the president with just two words: “Black monkey,” a comparison that was not uncommon. “Get back in your cage monkey,” another person wrote.

This is repulsive, unalloyed racism, and it should not be excused. Indeed, no one of merit is excusing it. But only the anonymous or those utterly unconcerned with their livelihoods would dare issue such slurs in a public forum. It’s not much of a secret that the Internet is populated with jerks. Hopefully, the New York Times is fully stocked up on smelling salts in the event the Gray Lady’s editors ever discover YouTube’s comments sections.

A White House reporter even determined that the abuse the president suffered on social media was a worthy line of inquiry during the daily press briefing. Press Sec. Josh Earnest had the unfortunate duty of disabusing this reporter of the rosy notion that the web is a safe space when he noted that uncivil discourse is “all too common on the Internet.”

Those media outlets feigning shock over the abuse dealt out to public figures are being more than a little dishonest. Reporters should not be surprised to learn that George W. Bush was not spared the belligerence of anonymous commenters over the course of his presidency. Though they did not have Twitter to vent their rage, it was not difficult to find anti-Bush “trolls” who did not shy away from attacking the former president’s character, his relations, and his heritage. This condition did not result in handwringing pieces in the Times about the left’s incivility or the nation’s lingering antipathy toward representatives of Southern states.

People are mean on the Internet, but that is not a story. In order to scold a nation that includes citizens who are rude to Clinton and Obama on the web, these outlets had to pretend as though this was a unique and new phenomenon. While the worst of the comments that the president and the former secretary of state have had to endure are certainly condemnable, it’s perhaps as offensive that these journalistic institutions leapt at the chance to morally preen and posture in order to deflect criticism, however unhinged, from these leading Democrats.

Read Less

Obama Blames Iraqis for America’s Failure

There is a lot of interesting material in President Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic beginning with the president’s claim: “No, I don’t think we’re losing, and I just talked to our CENTCOM commanders and the folks on the ground.” I can’t help remembering that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush said some variation of that statement regularly between 2003 to 2006 even as we were manifestly losing. Earth to Oval Office: Just because military commanders tell you that they’re not losing doesn’t mean that they’re right!

Read More

There is a lot of interesting material in President Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic beginning with the president’s claim: “No, I don’t think we’re losing, and I just talked to our CENTCOM commanders and the folks on the ground.” I can’t help remembering that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush said some variation of that statement regularly between 2003 to 2006 even as we were manifestly losing. Earth to Oval Office: Just because military commanders tell you that they’re not losing doesn’t mean that they’re right!

The US military is the finest fighting force in the world, but its officers are prone to over-optimistic assessments—the flip side of their “can do” ethos. It’s striking that this president who so routinely ignores military advice (by, for example, imposing a time limit on the surge in Afghanistan and by forbidding US advisers in Iraq from leaving their bases) now embraces military thinking when it’s so deeply flawed, yet convenient for him. Like the assessments of progress that emanated from the Pentagon and the White House during 2003-2006, this one is not going to be believed by many people.

But that’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to focus on is this statement from the president: “If the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.” That’s a statement that’s likely to have wider resonance even among Republicans. Indeed, it was a common trope during debates over whether to send more forces to Iraq in 2006-2007. Many on both the left and the right wondered why the US should be helping Iraqis when Iraqis appeared not to be willing to help themselves.

This misses the point on several levels.

First and foremost, we’re not in Iraq now, any more than we were during the 2003-2011 period, to help the Iraqis. We’re there to help ourselves because we perceive threats to our national security. Before those threats came from Al Qaeda in Iraq and from Iranian-backed Shiite militias; today from ISIS and Iranian-backed Shiite militias. We need to work with Iraqis to advance our interests, but if we feel that there is insufficient effort on the part of the Iraqis, we can’t simply throw up our hands in despair and walk out—that would be a serious blow to American interests in the region. Instead, we need to figure out how to better motivate the Iraqis to fight hard.

Obama’s broad-brush indictment of Iraqis misses the all-critical circumstances in which Iraqis find themselves. Imagine that a vicious street gang were terrorizing a neighborhood of Detroit or South Central Los Angeles. Would we blame the residents for not being willing to confront the gang on their own and thereby conclude that the residents were not worth saving? Of course not. Because we would recognize that a small number of heavily armed toughs can terrorize a neighborhood—and if sufficiently vicious they can even cow the local police force. That doesn’t mean that the residents want to live under the domination of the street gang, any more than Iraqis today want to live under the domination of ISIS or the Quds Force. The problem is that they don’t feel strong enough at the moment to rise up against those terrorist organizations.

Plenty of Iraqis have shown themselves more than willing to fight for their country—just recall how the Iraqi armed forces and the Sons of Iraq, in cooperation with US forces, routed Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007 and then later took on the Mahdist Army. The reason that today we consistently see small ISIS formations scattering much larger Iraqi units is that the Iraqi units have been undermined from within by corruption and sectarianism. Iraqi soldiers today are badly trained, badly led, badly supplied, badly motivated. But that’s not the fault of rank and file troops. The blame goes to the Shite sectarians who have dominated Baghdad since the American pullout in 2011. If Iraq forces have better leadership and training and supplies, as they did in 2007-2008, they will fight far more effectively.

It’s in America’s interest to increase the quality of Iraqi forces but that won’t happen unless we make more of a commitment ourselves, not only sending more American troops but also loosening restrictions that currently prevent our advisers from operating side by side with Iraqi units—the only way to significantly enhance Iraqi combat performance.

President Obama’s comments have a whiff of “blame the victim” about them, because ordinary Iraqis are the main victims of the vicious sectarian extremists who currently dominate their country. Most Iraqis would love a more moderate government of the kind they enjoyed until the US pullout in 2011, and it’s in our interest to help them achieve that goal. But don’t blame Iraqis for not being willing to stand up to the cut-throats of ISIS or the Quds Force on their own. Both organizations have substantial outside backing and to roll back their advance will require substantial support for more moderate forces—especially Sunni tribes—from the US and its allies.

Read Less

Arthur Herman: COMMENTARY Is the Point of the Conservative Spear

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online. Please click below to give.
2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online. Please click below to give.
2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Read Less

The Tipping Point Between Israel’s Image and the Right to Security

The news earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled a plan put forward by Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus routes that serve settlements landed like a lead balloon in the international media. The scheme was never implemented but was, as Israeli President Ruben Rivlin put it, something that that has “no place being heard or said.” Indeed, even the official shelving of the idea set off a round of attacks on the Jewish state echoing the same “apartheid state” canards that the country’s representatives and friends have been working so hard to expose as lies. Yet while Israel’s supporters might well ask where Yaalon had parked his brains when treating the notion seriously, it would behoove both friends and critics to understand why such a noxious proposal would even be considered. The ever-present threat of terrorism didn’t justify or excuse anything that would essentially enshrine segregation. But it does explain how such a thing could even be discussed.

Read More

The news earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled a plan put forward by Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus routes that serve settlements landed like a lead balloon in the international media. The scheme was never implemented but was, as Israeli President Ruben Rivlin put it, something that that has “no place being heard or said.” Indeed, even the official shelving of the idea set off a round of attacks on the Jewish state echoing the same “apartheid state” canards that the country’s representatives and friends have been working so hard to expose as lies. Yet while Israel’s supporters might well ask where Yaalon had parked his brains when treating the notion seriously, it would behoove both friends and critics to understand why such a noxious proposal would even be considered. The ever-present threat of terrorism didn’t justify or excuse anything that would essentially enshrine segregation. But it does explain how such a thing could even be discussed.

After Netanyahu nixed his dumb idea, Yaalon attempted to defend it by claiming it wasn’t technically segregation on the basis of origin. But that excuse doesn’t fly. The plan would require West Bank Palestinians with permits to work inside Israel to use a few designated checkpoints in order to board buses. That would mean they wouldn’t ride on routes that served the settlements thus ensuring that only Jews or Israeli Arabs heading to Jewish communities over the green line in the heart of the West Bank would be on those buses.

But even if it shouldn’t have gotten as close to implementation as it apparently did, the impetus for it wasn’t a function so much of prejudice as fear. The settlements that exist in the middle of the West Bank, as opposed to the majority of them in blocs that are close to the 1967 lines are more or less under constant siege. While random terror attacks on Jewish targets in Jerusalem are a constant, the instances of rock throwing, firebombs, sniping or stabbings in which Jews are targets of Arab violence are a daily affair. Just as many on the left believe the only way for the two communities to live in peace is complete separation, so, too, does the settler community believe the only way to ensure their security is to keep Arabs away from them.

As Yaalon said the following to the Knesset in defense of the plan last fall:

“I have not prohibited Arabs in Judea and Samaria from traveling on public transportation and have no intention to do so,” Yaalon told parliament at the time, but added that “you don’t have to be a security expert to realize that when you have 20 Arabs in a bus driven by a Jew, and maybe two or three other [Jewish] passengers and a soldier carrying a weapon, you are guaranteed a terror attack.”

He might be right about that. But as much as Israelis, even those living in the settlements, are entitled to do whatever is possible to ensure their safety, they need to mindful of where the tipping point between security and damage to the country’s international image lies. Suffice it to say that anything that smacks of discrimination in this manner does grievous damage to the state’s image abroad and undermines its just claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East.

Despite the lies that the Palestinians broadcast and which are picked up by anti-Semites and Israel-haters elsewhere, the Jewish state has no official segregation. Inside Israel, Arabs vote, serve in the Knesset and in every possible government post. Though relations between the communities are soured by the war on Israel’s existence that the Arab and Muslim worlds have been waging on it since its inception, Israeli Arabs enjoy full rights and freedom.

West Bank Palestinian Arabs are in a different position, but it is one largely of their own choosing. They could have accepted independence and peace at any time in the last 15 years since Israel has repeatedly offered them a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. If they had, the current argument about buses would be moot. But they have refused each time because their leaders lack the will or the ability to make peace. Even today, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, lauded as an advocate of peace by President Obama and other world leaders, refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Even if one advocates for withdrawal of some of the outlying settlements that would not be included in Israel in the event of a peace deal, the idea that the residents of these communities should be subjected to murder and terror with impunity is abhorrent.

That is something that should be taken into account by those who rightly criticize Yaalon’s idea. But even more than that, they need to remember that such an idea only became thinkable because of many years of Palestinian violence whose only purpose is to kill Jews and destroy Israel, not to adjust its borders or to merely deny them their right to live in the heart of their ancient homeland. Those comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of African-Americans in the segregated South are forgetting the fact that American blacks were not trying to destroy America, just claim their equal rights as citizens. Those who sought to keep blacks separated from whites were not defending their existence as Israelis must nor were they subjected to the kind of terror that Jews have been.

We should condemn any scheme, even one born out of self-defense, that smacks of legal segregation. But those who do so should always remember that this situation was created by and perpetuated by an unceasing Palestinian war of terror that must end if peace is ever to be possible.

Read Less

Iran Gives Obama a Lesson in Negotiating

President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

Read More

President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

As I noted yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader made it clear yesterday that the rigorous inspections of their nuclear facilities that President Obama has promised will never happen. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised that inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency aren’t going to be allowed into their facilities or to talk to their scientists. The terms enunciated by the administration are bad enough because they give the Iranians two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by abiding by them and just waiting patiently for it to expire while they continue nuclear research without interference from the West. But if Khamenei’s interpretation of the deal is correct, it will be a sham.

That leaves us wondering whether the president is prepared to risk his long sought after deal in order to obtain the terms that he has said make it viable. With only weeks to go before the self-imposed deadline of June 30 to get the pact on paper, the question would seem to be which of the two Khamenei or Obama will blink. But the answer is not so clear-cut as that. The Iranians are clearly baiting Obama but are also sending out signals they will accept a “compromise.”

That’s the upshot of an Associated Press report about comments from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about the Iran deal. Fabius said the Iranians are currently offering the West a deal on inspections that would allow the UN to visit a site of a suspected violation of the deal’s terms but only after a 24-day notice being given. Needless to say, such a waiting period is almost as bad as no inspections at all. Indeed, even if the Iranians go down a bit from 24 to a lower number, anything other than the right to rigorous surprise inspections is a lock-solid guarantee of cheating by the Islamist regime. But by publicly staking such an absurd stand on the issue, the Grand Ayatollah has set up Obama for a compromise that will undermine the entire foundation of the agreement.

So while Obama is defending his partners in a new Middle East entente as being rational anti-Semites, his Iranian counterpart is demonstrating a degree of diplomatic skill far above that of the president. Having spent the last two years undressing the president in public as his demands for an end to their nuclear program has given way to an agreement that at best, enshrines Tehran as a threshold nuclear power, Khamenei is now pushing Obama to the brink knowing full well that the president will never give up his legacy-making agreement if Iran doesn’t agree to his terms. Obama told Goldberg that he knows that if Iran gets a bomb, it will have his name on it even if it is 20 years from now. Sadly, that inscription is being written in the final weeks of talks as the Iranians give Obama one last lesson in how to negotiate.

Read Less

Obama: Just Because Iran Is Anti-Semitic Doesn’t Make It Irrational

At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

Read More

At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, an interlocutor so highly regarded by this administration that he manages to coax incendiary quotes out of White House officials with near metronomic regularity, Obama appeared to let his guard down a bit. On the subject of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Goldberg noted that the president has in the past argued, “quite eloquently in fact,” that the Islamic Republic officially subscribes to a particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism. The destruction of the state of Israel is official Iranian policy. That is an end that Tehran works arduously toward as a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is a goal that it might achieve should it develop one or more fissionable devices.

“You have argued,” Goldberg queried, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

The president’s amiable interrogator noted politely that he could not square these two entirely antithetical concepts. Goldberg then asked, with all due deference, if the president might help him to reconcile this contradiction. Obama’s unconvincing response demonstrated clearly that, if any party in this conversation suffered from some cognitive shortcomings, it was not Goldberg.

Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—

They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

How callous.

First, and it’s not out of bounds to make note of this, but strict adherence to a prejudicial belief system like anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry is, at root, irrational. It is a weltanschauung that is unprincipled, unthinking, brutish, and serves as the basis for the contention that Iran’s messianic approach to geopolitics renders them an irresponsible international actor. The White House has in the past dismissed Iran’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism as propaganda products packaged for purely domestic consumption. This is classic projection bias; the president imagines that the anti-Semitic agitation of Iran’s ruling class is mere political positioning because he so often makes assertions he doesn’t truly believe.

Secondly, irrationality is not synonymous with insanity. Because the Islamic Republic’s leaders are effective governors of a state with a return address and they can engage in effete diplomatic courtesies with their Western counterparts in Lausanne does not mean that Tehran is incapable of making calculations that outside observers would find reckless. Irrationality is subjective. What Tehran might see the reasonable pressing of a perceived advantage the West might consider dangerous brinkmanship.

There is nothing illogical, for example, for the Islamic Republic’s leaders to believe that a preemptive terrorist attack on Israeli targets with weapons of mass destruction would consolidate their grip on power. Moreover, Tehran might see some upside in the inevitable defusing of the tensions between the region’s Sunni and Shiite powers in the wake of an Israeli retaliatory response. It would be irrational, it would spark a regional war characterized by weapons of horrible destructive power, but it is a misunderstanding of rationality to suggest this strategic approach is totally unhinged.

Barack Obama is most likely to get himself into trouble when he indulges his inner professor and waxes longwinded on subjects better suited to the classroom than the Oval Office. This self-indulgent intellectual exercise might have a place in an introductory international relations theory course, but it is terrifying to hear uttered from the commander of America’s armed forces. If the president’s strategic approach to Iran is founded on the fallacious assumption that they are just like him insofar as they don’t really mean what they say in public, the last 18 months of this administration are going to be particularly perilous.

Read Less

Mad Men, the Prequel

“Mad Men” is off the air. Personally, I bailed out in the second season and never looked back, no matter how many people told me to pick it up again (of the various things I should be doing more, watching television just isn’t on the list). But never mind me. For those of you who did watch the show (as opposed to the larger number of Americans who tuned in to a colorized “I Love Lucy” rerun on Sunday) this Throwback Thursday selection may help with the mourning process. In The Study of Man: Social Science on Madison Avenue, from the April 1957 issue of COMMENTARY, Walter Goodman looked at how the McCann-Erickson agency employed social science to create the perfect pitchman. As ever, enjoy.

The same psychology-flavored techniques which have enlivened the prune, revitalized Ry-Krisp, and broadened the appeal of Sanka coffee are presently being applied to a human being. He is William Lundigan, announcer for Climax! and Shower of Stars, two TV shows sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation.

Click here to the read the whole thing.

“Mad Men” is off the air. Personally, I bailed out in the second season and never looked back, no matter how many people told me to pick it up again (of the various things I should be doing more, watching television just isn’t on the list). But never mind me. For those of you who did watch the show (as opposed to the larger number of Americans who tuned in to a colorized “I Love Lucy” rerun on Sunday) this Throwback Thursday selection may help with the mourning process. In The Study of Man: Social Science on Madison Avenue, from the April 1957 issue of COMMENTARY, Walter Goodman looked at how the McCann-Erickson agency employed social science to create the perfect pitchman. As ever, enjoy.

The same psychology-flavored techniques which have enlivened the prune, revitalized Ry-Krisp, and broadened the appeal of Sanka coffee are presently being applied to a human being. He is William Lundigan, announcer for Climax! and Shower of Stars, two TV shows sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation.

Click here to the read the whole thing.

Read Less

Andrew Roberts: COMMENTARY Is a Strong Voice of Sanity and Courage

Just as one begins to despair of hearing the strong voice of sanity and courage, leavened with charm and good humor, in our modern polity, COMMENTARY arrives, and once a month one can be reminded that there are indeed some clear-sighted and articulate people who seem actively to enjoy the battle for truth. Please click below to donate.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Just as one begins to despair of hearing the strong voice of sanity and courage, leavened with charm and good humor, in our modern polity, COMMENTARY arrives, and once a month one can be reminded that there are indeed some clear-sighted and articulate people who seem actively to enjoy the battle for truth. Please click below to donate.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Read Less

Debate Cut Will Make for a Long, Hot GOP Candidate Summer

It turns out Fox News and CNN agree on something. The two cable news networks announced the rules for the Republican presidential debates they will be sponsoring respectively in August and September, and each will employ the same rule for determining who will be on the stage. Both have decided that the huge field of GOP candidates must be winnowed down to ten and that the criteria for determining their identity will be the average results of national opinion polls of the race. With the field expected to grow to as many as 19 candidates, those who don’t make the cut will be relegated to a debate of their own. Such a choice was inevitable since having them all on together would be a television nightmare as well as too unwieldy to let any of them have much of an impact. But in a race where the debates will likely be crucial to determining the course of the campaign, this will place a premium on activity during a period when most presidential candidates often lay low. That means that for those following the Republicans, it’s going to be a long and probably extremely hot and contentious summer.

Read More

It turns out Fox News and CNN agree on something. The two cable news networks announced the rules for the Republican presidential debates they will be sponsoring respectively in August and September, and each will employ the same rule for determining who will be on the stage. Both have decided that the huge field of GOP candidates must be winnowed down to ten and that the criteria for determining their identity will be the average results of national opinion polls of the race. With the field expected to grow to as many as 19 candidates, those who don’t make the cut will be relegated to a debate of their own. Such a choice was inevitable since having them all on together would be a television nightmare as well as too unwieldy to let any of them have much of an impact. But in a race where the debates will likely be crucial to determining the course of the campaign, this will place a premium on activity during a period when most presidential candidates often lay low. That means that for those following the Republicans, it’s going to be a long and probably extremely hot and contentious summer.

As I wrote earlier this month, in a primary race with so many credible candidates the debates will be as important as they were during the 2012 cycle. Though the Republicans have cut them down from a mind-numbing 20 to a more manageable 11, the volume of candidates is going to make it harder for any of them to expand their appeal beyond core constituencies. That means scoring points in the debates will be just about the only way for them to make headway.

With not quite so many debates happening one after another as they did in the fall of 2011, the series probably won’t have the feel of a reality show series that it had last year. But the impact may be similar. Those who stand out, as Newt Gingrich and, on occasion, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did last time, will see their standing rise. Those that fail on stage, as Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann (who got a boost from the debates but then faded amid her goofy claims about vaccines) did, will see their candidacies crash and burn.

But in order to make your mark, you’ll have to get onto the main stage, giving new meaning to the term “first tier” to distinguish the real contenders from the also-rans. Not getting into the first debates will be an effective death sentence for those in the second tier show. That will be the result not just of the smaller audience for the b-list candidates but because the loser label affixed to those who don’t make the cut will be difficult if not impossible to shake off.

What’s interesting about this is that if the debates were held now, the average of polls according to RealClearPolitics.com would leave relatively big names like Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and John Kasich on the outside looking in. Rick Santorum is currently in the crucial tenth spot with 2.3 percent support while Kasich at 2 percent, Fiorina, Jindal and Graham all at 1.3 percent.

Those standings may not hold up as candidates jump in or opt out (as Kasich might). This could create a rather odd dynamic that will alter the usual way candidates behave. Rather than spending the summer of 2015 raising money and laying low, all of the candidates, including those like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who have been mislabeled as frontrunners, are going to need to do everything in the power to boost their poll ratings. Rather than campaign activity starting slowly and then building in intensity, we may see a surge at the very start as candidates vie to get into the first tier debate.

This should be nerve-wracking for the candidates and exciting for the press and political junkies. But it should also provoke some anxiety among Republican leaders. There are candidates that may not have much chance to win but who are viewed as essential elements in building the Republican brand that may get left out. Fiorina is a classic example of such a candidate. The last thing the GOP wants is to have a top debate for the right to run against Hillary Clinton to be deprived of the one female Republican candidate, especially since Fiorina has specialized in torching the former First Lady. But unless Fiorina can somehow elevate her game in the next couple of months, she is a prime candidate for the b-list.

This also ought to deter some candidates with slim chances who are still dithering about running. Starting late used to mean not declaring until the end of the year before the presidential election. Now with a premium put on winning in early polls, it may be that anyone who hasn’t gotten in yet has simply waited too long.

Read Less

The Slow, Painful Death of the Iowa Straw Poll

The Iowa Straw Poll, sometimes referred to as the Ames Straw Poll in reference to its former host city, has been teetering on the brink of demise for years. It had been dealt a hundred cuts over the decades; many of them self-inflicted, but others meted out by allies and adversaries alike. Perhaps the most serious wound now threatening the future of the Iowa Straw Poll was delivered this week by an unlikely source, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It is a blow from which the event that marks the informal start to the presidential campaign season may not recover.

Read More

The Iowa Straw Poll, sometimes referred to as the Ames Straw Poll in reference to its former host city, has been teetering on the brink of demise for years. It had been dealt a hundred cuts over the decades; many of them self-inflicted, but others meted out by allies and adversaries alike. Perhaps the most serious wound now threatening the future of the Iowa Straw Poll was delivered this week by an unlikely source, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It is a blow from which the event that marks the informal start to the presidential campaign season may not recover.

In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, the winner of the 2008 Hawkeye State caucuses revealed that he would not compete in the quadrennial straw poll. Huckabee insisted that to do so would only distract him from his focus on courting the votes that count.

“In 2008, I competed and finished second in the Iowa straw poll — our first big break on our way to winning the Iowa caucuses and receiving the most votes ever cast for a Republican in the history of the Iowa caucuses,” Huckabee wrote. “But to win in 2016, it’s important to learn from the mistakes of the last few election cycles, in which conservatives were divided and opened a path for a more moderate establishment candidate to ultimately win the nomination, only to lose to Obama.”

Displaying perhaps more candor on the matter, Huckabee went on to note accurately that the winner of the Straw Poll rarely goes on to win either the caucuses or the party’s nomination. And he’s correct. The last politician to win the Straw Poll, the caucuses, and the nomination was George W. Bush in 1999-2000. In fact, Bush remains the only politician to have earned that title in the Straw Poll’s six-election cycle history (Bob Dole won the caucuses and the nomination in 1996, but he shared his Straw Poll victory in 1995 with Sen. Phil Graham).

In an appearance on Fox & Friends on Thursday explaining his decision, Huckabee candidly confessed that competing for the top spot in the Straw Poll might be more trouble than it’s worth. “It’s not a good indicator, but it can be an eliminator,” the former governor said of the pyrrhic effect of a Straw Poll victory.

Huckabee is only the latest Republican presidential aspirant to forego competing for a Straw Poll victory. Citing a scheduling conflict, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has already indicated that will not compete for the approval of Straw Poll participants. Huckabee is the first, however, to contend that the early contest is a waste of campaign resources. Moreover, he is the first candidate to bow out of the Iowa Straw Poll that had a decent chance of winning it, or at least of finishing with a strong showing.

Huckabee’s contention that the cost of competing in the Straw Poll is not worth the reward also has merit. Candidates who compete effectively in the Straw Poll are those that have the funding and organization required to bus supporters in from all around Iowa, incurring both the costs associated with that transportation and attendance at the event. It’s prohibitive for most candidates, even those like Huckabee with national name recognition and a strong base of support in Iowa.

Huckabee’s may be the unkindest cut of all, but the Straw Poll has been dying a slow death for decades. It may only be mourned by its organizers when it is finally retired.

Read Less

The Real Victims of the War on Police

From last summer’s disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri to the more recent riots in Baltimore, the country has been engaged in a debate about police violence that has hinged on accusations of systematic racism. Regardless of the findings about the shooting in Ferguson or the racial identity of the Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a narrative about police racism has become entrenched in our popular culture that has remained impervious to reason or the facts. One of the consequences of this war on police that has been encouraged by statements coming from the very top of our government, including the president and the attorney general, have been incidents of violence against police. When officers go down that generates some attention, yet less discussed is the way the lives of people in poverty-stricken minority neighborhoods are affected by this attempt to blame the nation’s ills on white racism. But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, it is precisely they who are suffering as arrests have gone down in Baltimore in the last month while violent crime has increased dramatically.

Read More

From last summer’s disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri to the more recent riots in Baltimore, the country has been engaged in a debate about police violence that has hinged on accusations of systematic racism. Regardless of the findings about the shooting in Ferguson or the racial identity of the Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a narrative about police racism has become entrenched in our popular culture that has remained impervious to reason or the facts. One of the consequences of this war on police that has been encouraged by statements coming from the very top of our government, including the president and the attorney general, have been incidents of violence against police. When officers go down that generates some attention, yet less discussed is the way the lives of people in poverty-stricken minority neighborhoods are affected by this attempt to blame the nation’s ills on white racism. But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, it is precisely they who are suffering as arrests have gone down in Baltimore in the last month while violent crime has increased dramatically.

In the weeks after Gray’s death as scrutiny and criticism of the Baltimore police has intensified, arrests have gone down by a rate of 40 percent when compared to the same period of time in 2013 and 2014. What makes this figure so startling is that it includes the hundreds that were arrested during the riots that rocked portions of the city. At the same time, violence in the Western district of the city where the riots occurred has gone up in a way far outpacing the increase in the rest of the city.

What’s happened here is obvious. Nothing can or should excuse alleged police misbehavior and if the six officers — three white and three African-Americans — are convicted of responsibility for Gray’s death while in their custody, they will deserve to be harshly punished. But the willingness of so many people, both on the streets and on the airwaves, to take it as a given that the cops are alien invaders who must be resisted has made it difficult if not impossible for them to do their jobs.

It is understandable that the opprobrium directed at the police would affect their morale. But it goes further than that. As the Journal notes, it is now routine for police answering calls to be surrounded by hostile crowds with cameras. In some cases, this impedes their ability to carry out effective police work. In others it simply intimidates the cops who are often coming to the conclusion that it is far safer to simply do nothing than to intervene in situations and risk being accused of criminal or racist behavior regardless of their motivations.

Such a choice runs contrary to their duty to safeguard the public but given the stakes involved, it’s hard to blame officers for not risking their careers and freedom. But the real victims of a city with a police force that is reluctant to act are members of the public, not the cops. Those who will suffer the most are the residents of these same high crime minority neighborhoods. It is they who are most at risk at losing their property and injury and/or loss of life. Those areas of cities where public safety disappears are the same places where employment disappears.

The irony here is that the riots in Baltimore have prompted a lot of discussion about how best to deal with endemic poverty in minority neighborhoods with much finger-pointing at institutions like the police. That the example that prompted this outcry is a city that has been governed by liberals for more than half a century whose political establishment is dominated by blacks and has an integrated police force (as the list of those accused in Gray’s death testifies) makes it hard to take some of this discussion seriously. But no amount of racial sensitivity or liberal big government policies can undo the damage done by unchecked violent crime. In such an atmosphere no one can get ahead or indeed maintain any kind of standard of living.

The real consequence of the war on police that has been waged in the media and on the streets of America’s cities is a set of circumstances that may well doom another generation of minority kids to poverty and heightened chance of being a victim of violent crime. Those who have done the most to intimidate the police and to transform an unfortunate incident into a national effort to interfere with law enforcement activity may think they have won because they have changed the national conversation about race and the police. But they should weigh this illusory victory against the terrible damage their efforts have done to the people they claim to want to help.

Read Less

Matthew Continetti: Why COMMENTARY Matters

Why does COMMENTARY matter? Since 1945, no other monthly magazine has so consistently published serious, provocative argument and analysis. No other monthly magazine has viewed America and the world through such a wide angle, encompassing economics, politics, society, culture, religion, and diplomacy. No other monthly magazine has published such a celebrated and wide-ranging list of editors and contributors. Cerebral, critical, and committed, the point of view found in its pages is as unique as it is formidable. And in a world of Iranian nukes, rising anti-Semitism, radical Islam, American disarmament, bipartisan neo-isolationism, and disintegrating institutions, reading COMMENTARY is more than a pleasure. It is a necessity. Please click below to give.
2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Why does COMMENTARY matter? Since 1945, no other monthly magazine has so consistently published serious, provocative argument and analysis. No other monthly magazine has viewed America and the world through such a wide angle, encompassing economics, politics, society, culture, religion, and diplomacy. No other monthly magazine has published such a celebrated and wide-ranging list of editors and contributors. Cerebral, critical, and committed, the point of view found in its pages is as unique as it is formidable. And in a world of Iranian nukes, rising anti-Semitism, radical Islam, American disarmament, bipartisan neo-isolationism, and disintegrating institutions, reading COMMENTARY is more than a pleasure. It is a necessity. Please click below to give.
2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Read Less

Do You Deserve to Be President After Jeopardizing National Security?

Taking a page from the well-worn Clinton playbook, a digest compiled almost entirely before the dawn of the digital age, Hillary Clinton has responded to the deluge of scandalous revelations regarding her conduct at the State Department by clamming up. But the proliferation of citizen journalists, commendably dogged reporters, and a seemingly endless digital trail to follow has undermined this tactic. New details about Clinton’s improprieties continue to mount. As the fabrications pile up and Clinton’s character is called into question, it seems clear that the former secretary of state did casually imperil American national security in the effort to preserve the “convenience” to which she had become accustomed as a U.S. Senator. But can she make the case that she will serve as a competent commander-in-chief after such a revelation? It is a question the press has been hounding Republicans with for the better part of two weeks.

Read More

Taking a page from the well-worn Clinton playbook, a digest compiled almost entirely before the dawn of the digital age, Hillary Clinton has responded to the deluge of scandalous revelations regarding her conduct at the State Department by clamming up. But the proliferation of citizen journalists, commendably dogged reporters, and a seemingly endless digital trail to follow has undermined this tactic. New details about Clinton’s improprieties continue to mount. As the fabrications pile up and Clinton’s character is called into question, it seems clear that the former secretary of state did casually imperil American national security in the effort to preserve the “convenience” to which she had become accustomed as a U.S. Senator. But can she make the case that she will serve as a competent commander-in-chief after such a revelation? It is a question the press has been hounding Republicans with for the better part of two weeks.

Clinton’s transparent aim is to allow the sting of these myriad controversies to be acutely felt early, and only to address them when she can legitimately dub them “old news” and thereby scold those reporters who myopically dwell on ancient history. That strategy is only effective, however, when the revelations dry up. But the scandalous details of her behavior exposed in the press continue to emerge, one by one, drip by drip, gradually eroding away Clinton’s presidential prospects.

The latest report to expose Clinton’s mendacity comes from the New York Times, which revealed that the former secretary did send sensitive government information over her private email account:

Clinton’s Personal Email Account Contained Sensitive Information

Mrs. Clinton’s emails show that she had a special type of government information known as “sensitive but unclassified,” or “SBU,” in her account. That information included the whereabouts and travel plans of American officials in Libya as security there deteriorated during the uprising against the leadership of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011. Nearly a year and a half before the attacks in Benghazi, Mr. Stevens, then an American envoy to the rebels, considered leaving Benghazi citing deteriorating security, according to an email to Mrs. Clinton marked “SBU.”

That report also detailed the communications sent to Clinton via her longtime ally and political hit man Sidney Blumenthal in the wake of the Benghazi attack. It noted that Blumenthal informed Clinton on September 13, 2001 that the deadly event was not the result of a spontaneous demonstration but rather a coordinated terrorist act conducted by Ansar al-Shariah. This disclosure casts into doubt the administration’s claim that it was unaware of the precise nature of that attack until September 16, 2012.

Clinton defenders will note that “sensitive” information is not “classified” information, and the former secretary’s contention that she never sent or received classified documents via her email account remains, for now, intact. But any information security expert will attest that just because “sensitive” documents are not classified does not render them useless to America’s adversaries, as the details in this Times report attest.

This is just the latest misstatement from Clinton’s disastrous March press conference to be called into question. Standing before a lectern at the United Nations, Clinton claimed that she only used one mobile device in service to her sense of entitlement while at State. We now know there were at least two devices she used to conduct State business. Clinton insisted that her system was never “breached,” but information security experts now believe that her “homebrew” server was vulnerable to infiltration and was possibly compromised by foreign intelligence services. Clinton insisted that she only deleted those emails that were personal in nature; a trove of communications that amounted to the majority of the emails she sent as Secretary of State. One of the recipients of private email communications, she averred, was her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Wrong, the 42nd President’s office contended. He only sent two emails in his life, according to Bill Clinton spokesperson Matt McKenna, and both of those were composed and transmitted while he served as president.

This all paints a picture not only of a political figure utterly unconcerned with accountability, the public trust, and national security, but of a person with a pathological aversion to truth.

This also should lead observers to an inescapable conclusion: Clinton carelessly jeopardized national security while she served as America’s chief diplomat. Does this erode Clinton’s claim to be able to serve as America’s next commander-in-chief? It should, and the press seems to be aware of that. Why else have they been hounding 2016 Republican presidential aspirants to account for the last GOP chief executive’s decision to invade Iraq?

Old habits die hard, it seems, as the left and their allies in the press have been busily engaged in a process of forced collectivization over the last week. But instead of plots of arable land, we are collectivizing guilt – namely, Republican guilt for the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. The underlying assumption in the media’s dogged pursuit of Republican admissions that the war was a mistake is that George W. Bush carelessly and callously endangered American national security in pursuit of the parochial goal of ridding the world of a particularly unpleasant regime. In this way, not only does the press absolve Barack Obama for sloppily surrendering the West’s hard-won gains in that turbulent country, but it also liberates all Democratic figures – Clinton included – from having to account for the present state of affairs.

If we are to believe that Bush was thoughtless in his approach to safeguarding American national security, Clinton deserves a similar reproach. If Republicans are collectively to blame for the disaster in Iraq, even those who held only minor office in 2003, why then are Democrats not collectively responsible for Clinton’s serial lies and her hard-hearted indifference to the behavior associated with a Cabinet official entrusted with protecting America’s information security? Is there a logically satisfactory explanation for this double standard?

Read Less

We Can’t Afford to Take Free Speech for Granted

A bit over a year ago, I wrote here about Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, an expose and study of campus censorship. Lukianoff is, of course, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that defends free speech on campus without regard to the politics of the speaker. It is a crucial mission as free speech should not be an à la carte privilege. Alas, too often on campus these days, the temptation to censor and repress trumps the willingness or ability to defend shaky, controversial premises.

Read More

A bit over a year ago, I wrote here about Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, an expose and study of campus censorship. Lukianoff is, of course, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that defends free speech on campus without regard to the politics of the speaker. It is a crucial mission as free speech should not be an à la carte privilege. Alas, too often on campus these days, the temptation to censor and repress trumps the willingness or ability to defend shaky, controversial premises.

Lukianoff has written a brilliant new essay entitled “Freedom from Speech,” released as part of the Encounter Broadside series, short and accessible booklets that tackle key contemporary issues. Lukianoff begins by chronicling events in academic year 2013-2014, an annus horribilis for free speech. Media personalities lost their jobs for saying something controversial; a basketball team owner lost his franchise for stupid, racist remarks; and a Silicon Valley CEO was forced to resign after it emerged he gave $1,000 to a charity seeking to ban same-sex marriage.

Lukianoff addresses several issues head-on. For example, he clarifies the difference between the First Amendment and free speech, an important distinction as those prone to punishing speech often argue that free speech binds the government, and not private employers. Here’s what he has to say:

Though often used interchangeably, the concept of freedom of speech and the First Amendment are not the same thing. While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press as they relate to duties of the state and state power, freedom of speech is a far broader idea that includes additional cultural values. These values incorporate healthy intellectual habits, such as giving the other side a fair hearing, reserving judgment, tolerating opinions that offend or anger us, believing that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and recognizing that even people whose points of view we find repugnant might be (at least partially) right.

In addressing the current situation, Lukianoff harkens back to Unlearning Liberty when he observed how “Administrators [on campus] have been able to convince well-meaning students to accept outright censorship by creating the impression that freedom of speech is somehow the enemy of social progress.” Such attitudes have increasingly permeated society as a generation of intellectually coddled and protected students react to offense or challenge with an authoritarian impulse.

The scariest thing about the free speech crisis is how it has snowballed. It has become a slow motion train wreck: Any honest observer can see how Orwellian universities are becoming, and the silliness that results. Lukianoff looks to Europe where the assault on free speech has progressed further and deeper. He cites how a British parliamentarian was arrested in April 2014 for “religious/racial harassment” for quoting from a book by Winston Churchill, and how the Europeans have embraced a ‘right to be forgotten’ which essentially allows them to control what is written and said about them and their actions.

But Lukianoff argues that universities alone are not to blame. “The ‘It’s all academia’s fault’ argument cannot explain…why higher education, which is an institution that relies on being a ‘marketplace of ideas,’ would turn against free speech in the first place.” Rather, he suggests that the cultural roots of such censorship go deeper. “People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right,” he argues. “Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.”

Lukianoff continues to examine why the desire for comfort will lead the threats to freedom of speech to get worse, the “right not to be offended” and the “expectation of confirmation,” and the phenomenon of trigger warnings (which I wrote about here).

While a depressing read—only because it shows the reality of the problem—Lukianoff is not willing to throw up his arms and throw in the towel. He writes:

I am constantly on the lookout for potential cures for this problem. Litigation plays an important role in the fight, as does having students engage in proper Oxford-style debates (like we see today in the Intelligence Squared series). Comedians and satirists may also join the pushback against the infinite care ethic; after all, it is blazingly clear that politically correct censorship and comedy are natural enemies. And, of course, nothing can replace teaching students at every level of education that old-fashion intellectual habits of epistemic humility, giving others benefit of the doubt, and actually listening to opposing opinions.

Sometime during my freshmen year at Yale University, I took “Introduction to Psychology” (taught by Peter Salovey, now president of the university). Salovey was an excellent teacher, although he sometimes seemed to sacrifice rigor for popularity. Still, he assigned a short but extremely valuable booklet that has made me far more critical of what I read to this day. It was “How to Lie with Statistics,” which, as of today, is still the #1 bestseller in statistics on Amazon more than 60 years after it was first published. No student could go wrong with that book on their list. It would be just as valuable it incoming freshmen not only read that booklet, but also added “Freedom from Speech” to their summer reading. Universities could do much worse than encourage incoming students to keep an open mind from day one.

Read Less

Does Congress Deserve a Raise? Really?

If there is one thing a sane member of Congress who must run for re-election in a competitive district will never demand, it’s a raise. Even back in the era when Frank Capra was making Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, most Americans thought most politicians (though not necessarily their own representative or senator) were crooks. The idea of paying them more than what already seems like a very generous salary of $174,000 per year for spending the taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors is not the sort of thing swing voters like to hear. So it’s understandable that the only members of Congress quoted in a Roll Call story that generated cable news coverage yesterday — Representatives Alcee Hastings and Steny Hoyer — were men who faced largely token opposition last year in safe seats. Nor is it likely than even their complacent constituents will be all that sympathetic to laments about the high cost of housing in Washington. But is there any substance to their argument that low pay will lead to a situation where only the rich can serve?

Read More

If there is one thing a sane member of Congress who must run for re-election in a competitive district will never demand, it’s a raise. Even back in the era when Frank Capra was making Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, most Americans thought most politicians (though not necessarily their own representative or senator) were crooks. The idea of paying them more than what already seems like a very generous salary of $174,000 per year for spending the taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors is not the sort of thing swing voters like to hear. So it’s understandable that the only members of Congress quoted in a Roll Call story that generated cable news coverage yesterday — Representatives Alcee Hastings and Steny Hoyer — were men who faced largely token opposition last year in safe seats. Nor is it likely than even their complacent constituents will be all that sympathetic to laments about the high cost of housing in Washington. But is there any substance to their argument that low pay will lead to a situation where only the rich can serve?

The reasons why Hastings and Hoyer’s idea doesn’t have much traction aren’t any secret. Let’s start with the fact that the 174,000 per annum salary is far more than the vast majority of Americans will ever make. Add to that the fact that Congress is filled with self-serving hyper-ambitious people who are profligate spenders of other people’s money at a rate that exceeds the ability of the Treasury to pay for all their promises. With the national debt at a record high and getting higher every second, what right do already well-paid members of Congress have to ask for more? Throw in the fact that polls consistently show that Americans disapprove of Congress by margins of 50-60 percent and it’s hard to say that they have earned a merit-based pay hike.

To that, advocates of higher pay say that if you want to get quality people you have to pay them something approximating what they might earn in the private sector. Compared to what they could make as lawyers or in other professions, most members of Congress could make a lot more. But it’s always been understood that if you want the honor of public service, you can’t expect to get rich. Or at least, you should hope to do so by honest means.

Moreover, as this chart shows, today’s Congressional pay is, if you account for inflation over the course of the history of the republic, pretty much in line with or more than what their predecessors earned in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Representatives and senators have always received a respectable salary that put them on an even basis with the upper middle class and that’s true today as well.

That said there is one big difference between the Congresses of the past and that of today. In the first decades of the country’s history, Congress only sat for a few months out of every year. Members went to live in the capital on a temporary basis and then went home. Once the Congress began to meet on a more or less full time basis, members simply moved to Washington and stayed there other than holiday visits home or during campaigns. That genteel era ended a long time ago. Nowadays representatives and senators are expected to come to meet with constituents every weekend. That means those who don’t live within commuting distance of the Capitol are forced to have a second residence. And that’s where the cost of housing comes in.

Even then, that creates a situation where members and especially those with families are faced with a daunting financial dilemma. Given the high cost of housing, this reduces members to the sort of measures that don’t jive with a middle class lifestyle for adults. Without personal wealth at their disposal, members have been forced to share apartments or even bunk in their offices. So when Hastings says that Congress is becoming a place where only the wealthy may serve, he isn’t merely seeking to expand the power of big government or soak the taxpayers even more than he and his fellow liberal Democrats do on a regular basis.

It should be remembered that one of the great electoral reforms of 19th century Britain was the idea of paying members of parliament. Until then only the wealthy or those in the pocket of a patron could serve. Those who advocate campaign finance reform already claim that today. But while their efforts to limit or eliminate political speech are primarily aimed at silencing voices outside of the party establishments or the mainstream media, it is increasingly the case that Congressional service involves personal sacrifices that reduce the quality and the independence of Congress.

A Congressional pay raise or even cost of living increases factored into their pay (which were not implemented in recent years) is a political nonstarter and rightly so. But perhaps its time to consider a housing allowance for members that would allow more of them to live in a more befitting the dignity of their office. We don’t want or need to treat members as if they were high-flying CEO’s but neither should we punish or beggar them merely for the sake of making a point about their profligate ways. Ambition and hunger for power ensures a never-ending supply of candidates for Congress no matter what their pay. But helping to reduce the ranks of the wealthy in Congress is an idea that should appeal to conservatives who worry about whether their representatives understand how taxes hurt growth and the pocketbooks of their constituents as much as it does to liberals. The relative pittance it might take to help get them off their office couches might have a beneficial impact on their work and the quality of recruits.

Read Less

Rand Paul’s Worst Case Against the PATRIOT Act: It’s Unpopular,So Gut It

On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate to reprise his marathon speech in opposition to the metadata collection and warehousing programs that were exposed as part of the PATRIOT Act in 2013. Those programs were revealed in documents leaked by NSA defector and current beneficiary of Russian hospitality, Edward Snowden. While speaking in opposition to those programs, Paul made the claim that the American public is with him. But are they? The data suggests that it might not be true that the nation is standing with Rand as they were two years ago.

Read More

On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate to reprise his marathon speech in opposition to the metadata collection and warehousing programs that were exposed as part of the PATRIOT Act in 2013. Those programs were revealed in documents leaked by NSA defector and current beneficiary of Russian hospitality, Edward Snowden. While speaking in opposition to those programs, Paul made the claim that the American public is with him. But are they? The data suggests that it might not be true that the nation is standing with Rand as they were two years ago.

Paul’s arguments against these programs then, as they are now, are not entirely without merit, but a debate over on the virtue of the various information netting and retention programs contained within that post-9/11 counterterrorism bill is beyond the scope of this post. Certainly, Paul’s contention that these programs deserve public scrutiny is not unwarranted. They have been subject to precisely the scrutiny Paul recommends for nearly 24 months. Moreover, Paul would not have had the opportunity to mount a pseudo-filibuster in opposition to these programs today if a federal court had not determined that the PATRIOT Act’s information gathering programs must be approved individually and not, as Sen. Mitch McConnell had liked, as a blanket reauthorization of that sprawling counterterrorism law.

None of this is to say that Paul’s arguments against the National Security Agency’s sweeping data collection powers are baseless. He made a rather compelling argument, in fact, when he contended that the use of information obtained via NSA surveillance programs that was used during the prosecution of a criminal case (albeit against a terror suspect) exceeds the bounds of the powers granted to the government by the PATRIOT Act.

But for all of Paul’s compelling arguments, he also made more than a few unconvincing claims designed to poison the public against the NSA’s programs. Perhaps the most risible contention Paul made in opposition to the NSA’s information gathering programs is that they should be repealed because they are simply unpopular.

“I think if you look at this and you say, ‘Where are the American people on this?’” Paul asked. “Well over half the people, maybe even 60 percent of the people, think the government has gone too far.”

“But if you want an example of why the Senate or Congress doesn’t represent the people very well, or why we’re maybe a decade behind, I’ll bet you it’s 20 percent of the people here would vote to stop this. To truly just stop it,” the senator contended. “At the most.”

“Whereas it’s 60, 70 percent of the public would stop these things,” Paul continued, citing an ever-increasing majority of the public that is supposedly opposed to the NSA’s programs.

“You’re not well-represented,” he added. “I think the Congress is maybe a decade behind the people. I think it’s an argument for why we should limit terms. I think it’s an argument for why we should have more turnover in office, because we get up here and we stay too long and we get separated from the people.”

Yes, senator, lawmakers in Congress who are ostensibly privy to classified intelligence briefings are on average more protective of the NSA’s surveillance programs than the general public. That is not a mark against these programs, and certainly no argument in favor of term limits; it’s an argument in their favor.

As for Paul’s claim that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the public would do away with the NSA’s surveillance programs if they had the chance, it’s hard to find recent data that supports this assertion that does not result from surveys commissioned by the ACLU. A recent Pew Research Center poll paints a far more complex picture of how the public views the NSA’s programs in a world that is now characterized by a resurgent radical Islamist threat and is routinely imperiled by self-radicalized, ISIS-inspired lone wolves.

While 61 percent of those polled in a survey released in March say they are “less confident the surveillance efforts are serving the public interest,” it’s far from clear that this majority of respondents would do away with the NSA’s programs entirely. 82 percent of those polled are comfortable with the government monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists. Another 60 percent are unperturbed by the prospect of monitoring the communications of elected U.S. officials and foreign leaders. A narrow majority, 54 percent, say that they are not uncomfortable with federal officials monitoring the communications of non-U.S. citizens.

“Yet, 57% say it is unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens,” Pew’s release read. “At the same time, majorities support monitoring of those particular individuals who use words like ‘explosives’ and ‘automatic weapons’ in their search engine queries (65% say that) and those who visit anti-American websites (67% say that).”

The issue of NSA surveillance is nowhere near as black and white as it was when the Snowden leaks were initially revealed. There are some good arguments in support of Paul’s position on NSA surveillance. Those that the senator made at the open of his latest marathon floor speech on the matter are not among them.

Read Less

Should Israel Take Obama’s Iran Payoff?

For months, President Obama has been trying to find a way to silence Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran. Up until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant in his opposition to what he and many Americans feel is an effort to appease the Islamist regime that will have catastrophic consequences for the security of both the United States and Israel. But, if reports are correct, the Israeli government is preparing to make the best of an awful situation by accepting a massive military assistance package from the U.S. in exchange for what an unnamed senior administration official describes as “some quiet from the Israelis.” While it can be argued that expediency demands that Netanyahu seek to get what help from the Americans that he can, with the outcome of the nuclear negotiations still hanging in the balance, this isn’t the moment for the Israelis to go into the tank for Obama on Iran.

Read More

For months, President Obama has been trying to find a way to silence Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran. Up until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant in his opposition to what he and many Americans feel is an effort to appease the Islamist regime that will have catastrophic consequences for the security of both the United States and Israel. But, if reports are correct, the Israeli government is preparing to make the best of an awful situation by accepting a massive military assistance package from the U.S. in exchange for what an unnamed senior administration official describes as “some quiet from the Israelis.” While it can be argued that expediency demands that Netanyahu seek to get what help from the Americans that he can, with the outcome of the nuclear negotiations still hanging in the balance, this isn’t the moment for the Israelis to go into the tank for Obama on Iran.

As the Israeli press is reporting, the Americans are prepared to pay what the administration official called, “a hefty price” for Israel’s silence in the upcoming months as a nuclear agreement is debated in Congress. That price will supposedly include up to 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets and anti-missile batteries. Given the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge over potential Arab and Iranian foes, it’s a tempting offer. Especially alluring for the Israelis is the prospect of more Iron Dome batteries as well as funding for more short-range David’s Sling batteries and the long-range Arrow-3 missile defense.

If, as seems likely, there is nothing Israel can do to prevent the U.S. from appeasing Iran and signing a weak deal that may not even guarantee rigorous inspections, then perhaps the only rational alternative is to accept a bribe from the administration for their silence. The same reasoning led some Arab countries to attend a summit here last week which, though boycotted by the kings of both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, resulted in a U.S. promise about selling them more advanced military hardware. Even if it was accompanied by a weak guarantee of their security that impressed no one, let alone Iranians, the Arabs were not so proud that they turned down U.S. assistance.

Moreover, it can be argued that if Israel doesn’t accept Obama’s bribe now, the offer may be off the table once the nuclear agreement is a done deal. The U.S. has been openly threatening to abandon Israel at the United Nations once the nuclear deal is put to bed. It’s not likely that they’ll be as forthcoming in the next year and a half. Given the ongoing threat of another war with Hezbollah or Hamas, anything that can help augment the Jewish state’s anti-missile defense arsenal is vital.

But even though the outcome of the Iran talks seems like a foreordained conclusion now, Netanyahu would be foolish to throw in the towel on the nuclear question. There are four key reasons why this is so.

The first is that no matter how much of a done deal the Iran negotiations seem, there is still no guarantee that the Iranians won’t ultimately pull out of them. Given the sweet deal that Obama has given them that would make no sense. The president hopes to create a new entente with Tehran but predicting Iran’s behavior is never easy. It is always possible that the Iranians will torpedo the talks in the hopes of getting an even sweeter offer from an administration that is desperate for detente with the Islamist regime. Until proven otherwise, the Israelis should not do anything that would be seen as a seal of approval for even more far-reaching Western concessions.

Second, though the process by which Congress will vote on a potential deal with Iran is geared towards guaranteeing its passage, there is still a sliver of hope that opponents of a dangerous deal will be able to hold support for the president to lower than one-third of the House and Senate thus preventing a presidential veto. If the Israelis were to take Obama’s bribe, it would be even more difficult to persuade many Democrats to vote against the president’s wishes. It would also give the false impression that the strong arguments they raised against the Iran deal appeasement were insincere.

Third, as important as the planes and anti-missile batteries are, they aren’t a real answer to the strategic threat that Iran poses for Israel. As the Arab states have also realized, Iran’s bid for regional hegemony has gotten a shot in the arm from Obama. Addressing Iran’s dangerous adventurism in the region will require more than an arms package.

Last, as weak as their position may be vis-à-vis Obama, the Israelis shouldn’t act as if they are desperate. As desperate as the situation seems, Congress still has Israel’s back and will likely vote in all the arms Israel needs, even if the administration doesn’t request it. Just as important, Obama won’t always be president. In 20 months, someone else will be sitting in the Oval Office. While there are no guarantees, the likelihood is that his successor won’t be making the same mistake and seeking to distance the U.S. from Israel. Anything Obama is offering now will likely still be available for them in the future. Surrendering a principled position on Iran simply isn’t worth the hardware that Obama is offering them. Netanyahu must hang tough and hope for the best, confidant that both Congress and the next president will be someone that he can trust more than Obama.

Read Less

We Need More Islamist Radicals in the Pentagon!

The United States has been fighting a global war on terror, or a crusade against man-made disasters, for almost 14 years, and it has been more than 17 years since Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States. (Perhaps President Bill Clinton could explain to President Barack Obama why it’s not wise to assume that declarations of death to America are not heartfelt). Alas, America’s strategy has not yet brought victory. Islamists are on the rampage across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, the Gaza Strip, and the suburbs of Paris.

Read More

The United States has been fighting a global war on terror, or a crusade against man-made disasters, for almost 14 years, and it has been more than 17 years since Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States. (Perhaps President Bill Clinton could explain to President Barack Obama why it’s not wise to assume that declarations of death to America are not heartfelt). Alas, America’s strategy has not yet brought victory. Islamists are on the rampage across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, the Gaza Strip, and the suburbs of Paris.

Perhaps, rather than adopt a military strategy that takes the fight to the Islamist radicals, it’s time to have American forces follow the advice of American diplomats, politicians, and generals who have long involvement counseling our allies and partners about their own counter-terror strategies.

Take Iraq, which is now reeling from the capture of Ramadi by the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). A number of analysts have doubled down on the accusation that motivating ISIS is Baghdad’s sectarian refusal to work with its Sunni communities. If only Baghdad would include more Sunni tribesmen and ex-Baathists in government and the Iraqi army, then the problem would go away. There’s a certain comforting logic to this and so perhaps it should be replicated in Washington: If the problem is disillusionment among Islamists at lack of political power, essentially, an easily addressable grievance, why not bring more Islamists into the Pentagon? And if they don’t accept the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution in law, that’s no matter. After all, many Baathists don’t accept the legitimacy of the Iraqi constitution, but U.S. advice is that such trivial things don’t matter. And let’s ignore the fact that every time men like Gen. David Petraeus have forced the Iraqis to include Islamists and Baathists in their structures, the result has been Islamists and Baathists stabbing the Iraqi government in the back.

With tongue stuck even further in cheek, it’s important to understand that, even if Baghdad doesn’t have any clear Sunni partner—every Sunni delegation that meets with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has as their chief demand that he not listen to the other Sunni delegations which also claim to represent the same communities—how much outrage the supposed lack of Baghdad’s generosity sparks in the Sunni world. After all, if ISIS’ rampage in Iraq is the fault of the Iraqi government rather than ISIS’ religious and financial sponsors and furthermore, if ISIS’ misogynistic and murderous ideology really is not the motivating factor, then outrages at the Abadi government and, for that matter, Iran, surely explains why ISIS is all the rage in the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Libya, and increasingly Afghanistan as well. When Boko Haram seizes and enslaves Nigerian Christian girls, the logic of America’s approach to Iraq suggests that Boko Haram’s motivation is outrage at Baghdad rather than a twisted, religious interpretation that endorses murder, rape, and slavery.

Likewise, if inclusivity in government is paramount, perhaps what the United States needs is not more beer summits or Oval Office lectures, but an invitation from Obama to have Karl Rove and Valerie Jarrett share a desk. And I’m sure Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, won’t mind alternating months on duty with John Bolton. After all, a big tent always leads to happy, efficient government, right?

Or, rather than implement Washington’s advice to Baghdad, maybe it’s time to live our own advice to Jerusalem. Want peace between Israel and a radical group like Hamas that openly calls for genocide in its charter? More concessions are in order, the more unilateral, the better. So, perhaps, rather than fight the Islamic State, it’s time to offer a foothold. No one would really mind if Delaware disappeared, so perhaps it’s time to pull back from Dover Air Force Base and raise the black flag of ISIS over the Delaware Legislative Hall.

To be perfectly serious, there is no magic diplomatic or political formula to drain the swamp of Islamic radicalism. And while Iraqi governance leaves much to be desired, to attribute the rise of ISIS to Baghdad is essentially to blame the victim.

Can Iraq reform politically in a way that puts the onus of governance on local authorities, regardless of how and to whom they pray? Yes. Iraqis would accept administrative federalism, with certain caveats from the Kurds. Are the Iranians a panacea? No. To rely on Iran is like treating an ingrown toenail with a deadly dose of radiation. But are all the Shi’ites pro-Iranian puppets? No, although Americans treating them as such could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact of the matter is that Sunni refugees from Al-Anbar and even Mosul prefer to be in Najaf and Karbala than in Kurdistan, because Shi’ite sectarian discrimination isn’t as ingrained as the ethnic discrimination practiced in Kurdistan. Tales of looting and lynching in Tikrit turned out to have been wildly exaggerated. As the Sunni government in Tikrit renewed its function after that city’s liberation, one of the first things they did was work to build a memorial to all of those Shi’ites massacred by the Islamic State at Camp Speicher.

When advising the Iraqi government, Israeli government or, for that matter, the Egyptian and Tunisian governments or any other state struggling against Islamist terrorism, it would behoove American policymakers, diplomats, and generals to consider a simple question: Would the same advice applied to the United States enhance the U.S. fight against terrorism, or would it at best miss the point and at worst exacerbate conflict? Because ideology and not grievance drives Islamist terrorism, the anecdote must address that ideology and not simply seek to paper over grievance. And if the fallacy of an ideology cannot be immediately exposed, then the only answer is to kill the ideologues rather than tilt at windmills.

Read Less

How to Answer the Question of the Week

I am mystified as to why Republicans are always so polite to journalists who are, obviously, allied to the liberal side of American politics and are willing to carry water for it.

Read More

I am mystified as to why Republicans are always so polite to journalists who are, obviously, allied to the liberal side of American politics and are willing to carry water for it.

For instance, for the last week, journalists have been asking Republican presidential hopefuls a question. “Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?” All the candidates have answered the question, some better than others. Jeb Bush did the worst job and had to amend his answer not once but twice.

But why answer it at all? The question is a pointless hypothetical, utterly irrelevant to the politics of 2015. Its transparent purpose is to avoid talking about the fast gathering disaster of Iraq today.

So, if I were running for president (alright, no snickering in the back of the room, please), I’d answer in one of two ways. First way, ask the journalist a question. In response to “Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003,” ask “Knowing what you know now, would you have abandoned Iraq in 2011?” and then talk about how the new president in 2017 will have to deal with the results of the most shockingly inept American foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson sailed for Paris a century ago.

The second way to answer would be to ask, “Excuse me, is this a history show or a news show? Are you a historian or a journalist? If the latter why aren’t you asking about what I would do in the future, not what I would have done in the past? Are you trying to protect the Obama Administration from the criticism it so richly deserves for its disastrous foreign policy?” When the journalist, inevitably, says no to that, say, “Well, you could have fooled me. How about asking me an honest question?”

As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, punch back twice as hard.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.