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Good Advice Abroad but Not at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary Clinton Pours Salt in Planned Parenthood’s Open Wound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Israel Reaches Consensus on Gaza, Diaspora Jews Reject It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Democrats Own the Disaster in the Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Trump-Clinton Connection About More Than Cash

In detailing the four reasons why I think that Donald Trump’s current surge to the top of the Republican nomination race yesterday, I noted that the kind of scrutiny presidential candidates receive is different from that accorded celebrities. The real estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-politician is learning that lesson today as he is forced to endure the Daily Beast’s airing of the dirty linen from his first divorce. The site ran an article based on a gossipy book about Trump’s personal life published 25 years ago alleging that he had raped his first wife Ivana. The fact that the former Mrs. Trump denies the accusations she made at the time and is supporting Trump’s campaign should have taken the air out of the story. But what made it newsworthy were the vulgar threats Trump’s lawyer issued to the publication that the candidate has now walked back. It’s doubtful that anything the Daily Beast publishes will influence Trump’s fans, so perhaps we should simply file this sordid business away as another example of how nasty politics has become in the age of the Internet. But if anyone thinks this is anything but the start of the press’s excavation of his life, they are mistaken. If the last month of our national political life has been given over to the Donald show on the campaign trail, in the coming weeks and months we’ll be getting more information about Trump’s life than most of us will be able to stand.

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In detailing the four reasons why I think that Donald Trump’s current surge to the top of the Republican nomination race yesterday, I noted that the kind of scrutiny presidential candidates receive is different from that accorded celebrities. The real estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-politician is learning that lesson today as he is forced to endure the Daily Beast’s airing of the dirty linen from his first divorce. The site ran an article based on a gossipy book about Trump’s personal life published 25 years ago alleging that he had raped his first wife Ivana. The fact that the former Mrs. Trump denies the accusations she made at the time and is supporting Trump’s campaign should have taken the air out of the story. But what made it newsworthy were the vulgar threats Trump’s lawyer issued to the publication that the candidate has now walked back. It’s doubtful that anything the Daily Beast publishes will influence Trump’s fans, so perhaps we should simply file this sordid business away as another example of how nasty politics has become in the age of the Internet. But if anyone thinks this is anything but the start of the press’s excavation of his life, they are mistaken. If the last month of our national political life has been given over to the Donald show on the campaign trail, in the coming weeks and months we’ll be getting more information about Trump’s life than most of us will be able to stand.

The question of what is or is not the public’s business when it comes to presidential candidates can be a thorny one. There are plenty of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump for president without getting into his personal life. Moreover, the double standard by which Republicans are subjected to the sort of minute scrutiny that is usually not accorded liberals and Democrats also ensures that a lot of people on the right are going to instinctively sympathize with Trump or any other GOP candidate who is given a going over in this manner. The New York Times 2008 hit piece on John McCain alleging an affair that the article didn’t prove is a classic example. When, as in the case of Mitt Romney, there aren’t even hints of scandal in a candidate’s private life, the media will dig something else up like the Washington Post’s “expose” of his high school prank in which he and others gave another kid a haircut.

But when it comes to Trump, that sort of extensive digging won’t be necessary. He has spent most of the last 30 years more or less living on the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column. That won’t make it right, but it also ensures that there is a never-ending supply of embarrassing or undignified quotes or incidents to be brought up whenever possible. While a reality show or billionaire celebrity might want that kind of attention, this won’t help someone running for president. An example came this morning in the New York Times with a feature discussing the vast store of information about the candidate that can be culled from an examination of his testimony under oath in the countless lawsuits in which he has been involved during his decades in business. Compared to the fishing expeditions to put Mitt Romney’s largely exemplary business record under the microscope in 2012, examining Trump’s record will be like shooting ducks in a barrel for the media.

In response to the Beast story, some on the right are chirping about why it is that the same venues that are ready to recycle allegations of rape directed at him during the course of a nasty and expensive divorce battle when they never did the same with the credible evidence and allegations about former President Clinton raping Juanita Broderick. They are right about that. But that also points up a serious problem about Trump. In choosing him, Republicans would be embracing a candidate who is asking us to judge him by the same flexible standards that only a Clinton would demand.

Just as Clinton’s co-dependant claimed that those circulating unflattering information about the 42nd president were part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” so now we have Team Trump threatening to ruin journalists for even thinking about writing stories about his past. Having a representative that denies that spousal rape is a crime is an invitation for the Democrats to air out their faux “war on women” meme in a way that would never work against Clinton. Indeed, the connection between Trump and the Clintons goes beyond his contributions to Hillary’s Senate campaigns and the Clinton Family Foundation. In Trump, the Republicans have found their own Bill Clinton, minus the charm and the skill in governing.

For Trump, the rape story was a “welcome to the NFL” moment in which he was reminded that running for president involves the press going over a candidate’s life with a fine tooth comb and airing incidents that all concerned would prefer to keep buried. That won’t deter those of his fans who love him because he is outrageous and not in spite of it. Just as some voters embrace because of his vile comments about John McCain’s time as a POW in Vietnam, others will regard such stories as a reason to back him all the more. But this Trump-Clinton connection chips away at the notion that he is invulnerable or electable. It should also pour cold water on the notion that he is somehow different from politicians. To the contrary, Trump embodies all of the worst aspects of our political life in terms of his gutter attack tactics and a Clintonesque sense of entitlement and belief that he should never be held accountable for anything he does or says.

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Carly Fiorina: The Substantive Donald Trump Alternative

Political reporters are less vexed by the reasoning behind Donald Trump’s decision to mount a narcissistic campaign of self-aggrandizement disguised as a presidential bid than they are by the fact that it resonates with so many Republican primary voters. More than a few pieces have been penned amid the effort to understand the Trump surge and the primary voters that make up his base of support. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel submitted one of the best dispatches on the subject after spending several days covering the Trump campaign on the ground. He discovered that Trump has staying power, and not merely because of what he represents but because of who he is and how he is running for the highest office in the land. But all those traits that make him attractive to GOP primary voters are present in another candidate: Carly Fiorina.  Read More

Political reporters are less vexed by the reasoning behind Donald Trump’s decision to mount a narcissistic campaign of self-aggrandizement disguised as a presidential bid than they are by the fact that it resonates with so many Republican primary voters. More than a few pieces have been penned amid the effort to understand the Trump surge and the primary voters that make up his base of support. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel submitted one of the best dispatches on the subject after spending several days covering the Trump campaign on the ground. He discovered that Trump has staying power, and not merely because of what he represents but because of who he is and how he is running for the highest office in the land. But all those traits that make him attractive to GOP primary voters are present in another candidate: Carly Fiorina. 

Weigel’s excellent report should be read by all who cover political campaigns, and particularly those in the pundit class who – myself included – believed all the laws of political physics should apply to Trump and have been shocked to learn that they do not. Despite all the historic forces arrayed against his steady rise in the polls, perhaps because of them, Trump remains buoyed by the support of nearly a quarter of the GOP electorate. Weigel points to a variety of elements of the conventional wisdom that have failed commentators. Trump’s rude antagonism toward Republicans is a net plus among his supporters. Voters see his tactlessness as honesty. His wealth leads voters to believe he is beholden to no donor. The fun he is having on the trail is infectious. Finally and most consequentially, he has assembled the rudimentary staffing scaffolds that could become the foundation of a real campaign team.

On paper, these qualities are equally attributable to the former Hewlett-Packard CEO running for the Republican nomination. Fiorina is quite wealthy; with an estimated net worth of $60 million, she doesn’t have Trump’s $2.9 billion on hand (a far cry from the $10 billion his campaign alleged the real estate magnate to possess), but she is certainly in no one’s pocket. Fiorina is blunt and antagonistic toward those who deserve her scorn, although she reserves her barbs primarily for Democrats – a substantial stylistic distinction from Trump, who attacks Republicans almost exclusively. She’s an outsider and a patrician who is not a member of the political class – a fortunate outcome of losing her 2010 U.S. Senate bid against California’s Barbara Boxer.

“Regularly, she says things that don’t normally come out of politicians’ mouths,” National Review’s Jay Nordlinger discerned while profiling the former CEO. “For instance, she describes wind power as the pet of ‘ideologues in the environmental movement.’ Those turbines are ‘slicing up hundreds of thousands of birds every year.’ True, but who says it, among politicians?”

One intangible aspect of Trump’s allure that Weigel doesn’t touch on is the likelihood that the celebrity’s supporters are so drawn to him, at least in part, because the rest of the political universe is repulsed by him. This is one stylistic element of Trump’s approach to running for the White House that Fiorina will not be able to duplicate. Perhaps no Republican running for the 2016 nomination outside Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker so excites both “establishment” Republicans and the outside-the-Beltway activist class as does Fiorina.

“Every stop never gets off message,” observed radio host Rush Limbaugh last week. “She handles the media with aplomb and skill and it’s obvious she enjoys doing it, and she’s schooling people. She’s showing how it’s done.”

“[S]he is someone who Republicans need to have in the race because she is a woman and she is a successful woman,” GOP campaign strategist Ford O’Connell told Politico last January. From conservative talkers to the consulting class and many in between, Fiorina has struck a chord.

And, yet, she polls especially poorly among Republican primary voters. In a CNN/ORC survey of the national GOP primary electorate released on Tuesday, Fiorina secured just 1 percent of the vote with 4 percent of GOP voters dubbing her their second choice candidate. That lackluster performance may change, however, when Republican voters get a chance to assess Fiorina vis-à-vis her Republican opponents on the debate stage.

The Republicans in attendance rose to their feet at the conclusion of Fiorina’s foreign policy address at the Reagan Library on Monday night. In the address, she identified the threats facing the United States – from a nuclearizing Iran to Chinese revanchism – and she laid out a compelling case for a robust American defense of its interests abroad and those of its allies.

Taking questions from the audience at the conclusion of her speech, Fiorina was asked by an honest and frustrated Republican voter how she would, as president, force Republican congressional leaders to heed the will of the GOP’s base voters. “I believe ours was intended to be a citizen government; of, by, and for the people,” Fiorina replied. “I don’t know when we got used to this idea that only a professional political class can hold public office. It used to be, for most of our nation’s history, that leaders would step forward out of private life, and serve for a time, and return to private life.”

Rather than, as Trump has suggested, wrestled a co-equal branch of government into submission through sheer force of personality and, if necessary, imperial overreach similar to that practiced by Barack Obama, Fiorina went on to define how her administration would mobilize public pressure by, for example, using mobile technology to bombard elected leaders with text message and telephone calls. Those Trump supporters who have not entirely succumbed to fatalistic nihilism and continue to see aspects of the republic worth preserving will see this as a feasible and preferable alternative to governing through bombast.

“Margaret Thatcher, a woman I admire greatly, once said that she was not content to manage the decline of a great nation,” Fiorina said near the close of her address. “Neither am I. I am prepared to lead the resurgence of a great nation.” It was Trump’s “make America great again,” but with a touch more – well, the reality television star might call it “class.”

Don’t expect Trump’s supporters to bolt into Fiorina’s camp anytime soon. Stylistically, she is more a contrast to Trump than a compliment. His supporters want to make a statement and issue a vote of no confidence in the Republican Party. Fiorina will not satisfy that desire. On paper, however, she could serve as a capable and viable Trump alternative.

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Jonathan Pollard’s Release Shouldn’t Placate Iran Deal Critics

Unlike many Israelis and American Jews, I have never found myself in the Jonathan Pollard rooting section. He was a traitor and a spy and he got what was coming to him, even if he did receive an unusually long sentence for passing along secret information to an ally of the United States rather than an enemy. But he has served 30 years now, and there is no good reason not to grant him parole. It now appears that he will, in fact, be released at the end of November. Read More

Unlike many Israelis and American Jews, I have never found myself in the Jonathan Pollard rooting section. He was a traitor and a spy and he got what was coming to him, even if he did receive an unusually long sentence for passing along secret information to an ally of the United States rather than an enemy. But he has served 30 years now, and there is no good reason not to grant him parole. It now appears that he will, in fact, be released at the end of November.

The Obama administration says this is the normal process of the legal system in action. The Wall Street Journal, by contrast, claimed that this was a politically motivated decision by the administration in the “hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.” I don’t know whom to believe here; I certainly hope that his release was not akin to the pork-barrel projects that are dangled in front of lawmakers to win their assent to important pieces of legislation.

In any case, whatever the motivation behind Pollard’s release, it has no bearing on the merits of the Iranian nuclear deal, which is a terrible deal not only for the United States and our Arab allies but especially for Israel. While Iran poses a threat to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other states — to say nothing of the people of Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who are suffering under the oppression of Iranian-backed militias — it does not seek to destroy any of those states. By contrast, ever since the Iranian revolution, Tehran has dedicated itself to the eradication of the “Zionist entity,” a genocidal goal that it has pursued by funneling arms and money to terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The mullahs’ capacity for such attacks will increase exponentially once sanctions are lifted and more than $100 billion in extra funding floods their coffers.

Hezbollah is now said to have some 70,000-80,000 missiles aimed at Israel. How many more will Hezbollah have in a few years, once Iran is even richer, and free of the embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles? Hezbollah can already, no doubt, target every part of Israel; before long, it will be able to assign multiple rockets to each target. It’s true that Israel has missile defenses such as Iron Dome and the PAC-3, but missile defenses can and probably will be overwhelmed by such a barrage, especially if it is supplemented by rockets emanating from the Gaza Strip.

Mike Huckabee may be guilty of overblown and distasteful rhetoric when he claims that the deal will march Israelis “to the door of the oven,” a formulation that is offensive in no small part because it presumes that Israelis are helpless victims who would allow themselves to be subject to another Holocaust without resisting. But the reality is that the Iranian nuclear deal will greatly increase the danger to Israel — and it will be an existential danger once Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which it is practically guaranteed to do by the end of this deal, in roughly ten years’ time. By that time, Israel probably will not even have the option of bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities because they will be well-defended by advanced air-defense systems legally provided by Russia and possibly other states as well.

So while Israelis will no doubt celebrate Pollard’s release, I very much doubt it will lead many of them to moderate their opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Nor should it. Pollard is a feel-good story from the Israeli perspective; Iran is a matter of life or death. Israelis are right to speak out in opposition to the Iranian accord even if doing so greatly displeases President Obama and Secretary Kerry. The views of our closest allies deserve a close hearing when the U.S. government is contemplating actions that will greatly affect their well being.

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The Iran Deal is Not Verifiable Now or Later

With 51 days left in the period for Congressional consideration of the Iran deal, the respected Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has released a report on “Verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” which concludes there are weaknesses that “must be remediated or compensated for if the agreement is to be verifiable,” and that “without stringent long-term limits on Iran’s sensitive nuclear programs … these verification conditions … are unlikely to be sufficient.” ISIS concludes that – if the remediation or compensation occurs – the verification provisions will likely be adequate during the first 10-15 years of the agreement, “but will be inadequate afterwards if Iran implements its plan to expand its centrifuge program and possibly start a reprocessing program.” In other words, the agreement as it stands is unverifiable without additional steps; and after it sunsets, the verification provisions will be inadequate. Read More

With 51 days left in the period for Congressional consideration of the Iran deal, the respected Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has released a report on “Verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” which concludes there are weaknesses that “must be remediated or compensated for if the agreement is to be verifiable,” and that “without stringent long-term limits on Iran’s sensitive nuclear programs … these verification conditions … are unlikely to be sufficient.” ISIS concludes that – if the remediation or compensation occurs – the verification provisions will likely be adequate during the first 10-15 years of the agreement, “but will be inadequate afterwards if Iran implements its plan to expand its centrifuge program and possibly start a reprocessing program.” In other words, the agreement as it stands is unverifiable without additional steps; and after it sunsets, the verification provisions will be inadequate.

Here is what the ISIS reports concludes regarding the 24-day period for inspection of suspicious Iranian sites:

What could Iran potentially hide or disguise in a 24-day time period? At ISIS, over the years, we have conducted several assessments on countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Iraq which have all cheated on their safeguards obligations. We have assessed the types and quantities of uranium releases from gas centrifuge plants as part of official safeguards studies and evaluated many cases where environmental sampling was used to uncover undeclared activities or failed to do so. Based on this work, we assess that Iran could likely move and disguise many small scale nuclear and nuclear-weapon-related activities. [Emphasis added].

Secretary of State Kerry said recently that “anytime, anywhere” inspections were “not on the table” in the negotiations with Iran, and that he had “never heard the term in the four years that we were negotiating.” According to Kerry, “There’s no such thing in arms control as anytime, anywhere. There isn’t any nation in the world, none that has an anytime, anywhere.” But that position is flatly contradicted by the ISIS report:

[S]mall-scale activities matter and this is one of the key reasons why inspectors want prompt, or anytime, anywhere access. Inspectors had this type of access in Iraq in the 1990s and early 2000s. South Africa provided the IAEA anywhere, anytime access “within reason,” which was explained to one of the authors of this report as a request only to not ask to go to a site in the middle of the night. In practice, the IAEA could get access to any South African facility soon after the request. [Emphasis added].

Back in April, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the international community would have “anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access.” Now, it turns out the secretary of state never heard of it, never raised it, doesn’t even know it exists.

Heckuva job.

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Do Democrats Want to Link Their Future to Iran’s Good Behavior?

Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew trooped to the House Foreign Relations Committee today to again make their case for the Iran nuclear deal as they had before the Senate last week. As was the case with the upper body, Republicans appear united in opposition to the deal. But though most Democrats appear willing to support what has become President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, there are clear signs of a split within the Democratic caucus with a number of prominent members, such as Senator Robert Menendez and ranking House Foreign Relation Committee member Eliot Engel, openly opposing the administration. But, as Politico reports, efforts to whip Democrats into line behind the deal are being vigorously pursued and seem likely to be met with success. But as wavering Democrats feel the pressure be exerted on them by both the White House and the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, they should also consider that going on record favoring appeasement of Iran will have long-term consequences. While President Obama is confident about having his name on the nuclear deal, representatives and senators who hope to still be in office long after the current resident of the White House leaves in January 2017 need to ponder whether they want their party to shoulder the responsibility for a policy that hinges on Iranian good behavior.

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Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew trooped to the House Foreign Relations Committee today to again make their case for the Iran nuclear deal as they had before the Senate last week. As was the case with the upper body, Republicans appear united in opposition to the deal. But though most Democrats appear willing to support what has become President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, there are clear signs of a split within the Democratic caucus with a number of prominent members, such as Senator Robert Menendez and ranking House Foreign Relation Committee member Eliot Engel, openly opposing the administration. But, as Politico reports, efforts to whip Democrats into line behind the deal are being vigorously pursued and seem likely to be met with success. But as wavering Democrats feel the pressure be exerted on them by both the White House and the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, they should also consider that going on record favoring appeasement of Iran will have long-term consequences. While President Obama is confident about having his name on the nuclear deal, representatives and senators who hope to still be in office long after the current resident of the White House leaves in January 2017 need to ponder whether they want their party to shoulder the responsibility for a policy that hinges on Iranian good behavior.

Though Kerry has been arrogantly declaring that the deal will permanently prevent Iran from every getting a weapon, those who read the document see that what he has signed is more like an official declaration of Western acquiescence to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran’s nuclear research will continue with its advanced infrastructure intact. Even if it observes the limitations imposed on them, they will be free once it expires to do as they like. As even a stalwart ideological liberal like Leon Wieseltier observed in The Atlantic yesterday, the defense of the deal seems to hinge on what he rightly calls the demagogic argument that there is no alternative.

This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome — then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it.

Iran’s will to pursue nuclear weapons is undiminished and its means to do so will be protected by the pact. Nor will its efforts to sponsor terrorism or build the ballistic missiles with which it could deliver a nuclear device to a Western and not just an Israeli target be stopped by this deal. The only thing that makes the agreement even remotely defensible is the notion that Iran has changed or will changed. And there is not the slightest evidence that this is in the cards.

And it is that point that brings us back to those House and Senate Democrats being whipped into line to back the most far-reaching foreign treaty signed by the U.S. in a generation.

For some, it is a matter of loyalty to the president. That seems to be a particularly strong emotion among the most left-wing members of Congress as well as for members of the Congressional Black Caucus that were encouraged to think any opposition to the Iran negotiations was an insult to President Obama. But Obama, who reportedly warned freshman members of the House last week that none of them would get a pass for opposing him on this matter believes he still has the clout to enforce his will on all Democrats.

But this is a moment for Democrats to start thinking long term rather than on the daily battle to win the news cycle for the White House against their despised Republican foes. Backing up the president on this question isn’t just another tactical dustup with the GOP it is a long-term commitment that literally ties their political future to the whims and behavior of a despotic theocratic Islamist regime bent on regional hegemony and the destruction of Israel.

Though President Obama will not be giving his followers a pass on this issue, neither will the American people. If, as is more than likely, the Iranians continue on their current path of pursuing terror and conflict with the West as well as an eventual bomb, this deal will constitute a millstone around the necks of those who let it be put into effect.

Thinking in those terms is difficult for politicians who always live in the moment or the next election cycle. But what must be understood is that their decisions on the Iran deal will be long remembered after other votes they cast are forgotten. That may be okay for hard-core left-wing ideologues in the Democratic caucus. But for much of the rest of the party that looks to mainstream independent voters as well as the pro-Israel community for support that is a sobering thought. Democrats Iran deal votes aren’t so much a matter of partisan loyalty for Obama but linking your future to the ayatollahs. That is something that Democrats should think long and hard about before they acquiesce to pressure from the White House and their party whips.

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What the Iran Nuclear Deal Polls are Saying

In the weeks that have elapsed since international negotiators revealed the terms of a nuclear accord with Iran, public opinion surveys have offered commentators and pundits the opportunity to choose their own adventure. Depending on the survey, the American public is either cautiously optimistic about the prospective deal or fatalistic about the West’s limited ability to deter Iran from developing a fissionable device. The polls are also unclear on how Americans want Congress to react to the proposed accord; some suggest that voters believe Congress should ratify the arrangement while others indicate majorities want the federal legislature to reject it. A review of the polls suggests that it’s the pollsters and not the public who are confused. Those surveys that do not try to sell the public on the deal as characterized, often inaccurately, by President Barack Obama’s administration provide a clearer picture of how the citizenry views this “deal.”  Read More

In the weeks that have elapsed since international negotiators revealed the terms of a nuclear accord with Iran, public opinion surveys have offered commentators and pundits the opportunity to choose their own adventure. Depending on the survey, the American public is either cautiously optimistic about the prospective deal or fatalistic about the West’s limited ability to deter Iran from developing a fissionable device. The polls are also unclear on how Americans want Congress to react to the proposed accord; some suggest that voters believe Congress should ratify the arrangement while others indicate majorities want the federal legislature to reject it. A review of the polls suggests that it’s the pollsters and not the public who are confused. Those surveys that do not try to sell the public on the deal as characterized, often inaccurately, by President Barack Obama’s administration provide a clearer picture of how the citizenry views this “deal.” 

“[T]he more information the pollster provided, the more likely respondents supported the deal,” wrote Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz on Tuesday in a tweet. He directed his followers to the left-leaning explainer site Vox.com, which has a nasty habit of oversimplifying events in the effort to guide readers toward a preferred liberal conclusion. The insulting implication in Schultz’s contention is that, when voters are not spoon-fed the alleged details of the Iran deal by pollsters, they are not sufficiently informed about its terms. What nauseating condescension. The truth is that the polls that do seek to “inform” the respondent on the terms of the Iran deal have woefully failed in that charge.

The Washington Post and ABC News released the survey that the administration finds most supportive of their case last week. That poll found that a whopping 56 percent of adults favor pursuing a nuclear accord with Iran even though only 35 percent said they were confident that such an arrangement would succeed in its central mission – preventing the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear bomb. How to explain the disparity? Simple. Read the question to which those polled were asked to respond.

“As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons,” the question read. “International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

Why, yes. Who wouldn’t? It’s a rosier picture of a bilateral accord than even that which emerged from preliminary negotiations that yielded the “framework” nuclear agreement in March. There’s only one problem with this question: it essentially asks the public if they like a comforting fable woven by this White House rather than the Iran deal on paper.

At no point are respondents asked if they support Western negotiator’s last-minute cave to Iranian and Russian demands to lift both the international arms and ballistic missile embargos, which, after five and eight years respectively, will leave Iran both wealthier and far better armed. The lifting of those embargos will allow Iran to accelerate its regional campaign of terror, the latest advance in which occurred just this morning when two Bahraini police officers were killed in a “terrorist attack” local authorities are blaming on Tehran. Respondents were not asked for their opinion on the feasibility of “snapback,” which suggests that the international sanctions regime that took decades to build can be reassembled in a moment’s notice despite the likely objections of those firms that reinvest in Iran. Respondents were not asked about that inspection regime, the several-week process that relies on Iranian consent to secure timely access to sensitive sites, or the formerly classified details of the arrangement that allows Iran to choose the samples from the military site at Parchin it will surrender to the IAEA for review. Respondents were not asked if they approve of the P5+1 negotiating secret side deals with Iran that even the legislators who are being asked to ratify this arrangement have not seen. Respondents were not asked about the terms of this deal expiring after 10 or 15 years, leaving Iran a nuclear threshold state that can breakout at a time of its choosing. The Washington Post/ABC News poll asks respondents to weigh in on an Iran deal that does not exist.

What about a survey of American Jews commissioned by the L.A. Jewish Journal? That poll, which has also been embraced by supporters of the Iran deal, purports to show that 49 percent of Americans of Jewish descent support the accord while only 31 percent oppose it. In this way, Iran deal backers can blunt the sentiment emerging from Israeli leaders across the political spectrum that fear for their country’s existence should Iran be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. It suffers from the same shortcomings as does the Washington Post/ABC News poll.

“As you may know, an agreement was reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons,” the survey question noted. “Do you support or oppose this agreement, or don’t know enough to say?”

“The US and other countries have reached an agreement to place limits on Iran’s nuclear program in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” the democratic firm Public Policy Polling asked respondents. “In exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Iran would receive gradual relief from US and international economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor Iran’s facilities and if Iran was caught breaking the agreement, the current economic sanctions would be imposed again.” 54 percent supported this idealized entente. Only 38 percent remained unthinking and recalcitrant.

“Several world powers, including the United States, have reached an international agreement that will limit Iran’s nuclear activity in return for the lifting of major economic sanctions against Iran,” YouGov’s survey read. “Do you support or oppose this agreement?” 43 percent approved.

You see the pattern.

But not every survey is leading respondents to support the administration. Two recent polls, one from the Pew Research Center and another from CNN/ORC, declined to characterize the deal at all. They found strikingly different results. After asking respondents for their thoughts on the Iran deal as they understood it, they found 48 to 38 percent disapproving. It also found that 81 percent of those surveyed knew “a lot” or “a little” about the agreement. What’s more enlightening, however, is how Pew tackled the distinction between its methods and those of the Washington Post/ABC News.

The different findings on public views of the Iran nuclear agreement in the Washington Post/ABC News and Pew Research Center surveys highlight how question wording – and the information provided in a question – can impact public opinion, particularly on issues where public views are still being shaped and information levels are relatively low. The Pew Research question, which does not describe the agreement, finds lower levels of support than the Post/ABC News question, which details the intention to monitor Iran’s facilities and raises the possibility of re-imposition of sanctions if Iran does not comply.

CNN confirmed Pew’s findings on Tuesday. Without characterizing the terms of the deal, survey respondents were asked if Congress should support it. 44 percent said that it should, but a majority — 52 percent — disagreed.

These polls are all qualitatively different, and their methodologies vary beyond merely question wording. It is clear, however, that pollsters who are not merely seeking to sample public opinion but to shape it can mold the public’s perception of this deal. The White House appears to believe that voters who do not support this deal are simply uninformed, but the opposite condition is far more likely. It’s possible that the public has educated themselves on the terms of this deal, and they don’t like them.

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Can the Hillary Email Counter-Attack Keep Working?

Anyone wondering how the Clintons get away with things that would sink ordinary political mortals got another lesson this past weekend in how to deflect even the most damning of stories. The revelation reported by the New York Times that the Justice Department is actually investigating the fact that Clinton transmitted classified material on her private email server was shocking news. But the pushback from the Clinton campaign on the latest about the Hillary email scandal was both immediate and forceful. But the question is can a scorched earth campaign based on denial of obvious facts continue to prevail indefinitely? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether Clinton’s nomination for president is as inevitable as most of us have long thought it to be.

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Anyone wondering how the Clintons get away with things that would sink ordinary political mortals got another lesson this past weekend in how to deflect even the most damning of stories. The revelation reported by the New York Times that the Justice Department is actually investigating the fact that Clinton transmitted classified material on her private email server was shocking news. But the pushback from the Clinton campaign on the latest about the Hillary email scandal was both immediate and forceful. But the question is can a scorched earth campaign based on denial of obvious facts continue to prevail indefinitely? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether Clinton’s nomination for president is as inevitable as most of us have long thought it to be.

As our Noah Rothman noted on Friday, the Times soon began walking back some of its original reporting almost immediately though the basic substance of the charge remained unchallenged even in a completely revised version that was published on Saturday. The retreat continued on Monday with Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor, scolding the news staff for being over-eager and too ready to believe anonymous sources leading to a story “fraught with inaccuracies.” That surrender on the part of a publication that is normally impervious to criticisms of far more substantive problems with articles encouraged the Hillary camp to switch from defense to an all-out offensive designed to brand the story as purely an invention of House Republicans investigating the Benghazi terror attack with Politico dutifully supplying an article that helped feed the notion that the whole thing was a kerfuffle generated by the same wicked “right-wing conspiracy” that has dogged the poor Clintons for many years.

But for all of the tut-tutting on the left about “inaccuracies,” the basic elements remain intact.

Contrary to her public assurances when she initially answered some questions about the email controversy at the United Nations in March, it now appears virtually certain that some of the emails sent on the former secretary of state’s private email was classified in nature. There is some dispute over whether every one of them was classified at the time it was transmitted, but there is no longer any doubt that Clinton lied when she said she used only one device with this email and that apparently there were more than just a few communications that were classified. Nor was her assertion that all of the emails that concerned her work were saved on government servers as opposed to the home email server she employed true.

It is no longer possible to believe her claims that all work emails were turned over to the government. Others, including some with classified information, may well have been kept, but we’ll never know. Despite the subpoenas that were issued to her (which she also falsely denied getting), tens of thousands of other emails were destroyed when she wiped the server.

In doing so, she violated government rules set down by President Obama. But whether the investigation being contemplated by the Department of Justice is “criminal” as the Times originally suggested or merely a “security” probe is a difference without a distinction. The same point applies to the fact that the investigation, assuming it actually takes place, may target subordinates operating under Clinton’s orders rather than her alone. But no matter how this shakes out, anyone who thinks mishandling classified information and violating rules about such material is a minor thing should remember that General David Petraeus was forced to resign as head of the CIA and then humiliated with a judicial proceeding that ended with a guilty plea. Such “inaccuracies” don’t undercut the fact that Clinton broke rules and has repeatedly lied about it. Both the rule breaking and the lying are the sorts of behavior that can and often have landed lesser mortals in deep legal trouble.

Yet the Clinton machine and many in her press cheering section continue to act as if the whole thing is an invention of her foes. And their winning of the news cycle over the weekend to the point where it appeared as if House Republicans rather than the former first lady were the ones in political trouble merely confirms the truism that a good offense is the best defense.

Can they continue to get away with it?

The short answer, at least as far as legal jeopardy is concerned, is probably yes. Despite the leak that an investigation is underway, the odds that Attorney General Loretta Lynch or President Obama will ever sign off on indictments of the Clinton staff for their violations of the law, let alone of the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, are astronomical. The only way this affair will ever lead to prosecutions is if a GOP president and AG order one in 2017, and it’s likely that if the Republicans are running things then they will have enough to do without exacting vengeance on a defeated Hillary Clinton.

As far as the political impact, the same answer may be true in the short run. Most Democrats seem to be as indifferent to Hillary Clinton’s crimes and misdemeanors as they were to her husband’s lack of morality.

But the triumphalist tone of the recent counterattacks from the Clinton camp notwithstanding, she and her handlers cannot be indifference to her growing problems. The email scandal may not land her in the legal trouble she so richly deserves, but it will feed negative poll numbers that can no longer be ignored. The latest CNN poll shows that, for the first time, Hillary’s favorability ratings are underwater. The CNN/ORC survey showed that 48 percent viewed Clinton unfavorably with only 45 percent favorable. That’s the first time since 2001 that she has been in negative territory and a massive reversal from the 63-35 percent favorable ratings she had after she left office as secretary of state in 2013.

It is those concerns, along with the distinct sense among many in the Democratic base that she is an inauthentic liberal, especially when compared to a genuine leftist like Bernie Sanders, that is behind the large crowds greeting Clinton’s leading challenger and the soft poll numbers in battleground and early voting states. Though it would be foolish to underestimate the willingness of the Clintons to do anything to win, it is now almost thinkable that she might actually be denied her party’s nomination.

So while any conclusions from the investigation the Times revealed last week may never see the light of day, the idea that her rule-breaking and lying will have no repercussions is unfounded. The Clintons may have won the last news cycle but the increasing damage to her already shaky credibility means they may also be losing the war.

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Four Reasons Trump Will Fade

Yesterday, our John Podhoretz spoke for many Americans when he found it impossible to view the rise of Donald Trump in the polls with anything but despair. John’s description of Trump’s approach to issues was entirely correct. In a business where outsize egos are a dime a dozen, Trump’s megalomania is a defining characteristic and his bluster has served to cover up the fact that he has a deplorable record on conservative issues and has no coherent approach to governance or ideology. The size of the support he has engendered is troubling because he could well alter the outcome of the 2016 election by either capturing the Republican Party nomination outright or it could encourage him to try a third party run that will guarantee victory for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But before we write off the GOP’s chances and begin the process of explicating the new political age of Trump, a moment of calm is called for. Though everything we are seeing in the last few weeks lends credence to the notion that the Trump phenomenon is real and permanent, it is important to remember that is it just as likely that the real estate mogul turned reality star turned presidential candidate will fizzle long before the votes start getting counted next winter. What follows are four reasons Trump will fade.

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Yesterday, our John Podhoretz spoke for many Americans when he found it impossible to view the rise of Donald Trump in the polls with anything but despair. John’s description of Trump’s approach to issues was entirely correct. In a business where outsize egos are a dime a dozen, Trump’s megalomania is a defining characteristic and his bluster has served to cover up the fact that he has a deplorable record on conservative issues and has no coherent approach to governance or ideology. The size of the support he has engendered is troubling because he could well alter the outcome of the 2016 election by either capturing the Republican Party nomination outright or it could encourage him to try a third party run that will guarantee victory for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But before we write off the GOP’s chances and begin the process of explicating the new political age of Trump, a moment of calm is called for. Though everything we are seeing in the last few weeks lends credence to the notion that the Trump phenomenon is real and permanent, it is important to remember that is it just as likely that the real estate mogul turned reality star turned presidential candidate will fizzle long before the votes start getting counted next winter. What follows are four reasons Trump will fade.

Yes, I know. To even suggest that Trump is not the embodiment of a new political revolution will bring down on me both scorn and vitriol from the celebrity candidate’s many fans that will compete with each other to channel their hero’s trademark viciousness in excoriating critics.

The attacks from Trump loyalists on that score won’t be entirely unreasonable. Trump’s support may not last but until it does disappear his fans are entitled to see it as a substantial endorsement of his personality and combative nature if not every aspect of his candidacy. Before we try to bury Trump, it’s important to understand that his boomlet is a genuine reflection of frustration on the part of a portion of the Republican base.

The key element that Trump exploited was anger about illegal immigration. Some of that can be dismissed as rooted in prejudicial attitudes toward Hispanics. Trump’s offensive comments about Mexican illegal immigrants being rapists and drug dealers may have rightly earned him some harsh condemnations but there is a portion of the electorate that is actually turned on by a willingness to flout both convention and courtesy. He is, after all, a reality TV star and the same qualities that work for him in that format help him in politics.

But not all of this is about prejudice. Much of it has to do with resentment of the political establishment of both parties. The fact that he is not really a conservative and hasn’t much idea about how government works doesn’t bother those who are so angry that they applaud a simple-minded blowhard approach that can’t distinguish between the political process and the problems it is failing to address. As our Pete Wehner noted last week, this is a case of populism masquerading as conservatism but that won’t stop Trump from garnering a sizeable share of a GOP base that may have, at least for the moment, decided that a full-blown outsider like Trump is to be preferred to other genuine conservative insurgents who are working within the political system including someone like Ted Cruz who seems at times to be attempting to blow it up from within.

But while it may seem like the Trump tide will never recede, let’s remember a few key facts about Donaldmania.

First, polls taken in the July of the year before a presidential election are not a reliable barometer of what the situation will be in the fall let alone the following winter and spring. Trump’s poll numbers are a product of enormous media coverage, celebrity and a contrarian streak in the body politic that will always applaud a genuine outlier. It may be permanent, but it could also vanish as quickly as it arose.

Second, the first debates may, as John pointed out, be all about Trump. But there is no reason to assume that his bluster will carry the day in that kind of a forum where he cannot hush critics or control the questions. Even if he blithely assumes that the force of his personality and celebrity will crush his more conventional opponents, that blind confidence could wind up making him look like a fool when arrayed against policy wonks and champion debaters who, unlike Trump, actually know what they are talking about when it comes to policy questions.

Third, the assumption on the part of some that a public that has been watching Trump on TV for years already knows all it cares to learn about the man is equally unfounded. I doubt that most of those on the right applauding his outrageous act are aware of Trump’s long history of backing for liberal causes and even his financial support for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns and their family charity that operates as a political slush fund for the former first couple. Will that matter? Trump thinks not, but he shouldn’t be so sure. Trump has been subjected to intense scrutiny as a celebrity, but he has yet to learn that the gossip page items that actually help a TV star will hurt a presidential wannabe.

Fourth, as I noted last week, the basic culture of American democracy is something that is designed to trip up demagogues. This wouldn’t be the first case of populism run amuck in American history and there are some obvious examples of outlier figures having a major impact on the outcome of elections. A charismatic figure like William Jennings Bryan may not have offered any more of a coherent approach to governance than Trump in the 1890s, but the force of his rhetoric captured the Democratic Party for a generation. And, as John noted, Trump may turn out to be the second coming of Ross Perot with equally disastrous implications for Republicans as that Third Party candidate that effectively handed the country over to the Clintons. Americans many not always see through charlatans running for office, but underestimating their ability to smell a fraud is a sucker’s bet.

Make a note to call me a false prophet if I’m wrong, but the bottom line is that I still say Trump won’t be the GOP nominee. More than that, I believe we’ll look back at the panic he caused in the GOP this summer as another example of how the political class and pundits can be so wrapped up in the moment that they fail to see the big picture. It’s time to take a deep breath and wait for the inevitable moment when the air starts to come out of his balloon.

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Whose Iran Rhetoric is Worse? Huckabee’s or Obama’s?

Mike Huckabee probably thought he hit the jackpot today when President Obama responded directly to the former Arkansas governor’s characterization of the Iran nuclear deal as something that would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” When you are running for the Republican presidential nomination and struggling to get some attention in the midst of the obsessive coverage of Donald Trump, anything, even a quote that is branded on Morning Joe as the most outrageous comment yet made on the 2016 campaign trail is a positive of a sort. Yet Huckabee shouldn’t be crowing. As Joe Scarborough pointed out, raising the specter of the Holocaust in that manner actually does the administration a favor since it allows the president to dismiss his critics as hysterics and to pose as the adult in the room. Nevertheless, liberals shouldn’t be allowed to get away with denouncing the irresponsible hyperbole of Iran deal critics in this manner. As much as Huckabee’s statement was inappropriate, it is hard to argue that it is much worse than the president’s characterization of all of those opposing his policy as warmongers or Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to intimidate both Israelis and American Jews into silence on the issue by claiming that speaking up will “isolate” them or cause the world to blame Jews for the potential defeat of a terrible agreement. Is Huckabee’s Iran deal rhetoric said really any worse?

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Mike Huckabee probably thought he hit the jackpot today when President Obama responded directly to the former Arkansas governor’s characterization of the Iran nuclear deal as something that would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” When you are running for the Republican presidential nomination and struggling to get some attention in the midst of the obsessive coverage of Donald Trump, anything, even a quote that is branded on Morning Joe as the most outrageous comment yet made on the 2016 campaign trail is a positive of a sort. Yet Huckabee shouldn’t be crowing. As Joe Scarborough pointed out, raising the specter of the Holocaust in that manner actually does the administration a favor since it allows the president to dismiss his critics as hysterics and to pose as the adult in the room. Nevertheless, liberals shouldn’t be allowed to get away with denouncing the irresponsible hyperbole of Iran deal critics in this manner. As much as Huckabee’s statement was inappropriate, it is hard to argue that it is much worse than the president’s characterization of all of those opposing his policy as warmongers or Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to intimidate both Israelis and American Jews into silence on the issue by claiming that speaking up will “isolate” them or cause the world to blame Jews for the potential defeat of a terrible agreement. Is Huckabee’s Iran deal rhetoric said really any worse?

Faced with criticism Huckabee did not back down. Instead, he defended his remarks as being entirely appropriate because of the potentially disastrous impact of the administration’s diplomacy on Western and Israeli security. The candidate is right to call out the president for failing to draw the correct conclusions from Iran’s refusal to back down on its support for terror and dedication to Israel’s destruction, even in exchange for a deal that makes them a threshold nuclear power and rewards the regime with over $100 billion. But his comment violated a standard rule of political discourse in which the person who invokes a Holocaust analogy first always loses.

It is one thing to say that the Iran deal will not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and, at best, only delays it until the agreement expires even as Tehran continues its nuclear research with its infrastructure intact with U.S. approval. But to speak of ovens is to take a rhetorical leap into an assumption that the president is pursuing this policy because he wants another Holocaust rather than as a result of naïve assumptions about the nature of Iran’s regime or their desire to “get right with the world.” That may be a leap that many of the president’s more rabid critics are prepared to make but speaking in this manner is not going to convince wavering pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the president and vote down the deal. Indeed, such loose talk about ovens merely makes it easier for Obama and Kerry to dismiss even the most pointed and well-founded criticisms.

But the faux outrage about Huckabee’s bad taste is entirely hypocritical. The president has no business playing the victim when it comes to extreme rhetoric about the nuclear deal. He and Kerry have been guilty of comments that are, if anything, just as bad as those of Huckabee.

This is, after all, the same White House that characterized peaceful protests against his deal and in favor of tough diplomacy that would hold Iran accountable in major cities around the nation as “pro-war demonstrations.” Throughout the debate about Iran, Obama has used his favorite rhetorical tic in which he always mischaracterizes the arguments of opponents and frames issues in terms of false choices. In this case, that meant labeling opponents as warmongers; the sort of scare tactic that is every bit as reprehensible as calling him another Neville Chamberlain.

As I noted last week, the president did not hesitate to use the same sort of rhetoric that earned the first President Bush the opprobrium of the Jewish world when he attempted to rally the country against “lobbyists” against the Iran agreement. Speaking on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Obama invoked traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes when he spoke of “money and lobbyists” directing the opposition to the deal. That was a direct attack on the ability of AIPAC to speak for the broad pro-Israel consensus on a life and death issue for the Jewish state. Just as bad were his comments in which he said opponents sought to involve the country in a war in which “they were not going to be making sacrifices,” an echo of Pat Buchanan’s smears of Jews during the debate over the first Gulf War.

Kerry has been just as offensive. Last week when he spoke to a group of American Jewish leaders about the Iran deal, he warned them Israel and its supporters would pay a price for their opposition to his appeasement of Iran. He said that, “if Congress were to overturn it, our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed.” Though that was framed as his “fear,” few in attendance could mistake the nature of the threat. Those who dare to seek to derail the president’s signature foreign policy achievement will be branded as obstructing efforts to further peace. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the globe, such a warning is a not-so-subtle reminder to Israelis and Jews that they can be easily isolated.

Seen in that context, Huckabee’s rant against the deal may be seen as intemperate, but it was far less sinister than a president and secretary of state using language intended to intimidate opponents into silence and to brand them as inciting war. Huckabee ought to walk back Holocaust language. But it would be far more important if Obama and Kerry were to scale back their rhetoric about Iran. Unfortunately, the failure of the mainstream media to call out the administration for the lobby smear and other offensive comments means that even if Huckabee were to walk back his statement, it would not be matched by similar apologies from the White House and the State Department that need to be made.

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The Chaotic, Backbiting GOP Does Not Look Like a Governing Party

For the moment, try to put yourself in the position of a swing voter who will determine the course of the 2016 presidential election and the nation. You are frustrated with the direction in which the country is headed. You may not resent the gains social progressivism has made over the years, but you are concerned that they have come at the expense of the liberty of others. Those gains have come at a cost acutely felt by your friends and neighbors. Though you do not harbor any ill will towards them, those who benefit most from the advance of the liberal agenda are people who you may never meet and who, for you, are entirely hypothetical. The pace of the economic recovery has been engagingly unenergetic. The threat of a new contraction looms forever just over the horizon, even as you struggle to meet today’s financial burdens. Abroad, America has never looked more threatened and less respected by adversary and ally alike. It’s time for a change in direction, but toward what? Republicans have gone to great lengths to reestablish the trust of voters after George W. Bush’s second term and the 2007-2008 financial collapse sapped the public’s faith in the GOP’s governing program. Gradually, painstakingly, Republicans have won back the voters’ support and hold more elected offices today than they have for close to a century. But all that improvement threatens to be undone by the not inaccurate impression among voters that the GOP is in crisis — at war with itself — and that it may be unable to serve as a responsible governing party. Read More

For the moment, try to put yourself in the position of a swing voter who will determine the course of the 2016 presidential election and the nation. You are frustrated with the direction in which the country is headed. You may not resent the gains social progressivism has made over the years, but you are concerned that they have come at the expense of the liberty of others. Those gains have come at a cost acutely felt by your friends and neighbors. Though you do not harbor any ill will towards them, those who benefit most from the advance of the liberal agenda are people who you may never meet and who, for you, are entirely hypothetical. The pace of the economic recovery has been engagingly unenergetic. The threat of a new contraction looms forever just over the horizon, even as you struggle to meet today’s financial burdens. Abroad, America has never looked more threatened and less respected by adversary and ally alike. It’s time for a change in direction, but toward what? Republicans have gone to great lengths to reestablish the trust of voters after George W. Bush’s second term and the 2007-2008 financial collapse sapped the public’s faith in the GOP’s governing program. Gradually, painstakingly, Republicans have won back the voters’ support and hold more elected offices today than they have for close to a century. But all that improvement threatens to be undone by the not inaccurate impression among voters that the GOP is in crisis — at war with itself — and that it may be unable to serve as a responsible governing party.

Contrary to pervasive but shallow consensus opinion among a prominent cast of political analysts, Barack Obama is not a popular president. While the Oval Office occupant is not as unpopular today as he has been in the recent past, that’s damnation by faint praise. “To date, Obama has been unpopular for more than two-thirds of his tenure,” The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost observed. “If he stays under 50 percent for the remainder of his term, he will have been unpopular for longer than any postwar leader.” His anointed Democratic successor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is also struggling. A recent Quinnipiac University survey of the key early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire revealed that Clinton’s favorability ratings had collapsed. Those findings were confirmed by NBC News/Marist University, which revealed that Clinton’s favorability among registered voters had sunk to -19 and -20% in Iowa and New Hampshire respectively. Nationally, according to Gallup, Clinton favorability rating is now underwater at 43 to 46 percent, “tilting her image negative and producing her worst net favorable score since December 2007.”

Clinton’s favorability ratings are no doubt a reflection of her personal shortcomings and distaste for the fact that she has such a limited regard for voters’ intelligence that she would repeatedly – compulsively — mislead them. But they are also a reflection of the country’s natural desire to move on from the Obama era after his two terms in the White House. Polls show that twice as many Americans believe the country is headed down the wrong track, and that has been the case consistently since the middle of 2010. From the expansion of same-sex marriage rights nationally to extended access to federally subsidized health insurance to the furling of the Confederate flag over public grounds; progressives have enjoyed a variety of social issues victories, and voters are not thrilled about it. “The poll finds all three issues are fairly divisive among the public at-large, with large shares seeing policy shift in a direction at odds with their views,” read a Washington Post report on a recent survey that found voters are uncomfortable with the direction “progress” has taken in recent years.

All this suggests that the 2016 political landscape should be fertile ground in which Republicans can sow the seeds of electoral victory. But the coming election will not merely be a referendum on the last eight years – it will also be an up or down vote on whether Republicans are ready to retake hold of the reins of government. At present, they don’t look like they are.

Over the weekend, an internecine squabble among Senate Republicans exploded into an outright row. A long-term highway funding bill, which has become an unattractive vehicle through which America’s political class rewards a variety of valued constituencies, became a proxy battlefield on which Republican officeholders waged a variety of fights. From renewing the expired Export-Import Bank, to defunding Planned Parenthood, to repealing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans went to war with one another over what the party’s various factions in Congress see as pressing priorities. In an effort to block debate over the legitimacy of federal subsidies for Planned Parenthood, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adopted a favored tactic of his Democratic predecessor, Harry Reid, and used a procedural maneuver to prevent further amendments to and subsequent debate on that piece of legislation.

“What we saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over again was a simple lie,” presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz said of the majority leader last week on the floor of the U.S. Senate. “We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false. That has consequences for how this body operates.”

“We’re not here on some frolic or to pursue personal ambitions,” Utah Senator Orrin Hatch shot back. “We must ensure that the pernicious trend of turning the Senate floor into a forum for advancing personal ambitions, for promoting political campaigns, or for enhancing fundraising activities comes to a stop.” Hatch added that Cruz’s conduct had been a “misuse of the Senate floor.”

In 2014, Republicans won a majority in the upper chamber of Congress just large enough to yield the party committee chairmanships and to block Democratic legislation from reaching the president’s desk, but not large enough to advance legislation of their own. But the Republican pitch to conservatives that increasingly rests on decisively winning the next election, always the next election, is starting to ring hollow. “Being a negative force is not nothing, and blocking bad policy is worthwhile,” The Federalist’s Ben Domenech wrote. “But when given the opportunity to put good policy into place, or to take steps to make such policy more feasible in the future, where is the Republican Party to be found?”

Nowhere, he argues. It’s an argument that resonates to an ever larger number of Republican base voters. “Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago,” the Pew Research Center revealed this week. Only two-thirds of self-identified Republicans view their party favorably, down from 86 percent in 2014. The GOP is viewed positively today by just 32 percent of the public compared to the Democratic Party’s 48 percent.

To some extent, this internal tension is healthy. Only a minority coalition is small enough to ensure that most of its members agree on specific policy proposals. But a Republican Party at war with itself does not look to the persuadable voter like a party that is capable of governing in the executive. The truly independent voters who determine the outcome of national elections don’t care about the Export-Import Bank or the parliamentary machinations that have so roiled conservatives. They care about whether or not they’re handing the levers of power to an undisciplined group of loose cannons and ideologues, and, to a marginally tuned in swing voter, that’s what the GOP looks like today. In concert with the spectacle that has become of the admittedly nascent Republican presidential primary race, it is only natural that voters would be asking themselves if the GOP should again be trusted with the White House.

Voters are ready to make a change. If history is any guide, they will swing in a more conservative direction. As was the case in 2013 when the GOP forced a showdown over ObamaCare that shut down the government, a saving grace for Republicans can be found in the happy fact that it remains an off year. Voters have time to make up their minds, and today’s fights will be forgotten well before the first votes are cast in 2016. If, however, the disunity that characterizes Republican intraparty politics today remains the party’s defining feature by next autumn, the public will be disinclined to reward the GOP with the presidency.

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Conservatism and the Channeling of Popular Passions

Last week, in the context of the rise in political support on the right for Donald Trump, I wrote about the distinction between populism and conservatism. There is room for populism within conservatism, I said, but it should not define it.

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Last week, in the context of the rise in political support on the right for Donald Trump, I wrote about the distinction between populism and conservatism. There is room for populism within conservatism, I said, but it should not define it.

In expanding on this thought, it might be useful to invoke one of the most magnificent of the American founders. In his book Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father, Michael Signer writes about the importance James Madison placed on governing the passions. “The greatest danger Madison saw for America lay within the body politic itself,” Signer writes:

The passions were native to human beings and thus to democracy. His project since youth had been to discipline, tame, and channel the passions. The checks and balances Madison ultimately proposed in his constitution would help contain the passions, preventing them from taking over entirely. But to channel and govern them would require leaders like Madison – individuals with the mission of steering the anger and love and hatred and enthusiasm of the country’s people toward governance of themselves.

One of the 20th centuries greatest public intellectuals, Irving Kristol, made a similar point in his July 25, 1985 Wall Street Journal column (Adam White of the Manhattan Institute was the person who alerted me to it). Mr. Kristol wrote the following:

My friend the late Martin Diamond, one of the most thoughtful of political scientists, used to say that the American democracy is based on one key assumption: that the people are usually sensible, but rarely wise. The function of our complex constitutional structure is to extract what wisdom is available in the people, at any moment in time, and give it a role in government Our system of representation (as distinct from direct, participatory democracy) is supposed to play this role, as do the bicameral Congress, the separation of powers, our federal arrangements, and the Constitution itself with its careful delineation of rights and prerogatives. Ultimately, of course, the popular will cannot be denied in a democracy. But only “ultimately.” Short of the ultimate, the Founders thought it appropriate that popular sentiments should be delayed in their course, refracted in their expression, revised in their enactment, so that a more deliberate public opinion could prevail over a transient popular opinion.

The threat to a more deliberate public opinion was what we now call populism (the term wasn’t known at the time of the founders). But there are better or worse manifestations of populism, and in his column Kristol argued that the common sense of the American people had been outraged over the course of two decades by “the persistent un-wisdom of their elected and appointed officials.” To the degree that we are witnessing a crisis in our democratic institutions, he wrote 30 years ago, it was a crisis of our disoriented elites, not of a blindly impassioned populace. Which is why Kristol was rather untroubled by, and even somewhat sympathetic to, what he called a “new populism,” whose purpose was to bring the governing elites to their senses.

Which brings us to the here and now. We’re at a moment in which there’s tremendous anger among many Americans, who are deeply unhappy with our governing elites. This anger and unhappiness is largely justified, though it also needs to be said that the American people are also complicit in the government they have and the people they elected. (The messiness we see in our politics is a result, at least in part, of the public’s conflicting desires.)

One of the great tasks of conservative statesmanship today is precisely the one Madison so brilliantly understood, which is not to dismiss the passions and legitimate anger of the people but to channel and shape them in constructive ways – to advocate solutions rather than to stoke resentments, to affirm the better rather than the darker instincts of our nature. This Madisonian ideal is still the standard by which voters – especially those who say they revere the Constitution and its architects — should judge those who seek to lead this good and generous and remarkable republic.

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The Cynical Pollard Release Leak

The past few weeks have confirmed something that was always true about the way the Obama administration wages political battles. There is no stunt too cheap or statement so cynical that the White House won’t employ in order to advance its agenda. That’s the only way to interpret the bizarre Friday afternoon leak to the Wall Street Journal in which ”administration officials” said convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would be released later this year in order to help smooth relations between the U.S. and Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Other officials, including the Attorney General, speaking on the record rather than off it, quickly denied the plan. There is a scheduled parole hearing for Pollard in November. Yet there is no assurance that the spy, who will have served 30 years in prison by then, will be released. But either way, the attempt to inject this emotion issue into the already inflamed debate about Iran was a deeply cynical ploy that was clearly aimed at defusing anger about the administration’s efforts to defend a nuclear agreement by isolating Israel and its defenders. Whatever one may think of the merits of the case for clemency for Pollard — and at this point it is a strong one — this issue has no place in the discussion about Iran and should be dismissed out of hand by those seeking to push back against the administration’s efforts to silence its critics.

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The past few weeks have confirmed something that was always true about the way the Obama administration wages political battles. There is no stunt too cheap or statement so cynical that the White House won’t employ in order to advance its agenda. That’s the only way to interpret the bizarre Friday afternoon leak to the Wall Street Journal in which ”administration officials” said convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would be released later this year in order to help smooth relations between the U.S. and Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Other officials, including the Attorney General, speaking on the record rather than off it, quickly denied the plan. There is a scheduled parole hearing for Pollard in November. Yet there is no assurance that the spy, who will have served 30 years in prison by then, will be released. But either way, the attempt to inject this emotion issue into the already inflamed debate about Iran was a deeply cynical ploy that was clearly aimed at defusing anger about the administration’s efforts to defend a nuclear agreement by isolating Israel and its defenders. Whatever one may think of the merits of the case for clemency for Pollard — and at this point it is a strong one — this issue has no place in the discussion about Iran and should be dismissed out of hand by those seeking to push back against the administration’s efforts to silence its critics.

The Pollard affair has been an irritant in U.S.-Israel relations since his arrest in 1985. As I explained in detail in my March 2011 COMMENTARY article on the issue when Pollard had already been in jail for 25 years, this is a tragic story in which the misconduct of the oath-breaking former U.S. Navy analyst and his Israeli handlers has done great damage both the alliance and to the position of the many loyal American Jews working in the defense establishment that have since then labored under false charges of dual loyalty.

Pollard’s crime was serious, but it is also unprecedented in that no other spy for a friendly country has ever received a punishment anything like the life sentence he received. Those who foolishly labor him a hero have hurt his cause as well as that of Israel since such talk continues to inflame the U.S. intelligence establishment to oppose his release. Indeed, Pollard might well have been released long ago had he and those close to him ever learned to stop trying to defend his indefensible conduct and stuck to the entirely reasonable case to be made about his sentence being unreasonably harsh. But even if we are hearing less about him being a martyr these days, it is far from unlikely that U.S. intelligence will again intervene in the parole process as they have before. But like those of Pollard’s supporters who make improbable claims about the nature of the information he gave illegally transferred to Israel, so, too, do his opponents continue to exaggerate the impact of his spying. What he did was bad enough but there is no reason to believe that his efforts had much impact on the disasters befalling U.S. intelligence at the time. Had it been known at the time of his sentencing that the real source of the problem was a pair of Russian spies (Aldrich Ames at the CIA and the FBI’s Robert Hanssen) it would have been far more difficult for the government or the judge in the case (who threw out a plea bargain to which Pollard had agreed in order to spare the government the problem of a trial) to justify such a draconian sentence.

But regardless of the rights and wrongs of this 30-year ordeal, involving Pollard in the question of the Iran deal would be wrong from the point of view of both U.S. and Israeli security.

As with past U.S. efforts to use Pollard’s possible release as a carrot with which to entice Israel to make territorial withdrawals to the Palestinians (such as President Clinton’s stillborn initiative at the time of the 1998 Wye Plantation Agreement that was scuttled by threats of resignations from U.S. security officials), the spy’s fate is irrelevant to the question of whether appeasement of Iran is justified.

While many Israelis rightly feel that Pollard is their country’s responsibility and seek to have him freed after such a long imprisonment, doing so in no way compensates the Jewish state for the grave harm that an agreement that empowers and enriches Iran will do to its security as well as that of the United States. Raising the prospect of his release is merely one more effort to convince supporters of Israel to acquiesce to President Obama’s embrace of détente with an Islamist regime that remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism as well as still dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

While there is good reason to finally end Pollard’s imprisonment after him having already served far longer than anyone else guilty of a comparable crime, his fate has no more place in the Iran discussion than it does in negotiations with the Palestinians. The Pollard leak should be put down as just one more underhanded tactic by an administration that prefers to answer arguments about its Iran policy with smears about critics being warmongers rather than to defend it on the merits.

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Huckabee Is the Trump Surge’s Latest Victim

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has shown his hand. Perhaps no Republican presidential candidate has made it more apparent that their strategic approach to winning over a critical mass of GOP primary voters was upended by the arrival of the brash and alluring populist Donald Trump. The reality television star’s primary appeal to Republican voters is, somewhat paradoxically, his undiluted antipathy toward the Republican Party. That was previously a niche occupied by Cruz. Where the Texas senator cautiously exploited factionalism within the GOP, Trump has done so recklessly and without regard for the long-term consequences for intraparty comity. But Cruz is not the only Republican candidate who has found his position usurped by the upstart celebrity candidate. Once the most prominent social conservative and protectionist candidate in the race, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has also revealed how threatened his position is by the Trump ascendency.  Read More

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has shown his hand. Perhaps no Republican presidential candidate has made it more apparent that their strategic approach to winning over a critical mass of GOP primary voters was upended by the arrival of the brash and alluring populist Donald Trump. The reality television star’s primary appeal to Republican voters is, somewhat paradoxically, his undiluted antipathy toward the Republican Party. That was previously a niche occupied by Cruz. Where the Texas senator cautiously exploited factionalism within the GOP, Trump has done so recklessly and without regard for the long-term consequences for intraparty comity. But Cruz is not the only Republican candidate who has found his position usurped by the upstart celebrity candidate. Once the most prominent social conservative and protectionist candidate in the race, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has also revealed how threatened his position is by the Trump ascendency. 

Over the weekend, Huckabee found himself in a position he has been unable to achieve for weeks: he was back in the news. The press he was receiving was not, however, the favorable kind. In an interview with Breitbart, Huckabee excoriated President Barack Obama and his administration for securing a nuclear deal with Iran that he determined substantially undermines Israel’s security. “By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” Huckabee averred crassly.

The substance of Huckabee’s comments might be debatable. Those with an appreciation for the Israeli – indeed, the Jewish – experience might agree with the former Fox News Channel host’s intentionally theatrical posturing. In an American political context, however, his assertion was entirely unhelpful for those who are opposed to the terms of the nuclear deal and have undertaken the Sisyphean task of convincing congressional Democrats to reject it. What’s more, Huckabee’s comments exposed a level of insecurity the public has rarely seen in the outwardly confident Natural State governor.

After entering the race, Huckabee immediately rocketed to the top-tier of the national polls. By February, the Real Clear Politics average of polls of Republican primary voters pegged his support just slightly lower than that of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Huckabee had even surpassed the tea party favorite Ben Carson in his average level of support among GOP voters. Today, however, Huckabee’s support has crumbled. The story is the same in Iowa, the caucus state Huckabee won outright in 2008 and where he must finish strong if he is to remain competitive when the nominating contest migrates into more establishmentarian battlegrounds. According to the Real Clear Politics average of Iowa polls, Huckabee now trails Walker, Bush, Trump, Carson and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

In retrospect, it makes sense that Trump’s insurgent candidacy would rob Huckabee of his backing from the fraction of Republicans he was targeting. In a brilliant analysis for the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti exposed the extent to which those members of the Republican coalition that were attracted to Huckabee would also be drawn to Trump.

That Trump is not a conservative, nor by any means a mainstream Republican, is not a minus but a plus to the radical middle. These voters are culturally right but economically left; they depend on the New Deal and parts of the Great Society, are estranged from the fiscal and monetary agendas of The Economist and Wall Street Journal. What they lack in free market bona fides they make up for in their romantic fantasy of the patriotic tycoon or general, the fixer, the Can Do Man who will cut the baloney and Get Things Done.

Huckabee has run as a protectionist, and not merely in matters related to trade. The former Arkansas governor presented himself as a preserver all that was cherished in the 20th Century – from the assistance programs of the Great Society to its social norms and proscriptions. “If it’s not fair trade, it’s not free trade,” Huckabee said of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. “We have a lot of globalists and frankly corporatists instead of having nationalists who put forward the best interests of the United States and working families.” Only the most committed populist would openly associate himself with outright nationalism.

In June, the former governor cast himself as the candidate that would preserve without substantial reforms overburdened social welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security. “Unlike some in Washington who want to cut benefits for seniors, I will protect Social Security and Medicare,” Huckabee insisted. “Period.” To the extent that Trump can be held to his word, the billionaire real estate developer has also rejected substantial reforms to entitlement programs.

Of course, Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican heap is largely due to the fact that the field lacked a hardline anti-illegal immigration candidate. That was once Ted Cruz, but the goalposts have shifted so that what now constitutes hardline is embracing fanciful notions of mass deportation and walls that alone manage to stem the flow of aliens over the southern border while eschewing political correctness in the process. No one, including Huckabee, has been willing to emulate Trump’s alienation of persuadable Hispanic voters. “I would never besmirch all the people who come here because I think, sometimes, we get wrapped up in how many people are coming. The real question is why are they coming?” Huckabee noted when asked for his thoughts on Trump’s claim that Mexico was directing its criminals to cross the U.S. border. “They come to help their families, some of the hardest-working people… and I think this is often lost — some of the most conservative, family-oriented and faith-based people I have ever witnessed.”

Huckabee is learning the hard way that you cannot out-Trump Donald Trump. He has deftly managed to ingratiate himself to the elements within the GOP coalition that hunger for pugnacity from their 2016 nominee, but also for one who fights not on behalf of reform but preservation. Cruz and Huckabee presented a responsible and, thus, watered down version of the forcefulness a substantial portion of the GOP primary voting base wanted to see from their nominee. Only those Republicans who present a competing governing vision will manage to avoid being inundated by Trump’s expanding wake.

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Trump: The Case for Despairing — About America

No sense pretending: Donald Trump is the only news of the 2016 race, and this fact says something very troubling about the Republican party, the conservative electorate, the mass media culture, and the United States in general. Sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Really it’s not.

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No sense pretending: Donald Trump is the only news of the 2016 race, and this fact says something very troubling about the Republican party, the conservative electorate, the mass media culture, and the United States in general. Sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Really it’s not.

Ted Cruz goes to war with the GOP Senate leadership; Hillary Clinton proposes the highest tax rates in 70 years; Marco Rubio goes after John Kerry on the Iran deal in a Senate hearing. Well, big deal. Phffft. They’ve all been crowded out by the Trump noise. There will be the first Republican debate in ten days. It’s the most important political event of the year thus far. And it will be all about Trump. He will see to that; the reporters will see to that, and the minor candidates looking to move up will see to it by trying to pick fights with him and best him.

It’s not enough to say that there are matters of deathly seriousness to be discussed, from Iran to ISIS to the possible collapse of the Euro and the Chinese economy to the harvesting of fetal organs, because there are always serious matters to be discussed as elections approach. The issue with Trump is that his approach can only be called “the politics of unseriousness.” He engages with no issue, merely offers a hostile and pithy soundbite bromide about it. He yammers. He describes how wonderful things will be when he acts against something or other without explaining how he will act, what he will do, or how it will work.

The Trump view, boiled down: They’re all idiots and I’m very rich and I know how to do things and if you say Word One against me I will say something incredibly nasty about you and who cares about how the Senate works or the House works or international alliances work or how treaties work or how anything works. That stuff is for sissies and losers and disasters. I know how to do it I me me me I me me I I me. And me. And I.

Politics and megalomania go hand in hand — otherwise, why would the ancient emperors have had someone whispering “Caesar, thou art mortal” in their ears as they paraded triumphantly through Rome to remind them they were not gods? To take one random example, Ed Koch, a very good politician indeed and one who did very good things, spent the last 20 years of his life literally incapable of speaking a sentence that was not in the first person. When I made a close study of the presidency of George H. W. Bush for my first book, Hell of a Ride, I discovered to my amazement that his speeches too were remarkably self-referential and his policies often came down to a kind of “what should a person like me in this situation do” rather than representing a serious grappling with the issues at play. In that book, I called Bush’s time in the White House a “solipsistic presidency,” and the charge still stands.

Trump is something different. He is not a politician whose success has turned him into a megalomaniac, but a megalomaniac who has decided to play politician for a while the way he played being a reality television star for a while. He’s free to do this, of course.

The problem is not with him. The problem has to do with his reception. He is garnering support that may actually be real, and may actually change the course of the 2016 election — and, therefore, American history — through nothing more than blowhardism.

Efforts to figure out how to coopt him and his issues on the part of other Republicans are doomed to failure because it’s not the message that people are attracted to; it’s the messenger. Or, if it is the message, it is a message that cannot be coopted because it is little more than a vile expression of open hatred toward Mexicans in a country where people of Mexican descent make up 11 percent of the electorate. For those who want Trump because of it, anything less than his defamation will strike them as the castrated bleating of what they have started to call a “cuckservative.”

And while happy talk (some of which I’ve indulged in myself) may dismiss Trump as this year’s flash-in-the-pan like the 2012 Republican also-rans, right now he’s more likely a version of Ross Perot in 1992 — the man who got Bill Clinton elected. Perot managed to convince people he was only in it to talk about the deficit and the national debt when it was probably more the case he was running out of a long-standing personal animus toward George H.W. Bush and a desire to deny him the presidency based on an imagined slight. Trump doesn’t even have a real issue to bring in Democrats and Republicans dissatisfied with their choices. Trump is Trump’s issue.

These are unhappy times in the United States, and unhappy times generate unhappy political outcomes. Last week I made the case for despair following the Iran deal. I know people always want commentary that offers a path forward, a way out of trouble, a hope for something better. Sometimes, though, you just have to sit back and despair at the condition of things, and maybe from the despair some new wisdom may emerge.

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