Commentary Magazine


Why Politicians Are Right To Refuse to Take the Anti-Tax Pledge

Jeb Bush’s spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, said in a recent statement that the former Florida governor would not sign any pledges, including ones saying he won’t increase taxes. Not surprisingly, some anti-tax crusaders aren’t happy. No matter. Governor Bush is right.

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Jeb Bush’s spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, said in a recent statement that the former Florida governor would not sign any pledges, including ones saying he won’t increase taxes. Not surprisingly, some anti-tax crusaders aren’t happy. No matter. Governor Bush is right.

Before explaining why, it’s worth pointing out that Bush’s decision – contrary to some silly headlines — is not based on a desire to raise taxes. How do I know? Because Bush, as governor of Florida, had an impeccable tax-cutting record, having cut them every year he was governor — a period covering eight years and totaling nearly $20 billion. In that sense, Bush is exactly the right person to oppose taking an anti-tax pledge, since no governor I’m aware of has a better record on taxes than Bush. (As a reference point, as governor of California, Ronald Reagan signed into law what his biographer Lou Cannon called “the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor in the history of the United States”–one four times as large as the previous record set by Governor Pat Brown.)

Now let’s turn to the substantive arguments against signing the anti-tax pledge.

It’s one thing to believe, as I do, that taxes should be lower. (I’m partial to this plan by Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio.) But it’s quite another to declare that there are no circumstances, ever, in which taxes can be raised. The proper tax rate is a prudential matter, not an inviolate principle. It needs to be judged in the context of circumstances and trade-offs. Which taxes are we talking about? Increasing them in exchange for what?

Here’s where this mindset eventually leads. In a 2011 GOP presidential debate, eight candidates were given a hypothetical: If you could get $10 in spending cuts for $1 in tax increases – the assumption in the question was that the cuts could be enforced, that they were real — would you walk away from the 10-to-one deal? All eight candidates said they would.

I was critical of them at the time, believing this was turning an economic policy into a dogma, conservatism into an adamantine ideology, and lawmakers into absolutists. I get why people whose professional lives are dedicated to low taxes want politicians to take pledges. But it’s the job of politicians and lawmakers to have the courage and wisdom to say: I’m sympathetic to your cause, but I’ll respectfully decline your offer.

It’s perhaps worth keeping in mind that if the Founders had taken and abided by the 18th-century equivalent of the anti-tax pledge, the Constitution would never have been created. After all, it was the product of a remarkable series of difficult compromises on matters ranging from the Bill of Rights to proportional representation to how we elect the president to how Supreme Court justices were picked to the thorniest issue of all: slavery.

Taxes are obviously in a wholly different category than slavery, which was a moral obscenity. Yet in the words of James Madison, “great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the union would be worse.” What the wisest Founders understood is that the Constitution would put slavery on a path to extinction. Frederick Douglass, the former slave who became a great abolitionist leader, would later say, “Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.” But if abolitionists had insisted that the Founders, including those who supported their cause, take a pledge that they would not become a signatory to the Constitution unless it ended slavery, the whole project would have come crashing down. (The Southern delegates would never have supported the new Constitution if it meant the abolition of slavery.)

So here’s my advice to conservatives: Familiarize yourselves with the records of the candidates. Learn their stands and listen to their arguments. Make a judgment about their public and personal character. Judge them in the totality of their acts. And then vote for the individual you believe will govern in the most responsible way — without taking pledges to do anything except to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. George Washington did it. Abraham Lincoln did it. Ronald Reagan did it. And they did just fine.

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Professors of Propaganda at the University of Washington

Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

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Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

The Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington supports “cross disciplinary understanding, collaboration, and research.” In the service of that goal, it funds “cross disciplinary research clusters,” which “seed new collaborations between faculty and graduate students who share research interests.” Among the clusters presently funded is Palestine and the Public Sphere.

One notices right away that the project was chosen because of its cross disciplinary character, as it takes in a professor from the Department of English, another professor from the Department of English, and a third professor from the Department of English. So far, so good.

But there are further indications that the project will elevate our level of discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, only two of the three professors involved, Anis Bawarshi and Eva Cherniavsky, have signed on to the 2009 “Dear President Elect Obama” letter, which describes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and opines that a one state solution—that is the erasure of Israel as a Jewish state—is “almost certainly” the only hope. They do not straightforwardly say, as University of Pennsylvania professor and one-stater Ian Lustick has, that such a solution is almost certainly bound to entail “ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror [and] Jewish and Arab emigration” before Israel is brought to its knees. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of Lustick, his piece appeared in the New York Times. Yet the very description of the research program, if we can call it that, assumes that “as mergers have transferred control of most major news outlets to a handful of mega-corporations,” criticism of Israel has been stifled. Admittedly, I am not a trained reader of English texts, as the organizers are, but I would think that the frequent appearance of such criticism in major media outlets makes this assertion borderline delusional. Even Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has graced the paged of the Times. The Guardian, BBC, Bloomberg, and CNN have published Bhargouti’s work.

But speaking of Omar Barghouti, the Palestine in the Public Sphere group decided the first way they could advance the cause of scholarly research was to invite Barghouti to speak. Because the way to show that you are concerned about elevating the scholarly discourse is to invite, on the first day of Israeli apartheid week, a figure whose sole claim to fame is setting a campaign to demonize Israel into motion. I am not as schooled in discourse analysis as even one English professor, much less three, but it seems to me that this sends a message.

Here’s a tip for those who worry about the defunding of public higher education. Call out people who use state institutions to advance propaganda campaigns under the guise of scholarship.

 

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Can Congress Wait to Act on Iran?

The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

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The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

McConnell is taking plenty of flak for deciding to use Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress about the threat from Iran to push forward the legislation proposed by Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez for a quick vote. That’s because weeks ago Menendez and other Democrats publicly told the White House they would hold off on their plans to push for any legislation on Iran until after the March 24 deadline for the end of the current round of talks expired. That concession came in the wake of the furor over the announcement of Netanyahu’s speech that was treated by Democrats as an insult to President Obama hatched by Republicans and the Israeli government.

However, this willingness to wait a few weeks was not a sign that Menendez was any less interested in opposing the president’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Menendez has been among the fiercest advocates of a tougher stance on Iran in the Congress. But McConnell’s move embarrassed him and other Democrats who were trying not to burn their bridges to the White House in spite of the disagreement. Indeed, even some Republican supporters of the anti-Iran bills worried that the majority leader was endangering the chances of maintaining the bipartisan coalition that backs these measures. As Senator Lindsey Graham noted, anything that lessened the chances that large numbers of Democrats will eventually vote for the two bills may be a mistake.

That’s the same reason so many in the pro-Israel community have worried about the way the administration has shamelessly manipulated a controversy over the Netanyahu speech that the White House did so much to promote and exacerbate. Until the announcement of the speech, The Corker-Menendez and the Kirk-Menendez bills seemed to have at least a fighting chance of veto-proof majorities. But the ability of the White House to manipulate the false issues of a breach of protocol and the supposed “insult” to President Obama from the speech, that enabled the administration to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions supporters.

The smart play would seem to be for McConnell to wait until March 24 and then bring both bills to the floor in the hope that a large number of Democrats will buck the president and give Congress the right to a say about an Iran deal.

But the urgency about stopping the rush to détente with Tehran isn’t just a function of McConnell’s desire to wrong-foot the president as the clock winds down until March 24. It is entirely possible that by then a deal or at least an “understanding” with Iran will be in place making it even easier for the president to persuade Democrats not to support measures intended to limit the impact of an agreement with Iran.

As Netanyahu rightly pointed out in his speech, the stakes here couldn’t be greater and have little or nothing to do with the feud between the prime minister and the president. A nuclear deal that leaves Iran in possession of all of its nuclear infrastructure including thousands of centrifuges and which hinges on a Western belief that a relatively short “breakout” period to a bomb is enough of a deterrent to prevent the Islamist regime from building a weapon is a disaster for the security of the West, moderate Arab states and Israel. If, as even President Obama hinted, the deal will include a sunset clause that will end sanctions and any restrictions at some point, then what is happening is not so much a Western seal of approval on Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state but a deferred acquiescence to it getting a bomb.

That makes it imperative that the terms of the deal be debated by Congress and subjected to an up or down vote. Passing such a bill after Iran signs will be harder so its easy to understand why McConnell wants one now. But that may be a terrible mistake.

Although time is a factor here, the only chance to do something to check the president or at least to hold him accountable is to get 67 votes in place in favor of the two Iran bills. That will require considerable Democratic support. Though some of the Democrats who made the promise to Obama may be wavering, Menendez deserves some deference from McConnell. Without his help, the bipartisan majority on Iran will collapse. After all, even if a deal is made with Iran, that won’t be the end of the debate. President Obama doesn’t need any help from Republicans that will make it easier for him to avoid being called to account.

Worries about diplomacy outstripping the ability of Congress to pass laws designed to impede the president’s reckless disregard for the truth about Iran are real. But rushing these bills won’t solve the problem. Counting on Iran doing what Obama wants it to do may not be a safe bet meaning that the need for action on March 24 may be just as if not greater than it is today. The American public is also likely to be supportive of any effort to restrain Obama on Iran. The bogus claims about the Netanyahu speech notwithstanding, Congressional leaders need to avoid taking actions that will make it harder for Democrats to back legislation seeking to slow the rush to appeasement.

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The American People Don’t Like the Terms of the Iran Deal (UPDATED)

A new poll signals more trouble for Barack Obama with voters and the Senate if indeed he and Iran come to terms on a nuke deal. (One-third of the interviews for the poll were conducted after the Netanyahu speech.) Specifically, as Dana Blanton, Fox News’s pollster, reports,

In a Monday interview with Reuters, President Obama said, “If, in fact, Iran is willing to agree to double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it that currently exist … if we’ve got that, and we’ve got a way of verifying that, there’s no other steps we can take that would give us such assurance that they don’t have a nuclear weapon.”

Voters overwhelmingly reject that deal: 84 percent—including 80 percent of Democrats—think it’s a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for agreeing it won’t obtain nukes before then.

The poll of 1,001 registered voters must be taken seriously because its results show real consistency over time.

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A new poll signals more trouble for Barack Obama with voters and the Senate if indeed he and Iran come to terms on a nuke deal. (One-third of the interviews for the poll were conducted after the Netanyahu speech.) Specifically, as Dana Blanton, Fox News’s pollster, reports,

In a Monday interview with Reuters, President Obama said, “If, in fact, Iran is willing to agree to double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it that currently exist … if we’ve got that, and we’ve got a way of verifying that, there’s no other steps we can take that would give us such assurance that they don’t have a nuclear weapon.”

Voters overwhelmingly reject that deal: 84 percent—including 80 percent of Democrats—think it’s a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for agreeing it won’t obtain nukes before then.

The poll of 1,001 registered voters must be taken seriously because its results show real consistency over time.

For example, “Some 55 percent think it would be ‘a disaster’ if Iran were to obtain the capability to use nuclear weapons, while 40 percent sees it as ‘a problem that can be managed.’ Those sentiments are unchanged from 2010 [emphasis added].” It shows a sharp partisan divide, which clearly reflects the reality of the present moment. But here is the most remarkable finding, to my mind:

Overall, two-thirds of voters (65 percent) favor the U.S. using military action, if necessary, to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Just 28 percent are opposed.

To varying degrees, majorities of Republicans (81 percent), Democrats (54 percent) and independents (53 percent) agree on using force to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Here’s how the question was worded: “Do you favor or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran if that were the only way to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?” Exclude Republicans from the equation and it’s still the case that a majority of Democrats and independents would support military action. That number has risen sharply since October 2013, a month before the “interim accord” between the United States (and five other nations) and Iran was announced. At the time, it was 51-39 in support of military action if there were no other way to deny Iran the bomb. (The question then was worded more capaciously: “Do you support or oppose the United States taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?”) This suggests the drawn-out negotiations and the leaks about American concessions have done the opposite of easing the concerns of voters.

All this matters not simply because it tells us the American electorate is deeply skeptical of the deal the administration seems determined to strike if Iran will allow it. It matters because of the Senate. Next week, it appears, the Senate will take up a bill requiring the administration to submit the Iran deal for its consideration (using the power of the purse to threaten to withhold funds required to implement it). The bill will certainly pass, and the president will certainly veto it. Two pieces of legislation for the Senate to consider in the coming weeks or months involve 1) compelling the administration to submit any deal it makes for its consideration and 2) the imposition of new sanctions. When either or both of those bills come to th Senate floor for a vote, it or they will pass. And the president will veto. So the question then becomes whether his veto(es) can be overriden. It will take 13 Democratic senators for an override. Poll numbers like these make that possibility far more likely.

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A Pardon for Petraeus?

David Petraeus’s acceptance of a plea bargain–he pled guilty to the unauthorized sharing of classified information in return for paying a fine of $40,000 and serving two year of probation–has been met both with unseemly Schadenfreude by some who delight in seeing an America hero revealed to have flaws as well as criticism from others who believe that he got off too lightly.

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David Petraeus’s acceptance of a plea bargain–he pled guilty to the unauthorized sharing of classified information in return for paying a fine of $40,000 and serving two year of probation–has been met both with unseemly Schadenfreude by some who delight in seeing an America hero revealed to have flaws as well as criticism from others who believe that he got off too lightly.

It’s certainly true that others have faced stiffer sentences for revealing classified information. As Eli Lake notes: “John Kiriakou, a former CIA employee who pleaded guilty to disclosing the identity of an undercover officer, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison — even though the employee’s identity was never made public. Stephen Kim, a federal contractor, went to prison for a year after leaking secrets about North Korea to a Fox News reporter. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, is facing a longer prison term for leaking secrets to a New York Times reporter.”

But it’s also the case that other leaks have not been punished at all. Leaks of classified information to journalists or authors are a routine occurrence in Washington. As Lake notes, “last summer a federal judge ordered the Barack Obama administration to release a classified memo on the legal justification for its drone attacks because officials had spoken publicly about its contents so often it was no longer a secret.”

This is hardly the only secret that the Obama administration didn’t keep–most of the highly classified details of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden were immediately leaked, much to the consternation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The administration even opened its doors to a film-maker researching a film that ultimately became Zero Dark Thirty.

Few senior officials are ever prosecuted for mishandling classified information, even though such breaches are commonplace–given the level of over-classification in Washington, simply mentioning where the CIA training facility known as The Farm is located (near Williamsburg, Virginia) is technically a crime even though that information is freely available to anyone who has access to Google. There is little logic to the way that secrecy laws are enforced. Almost anyone in a position of authority can be prosecuted if prosecutors are so inclined.

It is ironic that the Petraeus plea bargain was concluded at virtually the same time that news emerged that Hillary Clinton had used a private, unsecure email address for all of her emailing as secretary of state. So, it turns out, had Colin Powell. They of course claim they never revealed anything secret in their emails, but what, I wonder, would the FBI find if it devoted considerable man hours to reading all of their emails? It is hard to believe that not a single email over the course of years contained any “sensitive” or “secret” information (which is usually information which is also available in the New York Times) even if by some miracle they managed to avoid alluding to “top secret” or “secure compartmented” information.

A breach of security far more egregious than Petraesus’s was committed by one of his predecessors as CIA director, John Deutch, who routinely kept classified material on unclassified computers. A CIA investigation subsequently revealed, that all of these computers “were connected to or contained modems that allowed external connectivity to computer networks such as the Internet. Such computers are vulnerable to attacks by unauthorized persons. CIA personnel retrieved [classified] information from Deutch’s unclassified computers and magnetic media related to covert action, Top Secret communications intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Program budget.” And yet what penalty did Deutch suffer? The Justice Department under Janet Reno declined to prosecute him, and President Clinton issued him a pardon to make sure not that no future prosecutor could ever come after him.

By comparison with what Clinton or Deutch did, Petraeus’s offense is pretty minor. As his plea bargain reveals, he shared with his biographer (and mistress) Paula Broadwell, who had a security clearance of her own, some of the “black books” that he used to keep notes as the top commander in Afghanistan. The black books, according to the plea bargain, “contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information,” yet none of the classified information ever wound up in Broadwell’s book, or anywhere else. Petraeus was also accused of lying to FBI agents who asked him whether he had provided classified information to his biographer, although it’s quite possible he simply forgot about this very mundane matter: It’s not as if he was trying to leak any secrets to Broadwell; he merely provided her with his records so she could check dates and other details.

It is not at all unusual, by the way, for senior military officers to keep such “black books” upon retirement. A friend in the military writes, “They have pursued him for a charge of which virtually every senior officer in the US military has been guilty. EVERY senior officer has such notebooks (we are a notetaking military, as you know) and EVERY senior officer carries those notebooks around with them. And ALMOST EVERY senior officer I have encountered keeps them after retirement.” Indeed, such records form the basis on which senior officers can subsequently write their memoirs.

In short, the incident over which Petraeus has pleaded guilty is a minor one, discovered in the course of a fishing expedition by the FBI, whose agents searched his house. There is no evidence of any harm to national security. This is not remotely comparable to the case of malicious leakers such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. It is not even, as I have argued, comparable to the breaches committed by John Deutch. If Deutch could get a presidential pardon, why not Petraeus, who has dedicated most of his life to serving and defending our country?

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The Supreme Court and Religious Freedom: A Step Back?

As a teenager applying for a job at The Gap, I wore my yarmulke to the interview. There were no questions about my head covering, and I got the job. I can’t imagine the kippah violated a store dress code (though I don’t think I checked before applying), and I had a tendency to wear black knitted kippot which, atop a head of dark brown hair, were probably barely noticeable. But of course, it doesn’t feel that way to the person wearing the religious head covering in an environment in which no one else does (in this case, a clothing store), especially to a self-conscious teen. Which is to say that what happened to a Muslim teenager named Samantha Elauf would almost certainly never happen to me in the same situation. And what happened to Samantha Elauf appears to be blatant religious discrimination.

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As a teenager applying for a job at The Gap, I wore my yarmulke to the interview. There were no questions about my head covering, and I got the job. I can’t imagine the kippah violated a store dress code (though I don’t think I checked before applying), and I had a tendency to wear black knitted kippot which, atop a head of dark brown hair, were probably barely noticeable. But of course, it doesn’t feel that way to the person wearing the religious head covering in an environment in which no one else does (in this case, a clothing store), especially to a self-conscious teen. Which is to say that what happened to a Muslim teenager named Samantha Elauf would almost certainly never happen to me in the same situation. And what happened to Samantha Elauf appears to be blatant religious discrimination.

Elauf’s case is before the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on the issue last week. The story is this, neatly explained by the Atlantic: When Elauf was 17, she applied for a job at an Abercrombie Kids shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She wore her headscarf to the interview. The hiring manager understood the headscarf violated the company’s dress policy, but realizing that it was probably religious, she asked the district manager if an exception could be made. The answer was no; Elauf was turned down.

It was unjust, and it probably was a bit mortifying for teenager seeking to blend in, or at least attain a measure of acceptance, in a mainstream American clothing store. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission thought it was illegal, and filed a discrimination suit. After all, employment law requires religious accommodation unless it will create “undue hardship” on the business. But it’s apparently not so simple.

In what sounds like a parody of a Talmudic dispute, the case is before the Supreme Court because, according to the Atlantic, “the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that correctly assuming that Elauf’s headscarf was religious is not the same as actually knowing her headscarf was religious.”

Over at SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe explains how the Supreme Court justices, during oral arguments, got tripped up by the fact that Elauf did not ask for a religious exemption; it was clear she needed some exemption, and the reason for it was assumed, and she was denied the exemption. Thus did the justices dive down the rabbit hole over the very meaning of knowledge:

Justice Antonin Scalia was, to put it mildly, dubious about how “straightforward” the government’s test actually is.  He pressed Gershengorn to explain the difference between “knowing” something and “correctly understanding” it; when Gershengorn tried to elaborate, Scalia told him that “that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

And although Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that there was “substantial force” to the government’s argument that an applicant doesn’t have to take the initiative to mention the religious practice to a would-be employer, he emphasized that the government’s reliance on the word “understand” rather than “know” was “confusing.

Even Justice Elena Kagan – whose vote we would expect the government to need to prevail – expressed some skepticism about how the government’s rule would apply.  If an employer doesn’t have to be certain that a job applicant’s practice derives from her religion, she asked, what level of confidence does it need?  Would it be enough for an employer to be two-thirds certain that a potential conflict with its work rules is the result of the applicant’s religious practices?  What about fifty-percent certainty, she queried?

Justices Sotomayor and Alito broached similar versions of a compromise, in which the employer would mention a rule and ask if the applicant could abide, something like: “We have a no-head covering rule. Could you comply?”

And that could work–for headscarves. Or beards, another one of the possibilities offered by the justices. Howe says several justices, “perhaps enough to form a majority,” sounded like they approved of the compromise. But there are two obvious problems with it that the Court really ought not ignore.

The first is scope: According to Howe, Scalia asked a question along the lines of: “what if an applicant could comply, but it would make her uncomfortable?” Maybe he’s talking about modesty, which would certainly force the employer to wade into various scriptural interpretations.

A more pressing problem is Chief Justice Roberts’s objection: such a rule would not “cover anything that’s not readily apparent.” The other justices didn’t seem to be so bothered by this, but I think it’s a fatal flaw in the compromise. You could argue, I suppose, that if you don’t notice it then it’s probably not a violation of a dress code. But that might also depend on the store.

It seems to me common sense needs to play a role here. If a manager guesses correctly that certain garb is religious, we don’t need to split hairs over whether they actually “know.” What happened here in this case is that a manager took a look at teenage girl wearing a headscarf, understood it was because she was a devout Muslim, and denied her the job because of it.

The Atlantic quotes an attorney for the district manager as paraphrasing his argument this way: “if we allow this then someone will paint themselves green and call it a religion.” I don’t know if anything sums up the current trend in the culture wars better than employers worrying that making accommodations will lead to lots and lots of religious freedom.

And the slippery slope argument fails here just as it did in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Court ruled that the government could not force the company’s owners to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients to which they had religious objections. Although the standard there was slightly different, the truth is in this case there is no blanket religious protection: if it causes “undue hardship” to the company, the exemption can be denied.

Maybe the green man of the attorney’s construction would hurt the business, maybe not. But Elauf’s adherence to her religious practice was apparent and would not have wrecked the company’s bottom line. It was rank religious discrimination, and no quibbling over degrees of certainty can change that.

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Lincoln’s Second Inaugural

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Speech from the steps of the Capitol.

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One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Speech from the steps of the Capitol.

Inaugural speeches, with rare exceptions, are not memorable. They tend to be laundry lists of what the new or reelected president hopes to accomplish in his term in office, along with boilerplate on the virtues of democracy and representative government.

But Lincoln’s Second Inaugural is different. Despite being delivered in the midst of some of the most momentous events in American history, it is notably short. Indeed, so short it could be carved in its entirety on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, opposite Lincoln’s other famously short speech, the Gettysburg Address. It takes no more than five minutes to read and yet it encapsulates the whole agony of the greatest and bloodiest war this nation has ever fought.

Filled with biblical allusions, it eschews even a hint of triumphalism that the war was finally coming to a successful end and that the Union, the world’s “last, best hope,” would endure. Instead it dwells on the evils of slavery that brought the war about and how all Americans bear some responsibility for it:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

He ends with the quiet hope that the country “may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Leaving aside its historic importance, if that’s possible, just consider the prose. All who love the power and majesty of the English language and the heights to which it can soar when in the hands of a master—and Lincoln was the best writer ever to live in the White House—can only stand in awe of the Second Inaugural’s sheer literary perfection.

So I would recommend that you take five minutes and read the Second Inaugural. It is the greatest speech ever given on American soil.

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Clinton’s Parallel Government and Obama’s Great Miscalculation

When it was revealed last week that the Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Fox anchor Bret Baier asked a good question: “How big a problem is this becoming? Now not only for Clinton but for the [Obama] administration?” Now with latest revelations that for purposes of digital communication Hillary essentially ran her own parallel government, it’s clear that Clinton’s ethical lapses should also be a scandal for President Obama. But to understand where Obama went wrong here it’s instructive to remember how he approached the idea of nominating Hillary to be his secretary of state after the 2008 election.

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When it was revealed last week that the Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Fox anchor Bret Baier asked a good question: “How big a problem is this becoming? Now not only for Clinton but for the [Obama] administration?” Now with latest revelations that for purposes of digital communication Hillary essentially ran her own parallel government, it’s clear that Clinton’s ethical lapses should also be a scandal for President Obama. But to understand where Obama went wrong here it’s instructive to remember how he approached the idea of nominating Hillary to be his secretary of state after the 2008 election.

First, the latest: not only did Hillary Clinton exclusively use private email addresses to avoid transparency and record keeping. She, as the AP reveals today, operated her own server at her home:

The computer server that transmitted and received Hillary Clinton’s emails — on a private account she used exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state — traced back to an Internet service registered to her family’s home in Chappaqua, New York, according to Internet records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Later, the AP explains why she did it, and how great of a security risk it was:

Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails. And since the Secret Service was guarding Clinton’s home, an email server there would have been well protected from theft or a physical hacking.

But homebrew email servers are generally not as reliable, secure from hackers or protected from fires or floods as those in commercial data centers. Those professional facilities provide monitoring for viruses or hacking attempts, regulated temperatures, off-site backups, generators in case of power outages, fire-suppression systems and redundant communications lines.

As I said, Clinton essentially operated her own parallel government. Several commentators raised the same question with regard to Clinton only using private email addresses to conduct state business: Didn’t President Obama and his staff notice immediately that she was emailing them from a non-government account? The answer is: of course. The Obama White House is certainly implicated in this.

But it’s also worth pointing out that Obama always overestimated the degree to which he could control Clintonworld. As Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes detail in their admiring book on Hillary’s time at State, HRC, Obama made the classic mistake of trying to coopt a force that would otherwise be disruptive to his agenda. Clinton seemed intent on going back to the Senate, where she could act as a kind of gatekeeper to Obama’s legislative agenda. Understandably, Obama would rather have her on his team.

Obama didn’t think much of Clinton’s experience abroad. HRC notes Obama’s belief that Hillary’s sense of worldliness amounted to “what world leader I went and talked to in the ambassador’s house, who I had tea with.” In Obama’s estimation, Hillary was not up to the task of being a top figure on the world stage.

But Obama wasn’t looking necessarily for competence or experience. His view in piecing together his team has always been about sidelining critics and rivals. So, fully aware that Hillary was unqualified, he asked her to be secretary of state. Allen and Parnes write:

Obama wanted Hillary on his team, and in making the case to his own aides, he knocked down the argument he had made on the trail that her experience was limited to tea parties. As important, having Hillary on the inside would let Obama keep control over perhaps the nation’s most potent political force other than himself.

Except it wouldn’t. Sometimes the Clintons’ parallel government works in Obama’s favor, such as Clinton’s Benghazi disaster. Her independent email server and private addresses enabled her to hide her correspondence on the attack, which also shielded the rest of the administration from that scrutiny. Obama is infamously secretive about his own records and his administration’s unprecedented lack of transparency was a good match for the Clintons.

But it also meant a certain degree of this went beyond his control. Hillary’s family foundation, which essentially became a super-PAC for foreign governments, was supposed to have donations vetted. They didn’t. They were supposed to have Bill Clinton’s paid events cleared. And they did–they were cleared by Hillary’s State Department. They weren’t supposed to accept foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state. They did.

Clintonworld operated as a distinct, independent entity for its own purposes while also running American foreign policy. The phrase “conflict of interest” does not even begin to approach the disturbing ethical calculations here. But it can’t be argued that Obama didn’t know what he was getting the country into. He just thought he could control it. He was wrong, and he was wrong to try. And we’re only beginning to see the consequences.

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Ukraine, Iran, and the Threat of a Nuclear Middle East

One very important word was missing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday. Not that I blame him; inserting “Ukraine” into that particular speech would have been counterproductive. Yet without considering America’s Ukraine policy, it’s impossible to grasp quite how disastrous the emerging Iran deal really is.

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One very important word was missing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday. Not that I blame him; inserting “Ukraine” into that particular speech would have been counterproductive. Yet without considering America’s Ukraine policy, it’s impossible to grasp quite how disastrous the emerging Iran deal really is.

To understand why, consider the curious threat issued by an unnamed White House official last week, in the run-up to Netanyahu’s speech: “The dispute with Netanyahu prevents all possibility for discussing security guarantees for Israel as part of the emerging Iran deal.” That particular threat was empty, because Israel has never wanted security guarantees from this or any other administration; its policy has always been that it must be able to defend itself by itself. But if Washington was considering security guarantees for Israel, it’s surely considering them for its Arab allies, since they, unlike Israel, always have relied on America’s protection. In fact, there have been recurrent rumors that it might offer Arab states a nuclear umbrella as part of the deal, so they wouldn’t feel the need to develop nuclear capabilities themselves–something they have long threatened to do if Iran’s nuclear program isn’t stopped.

And a year ago, such a promise might have worked. After all, America’s guarantees had proven trustworthy in the past; see, for instance, 1991, when U.S. troops liberated Kuwait from Iraq’s invasion.

But last year, Russia invaded Ukraine, exactly 20 years after the latter gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for a signed commitment by Washington, Moscow, and London to respect its “independence,” “sovereignty,” and “existing borders” and “refrain from the threat or use of force” against its “territorial integrity or political independence.” After swiftly annexing Crimea, Russia proceeded to foment rebellion in eastern Ukraine; the rebels now control sizable chunks of territory, thanks mainly to arms, money, and even “off-duty” troops from Russia.

And what have Ukraine’s other guarantors, America and Britain, done to uphold the commitment they signed in 1994? Absolute zilch. They refuse to even give Ukraine the arms it’s been begging for so it can try to fight back on its own.

Given the Ukrainian example, any Arab leader would be a fool to stake his country’s security on U.S. guarantees against Iran, which, like Russia, is a highly aggressive power. Iran already boasts of controlling four Arab capitals–Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, and, most recently, Sana’a–and shows no signs of wanting to stop. So if Arab leaders think the emerging Iranian deal is a bad one, no U.S. guarantee will suffice to dissuade them from acquiring their own nukes.

And unfortunately, that’s what they do think. As evidence, just consider the cascade of Saudi commentators publicly begging Obama to heed, of all people, the head of a country they don’t even recognize. Like Al Arabiya editor-in-chief Faisal Abbas, who published a column yesterday titled, “President Obama, listen to Netanyahu on Iran,” which began as follows: “It is extremely rare for any reasonable person to ever agree with anything Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says or does. However, one must admit, Bibi did get it right, at least when it came to dealing with Iran.” Or columnist Ahmad al-Faraj, who wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah on Monday: “I am very glad of Netanyahu’s firm stance and [his decision] to speak against the nuclear agreement at the American Congress despite the Obama administration’s anger and fury. I believe that Netanyahu’s conduct will serve our interests, the people of the Gulf, much more than the foolish behavior of one of the worst American presidents.”

Clearly, letting Iran go nuclear would be terrible. But letting the entire Mideast–one of the world’s most unstable regions–go nuclear would be infinitely worse. And the only way any deal with Tehran can prevent that is if it’s acceptable to Iran’s Arab neighbors. Thanks to Ukraine, no U.S. security guarantee can compensate them for a deal they deem inadequate.

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Does it Matter if Iran’s Leaders Aren’t Suicidal?

Over at the Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that concern about the potential for a nuclear Iran is exaggerated because, he suggests, Iran’s leaders aren’t suicidal. Let’s accept for a moment they are not. Here are two problems which Beinart ignores:

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Over at the Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that concern about the potential for a nuclear Iran is exaggerated because, he suggests, Iran’s leaders aren’t suicidal. Let’s accept for a moment they are not. Here are two problems which Beinart ignores:

  • Even if the Islamic Republic isn’t suicidal, what happens if it’s terminally ill? Popular protests have shaken the Islamic Republic in 1999, 2001, and 2009. What happens if they do so again, but this time members of the security forces join in so we have in Iran a parallel to Romania in 1989 or Libya in 2011? If the fall of the regime is inevitable, what’s to stop those with command, control, and custody of a nuclear Iran from utilizing their power for ideological imperatives knowing that the regime to which they dedicate their lives is dead within hours anyway? Neither Israel nor the United States would retaliate against a country which already had regime change. Indeed, Beinart errs by failing to address precisely who would have control over any Iranian nuclear arsenal should Tehran develop one. Clearly, any nuclear weapon(s) would be put not only in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but those units vetted to be most ideologically pure.
  • Likewise, if we look back to the Cold War, perhaps it can be argued that neither the Soviet Union nor the United States were suicidal, and so mutually-assured destruction (MAD) worked. But did MAD really bring stability, or did we simply get luck? Not only was there a close call during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but we came closer to nuclear Armageddon than many at the time realized in the wake of the Soviet downing of a Korean passenger jet in 1983. There were other near misses as well.

Simply put, the question about whether the Iranian regime is suicidal or not is beside the point given its historical instability and the questionability of the model for stability upon which Beinart seems to rely. If countries in the Middle East did what was in their best interest, economically or diplomatically, the region would be a very different place. The fact that over decades they have not simply underlines the importance of ideology in the region, a factor which Beinart downplays. The simple truth is this: the region would be far more secure if Iran did not have nuclear weapons than if it did. And it would be policy malpractice of the highest order to shrug our shoulders and say it’s too hard to prevent, simply because what we would face otherwise would be a far more difficult environment in which to live and work.

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Netanyahu’s Masterpiece

From the perspective of the craft of speechwriting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress was a masterpiece.

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From the perspective of the craft of speechwriting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress was a masterpiece.

The speech started out appropriately high-minded and gracious. It laid out Mr. Netanyahu’s case with logic and care, offering a crisp and indisputable indictment of the Iranian regime and, especially, the fundamental flaws in the deal President Obama wants to strike with Iran. The conclusion of the speech–where the Israeli prime minister said “I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over”–was stirring and evocative. So was Mr. Netanyahu’s obvious love and affection for America. (Unlike President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he describes America, isn’t inclined to criticize her.) And the speech itself included some terrific and memorable lines:

  • At a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations.
  • So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.
  • That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.
  • This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control.
  • If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted.
  • Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.
  • For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel.

In watching the speech, one could not help but feel that this was not only a dramatic moment–thanks in large part to President Obama’s pre-speech campaign to smear the Israeli leader–but a remarkable one, thanks to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He was fully in command.

As someone who is a lifelong lover of words and the power of words to persuade and reveal the truth of things, it was a relief to finally have a leader of a nation speak to a joint session of Congress and demonstrate intellectual integrity. Unlike President Obama, who never engages the argument of his critics in an honest manner, Prime Minister Netanyahu fairly (if briefly) stated the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. And he proceeded to deal with them in a methodical, empirical, logical way, which of course explains why Mr. Obama fought so hard to prevent Mr. Netanyahu from speaking in the first place. The president knew his position would wither when exposed to reality. There was a maturity and seriousness of purpose in the Israeli prime minister that is missing from our president.

It’s a shame we Americans have to wait for a foreign leader to speak to us in a manner characterized by intellectual excellence and moral seriousness. But such are the times in which we live.

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Hillary’s Emails Raise Questions That Require Answers

In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

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In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

In addressing Clinton’s violation of the rules, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, the former first lady and secretary of state isn’t guilty of a host of possible crimes until she can prove herself innocent. But we needn’t raise the ghost of Vince Foster or Whitewater, let alone indict her on charges of sending men to their deaths in Benghazi or selling the country down the river to Persian Gulf oil states, to accept the fact that this highly suspicious.

As an expert in the field told the New York Times:

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” said Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.

At the very least, the bizarre decision to forgo a government email while serving as secretary of state is a violation of the rules that apply to all those in high office. The regulations exist since all such emails are government records, much the same as correspondence and dispatches were in the era when snail mail was the only form of written communication. Government accounts are also far more secure than any personal account, a factor that Clinton was irresponsible to ignore in this era of cyber warfare. She was not the only secretary of state to use a personal account. But she’s the only to use it exclusively. As such, none of her emails were preserved during her time in office. It is only subsequent to her leaving her post to prepare for a presidential run that her staff began the process of sorting through her emails and deciding which of them should be sent to the government to be archived.

That the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee would behave in this manner is not all that surprising. The Clintons are legendary for their conspiratorial mindset and lack of transparency. But despite her spokesperson’s claim that she followed the letter and the spirit of the law, we are still left with the question of who got to decide which of her emails were private and which was government business and what were the criteria they used.

But as our Seth Mandel wrote last month when the scandal about foreign governments being solicited for donations by the former president while his wife ran U.S. foreign policy broke, transparency is not a minor concern when it comes to the Clintons. We don’t have to assume that she was personally participating in this highly corrupt practice to be curious about whether the same email account that she used to conduct business was also receiving communications about her husband’s success in shaking down governments for contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative. The mixing of her government business with her family’s private ambitions was bad enough even if one doesn’t take for granted, as we probably must, that all such donations were bribes aimed at winning the good will of a secretary of state, if not a future president. But now that we know that her emails were not automatically being preserved for the archive, it’s not unreasonable to worry that somewhere in this treasure trove of information are some nuggets that may not put her and her affable spouse in a flattering light, if not legal jeopardy.

If Clinton is smart, she will repress her instinctual reflex to stonewall and release her emails as Jeb Bush, one of the people who hope to oppose her in November 2016, has done. At the very least she should choose someone not associated with her family political machine to go through these communications and redact those that are truly personal. If not, she shouldn’t be surprised if this issue haunts her throughout the coming election year. More to the point, if Clinton doesn’t realize how damning this looks and the need to be above board when running for president, she will be disqualifying herself for the job.

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The ‘Bad Deal’ Defenders

A strange argument began taking shape Monday night with Susan Rice’s speech to AIPAC and blossomed on Tuesday in the response to Bibi Netanyahu’s speech. The putative defenders of the not-yet-done nuclear deal with Iran began demanding of its critics generally and then Bibi specifically to delineate what they would do differently at this point.

In some ways it’s a disingenuous parry. Those of us who were skeptical of the negotiations wanted the Senate to impose sanctions last year to give the talks teeth and give the administration more leverage. But Obama didn’t want that leverage; he wanted to make nice.

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A strange argument began taking shape Monday night with Susan Rice’s speech to AIPAC and blossomed on Tuesday in the response to Bibi Netanyahu’s speech. The putative defenders of the not-yet-done nuclear deal with Iran began demanding of its critics generally and then Bibi specifically to delineate what they would do differently at this point.

In some ways it’s a disingenuous parry. Those of us who were skeptical of the negotiations wanted the Senate to impose sanctions last year to give the talks teeth and give the administration more leverage. But Obama didn’t want that leverage; he wanted to make nice.

As a result, the administration has (or so reports say) conceded nearly every point in the interim accord—from numbers of centrifuges to the “sunset” clause that ends the deal after 10 years and effectively gives Iran a legal right to go nuclear in 2025.

This suggests, for one thing, that the negotiations might well have benefited from those tougher sanctions, and that their imposition before the talks end permanently at the end of June might still improve the deal—assuming it’s not already done. So the strategy that existed before the administration’s cave-in remains a possible approach assuming the Iranians don’t simply grab at what’s being offered.

No, no, say the defenders. It’s this deal (whatever it is in final form) or nothing. To walk away from the table, they say, would simply liberate Iran to spin its centrifuges faster, to evade inspections, and get even closer to a bomb. A deal, even one that goes away after ten years, would at least assure inspections and keep Iran non-nuclear for a decade.

I say this is a strange argument because it implies the deal is not a good one in itself but is good by dint of the fact that it’s the only deal we can get  at this time. Thus, in their eyes, the only bad deal is no deal. Which means any deal is a good deal.

If this is the best they can do, they have already lost the argument.

 

 

 

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Questioning Obama on Nuclear Iran Is Not Partisanship

After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

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After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

As I wrote earlier, Netanyahu did a masterful job of laying out the basic flaws in a policy based on trusting in the ability of a tyrannical, terror-supporting anti-Semitic regime that seeks regional hegemony to reform itself and, in the president’s naïve phrase, “get right with the world.” President Obama campaigned in 2012 promising that any deal with Iran would ensure the end of its nuclear program. Once reelected, he embarked on secret talks that ensured that it would be able to keep its nuclear infrastructure and eventually be able to build a bomb after a relatively brief “breakout” period. The latest twist in the talks, revealed not by an Israeli “betrayal” but administration leaks, is that the administration is begging Iran to sign an agreement that will let it keep thousands of centrifuges and be given a sunset clause on sanctions that will eventually allow it to build a bomb even if it observes the terms of the deal, something that history tells us is more a fantasy than a policy.

Nor did Netanyahu fail to offer an alternative as critics claimed since he pointed out that a return to the pre-2013 policy of inflicting tough sanctions and isolation that Obama precipitately abandoned offers the only chance of ending the nuclear peril short of war.

These are deeply serious arguments that require answers and ought to persuade thinking Republicans and Democrats to back the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill that would strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks while also requiring it to submit any deal to Congress for approval.

But instead of answering these cogent arguments, all we heard from Democrats that boycotted the speech or administration sources was more of what they’ve been telling us since January about Netanyahu plotting with the Republicans or insulting the president. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even went so far as to claim it was “an insult to the intelligence of the United States,” a charge that might better be hurled at a president intent on building détente with Iran while pretending to be working against nuclear proliferation.

But let’s give them the respect they weren’t prepared to accord Netanyahu and try to unpack the charge of partisanship.

Let’s start by conceding that the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner was an end run around the administration and was bound to ruffle feathers. But the much-publicized umbrage about the alleged breach in protocol was entirely disingenuous. The White House’s anger had nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with discomfort with the prospect of the Israeli leader weighing in on behalf of a sanctions bill that already looked to have a chance at a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate.

Support for that bill was a bipartisan affair with the most vocal advocate being Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who publicly challenged Obama to his face on the issue for claiming that the only reason members were backing it was to please donors (a dog whistle for Jews). But the president used the opening that Boehner and Netanyahu provided him to falsely claim the entire issue was a partisan plot against his presidency. Some in the Congressional Black Caucus even went so far as to assert that it was a racist insult against the first African-American president.

We heard more of the same today from Democrats eager to avoid discussing the facts about the Iran negotiations and the nuclear threat.

But let’s be clear here. There is a difference between questioning a president’s policies and taking sides in an ongoing partisan war between Republicans and Democrats. The scores of Democrats like Menendez that believe the president is leading us in the wrong direction on Iran aren’t doing the bidding of Boehner or the Republican National Committee. They are simply demanding that the president do the right while sticking to the promises he made when they were working to reelect him.

We can’t blame the president for not liking Netanyahu’s speech. Being confronted with the truth isn’t pleasant when what you want is to avoid a debate about the issue altogether. But while Obama deserves the respect due to anyone in that high office, dissent from our Dear Leader’s point of view is not the same thing as partisanship. Opposition to Iran’s nuclear dreams wasn’t any more of a partisan issue than support for Israel has been–until, that is, Barack Obama and his obedient cheering section made it one. If anyone deserves blame for injecting that virus into this discussion it is the president.

Those who want to stick to this line of argument aren’t making a point about defending the bipartisan coalition for Israel. They are seeking to help Obama avoid discussing the reality of an Iran appeasement policy.

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Bibi’s Speech Already Bearing Fruit

Part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role today was as a representative of his region of the world. It tells you just how concerned those who deal with Iran are about the pending nuke deal that the Israeli leader was voicing–genuinely and accurately, by the way–the nervousness of not just Israel but Saudi Arabia, among other Gulf allies of the U.S. And on that front, Netanyahu may have already succeeded.

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Part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role today was as a representative of his region of the world. It tells you just how concerned those who deal with Iran are about the pending nuke deal that the Israeli leader was voicing–genuinely and accurately, by the way–the nervousness of not just Israel but Saudi Arabia, among other Gulf allies of the U.S. And on that front, Netanyahu may have already succeeded.

Obviously the main point of the speech was Iran’s nuclear program. But Netanyahu also sought to convey the kind of regime Iran is and what it does with its military and financial might. “If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country,” Netanyahu said. He recited a litany of examples of Iranian troublemaking, and pointed out that these are all recent–that this is the regime on a path to a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu said:

Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Back by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.

Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran’s attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.

Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaida bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.

Netanyahu wants the West’s negotiators to curb Iran’s terrorism and expansionism as part of the negotiations. And he’s not alone.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry cannot dispute the characterization of Iran in Netanyahu’s speech, and don’t try to do so. What he said is the uncontested truth. Obama sees Iran’s regional influence as either inevitable or ultimately desirable. Yet those in the region are well aware that Obama’s view of Iran is a fantasy; Tehran is the prime agent of destabilization throughout the Middle East.

One triumph of Netanyahu’s speech today seems to have been to get Obama and especially Kerry to do something they often appear completely incapable of doing: listening to allies. AFP reports that Kerry is heading to the region to try to convince allies that the Obama administration takes the Iranian threat much more seriously than they appear to, nuke or no nuke:

The United States will “confront aggressively” Iran’s bid to expand its influence across the Middle East even if a nuclear deal is reached, a State Department official said Tuesday.

The official’s comments came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a controversial address to the US Congress, sought to highlight Iran’s expansionist hopes as one reason to halt the nuclear talks.

Top US diplomat John Kerry will travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to reassure US Gulf allies that an Iran deal would not mean Washington would turn a blind eye to the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions.

“Regardless of what happens in the nuclear file, we will continue to confront aggressively Iranian expansion in the region and Iranian aggressiveness in the region,” the official said.

It’s a tough sell. The Obama administration has found itself enabling that very expansion in the stubborn belief that the U.S. and Iran not only share interests but can cooperate to the West’s benefit on various conflicts around the Middle East.

The administration wants to divorce its nuclear diplomacy from Iranian expansionism because it doesn’t want an Iranian retreat in the Middle East, not while ISIS slaughters its way across Iraq and Syria, and not while the administration is intent on leaving a vacuum of American influence into which any number of militant groups can step.

It’s also a tough sell because of the administration’s own rhetoric. AFP quotes a State Department official today as follows: “You can’t read into the nuclear negotiation any kind of determination of where the US relationship with Iran may go in the future.”

In fact, you absolutely can. The administration’s posture toward Iran, as evident in this conciliatory deal on the table, is that Tehran is a power with legitimate “rights” to enrich uranium and have a nuclear program in place, and that it’s a country that can be trusted with a sunset clause to boot. Netanyahu’s speech clearly and convincingly laid out the case against that view. And Kerry knows it.

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Giving Iran a Piece of Iraq

Even his critics had to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a first-rate address to Congress—a masterpiece of persuasive oratory. While much of the attention rightly focused on what the prime minister had to say about the proposed nuclear accorded with Iran (“a very bad deal”), he also had an important message to deliver about Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.

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Even his critics had to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a first-rate address to Congress—a masterpiece of persuasive oratory. While much of the attention rightly focused on what the prime minister had to say about the proposed nuclear accorded with Iran (“a very bad deal”), he also had an important message to deliver about Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.

“Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guard on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror,” he alliterated. “Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran. Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea.”

As if to illustrate his point, the Wall Street Journal has an important report about how Shiite militias and the Iraqi army are combining to attack the Sunni town of Tikrit. “In addition to supplying drones,” the Journal reports, “Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard force has fighters on the ground with Iraqi units, mostly operating artillery and rocket batteries.” Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is apparently overseeing this operation in person.

At first blush this might sound no different from the kind of military aid that the U.S. provides to allied militaries but in fact, despite the superficial similarities, there is a major difference. U.S. advisers have always stressed to Iraqi and Afghan forces the importance of acting in an ethical and restrained manner, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because abuse of the civilian population risks driving them into the arms of the insurgents.

The Iranian-backed militias, whether in Syria or Iraq, have exhibited no such restraint. They became notorious in past years for kidnapping Sunnis and torturing them to death with power tools. More recently, under Iranian guidance, Bashar Assad has been dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Such a blood-thirsty assault, even if tactically successful in Tikrit, will sow the seeds of strategic defeat by encouraging Sunnis to fight even harder against Shiite encroachments. That may well be what Iran wants: the more polarized Iraq and Syria become, the more that Shiites (or, in the case of Syria, the Alawites) will feel compelled to look to Iran for guidance and protection.

That is why the Obama administration is supremely ill-advised, not just for granting Iran concession after concession to win a nuclear deal, but also for looking the other way as Iran assumes an increasingly prominent role in the anti-ISIS fight. The Journal notes that in Iraq “a de facto division” is “developing between areas where Iran has the lead in assisting the fight against the Islamic State, and areas where the U.S. has the lead,” with both sides taking “steps not to interfere with one another’s operations.”

The Journal quotes an anonymous “U.S. official” cheerleading for Iran, saying, “To the degree that they can carry out an offensive without inflaming sectarian tension and can dislocate ISIL, it can be helpful.” The anonymous official might very well be Brett McGurk, the State Department point man on the anti-ISIS fight, who has been tweeting merrily in support of the Iranian-directed offensive against Tikrit (without acknowledging that it is Iranian-directed).

Netanyahu warned against this dangerous tendency when he said: “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America… When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Too bad the administration isn’t listening to him on this subject, any more than it is on the nuclear negotiations. Instead Obama appears to be pursuing a broader rapprochement with Tehran that would have the U.S. grant de facto acquiescence to the actions of Iranian proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

In other words, the state of U.S.-Iranian relations at the moment is even more worrisome than Netanyahu (anxious not to burn every single bridge to the White House) was able to explain.

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How Republicans Benefit from Carly Fiorina’s Candidacy

The inability of liberal writers and journalists to hide their intellectual laziness around conservative women has been a recurring theme of the modern political era. As the Obama administration’s “war on women” showed, the left tends to believe women are incapable of thinking independently. And as liberals showed with regard to Sarah Palin in 2008, a certain degree of irrational hatred is an important component of the left’s political agenda when running against conservative women. But what happens when a Republican presidential candidate is a woman who can’t be caricatured? We’re about to find out.

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The inability of liberal writers and journalists to hide their intellectual laziness around conservative women has been a recurring theme of the modern political era. As the Obama administration’s “war on women” showed, the left tends to believe women are incapable of thinking independently. And as liberals showed with regard to Sarah Palin in 2008, a certain degree of irrational hatred is an important component of the left’s political agenda when running against conservative women. But what happens when a Republican presidential candidate is a woman who can’t be caricatured? We’re about to find out.

That’s because the prospective candidacy of Carly Fiorina, while a (very) long shot for the Republican nomination, has given the GOP a valuable voice: a woman unquestionably much smarter than her Democratic adversaries who can mock Hillary Clinton with abandon. Fiorina may be angling for the vice presidency, though she would be an obvious cabinet choice as well. And unlike Jeb Bush, Fiorina’s lack of support from the conservative base is a major asset to the seriousness of her candidacy as it’s perceived by the media. She’s not pandering quite as much, and she’s demonstrating, rather than simply claiming, independence.

And she’s going to force the media to expand their vocabulary beyond the phrases “Sarah Palin” and “Michele Bachmann.” They lean heavily on these parallels. The L.A. Times’s David Horsey wrote the perfect example of this laziness on the occasion of the new Republican Senate majority, headlined “Move over, Sarah Palin; Joni Ernst is the GOP’s new star.” Palin and Ernst are very different, but they’re both women, which was the best Horsey’s mental faculties were capable of.

Palin gets this a lot; two Israeli reporters recently profiled the Likud’s Miri Regev and called her “the closest thing Israel has to Sarah Palin,” without even bothering to build a case for their comparison. It was published in the Daily Beast, which (of course) went with the Palin comparison for the headline as well, plucked from the opening paragraph.

This brand of political “analysis” is familiar to Bachmann too. One of the strangest examples was in a recent New York Times Magazine piece on Russia by the Russian-Jewish novelist Gary Shteyngart. The piece was a nonfiction essay chronicling Shteyngart’s experience sitting in a fancy hotel room and watching Russian television. In the course of this snooze fest we’re treated to the following sentence: “When Conchita won, back in May, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist in Russia’s Parliament who is roughly equivalent to Michele Bachmann, said her victory meant ‘the end of Europe.’” (The essay did have the virtue of demonstrating why Shteyngart is not a political analyst.)

Fiorina won’t attract such lowest-common-denominator attacks. Her executive experience is in the private sector, at Hewlett-Packard and AT&T, and that not only gives her some economic fluency but also infuses her rhetoric and her persona with a non-politician’s accessibility. And of course, she can be condescending to Hillary without coming off as bullying or sexist.

Her CPAC speech contained a few good lines, such as:

  • “Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”
  • “She tweets about women’s rights in this country, and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights.”
  • “She tweets about equal pay for women but will not answer basic questions about her own office’s pay standards and neither will our president. Hillary may like hashtags but she doesn’t know what leadership means.”

There is only so much mileage to get out of such lines, but when said by a man the media would pounce and change the story to sexism and GOP “overreach.” Coming from Fiorina, the lines are at least allowed to hang in the air for a while.

She also had more substantive things to say, of course, and was able to personalize them in an effective way. Here’s one example from the speech:

When I battled cancer, I needed many helping hands. When my husband, Frank, and I lost our youngest daughter, Laurie, to the demons of addiction, we relied on the strength of our family, the solace of our faith, but we were also lifted up by the prayers and kindness of so many strangers who became blessings in our lives. Everyone needs a helping hand, but no one wants to be trapped in the web of dependence that has been woven over decades in our nation. To fill their potential, people need an education: tools, training, support, and they need a job.

The president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union once said this:

“We cannot be held responsible for the performance of the children in our classrooms because too many of them come from poor and broken families.”

Liberals may be prepared to dismiss and disregard Americans because of their circumstances. Liberals may be prepared to consign some to lives of dependence, while others, who think they are smarter, and they are better, will take care of them. But we, as conservatives, are not. We know that no one of us is better than any other one of us. We know that each one of us has God-given gifts and can live a life of dignity and purpose and meaning.

She’s not simply a one-liner generator, in other words. This is not to overstate her odds of winning the nomination: there does not seem to be a path for her to win, and I don’t think she’ll even amass enough of a following to end up on the veep shortlist. The fact that the base seems generally uninterested in her candidacy helps place her out of the “Tea Party extremist” category that the political press so generously uses. But it also means she doesn’t have the votes to make a run.

Nonetheless, Republicans might end up thrilled that she chose to run despite all that. Her presence in the debates would elevate the discussion and keep the details of policy in focus. And she can utilize a line of attack that most others can’t, and let that line of attack sink in over the course of the next year. And no one is likely to compare her to Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

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Bibi’s Triumph Puts Obama on the Defensive

If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

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If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

What had to most frustrate the White House was Netanyahu’s ability to debunk their main talking point about the speech. After weeks of hyping the address as an injection of partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship, the prime minister’s willingness to give the president his due for past support of Israel and his refusal to mention the many instances in which Obama had undercut the Jewish state’s position and deliberately attempted to create more distance between the two allies made the White House’s angry reaction look petty. The prime minister’s initial decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation gave the president the opening he needed to distract the country from his Iran policy. With the help of the president’s always helpful press cheering section, White House political operatives made Netanyahu’s supposed breach of protocol the issue rather than the appeasement of Iran. But they eventually succumbed to overkill in denouncing Netanyahu and by the time the prime minister took the podium at the Capitol, the administration’s efforts had the unintended effect of giving him a bigger audience than he might otherwise have had.

Thus, by the time the address was over, the issue was no longer whether he should have given the speech. Though the White House is doggedly trying to portray the speech as partisan, it was not. Now it is the substance of Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s behavior and the failure of the Western powers to negotiate a deal that would stop Iran from getting a weapon that is the subject of discussion. Which is to say that after winning news cycles at Netanyahu’s expense throughout February, the White House has set itself up to have to explain years of concessions to a dangerous regime with almost nothing to show for it in terms of making the world any safer.

At the core of the disagreement between Netanyahu and Obama on Iran is the president’s faith that Iran can or will change. Even Obama apologists no longer regard the notion that Hassan Rouhani’s election as president signaled a move toward moderation as a serious argument. Though the administration has been careful not to defend Iran’s past and present behavior, by eloquently laying out the Islamist regime’s record of terrorism and aggression, it put the onus on the president to explain why he thinks that over the course of the next decade, Iran is going to, “get right with the world,” as he has said.

Equally important, the speech forces the president to defend the substance of the deal he is desperately trying to entice the Iranians to sign. Netanyahu reminded the world what has happened since Obama’s pledge during his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal with Iran would force it to give up its nuclear program. Since then, the administration has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also agreed to let them keep several thousand centrifuges and the rest of their nuclear infrastructure.

As Netanyahu pointed out, even if they abide by the terms of the deal—something about which reasonable people are doubtful given their past record of cheating and unwillingness to open their country to United Nations inspectors—the ten-year sunset clause Obama mentioned in interviews yesterday gives the regime the ability to eventually build a nuclear weapon. Rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb, the path that Obama has travelled ensures they will eventually get one even if the accord works. The president not only guarantees that Iran will become a threshold nuclear power but, as Netanyahu rightly argued, sets in motion a series of events that will create a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Did Netanyahu offer an alterative to the president’s policy? The answer is yes. The administration is right when they say Netanyahu offered nothing new, but that was the point. After belatedly adopting sanctions, the administration quickly gave up on them just at the moment in 2013 when they were starting to bite. By toughening sanctions, as the Kirk-Menendez bill currently before Congress would do, and increasing the political and economic pressure on the regime, the U.S. has a chance to reverse Obama’s concessions and bring Iran to its knees. The West must insist that Iran change its behavior before sanctions are lifted, rather than afterward. Instead of Obama and Kerry’s zeal for a deal encouraging the Iranians to make no concessions, Netanyahu was correct to remind Congress that Tehran needs a deal more than the U.S. Indeed, Netanyahu not only offered an alternative; he put forward the only one that has a chance of stopping Iran from getting a weapon without using force.

Try as they might to continue to abuse Netanyahu for a brilliant speech, the White House’s response demonstrates nothing but its intolerance for criticism and inability to defend a policy of capitulation to Iran. Rather than engage in pointless discussions about the president’s hurt feelings or Netanyahu’s chutzpah for telling the truth about the negotiations, it’s time for the press and Congress to start asking the administration tough questions about a reckless deal before it is too late.

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Have a Strategy to Stop Iran? Not Obama.

In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

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In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

Let’s examine the president’s claims.

Both the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have insisted that agreeing to let Iran keep its nuclear program—something that he specifically promised he would never do in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney—was unavoidable. They claim that Western pressure would never have forced Iran to surrender its nukes. More than that, they assert that their concessions have enticed Iran to agree to strictures that have halted Tehran’s progress toward a bomb.

The answer to the first claim is that we don’t know if that would have worked because Obama never tried it. By abandoning sanctions just at the moment when Iran seemed to be feeling the pressure—and prior to an oil price collapse that would have made them even less capable of resisting foreign pressure—the president ensured that the Islamist regime never had to face a worst-case scenario. Instead of waiting for them to fold, he did, and the result was a nuclear deal that undid years of diplomacy aimed at building an international consensus against Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

The president and Kerry are now boasting that their interim deal hasn’t been violated by Iran and that it has stopped their progress in its tracks. But given the poor intelligence that the U.S. has about Iran and the regime’s lack of cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, this is purely a matter of conjecture and faith on the part of the president and his apologists. But even if we were to believe, in spite of Iran’s long record of cheating on nuclear issues, that somehow the interim deal was succeeding, even the president concedes that allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure means that Iran could always go back on its promises, re-activate the stockpile of nuclear fuel still in its possession, and “break out” to a bomb in short order.

The length of a “break out” is a key point in the president’s defense of his strategy. He told Reuters that as long as long as this period was at least a year, the U.S. would be able to detect it in time to re-impose sanctions or use force to stop them from obtaining a bomb. But this is another argument based more on faith than facts and which, even in the unlikely event it is vindicated, still makes Iran stronger and puts U.S. allies in the region as well as the West in peril.

The prediction of a year is an optimistic conjecture embraced by the president because it sounds better than the few months some others think is a more sensible estimate. The lack of credible inspections of Iran’s military research makes any predictions about the length of a breakout a guess, and not even an educated one. U.S. intelligence in Iran is negligible. Even the IAEA concedes that Iran may have extensive nuclear facilities that the West knows nothing about.

But let’s say it is a year. Given the poor state of U.S. intelligence on Iran, why would anyone believe Obama’s promise that he’ll know what’s going on in their secret facilities? This is the same president who assured us that his intelligence told him that ISIS was merely a “jayvee” terror team not worth worrying about. And even if a U.S. president did learn the truth about their plans, would Obama or a similarly weak-willed Democratic successor be ready and willing to believe the intelligence that showed a cherished diplomatic strategy had failed and be ready to re-impose sanctions, let alone order the use of force?

Obama’s commitment to the negotiations isn’t purely one of belief that it is the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear dreams. It’s a path to his dream of a new détente with Iran that will erase decades of enmity and create a new era of cooperation with that tyrannical, anti-Semitic, and terror-sponsoring regime. Why should we believe that he is ready to give up his hopes if he has already proven himself to be unconvinced by Iran’s past deceptions and prevarications? Why should any American president, even one more sensible about Iran than Obama, think that once sanctions are dismantled, our Western allies who are eager to do business with the regime would be willing to give up their profits to redeem a promise made by Obama?

Moreover, by reportedly agreeing to a sunset clause, the president has already legitimized Iran’s nuclear dreams and rendered it almost certain that the ten-year period now being mooted for the agreement will be shortened one way or the other.

The president’s critics can’t be sure that their strategy of a return to sanctions and tough pressure on Iran aimed at bringing the regime to its knees will succeed. But, despite the president’s claims, he never tried it before he prematurely abandoned pressure for appeasement. But we can be almost certain that a strategy that aims at entente with Iran is guaranteed to fail miserably. Indeed, it is not so much a recipe for failure as it is one for a completely different approach to Iran that is ready to acquiesce to their demands.

That is a position that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does well to protest tomorrow in his speech to Congress. So should Democrats and Republicans who take their pledges to stop Iran more seriously than the president.

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Netanyahu Is Everything Obama Is Not

A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

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A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

There are many arguments one could marshall to support that assertion, but it strikes me that among the most compelling is this: Mr. Obama has more anger toward Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, than he has toward any other regime in the world–including the most oppressive ones. He has treated the prime minister of the Jewish state with more disrespect and pettiness than any other world leader–including the most brutal ones. The time and energy that President Obama and his administration have spent on attacking Mr. Netanyahu–on the record, on background, and off the record–is astonishing. Only Obama’s golf game seems to command more of his time and passion than does Israel, though with the former it’s all positive energy and with the latter it’s all negative energy.

There is undoubtedly a troubling combination of reasons that explains Mr. Obama’s relentless hostility to Israel and Netanyahu; I suspect one of them is that the Israeli prime minister refuses to be intimidated by the president and is willing to publicly challenge his arguments–and worse, from Mr. Obama’s perspective, to embarrass the president by exposing (in this case) his policy of appeasement toward Iran. (For more on the disastrous deal the president has embraced, read this and this.)

I have spoken to members of Congress who have dealt with Mr. Obama and remarked to me that he gets most petulant and prickly when he’s challenged and bested in debate. It infuriates him, which is what you would expect from a president who is notorious for his facile arguments and intellectual dishonesty. No chief executive in my lifetime more closely fits the description by Kenneth Minogue: “a pyrotechnic in a field of straw men.” (h/t George Will.)

Narcissists hate to be embarrassed, which is precisely what Mr. Netanyahu will do to Mr. Obama tomorrow from the well of Congress. Unlike the president, the Israeli prime minister won’t be nasty or personal about it. Rather, he will do it, I suspect, with surgical precision, demolishing one Obama argument after another. Which will only infuriate Mr. Obama even more. (So will the fact that Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity in America is increasing despite, and perhaps because of, the administration’s childish attacks on him.)

Mr. Netanyahu is everything Barack Obama is not: Strong, tough, shrewd, unwilling to bend and bow to tyrants and willing to stand up for his nation and defend it abroad. On some level, Mr. Obama must surely know this. He hates Mr. Netanyahu for it, even as others of us admire him all the more for it.

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