Commentary Magazine


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Why COMMENTARY Needs Your Help Right Now

This is our first pledge drive of 2015. COMMENTARY, a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization, relies not only on subscribers but on the generosity of visionary donors to get the word out about the threats to the United States and the West—from Iran, from an increasingly chaotic world, from an administration  that seems intent on stoking the chaos, and from aggressively wrong-headed efforts to increase the interference of the state in the affairs of ordinary people and in the workings of the economy.

So I am asking for your help. If you believe that COMMENTARY’s ideas need to prevail so that we can stop the continued meltdown of American influence and the rising influence of an Iran on the threshold of a nuclear weapon our own president’s policies may be hastening, please give.

If you believe that the rising tide of anti-Semitism abroad and at home (in the form of the evil BDS movement) must be challenged with the best arguments and the most persuasive rhetoric, please give.

If you believe that America remains the greatest nation on earth and is not a cesspool of racism and white privilege and is not the home of a growing “rape culture,” please give so that we will have the resources to fight against these lies. You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

This is our first pledge drive of 2015. COMMENTARY, a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization, relies not only on subscribers but on the generosity of visionary donors to get the word out about the threats to the United States and the West—from Iran, from an increasingly chaotic world, from an administration  that seems intent on stoking the chaos, and from aggressively wrong-headed efforts to increase the interference of the state in the affairs of ordinary people and in the workings of the economy.

So I am asking for your help. If you believe that COMMENTARY’s ideas need to prevail so that we can stop the continued meltdown of American influence and the rising influence of an Iran on the threshold of a nuclear weapon our own president’s policies may be hastening, please give.

If you believe that the rising tide of anti-Semitism abroad and at home (in the form of the evil BDS movement) must be challenged with the best arguments and the most persuasive rhetoric, please give.

If you believe that America remains the greatest nation on earth and is not a cesspool of racism and white privilege and is not the home of a growing “rape culture,” please give so that we will have the resources to fight against these lies. You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

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Who’s Ignoring Evidence Now, Mr. Biden?

George H.W. Bush may only have served one term as president, but his foreign policy legacy is solid. He is remembered not only for overseeing the end of the Cold War but also for his stewardship of the coalition and war that liberated Kuwait after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of that country. Bush was riding high in the polls after Operation Desert Storm and so, on October 2, 1992, a month before his quest for re-election, then-Senator Joseph Biden took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to castigate former President George H.W. Bush for ignoring a mountain of evidence about Saddam Hussein’s true intention. Biden’s apparent point was that rather than celebrate Bush’s leadership, Americans should condemn it because both Ronald Reagan and Bush not only missed the warning signs about Saddam Hussein’s true intentions, but actually enabled him. Actually, there’s something to that narrative: The Reagan-era efforts to rehabilitate Saddam and see in him a bastion of moderation who could stand firm against Iran’s revolutionary ambition was naïve.

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George H.W. Bush may only have served one term as president, but his foreign policy legacy is solid. He is remembered not only for overseeing the end of the Cold War but also for his stewardship of the coalition and war that liberated Kuwait after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of that country. Bush was riding high in the polls after Operation Desert Storm and so, on October 2, 1992, a month before his quest for re-election, then-Senator Joseph Biden took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to castigate former President George H.W. Bush for ignoring a mountain of evidence about Saddam Hussein’s true intention. Biden’s apparent point was that rather than celebrate Bush’s leadership, Americans should condemn it because both Ronald Reagan and Bush not only missed the warning signs about Saddam Hussein’s true intentions, but actually enabled him. Actually, there’s something to that narrative: The Reagan-era efforts to rehabilitate Saddam and see in him a bastion of moderation who could stand firm against Iran’s revolutionary ambition was naïve.

At any rate, here is Biden, circa 1992:

Things came to a head in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Subsequently, after the Gulf War pushed back against Saddam Hussein, Senator Joe Biden castigated successive administrations for long ignoring evidence that the Iraqi dictator had not changed. The White House, he said, acknowledged reality only after . . . disregarding a mountain of incriminating evidence that Saddam was using American aid to buy arms; only after ignoring Saddam Hussein’s genocidal slaughter of his own Kurdish citizens; only after fostering high technology exports to Iraq even as Saddam Hussein provided safe haven for the world’s most infamous terrorists; only after overlooking his manifest quest for nuclear and chemical weapons; only after supplying Saddam Hussein with military intelligence almost until the eve of the invasion.

Fast forward 22.5 years, and Vice President Biden is now part and parcel of the charge to normalize relations with Iran, a country about which he has seemingly long had a soft spot. The problem is that the degree to which President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Biden himself refuse to recognize that the Supreme Leader (and, indeed, President Hassan Rouhani himself) have not changed, are prepared to disregard “a mountain of incriminating evidence” with regard to Iran’s efforts to procure and develop illegal technology, are prepared to simply ignore Iran’s commitment to terrorism, let alone its incitement to genocide is simply astounding. Obama may either be naïve or simply hostile to American power and security, but Biden believes himself to be a student and master of foreign policy. And, to be blunt, Biden was right that the the Reagan-Bush team should have recognized the danger posed by Saddam earlier. But with his cheerleading for Iran against all evidence, Biden is simply doing what he once condemned. Given its size, its power, and the fact that ideological rather than territorial ambitions motivates it, the danger Iran poses will ultimately be much greater. How sad, it is then, that Biden has proven himself more an intellectual hypocrite than a statesman.

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The Iran Investment Floodgates Open

Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman described how Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman who once defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary before losing in the general election, had become a strong advocate for investing in Iran. Lamont’s quotes in Goodman’s article, alas, reflect a man cocooned in a bubble well crafted by his Iranian handlers.

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Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman described how Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman who once defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary before losing in the general election, had become a strong advocate for investing in Iran. Lamont’s quotes in Goodman’s article, alas, reflect a man cocooned in a bubble well crafted by his Iranian handlers.

According to the Iranian press, however, the situation is about to get worse. From the Mehr News Agency:

A delegation of oil dealers and investors from the US are scheduled to have a business tour of Iranian oil industry and meet with Iranian authorities in this week. Authorities, commissioners, and executives of oil companies are in the meeting agenda of the Americans. Deputy petroleum minister of Iran, Abbas Sheri-Moghaddam confirmed the news and predicted more cooperation with US big companies and refineries on Iran’s oil and gas projects after the removal of sanctions.

He also announced that some European-American companies have stepped forward for participation in new petrochemical projects in Iran and added that Iran is now bargaining with companies from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands who are willing to invest in petrochemical projects of Iran. In response to a question about legal restrictions for American companies in Iran Sheri-Moghaddam explained that to invest in Iran, companies are required to register an Iranian company and as a result there is no boundary for foreigners to invest in Iran.

The State Department issued a weak denial:

“It’s hard to verify whether these reports are accurate at all,” he said, “but also we’ve been quite clear that we don’t consider Iran to be open for business yet, and that if there is any sanctionable activity happening, then we will take action.”

In other words, the State Department is basing its denial on the notion that businesses are going to tell the State Department what they are doing and that they also are not going to try to bypass a sanctions regime which is actively unraveling. Heck, the Iranian government openly brags about how sanctions have collapsed, and Jonathan Tobin here shows how unrealistic the notion of snap-back sanctions are. In addition, when President Obama talks about his ability to unilaterally wave sanctions, he is absolutely right. The most biting sanctions against Iran were imposed by executive order during the Clinton administration and targeted the oil industry—first American companies doing business in Iran and then European subsidiaries and partners.

Some analysts argue that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) benefits from sanctions because they control the black market. That may be true to some extent, but it does not hold that the opposite—lifting sanctions undercuts the IRGC—is true, as that organization’s civilian wing monopolizes import-export and most large industries, including the energy sector. This is one of the reasons why Iran is a country of mom-and-pop stores because anyone who might seek to grow beyond that ends up victim to the IRGC mafia. In some ways, it’s analogous to the mob in 1930s Chicago. This raises a second problem, of course, one that Obama willfully ignores: Any money invested in Iran is going to privilege the hard line elements at the expense of more moderate factions. Even if Obama and the true believers in his nuclear drive believe they are witnessing some Deng Xiaoping moment, the reality is that the policy they have embraced is guaranteed to sink it.

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Snap Back Iran Sanctions? Don’t Bet on It.

Last week as part of the administration’s latest feeble attempt at a Jewish charm offensive, Vice President Biden gave a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he told the audience not to worry about the nuclear deal President Obama had struck with Iran. Biden’s bombastic reassurances lacked credibility. But just as important was a private talk given by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he sought to allay fears about the way the president planned on lifting economic sanctions on Iran once the deal is finalized. Lew promised that if Iran was found to be cheating on its nuclear promises, those sanctions could easily be snapped back into place. But as Josh Rogin reports at BloombergView today, it appears Lew’s promises are not much more reliable than those made by Tehran. As it turns out the process by which sanctions could be reimposed will be anything but a snap. Nor is the administration prepared to treat the vast industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as tied to that group’s record of terrorism.

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Last week as part of the administration’s latest feeble attempt at a Jewish charm offensive, Vice President Biden gave a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he told the audience not to worry about the nuclear deal President Obama had struck with Iran. Biden’s bombastic reassurances lacked credibility. But just as important was a private talk given by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he sought to allay fears about the way the president planned on lifting economic sanctions on Iran once the deal is finalized. Lew promised that if Iran was found to be cheating on its nuclear promises, those sanctions could easily be snapped back into place. But as Josh Rogin reports at BloombergView today, it appears Lew’s promises are not much more reliable than those made by Tehran. As it turns out the process by which sanctions could be reimposed will be anything but a snap. Nor is the administration prepared to treat the vast industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as tied to that group’s record of terrorism.

As Rogin reports, Lew left out a lot of details when he claimed last week that sanctions could be snapped back.

The first problem is that despite the administration’s claims, the Iranians have vowed not to sign anything that would not lift all sanctions immediately and permanently. President Obama’s track record on negotiations with Iran has been a steady series of concessions while Tehran stands its ground. That makes it difficult to imagine that Washington’s version of what the final draft will look like will be closer to reality than that of Tehran. But even if we assume that the final deal will conform to Lew’s promises about sanctions, there are clear problems with the way any such deal will be implemented.

The first is that although Lew says the president won’t ask Congress to lift the sanctions until Iran has proved its compliance that places the entire responsibility for that decision in the hands of an administration. Given that the president’s foreign policy legacy is involved, there is little doubt that its investment in preserving the agreement at all costs makes unlikely that the president will ever give up on Iran or declare it in violation of its promises.

More to the point, the process by which such a decision will be made will be the subject of a lengthy debate and subject to dissent from nations that will be even less inclined than the president to declare Iran in violation of the accord.

Just as important, the administration is drawing a broad distinction between branches of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the regime’s terror sponsor as well as an economic powerhouse. Lew promised that the U.S. would rightly hold the IRGC’s Quds Force responsible for its terrorist actions and keep sanctions in place on them. But the rest of the IRGC’s vast infrastructure will be exempt from sanctions after the deal is implemented. Such a distinction will enable Tehran to go on funding terrorism through the IRGC’s vast holdings that amount to a third of the Iranian economy. Money, like terrorism is fungible but if you’re determined to turn a blind eye to how the Iranian regime operates, anything is possible.

Rogin also points out that Biden and Lew’s assertions that Iran hasn’t cheated on the interim agreement are, at best, debatable. And until Iran agrees to intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities with no advance notice, confidence that the administration can actually detect cheating at any point, let alone in time to stop them in time, is highly unlikely.

The Iran deal is bad enough in that it can be easily violated and gives the Islamist retime two ways to get a bomb: one by cheating and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire while it legally continues to develop its nuclear options.

But the point here is not just that the deal the U.S. has accepted is weak, it’s that there is no mechanism in place that would actually provide any real accountability. Once sanctions are lifted, Western businesses will flock to Iran to take advantage of the opening. The economic and political incentives for returning to sanctions will be few for Western governments and Iran will take advantage. Once they are unraveled by a diplomatic stroke that Washington will never wish to disavow, they are not coming back short of an Iranian declaration that it has a bomb. Even then there will be those who will argue that a return to sanctions will be pointless.

Other than the president’s word — and that of his subordinates — there’s little reason to believe the sanctions will not vanish forever once the deal is signed. All of which means the West’s leverage over Iran hangs by a thread that is about to snap.

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Sorry, Media, but Hillary is Incompetent

A recent article in The Economist, in stating that Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite to win the 2016 presidential election, posed the question: What does she stand for? To which the author answered:

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A recent article in The Economist, in stating that Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite to win the 2016 presidential election, posed the question: What does she stand for? To which the author answered:

Competence and experience, say her supporters. As secretary of state, she flew nearly a million miles and visited 112 countries. If a foreign crisis occurs on her watch, there is a good chance she will already have been there, read the briefing book and had tea with the local power brokers. No other candidate of either party can boast as much.

Chris Cillizza, in his column published earlier today in the Washington Post, wrote this:

There is little doubt among the electorate — with the exception of conservative Republicans who will never vote for Clinton under any circumstances — that her life experiences and résumé have prepared her to do the job. First lady, senator from New York, secretary of state — no one in the field (on either side) can match those credentials.

Clinton is universally known and, generally, regarded as hyper-competent. That’s her as her best asset.

That judgment, like the one in The Economist, strikes me as baseless. Not only is Mrs. Clinton not “hyper-competent,” she is not even minimally competent.

What exactly are her brilliant achievements? Is it HillaryCare, a substantive disaster that led to a political disaster (the Republican sweep in the 1994 mid-term election)? The multiple ethical problems she’s encountered during her years in politics? Here fierce opposition to the Petraeus-led surge in Iraq long after it was obvious it was succeeding? Perhaps the Russian reset? Referring to Bashar Assad, the genocidal dictator of Syria, as a “reformer“? Or maybe her masterful handling of the Iranian Green Revolution, relations with Egypt, Libya, Israel, the attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Poland, the Czech Republic, the “pivot” to Asia and countless other failures during the first Obama term?

What exactly are her achievements – her concrete, tangible, exceptional achievements – as First Lady, senator, and secretary of state? They don’t exist. In fact, the things she has her fingerprints on have, much more often than not, turned into disasters. The case that her supporters put forward on her behalf — she has flown nearly a million miles, visited more than 100 countries, read briefing book (!) and had tea with local power brokers (!!) – highlights just how pathetic her achievements are.

The media meme that Mrs. Clinton is “competent” – nay, “hyper-competent” – is silly. During the quarter-century she’s been on the national stage, she has proved herself to be an individual of extraordinary ambition, a conspiracy theorist, ethically challenged, and a key figure in a brutal political machine. She is also, pace The Economist and Chris Cillizza, unusually inept. This judgment is not an opinion; it is based on a reasonable assessment of her actual record. Including her briefing book reading habits and tea times.

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Hamas Atrocities and the Rules of War

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

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Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

The UN report gave Israel credit for the fact that incidents in which the Israel Defense Forces’ fire was deemed to be unjustified or wrongful due to the impact on civilians resulted in investigations and/or prosecutions of those involved. But it what failed to grasp was that two factors undermined most of the criticisms of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. One is that widespread infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas personnel who use UN facilities as storage depots. The other is the fact that the Hamas government of Gaza systematically exploits civilian buildings that are treated as off limits to Israeli fire for military purposes.

As Gantz detailed, it was well known, even during the war, that the Hamas leaders who were directing the rocket attacks on Israel were doing from the safety of hospital buildings. It was also clear throughout the campaign that Hamas was firing the thousands of rockets that were shot at Israeli cities from the immediate environs of shelters, schools and hospitals.

The IDF did its best to avoid hitting civilian targets and though there were casualties, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey later noted that the conduct of the Israelis was exemplary, undermining much of the unfair criticisms of the war put forward by both the Obama White House and the State Department. But while the Israelis were subjected to a double standard not applied to any other modern combatant, it’s worth asking whether we need to think again about a code of military conduct that says a sovereign nation is obligated to let terrorists shoot at children so long as they are around a building that is designated as off-limits.

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture these terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name knows that operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA — which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use them as props in the war against Israel — to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews.

Gantz doesn’t seem to have any ready answers as to how rules of engagement for the military or those of war can be adjusted to account for Hamas. Ethicists can debate the obligation to avoid causing deaths to civilians against the one that declares that governments must defend their citizens. But the problem here goes deeper than a mere moral dilemma. So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians that were made homeless or wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Gantz is probably right when he says the inevitable next round of fighting with Hamas will be worse than the last one. So, too will the condemnations of Israeli self-defense. Each incident will probably be used to justify economic warfare via the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against the Jewish state. You can count on Israel continuing to uphold high standards of conduct in which every effort will be made to spare innocent lives. But so long as terrorists are using UN buildings as launching pads for attacks on Jewish children, the IDF will have no choice but to shoot back. If that generates more UN reports and unfair criticism, so be it. No rule that gives a terrorist impunity to shoot at children should be treated as sacrosanct.

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Arthur Herman: COMMENTARY Is the Point of the Conservative Spear

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

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

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Debates, Not Money Will Winnow GOP Field

This is the week when an already crowded Republican presidential field really starts to fill up. One by Mike Huckabee will soon follow today’s announcements by Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Before long they will be joined by Governor Scott Walker and eventually as many as 20 candidates will be running for the GOP nomination. Not all of them are likely to be serious possibilities and the members of this week’s trio are all assumed to be long shots. But the cavalry charge of candidates heading to Iowa and New Hampshire creates a situation that renders moot much of the commentary we’ve been hearing about the race in the last six months. It’s no good talking about Jeb Bush or even Walker as frontrunners in a contest in which no one can boast of even 20 percent of the support of Republican voters and which most of those jumping in can raise enough money to stay in until the early states vote. For all of the necessary focus on who is doing the best at raising funds, it will be the debates and not the affections of big donors that will winnow this group down to the real contenders that will battle for the nomination next spring.

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This is the week when an already crowded Republican presidential field really starts to fill up. One by Mike Huckabee will soon follow today’s announcements by Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Before long they will be joined by Governor Scott Walker and eventually as many as 20 candidates will be running for the GOP nomination. Not all of them are likely to be serious possibilities and the members of this week’s trio are all assumed to be long shots. But the cavalry charge of candidates heading to Iowa and New Hampshire creates a situation that renders moot much of the commentary we’ve been hearing about the race in the last six months. It’s no good talking about Jeb Bush or even Walker as frontrunners in a contest in which no one can boast of even 20 percent of the support of Republican voters and which most of those jumping in can raise enough money to stay in until the early states vote. For all of the necessary focus on who is doing the best at raising funds, it will be the debates and not the affections of big donors that will winnow this group down to the real contenders that will battle for the nomination next spring.

With no votes to count and polls being of little use in gauging interest in a plethora of candidates who are not yet household names, it’s understandable that most of the reporting on the GOP contest has centered on the question of who is raising the most money. That was the whole point of Jeb Bush’s decision to jump in early last December when he embarked on a “shock and awe” campaign intended to make it clear to possible challengers that they wouldn’t have a chance to compete with him in fundraising. Bush’s effort was largely successful. In fact, it played a significant role in convincing Mitt Romney not to try again in spite of what appeared to be a clear inclination on his part to make a third attempt at the presidency. But while Bush did lock up the lion’s share of big Republican donors, he soon discovered that the universe of contributors to GOP presidential candidates is bigger than he thought. After Bush’s initial push, there were still more than enough such givers to fund Walker as well as others such as Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Nor, despite mainstream media coverage that makes it appear that the Koch Brothers and/or Sheldon Adelson will be Republican kingmakers, will the ultimate destination of the money currently in their pockets decide things.

That is where the similarities and the differences between the 2012 and 2016 races come into play.

There were also a lot of possible candidates thinking about the GOP nomination this time four years ago. But the reason why Mitt Romney ultimately cruised to victory is that most where neither serious nor able to raise enough money to make it to the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, let alone beyond that point. That is not the case this year both in terms of the level of the candidates as well as their ability to attract donors. This time, even the potential outliers like Carson or Huckabee seem to have a lot more on the ball and will probably survive until next winter when the voting starts.

And that is why the debates — the factor that was most important in helping to shape the 2012 race — may again be decisive. As Bush learned, money may be necessary to run a credible enough but in such a crowded field, it simply isn’t possible to raise enough to dominate and or knock off so many varied opponents. In a contest with no true frontrunner, it will be the debates that will define the candidates for the voting public.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election cycle, Republicans agreed that there were too many debates in the fall/winter of 2011-12. Indeed, the debates began to resemble a reality show more than Lincoln and Douglas. But even with the trimmed down schedule now planned, there will be no way for any of the contenders to make a splash without doing well on the debate stage. Just as important, the debates will be the crucible during which gaffes and unpreparedness will sink candidates faster than the displeasure of a large donor.

That’s why all talk of framing the race must be predicated on the notion that it won’t really begin until August 15 when the first such debate takes place in Cleveland and is broadcast by Fox News. Until then, the field will grow no matter how much or how little any of the would-be frontrunners take in from wealthy friends.

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The U.S. Still Has Options on Syria

Last week I had a discussion with Khaled Khoja, a physician who is currently president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces—i.e., the government in exile. He tried hard, as you might expect to draw some hope out of a bleak situation in which more than 225,000 of his countrymen have been killed and millions more displaced from their homes. He suggested, correctly I think, that the present strength of the Al Nusra Front (an Al Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS among the rebel forces is not a sign that most Syrians want to be ruled by extreme jihadists. Rather it has come about because those groups have more funding and arms than their moderate rebels. As a result, he argued, many relatively moderate fighters have migrated to the Al Nusra Front, in particular, but that if the extremists were to lose strength and the moderates to gain it, many fighters would opportunistically switch to the stronger, more pro-Western side.

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Last week I had a discussion with Khaled Khoja, a physician who is currently president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces—i.e., the government in exile. He tried hard, as you might expect to draw some hope out of a bleak situation in which more than 225,000 of his countrymen have been killed and millions more displaced from their homes. He suggested, correctly I think, that the present strength of the Al Nusra Front (an Al Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS among the rebel forces is not a sign that most Syrians want to be ruled by extreme jihadists. Rather it has come about because those groups have more funding and arms than their moderate rebels. As a result, he argued, many relatively moderate fighters have migrated to the Al Nusra Front, in particular, but that if the extremists were to lose strength and the moderates to gain it, many fighters would opportunistically switch to the stronger, more pro-Western side.

What would it take to lessen the appeal of the extremists? He argued that it is imperative for the U.S. and its allies to back the establishment of “safe zones” where the National Coalition could establish a functioning government on Syrian soil free from the threat of air attacks from Bashar Assad’s murderous regime. He argued, too, for the West to do more to train and arm the Free Syrian Army and especially to provide it with anti-aircraft weapons.

Khoja is right and he should be listened to, now more than ever. The Assad regime has failed to retake Aleppo and it has lost Idlib. There are signs of dissension at the top. As the Washington Post’s astute editorialists note: “The shift of momentum could create an opportunity for the United States and its allies to leverage the change of rulers in Syria that President Obama first endorsed nearly four years ago. But it could also lead to disaster, if the crumbling regime is replaced by the jihadist forces of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, as already occurred in eastern Syria.”

To seize the opportunity and avert another catastrophe, the Post advocates “a U.S.-backed safe zone, along with an expanded military training program,” in short pretty much the same things Khoja is advocating. It would have been far better if the administration had done this years ago but even now it’s not too late. Even these modest steps are hardly sufficient to ensure that a Syria free of Assad does not continue to be a haven for extremists; that would require a far more ambitious commitment to an international peacekeeping force that is unlikely under the present circumstances. But even the more modest proposals for safe zones and enhanced training can help to shrink the extremists’ zone of control. It would also be the first step toward creating a coherent U.S. policy toward Syria, something that, as the Post notes, does not now exist.

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After Garland, Don’t Change the Subject to Islamophobia

Almost immediately after the news of last night’s shooting in Garland, Texas broke many in the chattering class started to blame the intended victims of the attack. The group that had sponsored a contest to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad and two of the controversial speakers at the event were quickly depicted as having invited violence by their willingness to offend Muslims. But whether or not you agree with Dutch politician Geert Wilders or American activist Pam Geller, the failed attempt to slaughter them or those who chose to hear their words illustrated one of their main contentions. You can offend any other religion with impunity but dare to speak rudely or even truthfully about Islamist intolerance and you’d better pay for heavy security and/or hope the police are doing their job (as, thank Heaven, they were in Texas). That, and not whether or not Wilders or Geller are right about some things or even anything, remains the only question to discuss when it comes to talk about Islamophobia.

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Almost immediately after the news of last night’s shooting in Garland, Texas broke many in the chattering class started to blame the intended victims of the attack. The group that had sponsored a contest to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad and two of the controversial speakers at the event were quickly depicted as having invited violence by their willingness to offend Muslims. But whether or not you agree with Dutch politician Geert Wilders or American activist Pam Geller, the failed attempt to slaughter them or those who chose to hear their words illustrated one of their main contentions. You can offend any other religion with impunity but dare to speak rudely or even truthfully about Islamist intolerance and you’d better pay for heavy security and/or hope the police are doing their job (as, thank Heaven, they were in Texas). That, and not whether or not Wilders or Geller are right about some things or even anything, remains the only question to discuss when it comes to talk about Islamophobia.

Let’s specify that not all Muslims, especially here in the United States, are violent or intolerant. Most are hard working, decent people and deserve the same respect as any other American.

But there is a reason why humorists fear to skewer Islam or its holy book the same way they do Catholics or Mormons. You can mock Christian symbols, call it art and then expect cultural elites to lionize you and denounce those who are offended as fascists. You can stage an opera rationalizing Palestinian terrorism and the murder of Jews and be lionized as a courageous defender of artistic freedom and call those who denounce your bad taste Philistines. Write a play wittily trashing the Mormon faith and you can become immensely rich. None of those activities are particularly commendable but they are safe. But speak ill of Islam and you take your life into your hands.

Talk about Islamophobia in the United States is misleading since there is little or no evidence that the years that followed 9/11 or even now after the rise of ISIS that Muslims have suffered discrimination or violence. To the contrary, anti-Semitic attacks have always far outnumbered those despicable incidents in which Muslims were targeted. But the attempt to distract us from Muslim intolerance also misses the point.

You may say it is bad that some people are drawing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad specifically to offend Muslims who believe such drawings are forbidden. But the problem is that unlike other faiths that have learned to express outrage about those who show them disrespect without violence, a great many Muslims throughout the world still take it as a given that they are entitled to kill those who commit what they call blasphemy. The attacks on the Danish newspaper that first thought to publish Muhammad cartoons and then Charlie Hebdo illustrated this distorted principle.

The editors of Charlie Hebdo, Wilders and Geller need to be defended not because they are right about everything they say, write or draw. They aren’t right about everything as is inevitable with anyone who ignores nuances and seeks to inflame rather than analyze and illuminate. But, contrary to many of the talking heads on television today, they aren’t the problem. The problem is that a variant of Islam that commands the loyalty of hundreds of millions around the globe thinks it is okay to kill those who blaspheme against Islam. It is that faith that leads terrorists to cut off the heads of non-believers and to wage a war of conquest across the Middle East that threatens the security of the region and the United States. Nor is it a coincidence that this same not insignificant splinter of Islam is also promoting vicious anti-Semitism and helped fuel a rising tide of Jew hatred across Europe.

So, just as it is offensive to speak of the slain editors of Charlie Hebdo as being unworthy of our defense because of their harsh views, it is just as inadmissible for today’s discussion to center on whether or not Wilders or Geller are too provocative or show bad taste in their attacks on Islam. That may be hard for some in the Muslim world to accept. It may also be equally hard for many on the left, both here and in Europe, who have wrongly come to accept the idea that Islam may not be offended because it is a victim of imperialism and the West or the Jews who must always be seen as the villain. But the struggle against intolerant Islamism is one that hinges on the right and even the necessity to make it clear to the world that Muslims must learn to tolerate other views of their faith. Free speech can’t be sacrificed to Islamist sensibilities. Until it is safe for Wilders and Geller to speak without massive security measures, let us hear no more about the evils of Islamophobia.

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Matthew Continetti: Why COMMENTARY Matters

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

If you would like proof of just how intellectually bankrupt the American left is today, I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  It is about “inequality” and the rising separation between the incomes of the very, very rich and the incomes of the middle class and the poor.

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If you would like proof of just how intellectually bankrupt the American left is today, I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  It is about “inequality” and the rising separation between the incomes of the very, very rich and the incomes of the middle class and the poor.

It starts off with a scare “statistic” that the total Wall Street bonus pool last year was roughly twice the size of “the total annual earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage.” But as his link shows, this is a farrago of statistical assumptions and incomplete data. But it advances the agenda and so he uses it.

Then he plunges into anecdote:

I overheard one billionaire — who had gotten his start in life by inheriting a fortune — discuss with another the problem of lazy Americans who were trying to free ride on the rest,” [Joseph] Stiglitz  [a Nobel-Prize winning economist] writes. “Soon thereafter, they seamlessly transitioned into a discussion of tax shelters.

Well, I’ve heard many liberals seamlessly transition from lecturing me on my Scrooge-like indifference to the fate of the poor and downtrodden to deciding which $100-a-cover restaurant to have lunch at.

He then, inevitably, lays the blames at the feet of the country as a whole:

We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but about free rides by the impoverished.

No, it was the political class, sucking up to the rich in exchange for campaign donations that chose to prioritize private jets over kids. Kids don’t make political contributions. Private jet owners get their phone calls to members of Congress returned within the hour.

Then he begs the question of the origin in the recent rise in income inequality. (To a large extent, it’s the extraordinary result of the digital revolution of the last forty years and the enormous number of capital-disintensive economic niches that have been opened by the microprocessor. When Twitter went public in November 2013, it created thousands of instant millionaires. That same year, an Australian 18-year-old sold an app he had created to Yahoo—for $30 million.) And he begs the question of inequality’s pernicious effects. (Is there really something terrible about the rich getting much richer, as long as the less rich are not getting any poorer, and indeed are seeing their standards of living rising over the long term, thanks to such things as Walmart, Amazon, iPhones, GPS, etc.?)

Finally he comes up with a list of possible ways to correct what might very well not need correcting, but would definitely put more money into the hands of the political class that Kristof represents (to be used, of course, strictly for the good of the poor and the downtrodden). Among these are: More government vigilance regarding monopolies and competition, strong trade unions, public-sector jobs at the minimum wage for such things as elderly care (has he checked with the unions for their opinion on this?), restrain pay at the highest levels (i.e. maximum-wage legislation), and a personal income tax that tops out at 65 percent.

Is there a single idea in there that post dates FDR, who died 70 years ago in a completely different economic universe? Indeed, most of them antedate the 20th century. Steeply progressive income taxes are straight out of the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

So here’s my list of ideas to lower the income inequality between rich and poor. They would actually help everyone except the political class:

Break up government monopolies, such as Medicare, the Veterans Administration, and, most important public school systems. Introducing competition into these areas of the economy is vital to improving them, because competition, and competition alone, produces hard work and innovation. Monopolies—private and governmental—are always fat, dumb, lazy, and devoted to maintaining the monopoly. The shortest route to prosperity for the poor and downtrodden is a good education and the inculcation of good work habits. They don’t get that today and liberals don’t give a damn. (One of the first things President Obama tried to do as president was end the school voucher program in Washington, D.C., as a thank you to the teachers unions, while sending his two daughters to a very expensive, and very good, private school: welcome to modern-day liberalism).

Introduce a flat tax, so that the private jet owners of the world can’t finagle special deals with their congressional pals.

Abolish the corporate income tax. I wrote about the extraordinary benefits of doing this in the Wall Street Journal a few months ago.  At least 90 percent of the tax fiddles and crony-capitalism government favors are hidden in the corporate income tax. Get rid of it and 60,000 lobbyists in Washington would need to go out and get wealth-creating jobs. Do you think private jet owners own their private jets personally? Of course not, their corporations own them and get a slew of deductions thereby.

Modern-day liberalism is about talking about helping the poor and downtrodden, while espousing policies that will only help the narrow and ever-more privileged elite of which liberals are the most vocal supporters.

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Here’s Why Vigilant Policing Is Necessary

Brian Moore, a 25-year-old New York City police officer, is in a medically induced coma in Jamaica Hospital. He was  allegedly shot in the head by Demetrius Blackwell in Queens on Saturday night. What spurred the shooting? Here’s the New York Post: “Blackwell had been fiddling with his waistband, a source said. The officers [Moore and his partner] pulled up behind him, and Blackwell realized they were cops.” In other words, the cops were so good at their job that their suspicions were raised by the sight of a man adjusting his pants in a particular way that indicated he might have had a gun—and he did.

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Brian Moore, a 25-year-old New York City police officer, is in a medically induced coma in Jamaica Hospital. He was  allegedly shot in the head by Demetrius Blackwell in Queens on Saturday night. What spurred the shooting? Here’s the New York Post: “Blackwell had been fiddling with his waistband, a source said. The officers [Moore and his partner] pulled up behind him, and Blackwell realized they were cops.” In other words, the cops were so good at their job that their suspicions were raised by the sight of a man adjusting his pants in a particular way that indicated he might have had a gun—and he did.

That’s what good vigilant police work is. It’s picking out what’s subtly wrong on the street and getting to the bottom of it. It’s also what, under other circumstances, would wrongly be called racist harassment. Blackwell is black, and if it turned out he didn’t have a gun and if the situation escalated in such a way that that he ended up in critical condition, we can well imagine the outrage that would follow: First black people are told to pull up their pants. Then, when they do, they get shot. The point is the overwhelming majority of cops—good, smart, brave cops—don’t harass black people for sport. They don’t harass, period. They act on hunches and experience and put their lives on the line over the slightest irregularity to prevent civilian deaths, both black and white. In this case, one shooter is now off the streets; Blackwell is in custody. But one cop is in a coma. He saw a thug adjust his pants and understood that his vow to protect the community overrides any fear of being called a racist. It’s the very definition of both physical and moral bravery. Pray for Brian Moore.

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When Students Vote on Israel’s Demise

William Jacobson reports that Bowdoin College’s undergraduates are in the midst of voting to support a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Voting closes on Wednesday. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is among the nation’s most prestigious small colleges.

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William Jacobson reports that Bowdoin College’s undergraduates are in the midst of voting to support a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Voting closes on Wednesday. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is among the nation’s most prestigious small colleges.

As Jacobson points out, the resolution under consideration goes well beyond the more tepid, though still troubling divestment resolutions that have been considered at many colleges and universities over the past few years. The divestment resolutions target companies alleged to benefit from the suffering of Palestinians. This resolution directly targets Israeli academic and cultural institutions. And tellingly, the resolution adopts the strategically ambiguous language of the BDS movement. The boycott will continue until Israel “ends its occupation and colonization of all Palestinian lands.” This language enables the movement to take in those who think that Israel should not exist at all—“Palestinian lands” includes the whole of Israel—and those “moderates” who merely think that Israel should immediately withdraw from the West Bank, so that the West Bank can become another Gaza, then dismantle the wall that protects Israel’s civilians from people who have made no secret of their intention to kill them.

Supporters of BDS often speak as if they hope to ignite a conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This claim has always been disingenuous because such a conversation—if you consider persistent, obsessive, and often deeply misleading criticism of Israel to be a conversation—has been taking place on college campuses for a long time. In addition, the “anti-normalization” strategy that the BDS movement has adopted, considers calls for dialogue to be a mask for preserving the status quo.

But the way Bowdoin’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine is attempting to ram through this referendum, near the end of the academic year, when students are least likely to be paying close attention, shows as well as these other observations, that the movement is really about scoring a series of cheap propaganda victories to produce a phony impression of momentum and widespread support. Their undertaking is the very opposite of the Socratic spirit that ought to animate our colleges and universities: they want people who don’t know to claim that they do. To those who pretend to work toward discussion of Israel but in fact seek to manipulate students who know next to nothing about it, we can reply as Socrates did to one of his own prosecutors: they [jest] in a serious matter, easily bringing human beings to trial, pretending to be serious and concerned about things for which [they] never cared at all.”

As in the case of Socrates’s prosecutors, the claim that academic supporters of the boycott are joking is counterintuitive. They certainly seem angry, just as Socrates’s prosecutors did, and they talk about doing justice and serving humanity. But doing the just and humane thing requires an understanding and capacity for self-criticism that our zealots conspicuously lack. It is in this way that their earnest talk about justice, coupled with their blatant disregard for giving Israel and its people a fair hearing, appears ridiculous when viewed from afar.

Of course, from those who cannot look from afar, whose vocations are tied to colleges and universities understood as havens for serious inquiry, the handing over of college and university life to zealots is not altogether a laughing matter. They are making a joke out of something we hold dear.

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Baltimore’s Indictments and How Not to Fix America’s Cities

Baltimore got the celebration this afternoon that many in Ferguson, Missouri longed for last summer and fall. The decision of Baltimore’s State’s Attorney to indict all the police officers connected with the death of Freddie Gray while in their custody turned demonstrations about the case into street parties today. The announcement that the cops had been charged with the most serious charges possible and faced decades in prison was exactly what the city needed to restore the peace that was disrupted by violent riots earlier in the week. But even as the nation sighs in relief at the prospect of calm in Baltimore, the upcoming trial and the ongoing debate about the significance of the case may raise more questions than can be answered by the indictment of six officers. If, as may happen, the officers are not convicted, the prospect of violence will be great. Nor is it likely that much light will be shed in the debate about the future of troubled urban areas like Baltimore or law enforcement in the rush to jail the cops in the case that has given new life to a largely misleading narrative of racism.

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Baltimore got the celebration this afternoon that many in Ferguson, Missouri longed for last summer and fall. The decision of Baltimore’s State’s Attorney to indict all the police officers connected with the death of Freddie Gray while in their custody turned demonstrations about the case into street parties today. The announcement that the cops had been charged with the most serious charges possible and faced decades in prison was exactly what the city needed to restore the peace that was disrupted by violent riots earlier in the week. But even as the nation sighs in relief at the prospect of calm in Baltimore, the upcoming trial and the ongoing debate about the significance of the case may raise more questions than can be answered by the indictment of six officers. If, as may happen, the officers are not convicted, the prospect of violence will be great. Nor is it likely that much light will be shed in the debate about the future of troubled urban areas like Baltimore or law enforcement in the rush to jail the cops in the case that has given new life to a largely misleading narrative of racism.

Unlike in Ferguson, protesters need no longer demand that police accused of a role in the death of a young black man be arrested and indicted. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby immediately became a media heroine when she gave demonstrators and pundits calling for quick justice what they wanted during the course of a lengthy address that blasted the accused for their conduct.

Mosby handled her press conference ably. But the haste with which the state’s attorney charged the officers and her choice to avoid using going through the grand jury process, leaves open the possibility that her decision had more to do with politics and the need to keep the peace than justice. The multiplicity of charges as well as the second-degree murder count also makes it likely that she is hoping to offer a plea to some of the officers in order to convict others. The guilty should be punished severely. Yet it remains to be seen whether she has overcharged the police. But just as the accused are entitled to a presumption of innocence, so, too, must the country hope that the evidence exists to support the accusations of murder. If not, then Mosby is earning temporary applause that will eventually blow up in her face as well as that of the rest of the city.

Looking beyond the fate of these individual officers, the danger here is that the case of Freddie Gray will, regardless of the evidence, become a rallying cry against police around the country as well as feeding often false charges of racism.

This week’s riot has set off an ocean of commentary about the fate of the inner cities and renewed the debate about the extent to which government can solve the problems of cities like Baltimore. Some of these exchanges have been thoughtful. But many have been absurd. The idea that calling rioters “thugs” is evidence of racism shows how far the discussion of race has been debased by a debilitating political correctness. Al Sharpton’s call for the nationalization of police, Michael Moore’s demand that they be disarmed can be dismissed as fodder for the MSNBC crowd and not much more. N.D.B. Connolly’s New York Times op-ed in which he raised the specter of slavery to depict Baltimore — a city with a black mayor and state’s attorney and an integrated police force — to be a bastion of racism highlighted the way the left hopes to parlay this tragedy and any others it can rope into the conversation into political capital.

It goes without saying that the plight of those trapped in inner cities with failing schools and dysfunctional economies are right to want change. But no matter how Freddie Gray was killed, nothing in this case changes the fact that cities like Baltimore have been governed by the political left and often by minority politicians for decades. Racism is part of the reality of American history. But the collapse of these cities is the fruit of a failed liberal government project. Liberals and Democrats point to the Baltimore riots as the justification for a renewal of the same big spending policies that have already repeatedly failed. Nor will an attempt to shoehorn isolated incidents of police misbehavior into a general narrative of racism that makes it hard for law enforcement to work bring peace to neighborhoods. That’s especially true of those that badly need police to defend the safety and property of citizens beset more by crime than a notional oppression that has little connection to their lives.

The danger here is not just that justice is always sacrificed when mobs exercise influence over politicians who fear to anger them (such as Baltimore’s mayor who called earlier this week for giving thugs “space to destroy). It’s that a productive dialogue about how to expand economic opportunity and improve education — the only factors that can heal broken cities — is being drowned in a sea of misleading rhetoric about race and police violence.

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Dennis Prager: COMMENTARY’s Courage

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

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

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The Problem with New U.S. Defense Pacts: Talk Is Cheap

The Obama administration appears to have woken up, somewhat belatedly, to the damage that it has been doing to America’s traditional alliances in the Middle East by its flirtation with Iran. No, the White House hasn’t decided to bury the hatchet with Benjamin Netanyahu; he remains on their enemies list. But the administration appears to be cogitating about how it can allay concerns among the Gulf Arab states now that the U.S. is preparing to lift sanctions on Iran and legitimate its nuclear program. At a recent dinner Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted to know: “How do you make clear to the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council] that America isn’t going to hand the house keys of the Persian Gulf over to Iran and then pivot to Asia?”

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The Obama administration appears to have woken up, somewhat belatedly, to the damage that it has been doing to America’s traditional alliances in the Middle East by its flirtation with Iran. No, the White House hasn’t decided to bury the hatchet with Benjamin Netanyahu; he remains on their enemies list. But the administration appears to be cogitating about how it can allay concerns among the Gulf Arab states now that the U.S. is preparing to lift sanctions on Iran and legitimate its nuclear program. At a recent dinner Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted to know: “How do you make clear to the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council] that America isn’t going to hand the house keys of the Persian Gulf over to Iran and then pivot to Asia?”

As usual in Washington, the administration’s internal brainstorming is playing out in a top-secret forum called the New York Times, which reported Carter’s question. The Paper of Record further reports: “Officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department have been meeting to discuss everything from joint training missions for American and Arab militaries (more likely) to additional weapons sales to a loose defense pact that could signal that the United States would back those allies if they come under attack from Iran.”

There is talk of signing bilateral defense agreements with the likes of UAE and Saudi Arabia and even of selling them top-of-the-line F-35s. Neither option appears feasible because of congressional opposition, although I would think that lawmakers would be more likely to oppose the sale of the F-35 (which Israel needs to keep its qualitative edge) than they would a defense pact along the lines of the U.S.-Japan alliance. In any case F-35s are not much use against the kind of subversion by proxy that the Iranians practice in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s advanced aircraft have not, for example, dislodged the Houthis from power in Yemen and American aircraft are not dislodging ISIS from its domains in Iraq and Syria.

The larger problem is that neither weapons sales nor formal alliances are an adequate substitute for American credibility and deterrence, both of which are in short supply at the moment. Why should the Gulf states believe America’s assurances of support when the U.S. has allowed Bashar Assad to stay in power and to use chemical weapons in violation of President Obama’s red lines? Or when the U.S. has allowed Russia to dismember Ukraine in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which the U.S., Britain, and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for giving up its nuclear arsenal? Or when Obama pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq and now threatens to do the same in Afghanistan? Or when the U.S. allows Iran to seize a cargo ship flagged to the Marshall Islands, whose security the U.S. is already pledged to defend, with nary a protest? It will also not have escaped attention in the region how Obama dropped Hosni Mubarak, a longtime American ally, after the start of the Arab Spring (a decision that is more defensible than the other ones).

Talk is cheap, especially in this White House, with a president who talked his way into a Nobel Peace Prize. But our allies can see that this administration does not back up its rhetoric. If the White House really wanted to reassure them, it would rethink its misbegotten enthusiasm for lifting sanctions on Iran (and thus delivering hundreds of billions of dollars in lucre to a state that they view as a mortal threat) in return for promises to hold off a few years in weaponizing its nuclear program. But that’s not going to happen because Obama views a treaty with Iran as his signature achievement and he will not let the qualms of allies, or for that matter Congress, get in his way.

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A Note to Readers, and a Thank You

Earlier in my career I took over as the editor of a Jewish newspaper, and among the changes I’d made were moving the editorial page to the right politically and expanding the paper’s coverage of national-security issues and the arts. I was asked, at one point, how to describe the paper’s new approach; my response was something along the lines of: COMMENTARY, but as a weekly newspaper. Which should tell you how thrilled I was, a few years later, to come to work for the real deal, and how bittersweet it is to leave COMMENTARY four years after arriving.

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Earlier in my career I took over as the editor of a Jewish newspaper, and among the changes I’d made were moving the editorial page to the right politically and expanding the paper’s coverage of national-security issues and the arts. I was asked, at one point, how to describe the paper’s new approach; my response was something along the lines of: COMMENTARY, but as a weekly newspaper. Which should tell you how thrilled I was, a few years later, to come to work for the real deal, and how bittersweet it is to leave COMMENTARY four years after arriving.

Coming to work for COMMENTARY was a homecoming, both literally and figuratively. Literally, because I had been living in Washington D.C. and returned to my old uptown Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights (and then to New Jersey, where I grew up). Figuratively, because for a Jewish conservative COMMENTARY was the matzah ball soup of your intellectual diet. To feel ideologically and religiously at home is a great gift, and one I hope I never took for granted over the past four years.

To say that a workplace environment is like a family has become a cliché, but in this case it’s true: my wife Bethany and I were hired by COMMENTARY together. But that aside, the point remains true, and that is a testament to the honor and the privilege of working for John Podhoretz. The good news for me is that I will be taking over as the opinion page editor of the New York Post, which means I’ll still be working with John.

Probably the most common question I get about working at COMMENTARY is: How does Jonathan Tobin write so much, and so well, and so often, every day? To work with Jonathan every day on the COMMENTARY blog has been immensely educational, though I remain no less in awe of his output for having worked alongside him.

And I can only hope that now that I won’t be able to stroll down the hall to Abe Greenwald’s office to get his take on events, he’ll write even more than he already does. I remain a fan of everyone here, and all our COMMENTARY contributors as well, and I’m thankful to all our readers for keeping our mission going.

I’m grateful to COMMENTARY, and I’m excited to be joining the Post, another storied institution of the media landscape in the very best city in America.

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On Iran, Biden’s Charm Offensive Falls Flat

The Obama administration has its work cut out for it justifying a weak nuclear deal with Iran to Congress. After months of bashing critics of his appeasement of Tehran, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president has realized that selling the country on a new Iran-centric policy in the Middle East is going to require something a bit more nuanced. Thus, he has turned back to the same tactic he used while seeking reelection, a Jewish charm offensive designed to at one and the same time disarm his critics and to position his defenders as part of the pro-Israel consensus rather than among those trying to destroy it. The person tasked with this tough brief is Vice President Joe Biden who spoke last night to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His message was to both reassure friends of Israel that Obama has their back and to defend the Iran deal as a good idea. It remains to be seen how much credibility Biden has left as someone who claims “to love Israel.” But Biden’s main argument in favor of the Iran deal makes the administration look even weaker and more negligent than even some of its harshest critics have alleged. And it’s one that makes the bipartisan compromise about congressional ratification of the deal seem even less of a genuine check on the administration. Read More

The Obama administration has its work cut out for it justifying a weak nuclear deal with Iran to Congress. After months of bashing critics of his appeasement of Tehran, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president has realized that selling the country on a new Iran-centric policy in the Middle East is going to require something a bit more nuanced. Thus, he has turned back to the same tactic he used while seeking reelection, a Jewish charm offensive designed to at one and the same time disarm his critics and to position his defenders as part of the pro-Israel consensus rather than among those trying to destroy it. The person tasked with this tough brief is Vice President Joe Biden who spoke last night to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His message was to both reassure friends of Israel that Obama has their back and to defend the Iran deal as a good idea. It remains to be seen how much credibility Biden has left as someone who claims “to love Israel.” But Biden’s main argument in favor of the Iran deal makes the administration look even weaker and more negligent than even some of its harshest critics have alleged. And it’s one that makes the bipartisan compromise about congressional ratification of the deal seem even less of a genuine check on the administration.The last time the administration tried a charm offensive with the pro-Israel community, it worked. In 2012 all President Obama needed to do was to cease picking fights (at least for a while) with Netanyahu, ramp up security cooperation with Israel, and toughen his rhetoric against Iran. But playing the same trick while senior officials continue to threaten to isolate Israel at the United Nations and defending a deal that, at the very least, makes Iran a threshold nuclear power isn’t going to be quite so easy.

But Biden isn’t afraid to try, so in his remarks last night he claimed that there was nothing wrong with Israel being worried about the threat from Iran. Indeed, he even hinted that the administration was prepared to contemplate war with Iran should it try to “race to a bomb.”

While those words may have comforted some Jewish Democrats desperate for reassurance, they are utterly disingenuous. The Obama foreign-policy team has spent the last two years telling the Israelis and those Americans who are worried about the drift toward appeasement of Iran to shut up. Biden’s anodyne statements about Israel’s right to wring its hands as the United States cozies up to a vicious and aggressive terrorist-supporting Islamist state are meaningless. So, too, is any talk about the U.S. ever contemplating the use of force against Iran. The administration has already discarded all of its economic and political leverage over Tehran in its reckless pursuit of a nuclear deal at virtually any price. The notion that Washington would be willing to discard the fruits of its diplomatic surrenders just because Iran was cheating on the nuclear deal or getting closer to a bomb is absurd and flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about Obama’s attitude toward the issue.

But that worthless pep talk aside, the real news coming out of Biden’s speech was the justification he gave for the nuclear deal. Aside from the requisite denunciation of its critics as “not getting it” (and by that he meant Netanyahu as well as those in Congress who are equally concerned about what the pact portends), Biden went further in delineating the danger from Iran should the agreement fall through.

Instead of claiming, as the president and other defenders have done, that Iran is nowhere close to a weapon and that the deal will ensure that the U.S. will have time to stop them if they attempt to “break out” to a bomb, Biden took a different tack. In the course of knocking down the detailed criticisms of the deal, he said this:

Some have said that because some of the constraints in this deal expire over time, this deal “paves” Iran’s path to a bomb. Let’s get something straight so we don’t kid each other. They already have paved a path to a bomb’s worth of material. Iran could get there now if they walked away in two to three months without a deal.

Biden says the deal increases that breakout time to a year. But let’s remember that Obama and Biden have been in power for over six years. It has primarily been on their watch that Iran has made so much progress on their nuclear project.

Nor do Biden’s claims that Iran has abided by the 2013 interim deal have much credibility. As our Seth Mandel noted yesterday, contrary to Biden’s assertions about holding Tehran accountable, it’s already clear that Iran is continuing its illicit nuclear work in contravention to their promises. The argument used by both Obama and Biden that Israeli predictions about the interim agreement were wrong is misleading. Given the bad intelligence the U.S. has on Iran and the lack of rigorous inspections (something that will continue even after the deal is signed according to Iran’s supreme leader), the administration has no idea how much cheating is going on. Moreover, if the Israelis would prefer the interim deal to stay in place rather than the proposed final pact, that is only a measure of how weak the new deal Obama has struck with Iran truly is.

Biden’s talk of war should also be understood as a not-so-subtle reminder of the straw man argument the administration has been using to defend its disastrous policy. The alternative to appeasement remains strengthened sanctions and tough diplomacy. War is only an option if, thanks to Obama’s drive for détente with Iran, it has gotten so close to a bomb that nothing short of air strikes will slow them down.

These not-so-reassuring reassurances should figure into the thinking of Congress as it prepares to pass a bill requiring a vote on a final Iran deal under terms that provide little accountability and allow it to pass with only 34 votes rather than the two-thirds that would normally be required for a treaty. The administration has put the West in a weak position and now claims that accepting that weakness is the alternative to war. That is not a recipe for Western security or that of an Israel that remains in the cross hairs of an Iranian regime that Obama and Biden think wants to “get right with the world.”

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Jonah Goldberg: COMMENTARY’s Serious, Considered, Compelling Work

There’s an enormous amount of shouting in the wild west of conservative media. That has its place, and is often a sign of the energy on the right. But amidst the cacophony there’s a special need for serious, considered, and compelling argument, presented in the hope of persuading, not just punishing. This is where COMMENTARY has always shined, perhaps more now than ever before. It aims to tackle the best arguments of its intellectual opponents, not just the easiest targets. It’s a journal I’ve read for nearly 30 years and I can’t think of a time when I’ve valued it more. Click below to give.

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There’s an enormous amount of shouting in the wild west of conservative media. That has its place, and is often a sign of the energy on the right. But amidst the cacophony there’s a special need for serious, considered, and compelling argument, presented in the hope of persuading, not just punishing. This is where COMMENTARY has always shined, perhaps more now than ever before. It aims to tackle the best arguments of its intellectual opponents, not just the easiest targets. It’s a journal I’ve read for nearly 30 years and I can’t think of a time when I’ve valued it more. Click below to give.

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The Right Israeli Response to Young Arabs Loving Israel on Facebook

Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

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Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

The story, reported by Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor, began with a Muslim Arab veteran of the Israel Defense Forces–a rarity in itself, since few Israeli Arabs enlist. Outraged at hearing his own community’s leaders vilifying the IDF, M. made a Facebook page aimed at convincing other Israeli Arabs that the IDF isn’t evil and more of them should enlist.

What he got instead was an outpouring of love for Israel from across the Arab world. A young Saudi woman, for instance, posted a video clip saying, “I’d like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens … I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine.” A young Iraqi man posted a clip saying, “I want to send a message of peace and love to the dear Israeli people … I believe that the number of people who support Israel here will grow consistently.”

Stunned by these messages–and there were “lots of them,” Eldar reported–M. began asking their authors what prompted them to support Israel. Some had personal reasons, like a Jordanian lesbian envious of Israel’s gay rights. But others cited the crucial realization of that poll data.

“There are a lot of young people here who think like me,” the Iraqi man said. “Everything that is happening to us here in Iraq — the killings, the terrorism, the veritable bloodbath — showed us that Israel has nothing to do with it.” In other words, his recognition that Israel wasn’t the cause of the Arab world’s problems is what enabled him to start seeing it as it actually is.

Or take the Egyptian police officer who wrote, “We love, love, love Israel and its army,” even adding a heart with a Star of David inside. Four years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But today, Egyptian policemen are on the front lines against the brutal terrorism of homegrown Islamic extremists, and the IDF is one of Egypt’s closest allies in this fight. So instead of seeing Israel as the problem, some Egyptians now see it as part of the solution.

None of this means a New Middle East will break out tomorrow; these young Arabs remain a minority. Moreover, the ones who still hate Israel passionately are often the ones with the guns and bombs and missiles, which means they’re the ones who will take over any territory up for grabs.

Hence the last conclusion to draw from this is the one leftists routinely do: that Israel should attempt to accelerate this budding rapprochement by making territorial concessions. That would actually be counterproductive: It would further empower the extremists against the moderates by giving them more territory to control, endanger Israel by giving the extremists new bases from which to attack it, and thereby ensure more Israeli-Arab bloodshed.

Instead, Israel should recognize that since this new openness stems entirely from internal changes in the Arab world; the Palestinian issue is largely irrelevant to it. As evidence, consider that repeated Israeli pullouts, from Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza, produced no such upsurge in Arab affection, whereas the past four years did, despite two wars in Gaza, zero pullouts, and zero progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

That doesn’t mean Israel can do nothing; it can and should try to help Arabs improve their own lives. And in fact, it’s already doing that in numerous ways, from counterterrorism assistance to Egypt through economic aid to Jordan to medical care for wounded Syrians. But it shouldn’t forget that this change in Arab attitudes is merely the start of a long process of baby steps. Any attempt at a “great leap forward” is liable to end in a painful fall.

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