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The Iran Deal is Not Verifiable Now or Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heckuva job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heckuva job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What the Iran Nuclear Deal Polls are Saying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see the pattern.

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

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

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

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

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Can the Hillary Email Counter-Attack Keep Working?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can they continue to get away with it?

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

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

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

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

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

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Four Reasons Trump Will Fade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conservatism and the Channeling of Popular Passions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cynical Pollard Release Leak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Huckabee Is the Trump Surge’s Latest Victim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trump: The Case for Despairing — About America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To Save Syria from Assad, the U.S. Must Act

As I predicted, the ISIS suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruc has motivated Turkey to take a much more active role in the anti-ISIS fight. Not only have Turkish aircraft been bombing ISIS (along with Kurdish) positions but Turkey is now said to have reached agreement with the U.S. on creating a 60-mile wide “safe zone” in northern Syria that would be ISIS-free. Read More

As I predicted, the ISIS suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruc has motivated Turkey to take a much more active role in the anti-ISIS fight. Not only have Turkish aircraft been bombing ISIS (along with Kurdish) positions but Turkey is now said to have reached agreement with the U.S. on creating a 60-mile wide “safe zone” in northern Syria that would be ISIS-free.

This is something I and many others have long advocated: the creation of “safe zones” where neither Bashar Assad’s nor ISIS’s forces could penetrate, allowing the moderate Syrian opposition (which is newly united, at least on paper) to train its fighters and to gain the ability to govern. Refugees could also flock there to be safe from attack. Such zones, which should have been set up years ago, can be created not only in northern Syrian along the Turkish border but also in southern Syria along the Jordanian border. The idea is that eventually, when Assad falls, the safe zones could be expanded to encompass the entire country, thus creating a post-Assad future that is not ruled by ISIS or the Nusra Front.

But we are a long way yet from that vision, and many questions about the emerging safe zone in northern Syria remain to be answered before it can become a reality. Two questions, in particular, loom large: Will the U.S. be willing to fight Assad as well as ISIS? And will Turkey, the U.S., or some other outside power be willing to put in ground troops to protect this liberated land?

From what I have read so far, Turkey and the U.S. are talking about using their airpower exclusively against ISIS although Turkey would like to target Assad as well. Reports also indicate that neither country is willing to put troops on the ground to protect this safe zone. They are counting on Syrian opposition fighters to do all the fighting on the ground with support from allied airpower.

If that’s the case, I have serious doubts about whether this plan will work. As the New York Times notes:

That is an ambitious military goal, because it appears to include areas of great strategic and symbolic importance to the Islamic State, and it could encompass areas that Syrian helicopters regularly bomb. If the zone goes 25 miles deep into Syria, as Turkish news outlets have reported, it could encompass the town of Dabiq, a significant place in the group’s apocalyptic theology, and Manbij, another stronghold. It could also include the Islamic State-held town of Al Bab, where barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft have killed scores, including civilians, in recent weeks.

Given (a) the threat posed by Assad’s air force and (b) the weakness of the moderate Syrian opposition (the Pentagon has trained only 60 Syrian fighters in the last year), it is hard to imagine this ambitious scheme working unless Turkey and the U.S. stop Assad’s air force from flying and unless they are willing to commit some troops, at least at first, to help call in air strikes and to generally buttress the Free Syrian Army’s efforts. On the American side, this would probably require some Special Operations Forces; on the Turkish side, probably a larger commitment, perhaps supported by forces from the Arab League. Kurdish fighters, who have wrested part of northern Syria away from ISIS with the help of American air strikes, could fill the gap in the ground, but these are not exclusively Kurdish areas and Turkey is unlikely to take any actions that could create a new Kurdish state.

I think stepping up to truly protect this safe zone on the ground and from the air would be very much in Western interests and could begin to nudge Syria–the most dangerous place on earth–in the right direction. But it is unlikely that President Obama will take these steps given his extreme reluctance to put any troops in harm’s way in the Middle East or to do anything that would undermine the Assad regime, which is a close ally of America’s new de facto partner in the Middle East–the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I sincerely hope my fears are unfounded. It would be good news indeed if, after having concluded a nuclear deal with Iran, Obama were to actually take steps to try to contain non-nuclear Iranian aggression. Syria would be the natural starting point for that effort. But I am skeptical that Obama will be willing to take this leap.

More likely, he is still focused on fighting only ISIS. Indeed, a large part of the reason why American training efforts of the moderate Syrian opposition have been so ineffectual is that the U.S. has demanded that they sign pledges that they will only fight ISIS, not Assad. Few Syrians are willing to make that commitment, understandably, because Assad’s forces have killed far more people than ISIS has.

Any solution to the problem of Syria must rid that country not only of ISIS but also of Assad. Until Obama reaches that realization, it is unlikely that this safe zone scheme will be effective. Indeed, the worst possible outcome would be to declare a safe zone and then allow Assad to bomb it: that is a tragedy we must avoid.

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Things the Media Won’t Tell You About Israel

If you’ve ever wondered why so many overseas Jews view democratic Israel as irredeemably racist, consider the following story: Knesset member Robert Ilatov justifiably made headlines last Thursday by declaring that Arabs who refuse to sing the national anthem, “Hatikva,” shouldn’t be appointed as judges. But several prominent English-language Israeli news sites didn’t even bother mentioning the swift, uncompromising rejection of his view by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked; you won’t, for instance, find a word of her response in Haaretz’s report, while the left-wing +972 website dismissed it as a “weak protestation” by omitting all the most significant parts of her statement. Read More

If you’ve ever wondered why so many overseas Jews view democratic Israel as irredeemably racist, consider the following story: Knesset member Robert Ilatov justifiably made headlines last Thursday by declaring that Arabs who refuse to sing the national anthem, “Hatikva,” shouldn’t be appointed as judges. But several prominent English-language Israeli news sites didn’t even bother mentioning the swift, uncompromising rejection of his view by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked; you won’t, for instance, find a word of her response in Haaretz’s report, while the left-wing +972 website dismissed it as a “weak protestation” by omitting all the most significant parts of her statement.

Shaked’s response matters not only because of her position, but because she herself is no bleeding-heart liberal; she’s second-in-command of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, the right flank of what the media routinely term a “hardline” government. And that’s precisely the point: While extremists always get headlines, the mainstream rejection of their views is ignored – even when that rejection is so sweeping that it encompasses the leadership of the most right-wing party in the governing center-right coalition.

Granted, Ilatov’s views can’t be dismissed as an insignificant; the opposition back-bencher made his statement right after the Knesset chose him as one of the Judicial Appointments Committee’s nine members. But surely the contrary views of the other eight members – and especially Shaked, the panel’s chairwoman – should be considered no less significant when assessing Israel’s character.

Shaked, in her response, endorsed the compromise employed by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran during his own swearing-in ceremony: Arab judges should stand for the anthem, because state officials must respect the state’s symbols, but they shouldn’t be required to sing along if they can’t identify with lyrics that, after all, are about the Jewish yearning for Zion. “A judge needs to stand during the national anthem, but I won’t be looking to see if he is mouthing the words to Hatikva or not,” she said.

She also endorsed the importance of maintaining the judiciary’s professionalism: “A judge needs to be selected first and foremost according to skills and criteria,” she stressed. Finally, she underscored the importance of having Arab judges in the system: “The fact that we have Arab judges is an admirable thing in a country where 20 percent of the population are minorities.”

In other words, the second-in-command of one of Israel’s most right-wing parties, who also happens to be the justice minister, said exactly what she should have said regarding Arab sensitivities, Arab representation in state institutions and judicial professionalism. But liberals who get their news from Haaretz or +972 will never know it; reading those reports, a well-meaning liberal would legitimately conclude that anti-Arab extremists are running around Israel unopposed.

The same is true of another important news item this week: Two brothers who torched Jerusalem’s Jewish-Arab Hand in Hand School last year were sentenced to 24 and 30 months in jail, respectively (the sentence reflects the fact that the attack endangered no lives, since it occurred overnight). The arson made headlines worldwide as evidence of Israel’s “racism.” But how many international media outlets bothered reporting the fact that the perpetrators were caught, indicted and sentenced to jail?

This isn’t a minor detail. No country on earth has ever managed to eradicate hate crimes; thus the difference between a decent society and an intolerant one is not whether such crimes occur, but how society responds. Are the perpetrators lionized and allowed to walk free – as, for instance, Palestinian terrorists are? Or are they universally condemned, brought to trial and given heavy sentences?

Israel is in the latter category: Not only was the arson universally condemned at the time, but the perpetrators are now doing jail time. But because the initial attack made headlines overseas while the subsequent sentence was either ignored or merited at most a brief mention, the impression left is the opposite: that Israel is a place where hate crimes are tolerated.

Neither Israel nor its supporters can change the media coverage. But liberal Jews who care about Israel can and must try to educate their fellows about the distorted image this coverage conveys. Because criticizing Israel for its minority of extremists while never even acknowledging the majority’s efforts to fight them isn’t “tough love”; it’s sheer dishonesty.

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Hillary Clinton’s Worst Fears Are Coming True

The national political press is fixated on the chaotic and contentious Republican presidential primary, and not without good reason. But in devoting so much focus to the race for the GOP nomination, the Democratic side of the aisle has been getting short shrift. Over the course of the summer, a left-wing revolt against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has evolved into an insurgency, and her campaign is gradually imploding, albeit at a cosmically languid pace. But that tempo is set to accelerate. The tipping point may have been reached on Thursday when one of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s worst fears was realized.  Read More

The national political press is fixated on the chaotic and contentious Republican presidential primary, and not without good reason. But in devoting so much focus to the race for the GOP nomination, the Democratic side of the aisle has been getting short shrift. Over the course of the summer, a left-wing revolt against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has evolved into an insurgency, and her campaign is gradually imploding, albeit at a cosmically languid pace. But that tempo is set to accelerate. The tipping point may have been reached on Thursday when one of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s worst fears was realized. 

Hillary Clinton’s campaign team was surely reveling in the national media’s distracted focus on the messy Republican presidential primary late Thursday night when they got the news. Immediately, her campaign team sprang into action and began the familiar process of muddying the waters and misdirecting reporters with a magician’s mastery. The New York Times had revealed that two independent inspectors general requested that the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton for possibly jeopardizing national security by handling classified information on her personal “homebrew” email server. By morning, however, the Times story had been edited several times. Struck from the account was the contention that Clinton had “mishandled sensitive government information” and in its place was the claim that “information was mishandled” by… someone. The lead reporter on that story confessed that the alterations were made at the Clinton campaign’s “reasonable” request. The Associated Press dutifully followed the Times lead and noted that the IG’s referrals do not suggest wrongdoing by Clinton personally – merely her subordinates at the State Department.

Several hours later, the Justice Department indicated that the referrals they received were not criminal, leading to pushback from New York Times reporters who claimed that their sources were solid. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Inspector General’s office is standing by the contention that classified information that was designated as such was sent to Clinton’s private email address. Something bizarre is happening.

All that is clear at the moment is that a classic bit of Clintonian obfuscation skillfully executed by Hillary’s rapid response shop and her campaign’s press secretary, Nick Merrill, is afoot. Reporters and commentators immediately began litigating the story as reported in the Times and not the revelation that Clinton’s email practices are now a criminal matter. The story isn’t the story; the reporters who exposed the story are the story. It’s only a matter of time before Republicans “pounce” and probably “overplay their hand.”

The matter of whether Clinton personally behaved criminally or whether her subordinates did so without malice aforethought is, quite intentionally, beside the point. At the heart of this revelation is that Clinton’s unique emailing practices, which she said she followed out of deference to her own privileged sense of “convenience,” possibly jeopardized American national security. Reporters who suggest cheekily that there is perhaps a way in which Clinton might be absolved of personal fault for this lapse of judgment are being disingenuous. “There is no classified material,” Clinton averred unsolicited at her March press conference in the United Nations. The use of the present tense form of the verb “to be” is entirely intentional because, in all likelihood, there “was” classified material in her insufficiently secured private email account — at least, there was before she deleted over half those emails as House investigators were preparing to subpoena them.

Any reporter that has dealt with the State Department’s FOIA office knows that Foggy Bottom has a habit of over-classifying information as a means of evading transparency laws. Of the emails that Clinton handed over to the State Department for review and eventual release to the public, only a fraction have been disclosed. Of those, 25 were redacted because they contained information deemed classified after the fact. Even some congressional Democrats have acknowledged the obvious. “All of her official emails should be released to the American people,” said Illinois Representative and U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth. “There are going to be some that are classified and those that are classified — then show those to a bipartisan group of members of Congress.”

As for national security, the Secretary of State’s emails were likely the subject of intense interest by foreign actors and her improperly secured email account probably provided anyone with the capabilities a way to penetrate American diplomatic information security. Despite being discouraged from doing so, Clinton used at least one of her personal mobile devices while abroad to access emails on her private server, creating plenty of opportunities for foreign agents to compromise her account.

This is no small matter. On the heels of Edward Snowden’s revelations, American informational security has been harmed like never before. “The experts warned that the entire U.S. national security clearance system could be compromised,” read a chilling Fox News report published on Friday in the wake of the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, “that future senior government leaders and advisors could be targeted even before taking office, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of government officials might successfully be blackmailed, bribed or otherwise manipulated in the future into handing over still more sensitive information.” How can someone who, through carelessness or indifference, imperiled American national security serve as the nation’s commander-in-chief?

There are many reasons to suspect that the IG’s recommendation will come to nothing. Even if DOJ attorneys want to pursue this investigation, they will come under considerable political pressure from the White House to let it go. This is perhaps worse for Clinton. In that case, the allegations against her and her staff will never be resolved, and exculpation will forever be beyond her reach.

But even if the DOJ does take up the IG’s recommendation and investigates Clinton’s behavior criminally, the former secretary of state’s image would remain tarnished regardless of that investigation’s outcome. Clinton’s team is quick to brush off the significance of her collapsing polling and particularly those findings that indicate the voters no longer trust her. They contend that former President Bill Clinton was twice elected with sagging trust ratings, but Hillary Clinton is no Bill. She struggles in public settings, eschews retail politics, rarely projects imperturbability or self-assuredness, and she is viewed by many as manipulative and scheming. The recommendation that Clinton’s behavior be criminally investigated will only reinforce and cement that impression among voters.

Even despite the media’s myopic focus on the GOP primary race, Hillary Clinton’s standing in the polls continues to erode. Despite her low-profile campaign, voters are paying attention to Clinton’s conduct, and they do not like what they see. For the likely Democratic nominee, this latest development is a disaster.

 

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What the Syrian Weapons Charade Says About the Iran Deal

The Wall Street Journal has an eye-opening expose today about how Syria failed to comply with its obligations under the agreement with the United States to get rid of all of its chemical weapons. Reporters David Entous and Naftali Bendavid write, “One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign-policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.” Indeed, Bashar Assad continues to drop chemical weapons, specifically chlorine bombs. Read More

The Wall Street Journal has an eye-opening expose today about how Syria failed to comply with its obligations under the agreement with the United States to get rid of all of its chemical weapons. Reporters David Entous and Naftali Bendavid write, “One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign-policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.” Indeed, Bashar Assad continues to drop chemical weapons, specifically chlorine bombs.

How did this happen? The reasons are instructive in light of the administration’s argument that Iran will be forced to comply with the nuclear deal. The article notes:

The Syrians laid out the ground rules. Inspectors could visit only sites Syria had declared, and only with 48-hour notice. Anything else was off-limits, unless the regime extended an invitation.

“We had no choice but to cooperate with them,” said Mr. Cairns [the leader of the UN inspection team]. “The huge specter of security would have hampered us had we gone in there very aggressively or tried to do things unilaterally.”

The U.S. and other powers had the right to demand access to undeclared sites if they had evidence they were part of the chemical-weapons program. But that right was never exercised, in part, inspectors and Western officials say, because their governments didn’t want a standoff with the regime.

This is how inspections operate in reality — and it’s not the way that Secretary of State John Kerry claims in touting the effectiveness of sanctions. In reality, inspectors are at the mercy of their hosts who, after all, control the country and can use force if necessary to prevent the inspectors from going where they are not wanted. Advocates of the Iran deal suggest that it includes a way to force inspections of undeclared nuclear sites — but that will take a minimum of 24 days and probably longer. That’s a lot longer than the 48-hour inspections that the Syrians allowed and even those weren’t enough.

What happens if the Iranians block the inspectors? Advocates of the deal like to pretend this would lead to “snapback” sanctions. In the real world, however, neither the inspectors nor the U.S. government is going to blow up the accord — which is what would happen if sanctions were re-imposed — over what may or may not be a violation on the part of the Iranians. Both the inspectors and the U.S. government are far more likely to overlook supposedly minor violations, or to allow the Iranians to “rectify” them ex post facto, while telling themselves that it’s for the greater good because being overly confrontational will destroy the entire agreement.

The Syrian precedent clearly shows how Iran, Assad’s sponsor, can cheat on its arms control obligations. And even if it’s caught, as Syria has been caught, what will happen? The Syrian example suggests the answer is: Nothing. Even though the Obama administration is well aware that Assad has not gotten rid of all of his chemical weapons and that indeed he continues to use them, there have been no repercussions for Syria. Does anyone imagine that the U.S. will be any quicker to confront Iran, a far more powerful regime than Assad’s, and one that will get stronger still once the bans on conventional weapons and missile sales are lifted?

 

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The Devil Isn’t in the Details of the Iran Deal

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry went to a Senate hearing room on Thursday to put forward talking points about the Iran nuclear deal that are by now as familiar as the condescending sneer he employs against anyone who questions his positions. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also recited their scripted defense of the agreement. The other participants in the ritual were just as predictable as Senate Republicans tore into the trio of secretaries over the terms of the pact while Democrats did their best to lob softball questions in order to provide cover to the administration. But, according to the New York Times, only one side in this standoff is doing any serious thinking about the implications of approving the deal. The headline of the Times article (labeled “news analysis,” but which belonged on the paper’s op-ed page rather than in the news section) on the hearing was “Republicans Have Minds Made Up as Debate Begins on Iran Nuclear Deal.” There is some truth to that assertion but the same could be said of most of the Democrats in attendance. But by attempting to portray the Republicans as mindless partisans obsessed with block the administration, the Times missed the point of the entire debate. It’s not just that everyone already understands the Iran deal details and their weakness. Rather, it’s that the implications of this push for what amounts to a new détente with the Islamist regime is just as important as anything that will be revealed in classified committee sessions.

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Today, Secretary of State John Kerry went to a Senate hearing room on Thursday to put forward talking points about the Iran nuclear deal that are by now as familiar as the condescending sneer he employs against anyone who questions his positions. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also recited their scripted defense of the agreement. The other participants in the ritual were just as predictable as Senate Republicans tore into the trio of secretaries over the terms of the pact while Democrats did their best to lob softball questions in order to provide cover to the administration. But, according to the New York Times, only one side in this standoff is doing any serious thinking about the implications of approving the deal. The headline of the Times article (labeled “news analysis,” but which belonged on the paper’s op-ed page rather than in the news section) on the hearing was “Republicans Have Minds Made Up as Debate Begins on Iran Nuclear Deal.” There is some truth to that assertion but the same could be said of most of the Democrats in attendance. But by attempting to portray the Republicans as mindless partisans obsessed with block the administration, the Times missed the point of the entire debate. It’s not just that everyone already understands the Iran deal details and their weakness. Rather, it’s that the implications of this push for what amounts to a new détente with the Islamist regime is just as important as anything that will be revealed in classified committee sessions.

The Times portrayed the Republicans as not listening to the secretaries and not even willing to hear more about the security implications of their efforts in private:

While Mr. Corker, who promised a considered assessment of the agreement, may have seemed close to an endgame during a hearing on Capitol Hill, the vast majority of Republicans appear to have made up their minds before a single classified briefing, hearing or visit with administration officials.

Their view seems born of genuine distaste for the deal’s details, inherent distrust of President Obama, intense loyalty to Israel and an expansive view of the role that sanctions have played beyond preventing Iran’s nuclear abilities.

Accusing the critics of the deal of lack interest in its details is disingenuous. The basic framework of the agreement is no secret and its provisions have been a matter of vigorous public debate for months. The problem for the administration and its apologists is not that opponents aren’t listening but that they are rightly dismissing the spin about them coming from both the president and his team that span the spectrum from mere distortions to outright lies. The misrepresentation of the provisions about inspections that the president promised would be intrusive and comprehensive now requires Kerry and Moniz to claim that a process that gives Iran more than three weeks notice of an inspection is sufficient. They similarly ignore the implications of allowing Iran to continue its nuclear research with advanced equipment (while, as Corker rightly pointed out, discarding outdated centrifuges allowing the administration to portray the discards as concessions).

But in one sense the Times is right to assert that Republican support for the deal did not hinge on the fine print of the agreement. The devil is not in its details but in the nature of a pact whose core is a desire on the part of the administration to embrace Iran and bring it back into the community of nations from its current state of isolation.

The administration defends the deal as the only alternative to war. That is a false choice that attempts to obfuscate the fact that it was President Obama who discarded the political and economic leverage the West held over Iran prior to the start of the string of concessions he made to the ayatollahs over the course of the last two years of negotiations. But even if we leave this deceptive argument aside, the real problem with their approach is that by solely focusing on the details of a nuclear agreement, the administration chose to ignore the real reason why Iran should not be allowed such capabilities.

If, as President Obama seems to believe, Iran’s government is capable not only of rational analysis but of transforming itself into a reasonable and responsible international actor, its possession of a nuclear program would not be so troubling. True, the U.S. wishes to limit the spread of nuclear weapons but the club of countries with a bomb is already not so small. One more in and of itself would not be a threat to world peace.

But allowing an Islamist theocratic tyranny that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with hopes of achieving regional hegemony and pledged to the destruction of Israel to have a nuclear program is a threat. Giving its nuclear infrastructure western approval and a path to an eventual bomb is a danger to the entire region as well as the West. Handing it a massive cash bonus in the form of relaxed sanctions will enhance its ability to foment terrorism and spread violence through its auxiliaries and allies.

Opponents of the deal rightly decry this embrace of Iran not just because the inspections are insufficiently rigorous, the nuclear provisions weak and will eventually expire giving the Islamist regime a clear path to a bomb. They also oppose it because despite their occasional attempts to pose as tough-minded in their approach to Iran, the basic premise of the deal is President Obama’s quest for the regime to “get right with the world.”

In order to believe that is possible, we must forget everything we know about the nature of a regime that is inherently aggressive and motivated by an extreme religious ideology that sees moderate Arabs, the West, the United States and Israel as enemies to be destroyed, not partners for peace and cooperation.

Iran won the lenient terms of the deal by being tough in the negotiations and convincing weak-willed interlocutors such as Obama and Kerry that they would never be moved by Western pressure or threats. Critics of the deal view it with disdain because they correctly perceive its premise to be the hope of an entente with Iran, not a treaty aimed at limiting its power. Seen from that perspective the details of the deal are not only unpersuasive, they are beside the point despite the effort of the Times and other pro-Obama media cheerleaders to depict the GOP as knee-jerk naysayers. That is why sensible Republicans and Democrats will reject Kerry’s arrogant lobbying efforts and vote a deal rooted in appeasement down.

 

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The Donald is Still Hillary’s Best Friend

Hillary Clinton has long had good reason to like Donald Trump. The real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star-turned-Republican presidential candidate was a major donor to her campaigns for the Senate. He also gave $100,000 to the thinly-disguised political slush fund that is the Clinton Family Foundation, giving him the unique status as both a potential Hillary opponent and an enabler of the Clinton Cash scandals. But the former First Lady has even more immediate reasons to be grateful to The Donald. Trump’s domination of the news cycle the last few weeks has not only sucked all the oxygen out of the room for other Republican candidates. The relentless coverage of his every move and outrageous statement has also had the effect of obscuring the slow motion implosion of her presidential campaign. Had he stayed on the sidelines to kibitz as he has in previous election cycles, it might have been Hillary’s horrific poll numbers and her increasing weakness against an implausible Bernie Sanders candidacy might be leading the cable news shows. Instead, we’re treated to daily analyses of Trump putdowns of fellow Republicans and coverage of his appearances as if they were global summits. If this keeps up — and at this point, there’s no reason to think it won’t — Hillary may be able to ride out the summer and the fall without too much attention being paid to her troubles.

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Hillary Clinton has long had good reason to like Donald Trump. The real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star-turned-Republican presidential candidate was a major donor to her campaigns for the Senate. He also gave $100,000 to the thinly-disguised political slush fund that is the Clinton Family Foundation, giving him the unique status as both a potential Hillary opponent and an enabler of the Clinton Cash scandals. But the former First Lady has even more immediate reasons to be grateful to The Donald. Trump’s domination of the news cycle the last few weeks has not only sucked all the oxygen out of the room for other Republican candidates. The relentless coverage of his every move and outrageous statement has also had the effect of obscuring the slow motion implosion of her presidential campaign. Had he stayed on the sidelines to kibitz as he has in previous election cycles, it might have been Hillary’s horrific poll numbers and her increasing weakness against an implausible Bernie Sanders candidacy might be leading the cable news shows. Instead, we’re treated to daily analyses of Trump putdowns of fellow Republicans and coverage of his appearances as if they were global summits. If this keeps up — and at this point, there’s no reason to think it won’t — Hillary may be able to ride out the summer and the fall without too much attention being paid to her troubles.

There’s no point denying that Trump is the most entertaining presidential candidate we’ve had in a long time even if he’s also the least thoughtful and most vulgar. Every Trump event, such as the chaotic dog-and-pony show he put on at the border in Laredo, Texas yesterday, is transformed by the sheer unpredictability of his behavior into a global news event covered obsessively by the cable news networks. The same goes for every interview as pundits and journalists wait for Trump to insult one of his GOP rivals or to hint, as he has this week to the horror of his party, that he might run as a third-party candidate next year if the Republican National Committee offends him with “unfair” treatment.

For the moment, all this has the effect of leaving all the more credible would-be GOP opponents of Hillary flailing in frustration at Trump’s antics, insults and ability to rise in the polls. The more they hit back the more Trump likes it since it feeds his image as a “fighter” who is out to knock off a failed political establishment. But the cooler heads among them have to know that it can’t last. Sooner or later, Trump is going to start being scrutinized the way presidential candidates are examined and his record of support for liberals and liberal causes will start to take the air out of his balloon. Trump’s negatives are too high to allow him to be a legitimate threat for the nomination let alone the general election. Republicans should also be confident that his buffoonish persona is also bound to trip him up enough times to ultimately undermine any notion that he ride the support of a populist surge and anger about illegal immigration to the nomination.

But the help all of this is giving to Hillary is priceless. Trumpmania has enabled her to fly beneath the radar even when she weighs in on hot button issues. Her defense of Planned Parenthood in the face of their infant body parts sale scandal may impress the liberal base of the Democratic Party, but it also exposes her to attack. Yet no one is talking about Hillary allowing her to get away with continuing to refuse to talk to the press.

More important, the Trump factor has also almost silenced discussion of Hillary’s toxic poll numbers in battleground states against possible GOP opponents as well as the terrible results she gets on whether people trust her. In a normal political year, this would become the number one story lending further momentum to the surprisingly effective challenge to her coronation by Senator Bernie Sanders or even tempting other more plausible candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren or Vice President Joe Biden into the race.

Clinton also has to hope that Trump is so enjoying the ride he’s on that he won’t want to get off even when he fails to win primaries next winter and spring. It’s easy to imagine Trump manufacturing some feud with the RNC and attempting a third-party run next summer and fall. Of course, that would be the ultimate favor for Hillary and the Democrats since it would more or less guarantee her election as president no matter how weak a candidate she proved to be.

The extension of the Trump campaign well into 2016 is the ultimate nightmare for Republicans, but there is little they can do about it other than to try and ignore him and hope, as they should, that the overwhelming majority of voters reject his brand of faux conservatism. In the meantime, he will continue to give aid and comfort to the Clinton campaign that is far more valuable than his past financial support for their fake charity or her Senate campaigns.

 

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To Get History Right, Democrats Would Erase It

More than a month after the coldblooded murder of African-American churchgoers in South Carolina by an overt racist prompted an intense and grief-stricken national discussion about racism in the United States, it is now possible to apply some perspective to the events that followed. Across the South, in public and private spaces, the Confederate battle flag was furled for the last time. Few responsible commentators saw this as anything less than a public good. Some even suggested that further steps were necessary; monuments to Confederate leaders should be torn down, roads and bridges named for Confederate generals retitled, and municipalities with Confederate roots renamed. What followed this catharsis was, however, a full-scale national moral panic. Perhaps the most ludicrous example of this overcompensation came when television networks cancelled re-airings of the Dukes of Hazard and the owner of the program’s original prop car, the General Lee, revealed that the vehicle’s famous rebel flag roof art was to be painted over. It was then that some cautiously began to wonder if the well-meaning decision to remove this historical artifact with all its negative baggage had gone too far. There was clearly no limiting principle to this national effort to address historical grievances. Where would it all end? Today, it is clear that, for some, the fight to make history conform to today’s moral standards has only just begun.  Read More

More than a month after the coldblooded murder of African-American churchgoers in South Carolina by an overt racist prompted an intense and grief-stricken national discussion about racism in the United States, it is now possible to apply some perspective to the events that followed. Across the South, in public and private spaces, the Confederate battle flag was furled for the last time. Few responsible commentators saw this as anything less than a public good. Some even suggested that further steps were necessary; monuments to Confederate leaders should be torn down, roads and bridges named for Confederate generals retitled, and municipalities with Confederate roots renamed. What followed this catharsis was, however, a full-scale national moral panic. Perhaps the most ludicrous example of this overcompensation came when television networks cancelled re-airings of the Dukes of Hazard and the owner of the program’s original prop car, the General Lee, revealed that the vehicle’s famous rebel flag roof art was to be painted over. It was then that some cautiously began to wonder if the well-meaning decision to remove this historical artifact with all its negative baggage had gone too far. There was clearly no limiting principle to this national effort to address historical grievances. Where would it all end? Today, it is clear that, for some, the fight to make history conform to today’s moral standards has only just begun. 

The impulse to sanitize American history to force it to conform to modern moral benchmarks has taken a bizarre twist in Connecticut. There, the state’s Democratic Party has, under pressure from the NAACP, dropped the names of both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from its annual fundraising dinner. The two towering figures, both fathers of the modern Democratic Party, have been labeled persona non grata because of their ties to American slavery.

“Democrats cited Jefferson and Jackson’s ownership of slaves as a key factor in the decision, as well as Jackson’s role in the removal of Native Americans from the southeastern U.S. in what was known as the Trail of Tears,” the CT Post reported. This is surely just the first such effort; it is likely to be replicated by Democratic Parties across the country and perhaps nationally.

It is not a commentary on the value of their presidencies (like all commanders-in-chief, both of their presidential legacies are checkered) to note that, as members of the nation’s founding generations, to criticize them for violating of today’s moral standards is deeply unfair and revisionist. Yes, both men owned African slaves. Slavery and anti-black prejudice is fundamentally immoral, as the United States has acknowledged over the course of a bloody civil war, the passage of two constitutional amendments affirming equal rights, Reconstruction, desegregation, and the present debate over the dark symbolism of that period in history presided over by a black president. America struggles to atone for its original sin, and it probably always will. To attack the legacies of Jefferson and Jackson is, however, misguided. Removing their names from the pantheon of American icons is not the pursuit of historical accuracy; it is a declaration of historical ignorance.

For modern Democrats to abandon Jefferson, among the most literate and forward-thinking men to ever occupy the office of president, over slavery of all things is a bizarre exercise in self-flagellation. Jefferson was a populist, a pacifist, and one of the most successful advocates for the natural rights of all men to have ever lived. The figure that first wrote, “all men are created equal,” and then through the sheer force of principle and political acumen managed to convince his colleagues in the Continental Congress to unanimously ratify it, changed the world forever. The first anti-slave law in the United States, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which paved the way for the admittance of the Upper Midwest into the Union but outlawed slave labor in those territories, was based on a law drafted by Jefferson in 1784. Jefferson always considered the practice of slavery an “abominable crime,” and, as governor of Virginia, successfully outlawed the importation human chattel from abroad. In an 1806 message to Congress, then President Jefferson called for the importation of slaves to be outlawed permanently in the whole of the United States. He wrote that slavery was an institution that “the morality, the reputation, and the best of our country have long been eager to proscribe.” This is not a man who had much affinity for human bondage, and he spent a substantial amount of energy delegitimizing that custom.

Andrew Jackson was, from a conservative perspective, one of the worst presidents to ever occupy the White House. Jackson’s unique fear of centralized power (both public and private) gave meaning to the very definition of activist government. For 150 years, Democrats admiringly dubbed it Jacksonian democracy. But while the hero of New Orleans is properly reviled by the left today for the brutal treatment of Native Americans in the South and in the Western territories into which Americans were expanding, liberals fail to appreciate his mistrust of corporate interests, his fear of central banks, and his radical expansion of voting rights. What Jackson called the era of the “common man,” his critics derided as “the reign of King Mob.” Jackson, too, owned slaves. And while he was certainly less egalitarian than his Democratic-Republican predecessor, Jackson’s commitment to populist democracy set a tone that generations of his Democratic successors strove to emulate.

Again, where is the limiting principle? Will Washington D.C. or Washington state be forced to consider a change of name because the founder of this country, a man who could have followed in Caesar’s footsteps but chose those of Cincinnatus instead, owned slaves? Are we to qualify the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, because he was by any reasonable modern standard a white supremacist? Will the bronze statues of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt be melted down because he approved of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II?

Democrats are not merely purging their own history from the records. A Democratic administration is busily whitewashing the nation’s currency of at least one founder in order to comport with the evolving standards of conduct demanded by the social justice doyens on the nation’s college campuses. Following a brief, exclusively liberal campaign to banish Jackson’s portrait from the $20 note, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew decided to compromise. Instead, Alexander Hamilton, the father of the modern banking system, will be removed from the $10 bill – his likeness to be consigned only to the museums. And who will replace him? Lew revealed that, to satisfy insatiable demagogues who populate liberal blogs with content, it would be a woman. What woman? Who knows? The Department of the Treasury is taking your suggestions now. The only prerequisite is that they have the necessary chromosomal makeup in order to serve as some modest compensation for the ills endured by earlier generations of women.

Those who engage in this form whitewashing do not revere history; they despise it. Imposing the standards of their generation upon the long dead is the ultimate expression of condescension. It represents the rejection of context and is a contemptuous effort to shun understanding and tolerance – an exercise the left is forever lecturing others to perform. It’s a failure of intellectual curiosity; a denial of intellectualism itself. This is an Orwellian labor to enforce conformity; behaviors demanded of us by the parlor totalitarians who dare not tolerate divergence, much less dissent. Those societies that have tried to cleanse their histories in order to appeal to current tastes are not models worthy of emulation. Nations that re-write their history books soon turn their attentions to eliminating more contemporary sources of frustration. This is radical revisionism, and it must be discredited. If it is not stopped, it may soon become unstoppable.

 

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When Populism Masquerades As Conservatism

The Donald Trump candidacy has revealed something important about a certain slice of the conservative world. Many right-wing personalities – including Fox’s Eric Bolling and Steve Doocy, radio talk show hosts Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and the writer/commentator Ann Coulter – have come to the defense of Donald Trump when he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” in part because he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” the theory being the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (Forget for now that many people who claim to be “anti-establishment” in fact personify the establishment by any reasonable definition.)

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The Donald Trump candidacy has revealed something important about a certain slice of the conservative world. Many right-wing personalities – including Fox’s Eric Bolling and Steve Doocy, radio talk show hosts Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and the writer/commentator Ann Coulter – have come to the defense of Donald Trump when he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” in part because he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” the theory being the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (Forget for now that many people who claim to be “anti-establishment” in fact personify the establishment by any reasonable definition.)

There have been notable exceptions, but even in the context of Trump’s comments on John McCain, the criticisms of Trump have been extremely muted. There were even some attempts to justify what Trump said. According to Trump’s defenders, his words were taken out of context. They praised Trump for not apologizing. It was Republican “midgets” who were attacking him. The reason Trump is being condemned is because he’s politically incorrect, it’s been said; he won’t play by the rules others do. The real offense was less what Trump said about McCain than the piling on by critics of the television host and hotelier.

“Donald Trump is like a Navy SEAL,” according to Fox’s Steve Doocy. “He never backs down when he’s in a fight.”

To be clear, not everyone I have mentioned supports Trump for president. But they all see things in Trump they admire; they are very reluctant to attack him, and they constantly give him the benefit of the doubt and praise what they consider to be his virtues. They repeatedly point to Trump as someone from whom other conservatives can learn, even someone they should emulate.

Now consider this: Most of the people I’ve mentioned have been critical, and often harshly critical, of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, on the grounds that he’s not a “true” conservative. Some have even argued that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are “two peas in the same pod.”

This is a rather bizarre charge. You don’t have to support Jeb Bush for president in 2016 to acknowledge he was among the most successful and conservative governors in several generations. (Jeb Bush’s record was, as George Will has pointed out, “measurably more conservative” than that of Ronald Reagan during his two-term governorship of California. I’ve documented Governor Bush’s conservative achievements here.)

Now let’s turn to Trump’s record, which I’ve laid out before, and is essential to re-state for the purposes of my argument. Mr. Trump has supported massive tax increases on the wealthy, a Canadian-style single-payer health care system and is a fierce protectionist. He once declared himself “strongly pro-choice” and favored drug legalization. Earlier this year he accused Republicans who want to reform entitlement programs – the essential task for those who favor limited government — of “attacking” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Barack Obama couldn’t have stated it better.

That’s not all. For most of the last decade, Trump was a registered Democrat. As of 2011, he had given a majority of his $1.3 million political contributions to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Chuck Schumer.

Even on immigration, the issue that has won over the hearts of many on the right, Trump has been erratic. In 2012, he criticized Mitt Romney’s “crazy policy of self-deportation, which was maniacal. It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote … He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

Trump also said this:

For people that have been here for years that have been hard-workers, have good jobs, they’re supporting their family — it’s very, very tough to just say, ”By the way, 22 years, you have to leave. Get out.” … I have to tell you on a human basis, how do you throw somebody out that’s lived in this country for 20 years.

And in 2010, this:

You have American interests hiring [illegal immigrants], absolutely. And many cases, they’re great workers. The biggest problem is you have great people come in from Mexico working crops and cutting lawns that I’m not sure a lot of Americans are going to take those jobs. That’s the dichotomy. That’s the problem. You have a lot of great people coming in doing a lot of work. And I’m not so sure that a lot of other people are doing that work so it’s a very tough problem.

These are the kind of statements that, if said today, would cause Ms. Coulter to shake with rage. Yet the author of ¡Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole is among Trump’s strongest supporters.

Nobody in the GOP field has amassed anything like the liberal record of Trump. It makes Susan Collins’s political stands over the years look like Barry Goldwater’s. Yet some of those who fashion themselves as “constitutional conservatives,” principled and uncompromising, the heirs of Reagan, the keepers of the flame, have found themselves far more favorable to Trump than to Jeb Bush — a man who, unlike Trump, has sterling conservative achievements to his name. (What he and other conservatives like Marco Rubio don’t have is the serrated rhetoric of Trump.)

What this demonstrates – and why the whole controversy about Donald Trump is about more than simply Donald Trump – is that some of those who claim to speak for conservatism may not be quite as interested in conservative policies and conservative philosophy as they profess. At least, it’s become subordinate to other considerations. I say that because if policies and philosophy were as important as they claim, it seems reasonable to conclude that these same people would lacerate Trump (as they lacerate so many others they believe are insufficiently pure) rather than embrace and defend him.

There’s no rational reason self-described conservatives who accuse Jeb Bush of being a RINO, a “neo-statist,” and a Hillary Clinton clone would treat Donald Trump with respect and deference and find reasons to defend and praise him. Something quite odd is clearly going on here.

Mr. Trump is given a special absolution – amnesty, if you will – from his past/current liberal deeds and words. And that absolution, that amnesty, is granted by virtue of Trump’s style. He embodies what some on the right apparently believe politics needs more of. And that’s the problem for many of us. Trump embodies crudity and insults, anger and attacks, banalities and “barstool eruptions,” in the withering words of Charles Krauthammer. Yet it turns out that those qualities make a man like Trump, who has held left-wing positions, a star with some on the right. Being perceived as an enemy of the much-loathed “establishment” is a ticket to stardom. Nothing else really matters, or matters nearly as much.

Which leads me to my final point: What appears to be happening is that some of those who claim to be champions of conservatism are actually champions of populism. They are not the same thing, philosophically or temperamentally. (Populism has been defined as “an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice.” It has different manifestations, some more responsible and some less, but resentment is often a key ingredient in populism. It’s also a movement that’s been historically susceptible to demagogues, a concern held by philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to the American founders.)

There is room for populism within conservatism — it can be a “cathartic response to serious problems,” in the words of George Will — but it should not define conservatism. Yet increasing, in some quarters, it is; and the sympathy and support some on the right are giving to Donald Trump is clear evidence of this.

This distinction between conservatism and populism goes a long way toward explaining why different people on the right, who might otherwise agree on a fair number of things, react in fundamentally different ways to Donald Trump. And it’s why the Trump candidacy may well catalyze a broader, clarifying debate about what the true definition of conservatism is. For many of us who are conservative, Donald Trump not only doesn’t define it; he’s antithetical to it.

 

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The Unavoidable Costs of Inaction in the Middle East

Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. This is one of those times. Read More

Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. This is one of those times.
From the Los Angeles Times:

Islamic State militants’ attempts to inspire Americans to launch attacks at home pose a bigger threat to the U.S. than Al Qaeda, the head of the FBI said Wednesday.

From The Hill:

The Army’s top officer said Tuesday it was “frustrating” to watch the gains U.S. troops helped achieve in Iraq unravel with the entrance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and that the chaos “might have been prevented.”

“It’s frustrating to watch it,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Fox News in an exclusive interview weeks away from his retirement after 39 years in the Army.

“I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction,” he said.

Odierno, who commanded at various levels in Iraq during the war, said “I think it would have been good for us to stay,” when asked by Fox News if it was a mistake to pull out.

There you have it: The biggest terrorist threat we face was created, in no small measure, by President Obama’s pullout from Iraq, which was hardly necessary; all indications were that if the president truly wanted to reach a deal to keep U.S. troops, he would have been able to do so. That, combined with Obama’s failure to intervene early on in Syria’s civil war, created the conditions under Islamic State has become such a potent threat.

That is worth keeping in mind the next time that Obama slams the Iraq War or claims that his political adversaries are warmongers. (Which, by my watch, should occur in the next five minutes.)

Yes, it’s true that sometimes getting involved in a war is a mistake, and (based on what we now know in hindsight) the Iraq War was one of those times. It was true, too, that the war was terribly mismanaged until the surge (which Obama opposed), resulting in much needless death and destruction. But what Obama’s tenure in office has shown is that not getting involved in a war — or ending our involvement in a war prematurely — also carries terrible costs. We are seeing those costs now with the rise of ISIS, and also the rise of Iran. Heaven knows what will happen in Afghanistan if the president carries out his pledge to withdraw entirely before he leaves office.

Getting involved in the Middle East carries costs, true. But what we are now seeing is the heavy cost of nonintervention, and it is Pollyannaish to imagine that the price will be paid exclusively by Iraqis or Syrians, or even by the Israelis and Turks, the French and British. Americans, too, will pay the price for the president’s tragically misguided foreign policy which is inadvertently aiding the rise of our enemies

 

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