Commentary Magazine


Pledge-Drive

COMMENTARY Needs Your Help

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

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

Read Less

Iran Gives a Obama a Lesson in Negotiating

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

How callous.

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Mad Men, the Prequel

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

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

Click here to the read the whole thing.

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

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

Click here to the read the whole thing.

Read Less

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

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

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The Slow, Painful Death of the Iowa Straw Poll

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The Real Victims of the War on Police

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Matthew Continetti: Why COMMENTARY Matters

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

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

Read Less

Do You Deserve to Be President After Jeopardizing National Security?

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

Read More

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

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

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

Clinton’s Personal Email Account Contained Sensitive Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

We Can’t Afford to Take Free Speech for Granted

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Does Congress Deserve a Raise? Really?

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Should Israel Take Obama’s Iran Payoff?

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

We Need More Islamist Radicals in the Pentagon!

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

How to Answer the Question of the Week

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Obama Insists It’s ‘Not a New Cold War,’ But It Sure Looks Like One

It is a testament to the persistent influence of hard power and the dominance that state actors enjoy in the international arena that the Obama administration’s fondest hopes for Russia’s rehabilitation have been thoroughly and permanently dashed. The president took office with the hope that props acquired from a local Staples and an obstinate commitment to overlook the Kremlin’s revanchism would transform Putin’s government into a responsible global actor. That naiveté has been dispelled, but not before hundreds if not thousands of lives were lost and America’s approach to global grand strategy suffered a variety of debilitating setbacks.

Read More

It is a testament to the persistent influence of hard power and the dominance that state actors enjoy in the international arena that the Obama administration’s fondest hopes for Russia’s rehabilitation have been thoroughly and permanently dashed. The president took office with the hope that props acquired from a local Staples and an obstinate commitment to overlook the Kremlin’s revanchism would transform Putin’s government into a responsible global actor. That naiveté has been dispelled, but not before hundreds if not thousands of lives were lost and America’s approach to global grand strategy suffered a variety of debilitating setbacks.

It seems like a generation ago that the president embarked on an effort to “reset” bilateral relations with Russia. The administration imagined that Moscow had mounted a cross-border invasion of neighboring Georgia and carved off Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a response to George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy.” The White House was shown the error of their ways when Russia invaded another neighboring country, this time outright annexing occupied territory rather than erecting the complicated fiction that these provinces had been liberated from their oppressive former parent states. In the interim, Barack Obama leveraged Russia’s desire to preserve their client Damascus so as to help extricate him from his commitment to enforce his “red line” for action against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad by force. In doing so, Barack Obama consigned that country to years of a bloody civil war characterized by the repeated use of chemical weapons on civilian populations.

While the administration steadfastly refuses to address the conflict in Ukraine outside the context of financial sanctions, none of which have had an appreciable effect on Russian behavior, the United States appears to be getting serious about the threat posed by Moscow’s irredentism.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin revealed that the United States is preparing to respond aggressively to alleged Russian violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The West believes that Russia violated the terms of that Soviet-era treaty by developing and pledging to forward deploy nuclear delivery vehicles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. “The State Department admitted publicly last July that the U.S. government believes Russia is violation of the treaty,” Rogin observed. “Privately, top administration officials have known that Russia was in violation since at least 2012, because it has tested ground-based cruise missiles with the prohibited range.”

Two U.S. officials briefed on the options said that the Pentagon has submitted a list of potential countermeasures to the National Security Council, but the White House has yet to schedule a high-level NSC meeting to discuss and decide what to do. Some of the more aggressive options would include deploying more land-based military hardware to NATO allies for missile defense near the Russian border, to counter the new Russian cruise capability. Expanded targeted sanctions and added patrols near Russian space are less aggressive options on the table.

The European theater is not the only space in which the West and Russia are waging a sub rosa conflict. On Monday, American officials were informed that Russia had closed a key military transit corridor that allowed NATO allies to support and resupply forces serving in Afghanistan with non-lethal aid. Russia determined to close that transit route that had been in use since 2008 due to the fact that NATO combat mission in Afghanistan ended in December of last year, although over 12,000 foreign servicemen and women remain deployed there.

“Russian observers said there was a clear political element to Mr. Medvedev’s order, in light of Russian unhappiness with Western sanctions over Ukraine and Crimea and suspicions that NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is being extended indefinitely,” the Washington Times speculated.

Just days after pro-Moscow forces in Ukraine used a Russian-supplied anti-aircraft missile to shoot MH 17 out of the sky, taking the lives of 298 primarily Western civilians in the process, Obama assured the press that America and Russia were not entering into a “new Cold War.” But with military balancing and counterbalancing ongoing in Europe and Central Asia, the return of nuclear brinkmanship, and diplomatic offensives designed to de-escalate tensions becoming an increasingly pressing priority, it sure looks like one.

The United States and Russia have always maintained a divergent set of strategic objectives, but the theaters in which Moscow and the West are coming into conflict are rapidly proliferating. If the president had entered office with a reasonable understanding of Russia’s perspective and its long-term strategic aims, much of the threat the Kremlin presently poses to the geopolitical order might have been managed more effectively.

Better late than never, I guess.

Read Less

Ruth R. Wisse on COMMENTARY’s Unmatched Influence

Irving Kristol once called COMMENTARY the most influential magazine in Jewish history. Certainly, no publication had a greater influence on me as I evolved from adolescent reader (arguing over its articles with my father and older brother) into a “frequent contributor” who made it my intellectual home. The magazine did not exploit American freedom to escape from civilizing duty but rather activated the intertwined responsibilities of citizens and members of a group. American Jewry can boast of many contributions to the welfare of this country and the Jewish people, but few as fortifying as COMMENTARY.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Irving Kristol once called COMMENTARY the most influential magazine in Jewish history. Certainly, no publication had a greater influence on me as I evolved from adolescent reader (arguing over its articles with my father and older brother) into a “frequent contributor” who made it my intellectual home. The magazine did not exploit American freedom to escape from civilizing duty but rather activated the intertwined responsibilities of citizens and members of a group. American Jewry can boast of many contributions to the welfare of this country and the Jewish people, but few as fortifying as COMMENTARY.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Read Less

Resolution for Families of Kurdistan’s Disappeared?

Iraqi Kurdistan might be the toast of town today. With at least four separate lobby firms and a multimillion dollar budget, it continues to promote itself as stable, secure, and democratic; an oasis of sanity in an insane region. The reality is more nuanced.

Read More

Iraqi Kurdistan might be the toast of town today. With at least four separate lobby firms and a multimillion dollar budget, it continues to promote itself as stable, secure, and democratic; an oasis of sanity in an insane region. The reality is more nuanced.

Kurdistan is stable, but security is based on a devil’s bargain. Iranian influence is as great in Iraqi Kurdistan as it is in Baghdad. Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani has free reign in Kurdistan and is a frequent visitor to both Sulaymani and Erbil. There is no phone call or private conversation with Kurdish officials whose transcript is not read in Tehran within an hour, either because the Iranians eavesdrop or because the Kurds deliver whatever the Iranians ask. The fact that so many American visitors see the Kurds are altruistic toward the United States only enhances Iranian power. Kurds may like Americans, but they also remember Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s betrayal of the Kurdish revolution in 1975 and President Ronald Reagan turning a blind eye toward Saddam’s chemical weapons use in 1988.

The notion that Kurdistan is democratic is risible. The parliament is rubber-stamp; the president has out-served his term; and a personality cult surrounding regional leader Masoud Barzani is enforced with an iron fist. Even if American diplomats have little historical awareness, and Congressmen even shorter memories, Kurds have two major grievances about their leadership they have been unwilling to forget.

The first grievance involves collaboration. Documents seized from Saddam Hussein after his fall shows unequivocally shows that some senior members of both Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) had collaborated with and reported to Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service; none have lost their jobs for their betrayal, let alone faced justice. In 1996, Barzani himself invited Saddam’s dreaded Republican Guards into the Kurdish capital Erbil to protect him against Kurdish rivals. Barzani’s willingness to collaborate with Saddam only eight years after Saddam used chemical weapons against Kurds and also had killed 8,000 members of Barzani’s tribe has become a symbol of the cynicism of the Kurdish leadership.

The second grievance involves the status of the disappeared. Kurdish officials often talk about democracy, but what the Kurds actually have is a carefully calibrated power sharing. The problem Kurds have with elections is that the political party leaders will not accept defeat or willing to serve in opposition. They know government institutions are neither strong nor independent enough to allow a mechanism back into power once that is lost. After the 1992 elections, the KDP and PUK split power. Every KDP official was matched with a PUK deputy and vice versa. Suspicion was rife, and war broke out as the PUK accused the KDP of cheating on revenue sharing.

The resulting conflict was bloody. Between 1994 and 1997, KDP and PUK Peshmerga fought each other to a standstill, with the KDP accepting Saddam’s support and the PUK enjoying some Iranian backing. Thousands were killed, but not everyone died on the battlefield. The two sides took approximately 400 prisoners. Some were captured in combat, but security forces loyal to either Barzani or Talabani arrested many others at home.

To this day, neither the KDP nor the PUK will acknowledge what happened to the prisoners and where they are buried. Sadly, not every mass grave in Iraq was filled by Saddam or, later, the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh).

Recently, lists have circulated about the missing. Approximately, 200 were KDP or PUK members captured by the other side. According to some of their family members, not all were captured in combat; some PUK members had turned themselves in when the KDP captured Erbil and Barzani promised them safety. They expected they would be sent to the PUK as party to a prisoner transfer; they never expected the firing squad. In addition, sixty-seven were Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas captured during fighting between the KDP and PKK. Eleven were members of Islamic parties that the PUK captured, and 50 were civilians arrested by PUK or KDP security forces on terrorism charges. Today, the PUK anti-terrorism force is run by Talabani’s nephew and the KDP corollary is run by Barzani’s son; to suggest that both do not have access to the records of their respective organizations is not credible.

Recently, according to Kurdish journalists, Karim Sinjari, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s Interior Minister, has written to the KRG parliament’s human rights committee reporting that none of the disappeared is alive. He provided no further details. Many Kurds believe that the KDP ordered the execution of its prisoners at Akre Prison, while the PUK put their prisoners to death in the PUK’s secret prison on Azmar mountain which, ironically, was once a facility for Saddam’s secret services.

On May 11, families of the missing protested in front of parliament. Parliamentary speaker Yousif Mohammed met the protestors and promised top form a committee to investigate the issue, and have said it may even be possible to question Karim Sinjari under oath in parliament. They accuse Sinjari of having a direct role in some of their murders and demand to know the whereabouts of their graves.

Western diplomats may want to allow bygones to be bygones, but the issue might not be so easy. Many senior Kurdish officials have American passports, British passports, Swedish passports, and German passports and it is quite possible—indeed, from what I hear, likely—that the victims’ families will seek recourse in U.S. and European courts when those alleged to have complicity have the relevant citizenship. No longer will what happened in Kurdistan stay in Kurdistan. Nor will the State Department be able to prevent some of what may be coming.

Read Less

Obama Needs a New ISIS Strategy

“U.S. Rethinks Strategy to Battle Islamic State After Setback in Ramadi.” So reads the headline today in the Wall Street Journal. I hope that’s true—a rethink is certainly needed after the cascading string of disasters culminating in the fall of Ramadi—but I remain skeptical.

Read More

“U.S. Rethinks Strategy to Battle Islamic State After Setback in Ramadi.” So reads the headline today in the Wall Street Journal. I hope that’s true—a rethink is certainly needed after the cascading string of disasters culminating in the fall of Ramadi—but I remain skeptical.

For one thing, a rethink would have to begin with the acknowledgment that the current strategy isn’t working. But although the White House is now willing to grudgingly concede that the fall of Ramadi is a “setback” (government-speak for a “defeat”), White House spokesman Josh Ernest still claims that “overall”  the president’s anti-ISIS strategy is still working. “Are we going to light our hair on fire every time that there is a setback in the campaign against ISIL?” Ernest truculently demanded. In a similar vein, the Journal quotes a “senior defense official” as saying: “The Department believes the current course of action is the right one.”

As long as the White House and Pentagon remain in a state of denial, they are unlikely to radically rethink their failing strategy. And indeed the Journal article offers scant evidence of such a rethink. It simply says that the White House “is poised to accelerate the training and equipping of Sunni tribal fighters” and to deliver “1,000 shoulder-held rockets” to Baghdad. In other words, pretty much more of the same strategy that hasn’t been working.

What would it take for the US strategy to be more successful? I laid out some ideas in this Council on Foreign Relations policy memo. Among other points, I suggested lifting the prohibition on “boots on the ground”—i.e., allow US military personnel to accompany Iraqi forces on operations—and also increasing the size of the US force from the current 3,000 to 10,000 to 25,000 personnel.

In a similar vein, the military analysts Fred and Kim Kagan wrote yesterday: “A few thousand additional combat troops, backed by helicopters, armored vehicles and forward air controllers able to embed with Iraqi units at the battalion level, as well as additional Special Forces troops able to move about the countryside, would certainly prevent further gains [by ISIS]. They could almost certainly regain Ramadi and other recently lost areas of Anbar, in cooperation with local tribes. They might be able to do more.”

Beyond the military dimension there is an important political component missing in the US anti-ISIS strategy. Obama is expecting that Baghdad will arm Sunnis. But Iran has a de facto veto in Baghdad and it has no interest in arming any Sunnis. Iran also has no real desire to defeat ISIS—the existence of ISIS gives Iran a good excuse to grab power in the Shiite regions of Iraq following the strategy it has previously used in Lebanon and Syria. As long as we subordinate our anti-ISIS strategy to Baghdad/Tehran, it is bound to fail.

The US needs to make a major effort to bolster the power of independent Iraqis such as Prime Minister Abadi and to decrease the power of Iranian agents such as Hadi al-Amari, head of the Badr Organization, the largest Shiite militia. Such an effort would have to start at the top, with President Obama, and would involve sending more dynamic senior military and civilian representatives to Baghdad. The US needs to engineer a political deal to give Sunnis some degree of autonomy, guaranteed by the US. Otherwise, Sunnis will refuse to fight ISIS if they fear that by doing so they will simply be subordinating themselves to radical Shiite domination.

The US is not entirely powerless in Iraq even now, as the administration showed last year by orchestrating the toppling of Nouri al Maliki as prime minister. But ever since then, the White House seems to have ignored Iraqi politics, figuring that its work had been done. As a result, while prime ministers have changed, the underlying reality of Iranian dominance has not.  Indeed, even out of office, Maliki continues to exercise considerable power while Abadi’s own authority is considerably limited.

Reversing the losing course of the war against ISIS will require taking some difficult steps in both the military and political arenas beginning with the dispatch of more US troops. But alas there is no sign that the administration is truly open to the kind of fundamental recalculation that would be needed.  And as long as the strategy remains the same, expect more of the same results: which is to say, more gains by ISIS and the Shiite militias. And those gains will come not only in Iraq but also in Syria and as far afield as Libya.

Read Less

Iran Isn’t Budging. Will Obama?

When the Obama administration trumpeted the conclusion of a framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, it assured skeptics that its terms would be enforced by rigorous inspections. The agreement would, the president and his foreign policy team told us, be verified by a system that would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s acknowledged facilities as well as any “suspicious sites” in the country. At the time, administration officials said that Iranian statements saying the U.S. interpretation of the as yet unwritten accord was incorrect were purely for domestic consumption. But with only a little more than a month remaining before the June 30 deadline for completing the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader is once again reminding the Americans that their hopes for a deal that could be verified are unfounded. In remarks broadcast today on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there be no such inspections. After two years of getting the Americans to concede on virtually all of their demands in order to secure a deal, Khamenei is counting on Obama folding again.

Read More

When the Obama administration trumpeted the conclusion of a framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, it assured skeptics that its terms would be enforced by rigorous inspections. The agreement would, the president and his foreign policy team told us, be verified by a system that would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s acknowledged facilities as well as any “suspicious sites” in the country. At the time, administration officials said that Iranian statements saying the U.S. interpretation of the as yet unwritten accord was incorrect were purely for domestic consumption. But with only a little more than a month remaining before the June 30 deadline for completing the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader is once again reminding the Americans that their hopes for a deal that could be verified are unfounded. In remarks broadcast today on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there be no such inspections. After two years of getting the Americans to concede on virtually all of their demands in order to secure a deal, Khamenei is counting on Obama folding again.

As the New York Times reports:

“The impudent and brazen enemy expects that we allow them talk to our scientists and researchers about a fundamental local achievement but no such permission will be allowed,” Khamenei told military commanders in Tehran Wednesday, in remarks broadcast on state TV. “No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed.”

Khamenei said interviewing Iranian nuclear scientists would be an affront to Iran’s dignity.

“I will not allow foreigners to interview — which is tantamount to interrogation — the prominent beloved scientists and sons of this nation,” he said.

That flatly contradicts the characterization of the accord that we heard from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Indeed, it is, if anything, a toughening of the Iranian position on inspections. Combined with their insistence that economic sanctions must be lifted immediately and permanently once the terms are finalized, it presents a very different picture of the post-deal world than the one we’ve been getting from the administration.

Is Khamenei bluffing? That’s the position of the administration’s defenders who tell us that this is all posturing for the Iranian public and will be forgotten once the hard work of finishing the negotiations is undertaken. But there are two problems with that argument.

The first is that the pattern of U.S.-Iran diplomacy over the course of the negotiations points in only one direction: an American retreat from its positions about inspections and sanctions.

Remember that it was only 29 months ago during the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that President Obama said that any deal with Iran would be predicated on the dismantling of their entire nuclear program. But once re-elected, his negotiators walked that position back step by step to the point where the current deal would allow Iran thousands of nuclear centrifuges and to continue conducting nuclear research. Instead of ending the Iran nuclear threat for all time, the deal will expire within 10-15 years. That leaves Tehran an option for a bomb that would not even require it to cheat but allows them to wait patiently for it to be over before the Islamist regime may do as it likes.

Why shouldn’t the Iranians expect that Obama, who considers the Iran deal the centerpiece of his vision for the future of the Middle East and his foreign policy legacy, to fold again? Why would anyone think the president would risk throwing it all away merely to force Tehran to comply on these points when he has never stood his ground in the talks before?

But even if we think the U.S. will try to budge the Iranians, what Khamenei is doing is setting up the final round of talks in such a manner as to ensure that his representatives are in the strongest possible position. By taking such a public stand, it will mean the Americans will treat even the most minimal concessions on Iran’s part, even if they don’t involve actual transparency as great victories. The result will be a far weaker deal than even the flimsy framework that Obamas presented last month.

Throughout this process, Iran has regularly taken Obama to the cleaners on every key issue. The question remains whether Congress, which has given itself the right to vote on an Iranian deal, albeit in a manner that virtually guarantees its approval, is paying attention to these details. It is not too late for principled Democrats to send a strong signal to the White House that they will abandon the president if he doesn’t get the full inspection regime he has promised them. If they don’t, it will be hard to blame the Grand Ayatollah for thinking that he is on the verge of another astounding and completely undeserved diplomatic triumph at Obama’s expense.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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