Commentary Magazine


Hillary Clinton’s Tangle of Corruption

Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

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Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

I’m speaking in this instance of the donations by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. As Jonathan made note of yesterday, a New York Times story on the forthcoming book by Peter Schweitzer, Clinton Cash, asserts that “foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.”

When the secretary of state has a policy of pay-to-play, that is bad enough. It reinforces the impression that Mrs. Clinton is a tangle of corruption, dishonest and untrustworthy, and playing by rules that apply to her and her husband but not to others. That has happened time and again with the Clintons; it’s the pattern and habits of a lifetime. And there’s no indication it will change. The portrait of Mrs. Clinton is that of a hardened, brittle, unreflective, and self-justifying individual. Whatever problems she faces are always the result of others, often the “right-wing conspiracy” she has invented in her over-active imagination.

But that’s not the only complicating factor for Mrs. Clinton. The other is that she has badly damaged her ability to wage a culture war/”war on women” campaign against Republicans. Because whatever outlandish charge she makes against Republicans, they will sound positively enlightened compared to the repression of women and gays that occurs in nations (like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, et cetera) that have given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. It looks for all the world as if those nations gave money to buy the silence of the Clintons–and their investment paid off.

One can only imagine the political firestorm if the tables were turned and nations that brutally oppress women and gays had funneled money to a foundation of a Republican running for president in order to gain favor while he served as America’s chief diplomat–not to mention the deletion of 30,000 emails on a secret (and inappropriate) server. The coverage would be intense and unremittingly negative.

On top of all that, the Schweitzer book says that even as Hillary Clinton is portraying herself as a “champion for everyday Americans,” from 2001 to 2012 the Clintons’ income was (at least!) $136.5 million. Not bad after claiming she and her husband were “dead broke” after they left the White House. During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, Schweitzer writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.” (“Of the 13 [Bill] Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more,” Schweizer writes, “only two occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”)

Unlike her husband, Mrs. Clinton is not a naturally likable public figure. Her ethical transgressions make her less so. Which means Republicans are likely to face a person with thoroughly average political skills running with a considerable amount of ethical baggage but also a mountain of cash (estimates are that her campaign will raise up to $2.5 billion). Beating her in 2016 won’t be easy, but it’s certainly doable.

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Will Rubio Be Sunk By Immigration?

Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

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Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

Rubio, who won a Senate seat as a Tea Party insurgent challenging establishment Republican (turned independent and then Democrat) Charlie Crist, saw his stock fall badly among movement conservatives when he embraced a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 that promised illegals a path to citizenship. The bill died in the House, and Rubio took such a drubbing among GOP activists that it appeared that his once promising 2016 hopes were at an end. But Rubio ultimately walked away from the bill declaring, as did many of his House colleagues, that a necessary reform of the immigration system would have to wait until the border was secured. The 2014 surge of illegals at the Texas border vindicated that opinion and Rubio seemed to have subsequently put himself in line with the views of much of the party base.

But though Rubio now says a comprehensive approach to immigration is neither politically possible nor good policy, he’s not willing to disavow the concept of ultimately allowing some illegals a way to come in out of the shadows. That’s what he said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation even as he admitted that it could only happen after a “long process” that wouldn’t involve “a massive piece of legislation” that reform advocates, including President Obama, demand. However, that disclaimer may not be enough to persuade many Republicans that he hasn’t disqualified himself from presidential consideration.

That’s the gist of the abuse being flung at Rubio by radio talkers like Laura Ingraham and pundit Anne Coulter, all of which seem aimed at labeling Rubio as a Hispanic version of moderate Lindsey Graham. They won’t forgive Rubio for his past advocacy of the Senate bill. As far as they are concerned anything that smacks of amnesty for illegals, either by President Obama’s extralegal executive orders or constitutional legislation, is equally suspect. Bush, who is counting on establishment support, already knows that the party base won’t back him. Indeed, at times, Bush has seemed to be willing to run against the base in the hope that this would facilitate his general-election campaign if he wins the nomination.

But Rubio is neither foolish enough to run against the base nor possessed of sufficient establishment backing that he can afford to ignore taunting from radio talkers that can fire up people against him.

In a race in which foreign policy plays a major role, Rubio, the most articulate of the likely contenders on security and defense issues, can expect to shine. His launch also reminded the country about why so many Republicans thought he was the perfect candidate to help them break the mold of the last two elections in which the GOP seemed to be doomed to permanent minority status. The bump he received recently in the polls is an indication that he has a higher ceiling than many of those Republicans planning on jumping into the fray. But it remains to be seen whether any candidate who needs, as Rubio does, to get some share of the conservative vote can survive the pasting he’s going to continue to get from elements of the activist core that consider any leniency on immigration to be the third rail of politics.

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Naming the Accomplices of the Holocaust

Last week, FBI director James B. Comey wrote an opinion piece about the importance of Holocaust education published in the Washington Post. But this seemingly anodyne exercise on Yom HaShoah has landed Comey in the middle of a diplomatic incident as well as earning himself a scolding from the Post’s Anne Applebaum for seeming to inaccurately describe the government of Poland as an accomplice of the Nazis during the Holocaust. However, Applebaum’s defense of Poland goes a little too far. Though she’s right to draw a bright line between the complicity of Germany and that of other nations, especially Poland, in mass murder, she too somewhat distorts the issue by seeming to downplay the role anti-Semitism throughout Eastern Europe played in facilitating the destruction of European Jewry. But the main lesson we should draw from this brouhaha is that by engaging in arguments that seek to whitewash some of those who behaved atrociously during the 1940s, we are distracting ourselves from the real threats facing Jews, Poles, and Europeans in 2015.

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Last week, FBI director James B. Comey wrote an opinion piece about the importance of Holocaust education published in the Washington Post. But this seemingly anodyne exercise on Yom HaShoah has landed Comey in the middle of a diplomatic incident as well as earning himself a scolding from the Post’s Anne Applebaum for seeming to inaccurately describe the government of Poland as an accomplice of the Nazis during the Holocaust. However, Applebaum’s defense of Poland goes a little too far. Though she’s right to draw a bright line between the complicity of Germany and that of other nations, especially Poland, in mass murder, she too somewhat distorts the issue by seeming to downplay the role anti-Semitism throughout Eastern Europe played in facilitating the destruction of European Jewry. But the main lesson we should draw from this brouhaha is that by engaging in arguments that seek to whitewash some of those who behaved atrociously during the 1940s, we are distracting ourselves from the real threats facing Jews, Poles, and Europeans in 2015.

Comey is in trouble because of the following passage in his Post piece:

In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.

That first sentence enraged Poles, who rightly pointed that either through bad punctuation or ignorance, Comey was lumping Poland in with Nazi Germany. That’s profoundly wrong as there was, as Applebaum rightly points out, no Polish collaborationist government as there was in France, Norway, and some other occupied nations. Moreover, unlike other ethnicities that were treated badly by the Germans but not treated as subhumans Poles were also singled out for atrocities by the Nazis and suffered mass slaughter. Polish Jews suffered far more than their non-Jewish compatriots and were targeted for extinction while most Poles were not. But Poles still are right to take umbrage at any notion that they were, as a people, direct accomplices in the way that many in the Baltic States and Ukraine, to take just two examples, were.

Applebaum is also right to note that the murder of Hungarian Jewry didn’t begin until that Axis ally collapsed as Germany assumed direct rule over Hungary.

But Applebaum goes too far when she claims that the sole fault for the Holocaust rests on “German state terror” or that participation in the mass murder on the part of Germans or their non-German accomplices was prompted primarily by fear and that those who did so “knew they were terribly, terribly wrong.” That interpretation of history serves some purpose for the people of contemporary Europe because it allows them to claim that those of their forebears who were part of the apparatus of death or cheered it were in some ways also victims. But such an assertion ignores the role that anti-Semitism played in Europe, especially in those countries of Eastern Europe where the most grievous mass slaughters of Jews took place.

Let’s specify that in a narrow sense Applebaum is right that Germany must always accept the lion’s share of the blame for everything that happened during the Holocaust. But it is disingenuous to claim that their task of singling out the Jews and then murdering them was not eased by the willingness of even the most poorly treated subject populations in Eastern Europe to treat Jews as worthy objects of persecution.

Nor can it be asserted with any credibility that the mass slaughters, especially those in areas that had been seized from the Soviets, were not materially aided by large numbers of non-Jewish local collaborators. While these populations had good reason to despise their Soviet overlords, nothing excuses their assistance of mass killings or the willingness of so many of their men to serve in volunteer units fighting beside the Nazis.

If they did so, it was not just because they feared the Nazis but because they, like so many Germans, believed the Jews deserved to be expropriated, deported, and or killed in cold blood. This “eliminationist” mentality, as historian Daniel Goldhagen described it, wasn’t so much the product of fear as it was of 2,000 years of anti-Semitism that rendered the Nazis’ ideology palatable to many who might otherwise have found it impossible to make common cause with what was a fundamentally revolutionary and socialist concept. Killers of Jews did not seem much troubled by their consciences, including those Poles that engaged in pogroms against the remnant of Jewish survivors that attempted to return to their homes after the war. The Nazis may have ruled by fear but they don’t seem to have needed it to convince so many people to either take part in their war against the Jews or to be quiet about it.

Applebaum, who is married to a prominent Polish politician, is understandably devoted to defending the good name of Poland, which, for all of the problems of its past, does not deserve to be lumped in with the Nazis as Comey seemed to do. But when Poles or other Eastern Europeans waste their time trying to parse this history so as to deny even minor complicity for the anti-Semitism that facilitated the Holocaust, they are wasting their time and ours.

Contemporary Poland is not responsible for the malevolent culture of Jew hatred that dominated its society in the 1930s and even during the war in which that country was also subjected to atrocities. Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, including countries whose populations did collaborate en masse with the Germans, now lives under the threat of Russian aggression. Thus, Poles have better things to worry about than whether some in the West are able to recall the role played by non-German Jew-haters in the Holocaust.

By the same token, Jews, who face a rising tide of global anti-Semitism fueled by an Islamist variant of the same eliminationist spirit that animated the Nazis, need not re-fight the battles of the past.

Comey should correct his punctuation but let’s not try and revise history to soothe contemporary national egos. Nor should we hold onto illusions about evil acts only being motivated by fear. As we face a new generation of aggressors like Russia and potential mass-murderers in ISIS and Iran, it’s a mistake to forget that evil is every bit as persuasive as fear.

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Are You Poor Enough to Be President?

If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

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If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

Clinton’s insistence she was broke post-presidency was obviously ridiculous, which is probably why McAuliffe rushed out to defend it:

“I cannot tell you the distress in that family at that time, with all the issues and all the legal fees, banks refusing to even give them a mortgage. So listen, people go through tough financial times,” he said.

McAuliffe’s comments came when asked about remarks from Clinton quoted in his book depicting the former first lady saying “we own nothing” and “it was really horrible” when leaving the White House.

“They had nothing compared to a lot of rich friends,” host Chuck Todd pressed.

But it was the next part of the interview that was more interesting:

McAuliffe pointed to Clinton’s upbringing in an attempt to cast the presumed Democratic presidential frontrunner as someone who knows hardship, noting her “middle-class roots” and that her mother was abandoned.

This is the 2016 presidential election in a nutshell, and Hillary is far from the sole offender. Her Republican rivals are, if anything, even more desperate to project the false populism of poverty.

It recalls a classic McDonald’s commercial in which older diners are engaged in an uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways competition over childhood hardships. If memory serves (I can’t find the clip online), it ends with one elderly diner talking about walking barefoot when the diner behind him snaps “Feet? You had feet?”

The major difference between that commercial and the 2016 campaign is that the candidates are competing for most recent poverty, with the trump card being somehow still poor even today and running for president. At this rate we’ll be lucky if a future nominee doesn’t win the primaries on the strength of a biography that consists of still living with his parents. (On the other hand, being a grown adult who isn’t very good with money does seem to be a presidential prerequisite these days.)

This afternoon, CNN posted an article whose headline asked the following question: “Can a Jos. A Bank suit win the White House?” I bet now you wish we could go back to talking about Chipotle.

The story is about Scott Walker:

Presidential hopeful and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boasted in New Hampshire last weekend that he shops for suits at Jos. A Bank. It’s famous for its huge discount deals. “All suits — Buy 1 get 3 FREE” reads the site’s current promotions.

Walker is using his everyman wardrobe to resonate with middle class voters.

“The shirt is from Kohl’s. The suit is from Jos. A Bank,” Walker, a Republican, told a crowd in New Hampshire over the weekend.

Walker has actually made his shopping at Kohl’s a regular feature of the campaign. In his defense, there is a point: in a January speech he explained how his wife had to teach him how to shop there properly, by waiting for deals, clipping coupons, and using reward points. Lesson learned, Walker finally returned to Kohl’s to buy a shirt and “the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!” (I’m sure former Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, whose family started the chain more than a half-century ago, was just delighted to hear it.)

Should we care which candidates shop at Kohl’s? No, we should not. Which is what made encountering the following note in the CNN story a pleasant surprise:

So what suits do other presidential hopefuls wear? Does the suit say anything about them or their policy? We don’t know.

Spokespersons for Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz did not respond for comment. Senator Rand Paul’s spokesperson declined to comment.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that this election is an outlier in this regard. In fact, it’s long been a tradition in American politics to lay claim to the famous American up-from-your-bootstraps work ethic and economic mobility.

And the candidates have perfectly valid reasons to partake in this tradition. Hillary Clinton is doing so because she is very, very rich, a situation made possible partly because the regular rules that apply to “everyday Americans” don’t apply to the Clintons. Hillary would like to shed the image of her as an out-of-touch crony capitalist extraordinaire. The problem is that the image is accurate.

Republicans are doing so both to contrast themselves with the rich and privileged Clintons as well as to continue exorcising the ghost of 2012, specifically Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. Conservatives hope to banish the image of the country club Republican, and are going out of their way to push back on the perennial media narrative of uncaring right-wingers. If the current string of Clinton scandal revelations continues at this clip, however, they won’t have to do much at all to look more relatable than the Democratic royal family they’re running against.

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Americans Eager to Sell Iran the Rope to Hang Them

Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

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Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

Like the Times’s own disgraceful journalistic tourists to Iran, such as Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof, the group featured in today’s article gushed over the welcome they received and the wonders of Iran’s ancient culture, friendly people, and market potential. The delegation of venture capitalists and business executives organized by a group called the Young President’s Organization got a red carpet tour as well as constant assurances that they and their money will be safe in Iran. When they had the temerity to ask about billboards across the country that proclaimed the regime’s trademark “Death to America” slogan, they were told that this was the product of a bygone era and that a “new Iran” was emerging. That seemed to comfort them, as did the likely inference that the presence of American cash would speed along the transformation of Iran.

But it’s likely that along with tourist sites and meetings with Iranians that said the right thing about wanting to re-engage with the West, these young entrepreneurs and executives didn’t find out much about the way the theocracy oppresses dissidents and religious minorities. Nor is likely that they learned much about the way the regime and its various military arms operate businesses that finance international terrorism as well as an arms buildup that threatens the region. It’s likely they also heard the same tripe about Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy (in a nation overflowing with massive oil reserves).

What businesspeople who want to invest in Iran should understand is that their efforts to open up this market for American commerce serves to strengthen a brutal and anti-Semitic Islamist government that is a driving force behind regional violence. Dollars that go to Iran will help finance Iran’s terrorism as well as a nuclear program that will eventually, even if Tehran abides by a pact with the West, lead to a weapon that could destabilize the Middle East and threaten Israel with destruction. Just as important, it will make it harder, not easier for those who want change in the country to make their voices heard, let alone have an impact on events. Though Americans always tell themselves fairy tales about increased trade being a force for freedom, all they will be doing is putting cash in the coffers of an otherwise tottering government that will make it even more resistant to reform, let alone willing to expand freedom.

But what’s that compared to the chance of making money by doing business with the ayatollahs? To those who participate in such junkets, the answer is obviously not much. Rather than Americans exporting their values, all the effort to promote trade with Iran will do is to compromise their own principles and to legitimize a regime that those who cherish freedom should never seek to support. This story illustrates that the cost of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran cannot be measured solely by the terms of a nuclear deal that will abandon sanctions and grant the regime a path to a bomb. “Death to America” doesn’t mean just death to Americans critical of Iran but all Americans as well as Western freedom. Just as Lenin once boasted that capitalists would sell Communists the rope by which they would be hanged, a new generation of fools appears intent on gifting Iran with the money that will pay for the terrorists that will kill us.

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‘Clinton Cash’ and an Unprecedented Question

Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

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Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

On its face, the reports about Schweitzer’s book appear to indicate that what he has done is merely to collate a vast array of material about the Clintons, their charity, and U.S. foreign policy, and to attempt to connect the dots between subjects that Bill and Hillary would like very much for us to keep separate. In response, the Clinton machine is trotting out the gang of usual suspects to put it down as politicized reporting that unfairly attempts to stigmatize the work of a noble charity as well as to besmirch Hillary’s record at the State Department.

Yet however much they huff and puff about the effrontery of those who dare to question the Clintons’ behavior, they can’t entirely squelch concerns about the way the couple has pushed the conventional boundaries of ethical political behavior in ways that are completely unprecedented in American political history. Though this is being viewed as a purely political question, there’s more here than just an opportunity for conservatives and Republicans to throw dirt at the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. Even if you admired the previous Clinton presidency and think Hillary would make an admirable successor to Barack Obama, the facts about the Clinton charity and the way it has solicited donations give even liberals a queasy feeling about the manner in which has operated. More than that, there is simply no previous example of a former president and his family creating such an entity that is dependent in part on foreign riches while one of its principals has been actively conducting American foreign policy and preparing for a future presidential run.

It must be conceded that just because there has never been anything like the Clinton power couple before doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. But in an era when conflicts of interest involving public officials are often justifications for lengthy and costly investigations–and possible prosecution if authorities think they can substantiate a link, however circumstantial, between official behavior and actions from donors that benefit an official and/or his or her family–the most favorable way of characterizing the Clintons’ behavior is to say that it is very fishy. Yet we should probably take it as a given that the Clintons and their lawyers are likely so savvy about how to push the envelope on ethics that they have been careful to avoid breaking any laws or at least that they have done so in ways that will make it difficult, if not impossible for them to be prosecuted.

It is also true that former President Clinton’s conduct seems very much in line with the kind of activity that nowadays we treat as normal from former members of the House and Senate who routinely cash out on their political careers after retirement or defeat at the polls by becoming lobbyists, consultants, or otherwise profiting from their status as former power brokers. Past presidents have often been involved in charity work, though never on the scale of the Clinton Global Initiative before. But even if other former chief executives have made money speaking, those paying them exorbitant honorariums were never before doing so while a presidential spouse was in power or planning to get it, raising issues of quid pro quo transactions that have never before been lodged before against one of our former presidents and their families.

Are the American people are really comfortable with the idea of a former president profiting from the largesse lavished upon him and the charity he runs from foreign sources while his wife presides over the State Department while biding her time before running for president? Clinton’s defenders are anxious that we think it no big deal while their antagonists seem to think that merely pointing out what is already on the record about their behavior is enough to disqualify Hillary from consideration in 2016. But what we don’t know is which of these two possible responses characterizes the thinking of the electorate.

It is possible that just as Bill Clinton broke new ground in violating norms about personal behavior in the White House without forfeiting the support of many, if not most Americans, so, too, the tale of the “Clinton Cash” will similarly be forgiven, if not altogether ignored by enough Americans to ensure their return to the White House. But just as there is no precedent for their behavior and the questions they have raised about the intersection of policy, charity, and speeches for profit, there is also none that can give us an answer to this question about how such hijinks influence presidential elections. All we know is that the Clinton way of doing charity work for profit and power has raised questions about Hillary’s candidacy and her party in ways that not even the sagest pundits can be sure about the people’s response to this mess.

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A Plea for Sanity in the Battle over Bibi

Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

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Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

One question in the poll found, as paraphrased by a Bloomberg reporter, that Republicans were “more sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than to their own president, 67 percent to 16 percent, while Democrats are more sympathetic to President Barack Obama than to Israel’s prime minister, 76 percent to 9 percent.” The reporter’s choice of phrasing “than to their own president” (my italics) is telling, and was reflected in some of the more extreme responses to the poll.

But the question that confused people was as follows:

When it comes to relations between the U.S. and Israel, which of the following do you agree with more?

(Read options. Rotate.)

45            Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge

47            Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them

8            Not sure

Republicans were more likely to give the first answer, Democrats the second.

The problematic nature of the wording becomes clear as soon as you read the actual poll question. But reporting on the poll may have taken the form of a game of “telephone.” Bloomberg’s own report on its poll muddied the waters immediately, suggesting that the poll said that Republicans opted for supporting Israel in a zero-sum faceoff when our interests diverged with those of the Israelis. But that’s not what the question says. It’s not an either/or question.

For example: a few years ago then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave an interview to the Washington Post. During the course of the interview, Barak was asked about the Syrian civil war. He responded that the Assads should be removed from power if possible but only their innermost circle; stability should be prioritized over total revolution. Barak was clearly nervous about Syria being a repeat of Egypt, where a stability-minded dictator was removed and replaced (temporarily) with a president from the Muslim Brotherhood who intended to shift Egypt’s allegiances toward Israel’s (and the West’s) enemies in the region.

But that was not American policy at the time, at least on paper. Washington was leaning toward a wholesale power shift, with the caveat that it be brought about by negotiations.

According to the common interpretation of the Bloomberg poll, that meant that support for Israel should at that point disappear until the two were back on the same page. A similar conflict even arose over Ukraine. Should the disagreement over Ukraine have imperiled the alliance?

Of course not. Sometimes our interests diverge. Those times are the exceptions, not the rule. And it would be silly to suggest that “support” for Israel should be untenable at that time. Sometimes we disagree, it’s really as simple as that.

Additionally, not all conflicts can be weighed equally. For example: let’s say you believe it’s in America’s interest to have an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that removes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, ignores Israeli security needs in the West Bank, and includes a deal on refugees that would put Israel’s demographic future in question. The majority of Israelis would oppose those terms. Should Americans support it? Is it enough that it’s in America’s interest, in your opinion, or should Israeli sovereignty and self-determination predominate? Barack Obama thought it was in America’s interest to interfere in Israel’s election. Is it wrong for an American to disagree and to hold that Israel’s democratic process should be respected?

You get the point. Moreover, the American sympathy for Israel is based not only on mutual strategic interests but also on history, religion, politics–the works. What poll respondents are saying is that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong enough to withstand the occasional argument.

But if you were looking to misread the poll, it would be easy to do so. Slate’s William Saletan wrote a bizarre column using the poll to attack Republicans as disloyal. What Republicans revealed when they invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress “against the will of a Democratic president” (His Majesty will not be pleased) and again by the Republicans surveyed in the Bloomberg poll is that “They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader.” Here’s Saletan’s conclusion:

That split points to a more fundamental challenge. Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests? When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?

So are Republicans permanent traitors taking orders from the Israeli government, or will they one day love their country again? Stay tuned!

The heated rhetoric around Netanyahu has lost all proportion. And it isn’t limited to the anti-Bibi guns on the left. Just before the Israeli elections, NRO’s Quin Hillyer wrote a column headlined “Israelis Should Send Obama a Message of Defiance.” The column had high praise for Netanyahu, and also included this strange concern:

Americans who love Israel will, of course, continue to love it regardless. But we fear that, without Netanyahu’s leadership, there will be less of Israel left to love.

If he was speaking figuratively, that plainly makes no sense. If he was speaking literally–as in, the other side would throw a fire sale on Israeli land–it ignores the reality on the ground as well as the more hawkish tendencies of Labor leader Isaac Herzog, to say nothing of the fact that Bibi himself presided over a two-track negotiating process with the Palestinians that he let one of his main political rivals lead.

Look, Netanyahu’s an eloquent spokesman for Western ideals and values, and it’s easy to see why English-speaking conservatives enjoy his leadership. But even while winning a convincing victory, his party still only won less than a quarter of the vote. Israel is a diverse country with diverse politics. Bibi is a product of Israel; Israel is not a product of Bibi.

Both sides should keep this in mind, but the left obviously needs this reminder more than the right. Because even at its most adulatory, American admiration for Netanyahu is not treasonous. And the simple fact that it’s being treated as if it were should serve as a much-needed wake-up call for American liberals.

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The Problem With ‘Creative Negotiations’

On Friday, President Obama acknowledged a painfully obvious fact that the White House and State Department have struggled mightily to ignore in the last two weeks. After generally dismissing the stark divide between the spin the United States has put on the framework nuclear agreement and statements that directly contradict that interpretation, the president decided to address that contrast head on. The president said U.S. diplomats would have to conduct “creative negotiations” in order to bridge the differences between the two sides on Iran’s nuclear program. In doing so, the president made it clear that any agreement would have to give the West the ability to reimpose sanctions on the Islamist regime if it cheats on the deal. That sounds good, but the problem is that over the course of the past two years of talks with Iran, we have been given a very good idea of what is meant by “creative negotiations” in the Obama administration. In Obama-speak, creative means Iran gets its way.

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On Friday, President Obama acknowledged a painfully obvious fact that the White House and State Department have struggled mightily to ignore in the last two weeks. After generally dismissing the stark divide between the spin the United States has put on the framework nuclear agreement and statements that directly contradict that interpretation, the president decided to address that contrast head on. The president said U.S. diplomats would have to conduct “creative negotiations” in order to bridge the differences between the two sides on Iran’s nuclear program. In doing so, the president made it clear that any agreement would have to give the West the ability to reimpose sanctions on the Islamist regime if it cheats on the deal. That sounds good, but the problem is that over the course of the past two years of talks with Iran, we have been given a very good idea of what is meant by “creative negotiations” in the Obama administration. In Obama-speak, creative means Iran gets its way.

Let’s give the president some credit for addressing the fact that both Iran’s supreme leader and its negotiators have not been shy about contradicting the administration’s promises about severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear efforts, its possession of its stockpile of enriched uranium, and intrusive inspections. In fact, despite the president’s effort to sell the agreement as fait accompli that has put to bed the Iranian nuclear threat, it is in fact still nothing more than a hope for such an accomplishment. Iran expects sanctions to be lifted immediately and not on a gradual basis as the administration has long promised. Crucially, even the New York Times noted that the president was not repeating his past statements about phased lifting of sanctions on Friday. If sanctions are lifted almost immediately and so long as the location of that stockpile, the nature of the inspections, or the willingness of Iran to agree to open its military facilities to the West so that the extent of their progress toward a bomb is discovered are set according to Iranian rhetoric and preferences, the entire framework is essentially meaningless.

That is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Obama foreign-policy team. In theory, over the next two months, during which the text of the accord will be drafted and finalized, the president will have a chance to make good on his boasts about imposing severe restrictions that would actually stop their nuclear program in its tracks. However, as they have repeatedly stated, the Iranians have very different ideas about what has already been agreed upon and what they will consent to in the future. They seem to be under the impression that what they have agreed to is a very different sort of deal than the one the president keeps telling us about.

That sets up what could be an interesting confrontation in which the West could stick to its demands and threaten to walk away from the table rather than to consent to the abandonment of its goals. But in his call for creativity, the president gave us a hint of what lies ahead.

Rather than reflect an understanding of just how tough the Iranians have proved to be in the talks, the president seemed to indicate that the wide gaps between the two parties could be papered over with measures that would allow the Iranians to save face while still achieving his objectives. He believes that some sort of symbolic concessions to Iran would be enough to allow Iran the space it needs to give ground.

But the parties are not entering into the final stages of this negotiation without already showing us how they operate. We have already seen what happens when the West wants Iran to give in on vital points of contention. Iran says no and then an administration that is so besotted with the notion of a legacy-making entente with the Islamist regime gives up. With Obama having discarded the enormous economic and political leverage he held over the Iranians in 2013 when sanctions where put into place, it is now Tehran that holds the whip hand in the talks. Rather than the West being the side that will budge a little to let Iran save face, it has been Iran that wins its points every time while occasionally letting the president pretend that he has won victory on some insignificant issue.

As it stands now, the framework offers Iran two paths to a bomb. One is by cheating on easily evaded restrictions via meaningless inspections and continued nuclear and military research while it holds onto its infrastructure. The other is by abiding by the deal and waiting patiently for it to expire because of the sunset clause that the Iranians fought for and won.

But rather than pressing hard for Iran to agree to the points he knows make the difference between a parody of an agreement and one that would actually make Iran’s nuclear dreams an impossibility, the president is pretending that more charm will win the day. To that end, he even downplayed the significance of Russia’s sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran that further diminishes the already dismal chances of the use of force against its nuclear facilities if it blows up the talks.

In doing so, the president is betraying his transparent eagerness to get a deal at any price. Having already conceded so much to the Iranians, why does he think they will suddenly start giving in to him when throughout the process it has always been he who has been the one to give up? Far from looking to save face, Iran’s objective is to win the last stage of the talks the way they have every phase of the negotiations. To them, Western creativity is an invitation to intransigence that will always be rewarded with an Obama concession. The president can still change the ending to this story but in order to be willing to believe that he can suddenly show some spine to the Iranians, you have to ignore the fact that his desire for an agreement is far greater than Tehran’s willingness to trade tangible measures that will impact their chances for a bomb for mere symbolism.

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Innocent Abroad: Obama’s Iran Disaster

I’m guessing that President Obama, despite his roots in Kenya and Indonesia, has never negotiated for a carpet or anything else in a Middle Eastern bazaar. If his negotiations with Iran are any indication, he is the kind of innocent abroad who pays $100,000 for a carpet that’s worth $100.

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I’m guessing that President Obama, despite his roots in Kenya and Indonesia, has never negotiated for a carpet or anything else in a Middle Eastern bazaar. If his negotiations with Iran are any indication, he is the kind of innocent abroad who pays $100,000 for a carpet that’s worth $100.

Already his talks with Iran have been characterized by American concession after American concession. Talks that started with the express goal of dismantling the Iranian nuclear program and exporting their stockpile of enriched uranium are ending up with the program wholly intact and the enriched uranium still in Iran, albeit in a diluted form. All that Iran has to do is to promise not to enrich too much uranium or weaponize for the next decade or so and in return the world will, in essence, apply its seal of approval to the Iranian nuclear program.

But that still isn’t enough for the rapacious mullahs. Among other conditions, they are demanding that sanctions be lifted the minute the agreement gets signed. Obama has been insisting that the U.S. would lift sanctions only in stages, as Iranian compliance is verified. But on Friday Obama signaled that he is willing to make preemptive concessions on this issue so as to ensure that a deal gets done by his artificial deadline of the end of June.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran could receive from $30 billion to $50 billion in frozen oil money as soon as it signs a deal, out of a total of $100 billion to $140 billion currently held in frozen offshore accounts. That’s a massive bribe to sign on the dotted line.

And that’s just what Obama is saying in mid-April. Imagine what will happen after the Iranian negotiators inform Secretary of State Kerry that $50 billion isn’t enough–oh and, they will add (as they have already done), they shouldn’t have to make a full accounting of their previous nuclear-weapons work, they shouldn’t have to allow inspectors unfettered access, and they shouldn’t have to export any enriched uranium. Think Obama will hold the line? Hardly. This is only the beginning of the complete cave-in that the White House is prepared to make in order to get a deal, any deal, the details be damned.

To justify his premature concessions, Obama claims that the amount of money that the Iranians will receive upon signing the deal won’t matter–even if $50 billion is more than enough to turbo-charge the Iranian power-grab across the region. “Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn’t abide by its agreement that we don’t have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions,” the president said at a news conference.

This is a reference to Obama’s vaunted “snap back” ideas for reimposing sanctions if the Iranians don’t meet their obligations. But only a credulous sixth-grader could imagine that in the event that there is some evidence of Iranian cheating (and the evidence inevitably will be murky, incomplete, and subject to debate) that countries such as France and Germany, which are eager to do business with Tehran, much less countries such as China and Russia, which are not only cozy with Tehran but hostile to Western interests in general, will agree to reimpose sanctions.

Obama’s comments on Friday, and the Journal leak that accompanied them, are further evidence of how the Iranians are taking the president to the cleaners–or more accurately to the bazaar. At this rate he will be lucky to leave the negotiations with the clothes on his back.

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Will Money Moderate Iran?

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

Acting State Department Spokesman Marie Harf insists that Iran will use that money, and perhaps the total $100 billion in sanction relief it expects, to rebuild its economy. While risible, Harf’s claim seems to reflect thinking by everyone from Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s presumptive national security advisor who initiated the Iran talks in the first place, to John Kerry, to Barack Obama himself. Unfortunately, it also reflects true ignorance of recent Iranian history.

Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union more than doubled its trade with Iran on the philosophy that the “China model” might work. That is, trade and economic liberalization might lead to political liberalization. At the same time, the price of oil—and therefore Iran’s income—nearly quintupled.

That cash infusion, alas, coincided with the collapse of the reform movement under President Mohammad Khatami—reformism more or less ran out of steam by 2000—and it also coincided with a massive infusion of cash into Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs and the construction of the then-covert enrichment plant at Natanz. Indeed, this is the whole reason why those claiming to be reformists (Hassan Rouhani, for example, who as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council supervised the build-up of the nuclear program) claim credit for advancing the nuclear program.

It is true that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) does profit to some extent off of sanctions; after all, they control most of the black market. But the logic that an end to sanctions would disadvantage the IRGC and regime hardliners is disingenuous. After all, Khatam al-Anbia, the economic wing of the IRGC, alongside the revolutionary foundations control perhaps 40 percent of the Iranian economy. Any oil deal or serious import-export contracts would disproportionately empower the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian regime over ordinary Iranian people or so-called “moderates” or “pragmatists.”

To suggest infusing cash into the Iranian economy will repair that economy rather than enable Iranian hardliners to further support and sponsor terrorism throughout the region is simply ignorant. It is ignorant of Iran’s ideology, ignorant of the outcome of past episodes where similar strategies were tried, and ignorant of the economic and political structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To infuse such money into Iran’s economy is, effectively, to sponsor a state sponsor of terrorism.

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The Ineffective Campaign in Yemen

Almost a month ago, on March 25, the Saudis launched what they called Operation Decisive Storm to stop the onslaught of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. It turns out that, to no one’s surprise, Decisive Storm isn’t actually decisive.

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Almost a month ago, on March 25, the Saudis launched what they called Operation Decisive Storm to stop the onslaught of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. It turns out that, to no one’s surprise, Decisive Storm isn’t actually decisive.

The Saudis have been bombing rather freely, killing by UN estimates more than 600 people, at least half of them civilians. On March 31, for example, Saudi bombs hit a dairy factory killing 31 civilians, the kind of mistake that would be greeted with global outrage if it were committed by the Israeli Air Force but it is met with polite silence when it’s the Saudis.

Alas, while the Saudis are doing an efficient job of killing civilians (and thereby no doubt driving their relatives into the Houthis’ arms), there is little evidence that they are being effective in stopping the Houthis. Instead, the primary impact of their aerial campaign seems to be to create space for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to expand its sphere of control. To be sure, the U.S. continues to fly drones, now from Saudi soil, that continue to kill AQAP leaders. But that makes little difference on the ground where, with the disintegration of central authority, there is no longer an effective counterweight to AQAP.

As the New York Times reports: “Al Qaeda’s adversaries in Yemen are largely in disarray or distracted by other fighting. Military units have melted away or put up little resistance as Al Qaeda has advanced. The Houthis, a militia movement from northern Yemen that is considered Al Qaeda’s most determined foe, have been preoccupied with battles against rival militias across the country, and their fighters have been battered by aerial assaults from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which is trying to restore the exiled government to power.”

As a result AQAP is on the march. The Times again: “Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen took control of a major airport and an oil export terminal in the southern part of the country on Thursday, expanding the resurgent militant group’s reach just two weeks after it seized the nearby city of Al Mukalla and emptied its bank and prison.”

Yemen, in short, is a mess and getting worse. And the U.S. role—carrying out a few drone strikes, while providing intelligence to the Saudis to facilitate their own bombing—seems to be almost entirely irrelevant. The Los Angeles Times reports, “Obama administration officials are increasingly uneasy about the U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led air war against rebel militias in Yemen, opening a potential rift between Washington and its ally in Riyadh.” But while the White House may be uneasy, there is no sign it is formulating a different strategy.

All of this is of a piece with the overall state of the war on terror: Both Shiite and Sunni jihadists are advancing across the Arab world while the U.S. fumbles for a response. Perhaps the next administration will formulate a more effective strategy, but unfortunately we can’t afford to wait more than 21 months before doing something about worsening conditions in this strategically vital region.

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

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Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

But first, one quibble. Pfeffer writes that the West would of course have noticed Netanyahu’s comment about Arab voters being bussed to the polls, and should have expected backlash. But in this lies a crucial point: it’s understandable to have been irked by the comment, but look at the double standard. When Iranian leaders make extreme comments the Obama administration dismisses them as intended for a domestic political audience, nothing more. The press isn’t exactly blameless here either. In fact, it should be central to the discussion.

When we talk about historical analogies and the Nazis, we often stress the comparison between regimes more than the comparison between reactions to the regimes by gullible Westerners. It’s not that we ignore the latter–we don’t–it’s just that we tend to focus on the evil party asserting its genocidal intent.

But what lessons have Westerners learned from their own history? Here, it’s instructive to glance at Andrew Nagorski’s book Hitlerland. One of the stories he tells is of Chicago Daily News reporter Edgar Mowrer, who was reporting on Germany in the 1930s and even wrote an early book on the emergence of the Hitler era. Nagorski writes:

Yet even Mowrer wasn’t quiet sure what Hitler represented–and what to expect if he took power. “Did he believe all that he said?” he asked. “The question is inapplicable to this sort of personality. Subjectively Adolf Hitler was, in my opinion, entirely sincere even in his self-contradictions. For his is a humorless mind that simply excludes the need for consistency that might distress more intellectual types. To an actor the truth is anything that lies in its effect: if it makes the right impression it is true.” …

As for the true intentions of his anti-Semitic campaign, Mowrer sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others. “A suspicion arises that Adolf Hitler himself accepted anti-Semitism with his characteristic mixture of emotionalism and political cunning,” he wrote. “Many doubted if he really desired pogroms.”

Well, we know how that story ends. The point is, proper historical reflection takes into account not only whether and how the current Iranian regime is animated by common principles with Nazi Germany but also whether we can really say we’ve learned the proper lessons from the past if we’re still dismissing unhinged rhetoric as play-acting for a domestic crowd. (We also should ask if play-acting for a domestic crowd is, in light of history, really as harmless as we sometimes make it out to be.)

Nonetheless, Pfeffer’s larger point about how the Jews have been welcomed in certain corners of the West–America being the shining example–is well taken. So is his point about America’s staunch pro-Israel policies.

Yet there is a difference between treating victims a certain way and preventing others from becoming victims. This is where, I think, many critics are coming from.

Pfeffer’s column has the bad luck to be timed just as the release of hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents, reported first by Colum Lynch yesterday at Foreign Policy, draws new attention to Western inaction during the Rwandan genocide. It’s a long story, and it doesn’t necessarily change the underlying dynamics all that much, though it does shift some more of the weight of the Clinton administration’s bystander role to Richard Clarke and Susan Rice.

Rice’s inclusion there should not be shocking. She is, after all, the official once quoted as cautioning Bill Clinton against recognizing the genocide for what it was because of the effect that could have on the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes in the congressional midterms. Here’s Lynch introducing the revelation:

But the recently declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a far more granular account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action. They fill a major gap in the historical record, providing the most detailed chronicle to date of policy instructions and actions taken by White House staffers, particularly Clarke and Rice, who appear to have exercised greater influence over U.S. policy on Rwanda than the White House’s Africa hands.

Just as relevant here is the sentence that comes next: “The National Security Archive and the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide obtained the documents during a two-and-a-half-year effort to amass long-secret records of internal deliberations by the United States, the U.N., and other foreign governments.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a driving force in getting these documents released. That’s no coincidence. And Rwanda’s far from the only case of Western inaction. Not every mass killing amounts to genocide, but we’re seeing campaigns of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East and Africa. The most recent example is the Yazidis of Iraq, which ISIS tried to exterminate. But the general treatment of Christians–Copts in Egypt, various Christian groups in Nigeria–suggests we are, unfortunately, far from seeing the end of such campaigns.

So has the West learned its lessons from the Holocaust? The honest answer is: some of them. It would be grossly unfair to claim they’ve learned nothing. But it would be wishful thinking to suggest they’ve learned everything.

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Charles Krauthammer on Things That Matter

The syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer was interviewed by Bill Kristol as part of Conversations with Bill Kristol, the online interview program featuring videos of in-depth discussion with leading figures in public life.

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The syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer was interviewed by Bill Kristol as part of Conversations with Bill Kristol, the online interview program featuring videos of in-depth discussion with leading figures in public life.

The Krauthammer-Kristol discussion is fascinating and wide-ranging–on international events spanning from the Cold War to 9/11 and the Obama era; on life in the 1960s, growing up in Canada, and attending medical school; on Judaism, Israel, and his faith about God; and on political philosophy.

On the latter, Krauthammer talks about his time at Oxford, when he studied political philosophy and found himself repelled by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and attracted to John Stuart Mill. (Mill and Isaiah Berlin were significant shaping influences on Krauthammer’s political philosophy.) While liberally oriented as a young man, he was “cleansed of romanticism very early on.” Krauthammer went on to say this:

the interesting thing is you end up with this non-romantic, non-messianic view of human nature, exactly where the Founders started. And that’s what attracted me … I didn’t know a thing about America, that’s all self-taught, that came later when I was in college, and when I was at Oxford. But the Founding to me as a result of that, the Founding documents were enormously attractive. It wasn’t like I learned them rotely as a child, I discovered them later as an adult, and that’s exactly the kind of unromantic, unsentimental view of human nature, of the weaknesses, of the way you construct outside institutions to contain, to channel what is ultimately selfishness into creating a system that would balance itself, and moderate itself.

This nicely summarizes what is perhaps the most underappreciated quality of the Founders, which was their grasp of the nature of the human person. The journalist Walter Lippmann said at the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature. It is America’s great gift that the Founders got the picture of human nature basically right–our capacity for moral excellence and depravity, the fact that most of us live fairly decent but unexceptional lives, and the awareness that within every human heart lies competing and sometimes contradictory moral impulses. The genius of the Federalist Founders, and James Madison in particular, was to create political institutions that channeled human nature in a constructive way. Until they came along, it had never really been done, or at least it had never been done nearly as well.

It was their unromantic, unsentimental, unflinching, and profoundly accurate view of human beings, and the system of government it gave rise to, that drew Krauthammer to the American Founders and informed and reinforced his own understanding of the world in which we live. This all becomes clear in a marvelous interview focused on what a friend of mine calls a love for the beauty of deep things.

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How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out

Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat for (separate) interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the subject of their appreciation of Jewish thought and culture came up. Here was the relevant comment from Obama:

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

And here’s the exchange from Goldberg’s interview with McCain:

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Roth’s work, of course. But Obama’s answer smacked of check-the-box pop blandness. When it came to discussions of philosophy and literature, Obama always seemed to be reading from Wikipedia summaries. McCain’s answer, on the other hand, demonstrated deep and true engagement with the subject matter, and it showed why his respect and affinity for the Jewish people came through so strongly.

Put simply, when it came to Jewish thought and history, McCain simply got it. Obama was lost at sea.

Which is why Obama’s flagging approval rating among Jews isn’t too surprising, whereas a major change in the presidential vote share would have been more surprising.

It makes sense for American Jews to register disapproval of Obama at this point in his presidency, for a few reasons. First, he’s earned it. Obama has never been able to fake a connection with the Jewish people that just wasn’t there, the way it was with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He never passed the “kishkes” test, so to speak, and never even really came close to passing it.

So he was always dependent on his policies speaking for him. Some of the president’s defenders try to point out that Obama has just pushed for a peace agreement along the lines of his predecessors, and that he is unfairly maligned for it. This is false: the differences may appear subtle to outsiders and rookies, but they are monumentally important.

Additionally, he has less of a margin for “error,” as it were, with his policies because he couldn’t make anyone believe that he truly loved the Jewish state and merely wanted what was best for it. Therefore, the trust in him was always going to be less when it came to throwing tantrums over Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the like.

The second reason it makes sense for Jews to make their voices heard now is that Obama has already been reelected, and so there won’t be any concern by left-leaning Jews that they may drive voters to (gasp!) vote Republican, or take other such action that would have actual consequences. This is a safe protest. It lets the president know his juvenile hounding of Israel and his overall incompetence are areas of genuine concern for a demographic group that has consistently been among his most reliable supporters.

And the third reason is that, as far as electoral coalitions are concerned, the Obama era is over. Not only are we past his reelection, but we’re also beyond the second-term congressional midterms. This, then, is a message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership for 2016.

In the end, it probably won’t matter much, especially because Hillary will no doubt say the right things over and over before Election Day 2016. That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.

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How Will Turkey Compensate Armenians?

I have written here previously arguing that historians, rather than the pope or other politicians, should be the ultimate arbiters about what is and is not genocide, whether it comes to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Anfal, the slaughter in Darfur, or any other mass murder. It might seem quibbling, but the basic difference between genocide and mass murder is whether the state implemented a master plan to exterminate a people everywhere they existed (genocide), in certain locales (ethnic cleansing) or whether mass murder occurred against the backdrop of war. Granted, such a distinction doesn’t help the victims nor alleviate their suffering.

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I have written here previously arguing that historians, rather than the pope or other politicians, should be the ultimate arbiters about what is and is not genocide, whether it comes to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Anfal, the slaughter in Darfur, or any other mass murder. It might seem quibbling, but the basic difference between genocide and mass murder is whether the state implemented a master plan to exterminate a people everywhere they existed (genocide), in certain locales (ethnic cleansing) or whether mass murder occurred against the backdrop of war. Granted, such a distinction doesn’t help the victims nor alleviate their suffering.

That said, with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide to be marked in just over a week, momentum is growing across the globe to confirm the World War I-era deaths of more than one million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman state and Kurdish irregulars. One of the strongest motivations for political intervention in the historical debate has been the argument that the Armenian Genocide inspired Adolf Hitler’s desire to commit genocide. On this issue, Hannibal Travis’s recent article in Middle East Quarterly is a must-read.

In recent days, the Pope has called the events of a century ago “genocide,” as has the European parliament. And, on cue, the bombastic, over-the-top Turkish government reaction has only come off looking defensive and silly. Here, for example, is the Turkish prime minister looking silly accusing the Pope of being part of some vast anti-Turkish conspiracy, and here is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doing likewise.

Peeling away Turkish bluster, there are a few reasons why the Turkish government is so dead set against recognizing Armenian genocide. Some Turkish historians genuinely believe that the Ottomans are falsely accused. They argue that the testimony of Western diplomats is colored by World War I anti-Ottoman fervor. Those who blame conspiracies to single out Turkey point to the ethnic cleansing of Turks and Muslims from the eastern Balkans in the years immediately before the murders of Armenians. But two wrongs don’t make a right. While there should certainly be more recognition of the ethnic or sectarian cleansing that occurred in the Balkans, that does not mean that atrocities perpetrated against Armenians should be ignored by historians.

The major reason why so many Turks object to recognition of the Armenian genocide is they fear the next step will be Armenian demands for restitution. Perhaps as Armenians mark the 100th anniversary, it is worthwhile moving this debate into the open: If the international community forms a consensus that the Ottomans conducted genocide against the Armenians—and that consensus may already exist—and if the Turks then acknowledge that Turkey was born upon the ashes of an Ottoman genocide, then perhaps the Armenian government and perhaps major Armenian Diaspora organizations should outline what compensation, if any, Armenians will seek from the government of Turkey. Does the government of Armenia, for example, expect territorial compensation—those lands in eastern Anatolia from which Ottomans and Kurdish irregulars cleansed Armenians? Will Armenia itself be the custodian of any monetary compensation, or is there a mechanism to divide that money among descendants of survivors? What historical proof will be required to determine which Armenians today had family members killed in the genocide, versus those who did not? As one debate appears to be ending, at least on the political level, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that another one must soon begin.

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Embrace, Don’t Cut off Iraq

Yesterday, Max Boot argued in a powerful post that given the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq, the United States should not be training Iraqi F-16 pilots let alone delivering the planes to Iraq. Here’s the core of Max’s argument:

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Yesterday, Max Boot argued in a powerful post that given the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq, the United States should not be training Iraqi F-16 pilots let alone delivering the planes to Iraq. Here’s the core of Max’s argument:

Is this really a wise move? As noted above, the government of Iraq is heavily infiltrated by Iranian agents. Does it really make safe under those circumstances to deliver to Iraq three dozen high-performance fighter aircraft? I, for one, am worried that the fighters could eventually wind up in Iranian hands, buttressing an Iranian Air Force that until now has had to rely on aging F-14 fighters from the 1970s and even F-4s and F-5s from the 1960s. Granted, F-16s aren’t top of the line aircraft anymore—they are outclassed by F-22s and F-35s—but as a matter of policy and law the U.S. does not sell arms to hostile states or to states that might transfer them to hostile states.

I certainly share Max’s concern with regard to Iranian efforts to infiltrate and influence Iraq’s government, but I disagree with his conclusions, first with regard to his reading of sectarianism, and second with regard to the meaning and purpose of the bilateral U.S.-Iraq partnership.

Iraq is unfortunately sectarian, but sectarianism is neither one-way-only, nor should it be exaggerated. The roots of Sunni extremism are not any particular grievance suffered at the hands of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, though his rule was far from perfect and enlightened. Rather, it is the ethnic and sectarian chauvinism of the Baath Party and its evolution into partnership if not symbiosis with the Islamic State. The bombs which, until recently at least, terrorized Baghdad were the work of Sunni sectarian groups. That Abadi has restored a modicum of security to Baghdad, and that Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, and Christians are now restoring the (admittedly, less alcohol-centric) night life for which Baghdad was once known, is a sign that there is progress.

This past fall, I visited the Shi‘ite holy city of Karbala as a guest of the Imam Hussein shrine. Driving from the Najaf International Airport north toward Karbala, the main highway was flanked by refugees from the al-Anbar Governorate which, then as now, the Islamic State threatened. They had taken refuge in the Husainiyahs (Shi’ite meeting and prayer halls) that dot the roadside between the two cities to, in normal times, cater to pilgrims. They had opened their doors instead to Sunni refuges who were fed, clothed, and their kids educated in ordinary Iraqi schools. Many displaced Anbaris seemed to feel better treated in largely Shi’ite southern Iraq than in Iraqi Kurdistan, where ethnic discrimination Arabs face trumps the sectarian discrimination Sunnis might feel elsewhere in Iraq.

At any rate, the complex I stayed in played host not only to Sunni refugees from Fallujah, but also to Shi’ite volunteers who had answered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call. I would see teens and men ranging in age, by my own estimate only, from 15 to 60 years old, get off the bus, ready to begin their 30-day crash training course. Few if any I met were fighting on behalf of Iran or actually cared about the geopolitical competition; most simply wanted to defeat the scourge of the Islamic State. That is not to say that the Iranian government has not tried to co-opt some of the volunteers, but if there’s one thing that has become clear over the past decade-plus of U.S. and Iranian involvement in Iraq, it is that Washington constantly overestimated the psychological impact of occupation, whereas Tehran consistently underestimates the importance of Iraqi nationalism.

Certainly, militias like Asa’ib al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah represent important exceptions which cannot be tolerated. And, where Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani goes, death and destruction follow. Besieged Shi’ites will accept help from whomever offers it—and the Iranians offer it more consistently and with greater sustained attention than does the United States—but Iraqi Shi‘ites are also realistic enough to know that Iran is not an altruistic power. Max Boot is correct to fear Iranian ambition in Iraq.

The danger, however, is that walking away from a military partnership with Iraq because of fear of Iranian influence will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which Iran gets to consolidate control over Iraq. That smaller, weaker states in the Middle East maintain their independence by playing larger, stronger rivals off each other is Arab statecraft 101. Kuwait balances its interests against Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Iran as well. Qatar famously plays the United States and Iran off each other, as does Oman and even the United Arab Emirates. Iraqi Shi’ites are not Fifth Columnists. While the war against Iran was unjust and initiated by Saddam Hussein, when called to military service, Iraqi Shi’ites fought with honor against the Iranians.

In southern Iraq, Shi’ites from both the ruling party and many opposition groups are desperate to win American investment and bolster the American presence in order to balance out Iranian inroads. Maliki changed in Baghdad and became increasingly deferential to Iranian demands once he recognized that the White House was determined to withdraw U.S. forces. As Maliki told me once in a meeting after the U.S. military withdrawal, the White House and State Department simply would not take yes for an answer. (It was the White House that insisted that immunity for U.S. forces be passed through the Iraqi parliament, a political non-starter; had they accepted an executive guarantee, it was a done deal.) The worst thing that ever happened, as far as many Iraqi Shi‘ites are concerned, was the precipitous withdrawal which pulled the carpet out from the Iraqi government’s ability to tell Tehran, “We’d love to comply with your demands, but we have to consider the Americans.”

Washington needs to recognize, as the New America Foundation’s Douglas Ollivant said at a recent panel discussion, that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abbadi is effectively offering the United States the right of first refusal on Baghdad’s future direction. But if Washington falls short on his requests, then he might just as easily seek what Iraq needs in Tehran or Moscow. American policymakers should never forget that the United States and Iraq are not the only players in the sandbox.

So now we come to the training of the F-16 pilots. It is an irony of diplomacy that sometimes the best diplomats reside in Defense Ministries rather than Foreign Ministries. Diplomats rotate in and out of countries and strike up relations that are as often characterized by fakeness as friendliness. But when military officers undergo training, they develop lifelong relationships with their colleagues of the same rank who are in the trenches with them around the clock. As they rise through the ranks, they often constitute an important backchannel when a crisis strikes. During the 1998 Kargil Crisis between Pakistan and India, the Clinton administration ended up relying disproportionately on the relationships which American officers had struck with their Indian and Pakistani counterparts, relationships which were far deeper and more mature than corollary ties between diplomats. To cut off the training relationship—or undercut the ability of Iraq to defend itself—would represent a self-inflicted wound by which the Iraqis conclude they have no choice but to cast their lot with Iran. That would be the greatest gift the United States could give to the Islamic Republic, given how the Iranians struggle to win hearts and minds inside Iraq.

So, what might be done instead?

  • It’s time to dispense with the simplistic sectarian narrative which Gulf allies whisper into the ears of American officials and which, by osmosis, has become the dominant narrative in CENTCOM and CENTCOM circles as well. It’s all well and good to talk about re-Baathification and forcing undemocratic concessions under terrorist fire, but that would simply throw the baby out with the bathwater and convince the more than 60 percent of Iraq which is Shi’ite that the United States seeks to disenfranchise them. Rather than pursue a sectarian strategy which pits Sunni vs. Shi’ite, the United States should embrace a nuanced strategy which seeks to win Shi‘ite hearts and minds by protecting their freedom of conviction against an Iranian government which seeks to subordinate it to Tehran’s will while at the same time concentrating on the real problem, which is the Qods Force and a small minority of Shi’ite militiamen among a larger corpus of volunteers.
  • Rather than walk away from the Iraqi government, it’s time to double down on the military-to-military relationship so that the United States has leverage to exert pressure to increase the space between Baghdad and Tehran. A diplomatic conference builds relations for the duration of the conference; a military training program cements ties for years. It is time to recognize the importance of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship on its own terms rather than only through the lens of Iran policy.
  • Make no mistake: I won’t downplay the threat Iran poses, but the proper way to counter the Iranian threat is to, well, counter the Iranian threat. There needs to be a strategy to undercut the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, if possible, even grab Qassem Soleimani, a man responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans, more than any other living terrorist.

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Hillary Clinton Is Terrified of People. Will It Matter to Voters?

If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

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If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

IJ Review has a fun side-by-side comparison of what happened when the entertainment-news site TMZ attempted to question Marco Rubio in an airport, and what happened when TMZ tried to corner Hillary Clinton in an airport. Rubio walked over to the cameraman smiling, and chatted for a bit about his campaign, music, and even gracefully handled a question about his wife being an ex-cheerleader. He never looked uncomfortable, or bothered by the questions.

The video of Clinton consists entirely of her walking away in silence, hearing but ignoring the cameraman.

You may think that if there’s any fear at play in that video, it’s fear of the media or of accountability. And that’s surely true. But Hillary’s campaign rollout is revealing that it’s a more generalized fear than that: the woman who wants to be the next president is terrified of people.

Politico reports that while Hillary launched her campaign promising to fight for “everyday Americans,” she would prefer to do so at a distance. She drove to Iowa to meet with voters, but it turned out to be the early stages of a Potemkin campaign:

That’s because she didn’t actually have much face time with regular Iowans who weren’t handpicked by her campaign.

In part, that was by design: Clinton didn’t meet with that many people, period. The strategy going in was to focus on small groups — rather than stage big rallies — and to cultivate more intimate experiences. But Clinton’s foray into Iowa was also an exercise in preaching to the choir, largely executed in the safety of controlled environments.

All told, she met with less than a few dozen Iowans who weren’t pre-selected.

The Politico piece is a guided tour through Hillary’s Iowa trip and the carefully selected groups of “regular people” she met and spoke with along the way and who asked her canned softball questions that were really just liberal talking points with a question mark at the end.

But then, something happened that threatened to shake the very foundations of her Iowa trip: someone spoke to her unscripted. Politico tells the terrifying tale:

But Clinton appeared less at ease in less controlled situations. When two reporters yelled questions at her about why she ignored a 2012 letter from congressional investigators asking about her personal email use at the State Department, and why she appeared to change her position on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Clinton bolted from the room without a word to the news media.

The subheadline of the Politico article is: “Clinton’s foray into Iowa was an exercise in preaching to the choir, executed in the safety of controlled environments.” That seems like an accurate summary of the trip as well as Hillary’s hopes for the campaign. She is uneasy when she doesn’t approve everyone’s placement in the room and when she doesn’t know what they’re going to say to her. She needs pre-programmed responses to questions. The act of thinking on the fly, of deciding for herself what she believes–of actually believing something, anything–is too much for her.

The extent to which Clinton’s interactions with the public must be stage-managed can get quite ridiculous. In September at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, Hillary pretended to grill a steak that had been pre-grilled for her in order to fulfill the obligatory photo op. A picture of Hillary flipping a pre-cooked steak at a steak fry is possibly the quintessential image of Hillary’s presidential ambitions.

The question, as always, is whether any of this is going to matter. Hillary’s a disaster when actually speaking extemporaneously, so there’s an argument to be made that the image of an entitled aspiring monarch running away from “everyday Americans” at full speed is an improvement over what she might say when asked a question that hasn’t been pre-written and pre-answered.

But the contrast between her and the Republicans like Rubio, who wear a smile easily and are willing to interact with voters, is not going to be kind to her during this long campaign. Get to know America, Mrs. Clinton. You just might like it if you give it a chance.

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Southern Iraq Bypassing Kurdistan in Democracy

Earlier this week, I hosted a panel at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abbadi’s visit to Washington. It was a politically diverse panel with Brian Katulus, a scholar at the Center for American Progress; the New America Foundation’s Douglas Ollivant; and National Defense University’s Denise Natali. Brian’s Arabic is stellar and he has broad experience across the Middle East. While we disagree sometimes with regard to policy prescriptions, his analysis of the facts is always tight, careful, and accurate. Doug, for his part, has spent perhaps more time in Iraq than anyone else outside government, and that doesn’t include his time serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army or subsequent service in the National Security Council. Unlike most analysts, he doesn’t drop in and out of Baghdad for meetings or at the invitation of the U.S. embassy, but rather travels across the country to see the real Iraq beyond the security bubble. And, as for Denise, her experience with Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds goes back decades; she is probably the top expert with regard to Iraqi Kurds in the United States today.

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Earlier this week, I hosted a panel at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abbadi’s visit to Washington. It was a politically diverse panel with Brian Katulus, a scholar at the Center for American Progress; the New America Foundation’s Douglas Ollivant; and National Defense University’s Denise Natali. Brian’s Arabic is stellar and he has broad experience across the Middle East. While we disagree sometimes with regard to policy prescriptions, his analysis of the facts is always tight, careful, and accurate. Doug, for his part, has spent perhaps more time in Iraq than anyone else outside government, and that doesn’t include his time serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army or subsequent service in the National Security Council. Unlike most analysts, he doesn’t drop in and out of Baghdad for meetings or at the invitation of the U.S. embassy, but rather travels across the country to see the real Iraq beyond the security bubble. And, as for Denise, her experience with Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds goes back decades; she is probably the top expert with regard to Iraqi Kurds in the United States today.

The whole panel might be worth watching for a sense of the breadth of the issues beyond the Iraq-U.S. headlines, but there was one topic addressed which might be surprising, and that is the trajectory of democracy and democratization inside Iraq.

For much of the past two decades, Iraqi Kurdistan has laid claims to being not only the most stable, secure region of Iraq, but also the most democratic. This traces back to May 1992 when, in the vacuum created by the abrupt withdrawal of central government forces from Iraqi Kurdistan (Saddam hoped to starve the Kurds into submission), the Kurds held an election in which the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Masud Barzani, topped the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani, 45 percent to 44 percent, with smaller and proxy parties taking the remainder. The two parties agreed to divide power equitably and, when this led to a violent struggle, they simply divided territory between them.

While there have been elections in Iraqi Kurdistan since, their outcome has seldom impacted control of Kurdistan. Indeed, Barzani is now serving the 11th year of his eight-year presidency. Given a choice between the democratic visions of Nelson Mandela or Bashar al-Assad, Barzani chose the latter. He embraced the imagery of democracy (remember Assad as the Western-educated reformer?) while imposing dictatorship. The top ranks of Iraqi Kurdish political life are dominated by an older political class and, when young blood is infused into the system, it is limited to the immediate family, hence the prime minister is Masud’s nephew and the national security council chair is Masud’s son. Ditto the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a party which once prided itself on ideology but now essentially revolves around a few families. Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, the wife of former President Talabani, maneuvered to marginalize able party official Barham Salih because she felt he disrespected her family, but placed her young, articulate, but relatively inexperienced son as deputy prime minister.

The juxtaposition between Iraqi Kurdistan and southern Iraq is striking. Like Kurdistan, southern Iraq is booming. Najaf and Karbala are as dynamic as the cities of Kurdistan were a decade ago, and investment continues to pour in. While most of the parties in power in southern Iraq are Islamist in character, the experience of the past decade has shown many Iraqis that religious rhetoric does not substitute for competence. Incumbents have been ousted, and a new generation of politicians have now risen through the ranks of Da’wa, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and smaller parties. The point is this: Kurdish leaders continue to repress the new generation. Family trumps competence. In southern Iraq, however, competence trumps family.

Among Iraq’s most chronic problems are capacity and management. Iraqis still have far to go in both categories, but there is a growing cadre of technocrats and bureaucrats in southern Iraq who have proven themselves and have begun to rise through the ranks. They have raised the bar of competence on what it takes to be a politician or a civil servant. They know they must deliver, and that holding office is not simply about collecting a monthly salary and an inflated pension. The same is not true in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the competent must either acquiesce to an artificially low glass ceiling, or leave their country to pursue their careers outside Iraq. That is becoming a tragedy for which Kurds might soon pay a major price.

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The Reverse Iran Deal Ratification Process

The day after the White House waved the white flag on the Corker-Menendez bill that would force President Obama to submit a nuclear deal with Iran for congressional approval some of his press cheering section is still lamenting this defeat. The New York Times editorial page continued to rage about the spectacle of Democrats uniting with Republicans to force some accountability on the president. Meantime, congressional critics of the president were likewise still celebrating and denouncing the administration’s claims that the amendments Corker allowed to be added to the bill substantially modified it as nothing more than cheap spin. But in a classic example of how our political class—both on the left and the right—can be equally mistaken despite holding opposite views, both the Times and conservative Obama critics are wrong. By embracing the Corker bill, the White House has more or less assured that a terrible Iran deal will be ratified.

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The day after the White House waved the white flag on the Corker-Menendez bill that would force President Obama to submit a nuclear deal with Iran for congressional approval some of his press cheering section is still lamenting this defeat. The New York Times editorial page continued to rage about the spectacle of Democrats uniting with Republicans to force some accountability on the president. Meantime, congressional critics of the president were likewise still celebrating and denouncing the administration’s claims that the amendments Corker allowed to be added to the bill substantially modified it as nothing more than cheap spin. But in a classic example of how our political class—both on the left and the right—can be equally mistaken despite holding opposite views, both the Times and conservative Obama critics are wrong. By embracing the Corker bill, the White House has more or less assured that a terrible Iran deal will be ratified.

Let’s pause a moment to note that the Times’s argument against congressional review of the Iran deal is yet one more example of the shameless and utterly unprincipled partisanship of the Democrats’ paper of record. Had this been a Democratic-controlled Congress seeking to force a Republican president like George W. Bush from concluding a foreign agreement without observing the constitutional niceties in which the Senate must approve such documents, the Times would be invoking the need to defend the rule of law and inveighing against a GOP imperial presidency. But since this is a Democratic president facing off against a Republican Congress, they take the opposite point of view and say Congress is meddling in the president’s business. Need we remind the editors of the Times about what The Federalist Papers say about the dangers of a president acting as if he is an “hereditary monarch” rather than an “elective magistrate” again?

But instead of wasting time pointing out the obvious, it might be just as important to tell the president’s critics to stop patting themselves on the back for forcing him to back down on Corker-Menendez. The more you look at what this bill accomplishes, the more likely it seems that Obama will get his way no matter how bad the final version of the Iran deal turns out to be.

Even if we dismiss the concessions Corker made to the president’s Democratic Senate allies as not significant, the basic facts of the situation are these. Instead of the Iran deal being presented to the Senate as a treaty where it would require, as the Constitution states, a two-thirds majority to pass, Corker-Menendez allows the deal to be voted upon as a normal bill. That means that opponents need only a simple majority to defeat it. That’s good for those who understand that this act of appeasement gives Iran two paths to a bomb (one by cheating on it via huge loopholes and one by abiding by it and patiently waiting for it to expire) and needs to be defeated, right? Wrong.

By treating it as a normal act of legislation, the president will be able to veto the measure. That sets up a veto override effort that will force Iran deal critics to get to 67 votes, a veto-proof majority. If that sounds reasonable to you, remember that in doing so the bill creates what is, in effect, a reverse treaty ratification mechanism. Instead of the president needing a two-thirds majority to enact the most significant foreign treaty the United States has signed in more than a generation, he will need only one-third of the Senate plus one to get his way.

By allowing pro-Israel Democrats a free pass to vote for Corker-Menendez the president is giving them a way to say they voted to restrain the president before also granting them a path to back him by either voting for the deal or failing to vote to override the president’s veto. That gives plenty of room for inveterate schemers such as Democratic Senate leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer to make sure the president gets his 34 votes while giving some Democrats, including perhaps himself, impunity to vote against him.

What has happened here is that despite furious effort and hard legislative work all critics of Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran have accomplished is to allow him the opportunity to legally make a historic and disgraceful act of betrayal of Western security with the least possible support. They may have had no better options and I’ll concede an ineffectual vote on an Iran deal might be better than no deal at all, but please spare me the praise for Corker’s bipartisanship or the chortles about how the White House was beaten. What happened yesterday actually advanced the chances for Iran appeasement. And that’s nothing to celebrate.

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Can We Speak of Iran and the Holocaust?

In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

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In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

For the administration and its loyal press cheerleaders, Netanyahu isn’t so much the boy who cried “wolf,” as some would have it, as he is a Cassandra constantly predicting doom. Though they will in moments of lucidity concede that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, seeks regional hegemony, promotes anti-Semitism, and threatens Israel with destruction, they insist that the best way of dealing with this threat is via diplomacy. The president has, they tell us, gotten the best possible deal with Iran that will, at the very least, postpone or lessen the prospect of Iran getting a bomb. They contend that there are no alternatives to the nuclear deal short of a war that no one wants and whose outcome would be uncertain. More to the point, most people are so tired of promiscuous use of Holocaust comparisons that the rule of thumb in modern debate has become that the first person to mention it loses.

This is an absurd distortion of the situation since what Netanyahu and other critics of the Iran deal have called for is tougher diplomacy, backed by enhanced sanctions, not war. They have also pointed out, with justice, that the deal embraced by the president offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on an agreement with gaping loopholes and no real accountability or monitoring, and the other by abiding by its terms and waiting patiently for it to expire all the while continuing their nuclear research.

But even if we take President Obama at his word when he says that what he has done is intended to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he has also made it clear that his real agenda is not so much to put the Islamist regime in a corner as it is to allow it to “get right with the world” and to transform itself into a government that is both trustworthy and peaceful. This is why the president views the Iran deal as his foreign-policy legacy. His goal here is not just nuclear restrictions but détente with Tehran.

And that is why Netanyahu’s rhetoric is entirely appropriate.

The problem with much of the debate about Iran is that it is premised on the assumption that the nuclear issue can be isolated from the rest of Iranian policies. President Obama says it is because he knows Iran won’t change that he wants to take every opportunity to limit the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle when running for reelection in 2012. But if Iran won’t change, then we must confront the nature of the regime and that is something those who support the president’s appeasement of Tehran consistently refuse to do.

Netanyahu is not engaging in hyperbole when he speaks of the anti-Semitism that is integral to Iranian state policy as well as its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor is he exaggerating a whit when he talks of its oppression of religious minorities and vows to spread its Islamic revolution via proxies all the while crying “death to America” and “death to Israel.” Iran is not monolithic, but the consensus among its factions on the question of Israel’s elimination and the desirability of obtaining a nuclear weapon, with which that goal might be achieved or at least threatened, is not in question.

American liberals may be tired of Netanyahu and bored with talk of the peril from Iran. But they must understand that, at best, the deal Obama has struck will make Iran a threshold nuclear power. At worst, he has smoothed their path to a bomb. Once that is understood, the administration’s efforts to understand and even sympathize with Iran’s concerns must be seen as folly, not wisdom or good policy.

Netanyahu is right when he points out that talk about the horrors of the Holocaust and vowing “never again” is cheap when it is tethered to policies that essentially empower those who not only deny the reality of the Shoah but also seek the means to perpetrate a new one. Iran is not Germany but on a day when the lessons of history should be uppermost in our minds, the burden of proof lies with those defending appeasement of a government that seeks to complete the work Hitler started, not with those lamenting this disgraceful attempt to make a devil’s bargain with a violent hate-filled theocratic regime.

In the United States, we have built many monuments and museums about the Holocaust. But we forget that the only proper monument to the Six Million is a defensible Jewish state that exists to safeguard those that the Nazis failed to murder and their descendants. Remembering the Holocaust in such a way as to forget this vital truth is meaningless. Seen in that light, Netanyahu is sadly dead right to invoke the Holocaust in the context of Iran. It is his critics who should be rethinking their refusal to think seriously about the verdict of history, not the prime minister.

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