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Iran Making its Move on Bahrain

For anyone who gets out of Bahrain’s airport or the U.S Naval facility on the island, it’s hard not to fall in love with the country. While many of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have difficulty defining themselves as more than “tribes with flags,” Bahrain was actually host to an ancient civilization. Geoffrey Bibey’s Looking for Dilmun, about the Danish archaeological mission’s efforts to identify the original of the grave mounds which at one point occupied ten percent of Bahrain’s territory, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in archaeology, ancient civilizations, and the Middle East. It’s a common assumption that everyone in the Persian Gulf is rich in oil and gas; this also is not true for Bahrain. The small island might have been host to the first oil well in the Arab world, but its oil fields are long since depleted and it extracts only about 50,000 barrels per day, putting it below Bolivia, Italy, and Germany in terms of oil production. While Bahrain receives an allotment of oil from Saudi Arabia to refine and sell, the poverty of its own fields have meant that Bahrain years ago diversified its economy, transforming itself into a regional banking hub and manufacturer. The more diverse economy has meant that Bahrainis — even wealthy ones — tend to be more down to earth and have more of a work ethic than many of their peers in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Bahrain has its share of expatriate labor, but it is no Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates. Read More

For anyone who gets out of Bahrain’s airport or the U.S Naval facility on the island, it’s hard not to fall in love with the country. While many of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have difficulty defining themselves as more than “tribes with flags,” Bahrain was actually host to an ancient civilization. Geoffrey Bibey’s Looking for Dilmun, about the Danish archaeological mission’s efforts to identify the original of the grave mounds which at one point occupied ten percent of Bahrain’s territory, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in archaeology, ancient civilizations, and the Middle East. It’s a common assumption that everyone in the Persian Gulf is rich in oil and gas; this also is not true for Bahrain. The small island might have been host to the first oil well in the Arab world, but its oil fields are long since depleted and it extracts only about 50,000 barrels per day, putting it below Bolivia, Italy, and Germany in terms of oil production. While Bahrain receives an allotment of oil from Saudi Arabia to refine and sell, the poverty of its own fields have meant that Bahrain years ago diversified its economy, transforming itself into a regional banking hub and manufacturer. The more diverse economy has meant that Bahrainis — even wealthy ones — tend to be more down to earth and have more of a work ethic than many of their peers in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Bahrain has its share of expatriate labor, but it is no Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates.

That said Bahrain has long been troubled by sectarian unrest and a lack of political reform. Some Sunni sectarians and some (not all) elements of the Bahraini leadership dismiss much of the Shi‘ite unrest in Bahrain as the work of Iranian Fifth-Columnists. That’s often inaccurate and, regardless, the reality is far more nuanced. In short, Iran was behind the 1981 coup attempt, but Bahraini Shi‘ites rose up in the mid-1990s and 2011 because of legitimate political grievances. In recent years, however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to co-opt Bahraini unrest to its own purposes. The younger generation of Bahraini activists may not realize how Iran is using them, but the result is the same. Nor has the Bahraini protest movement been as peaceful as some activists claim. During a 2012 protest march I witnessed, Shi‘ite protesters used Molotov cocktails against security forces using rubber bullets and tear gas. Molotov cocktails may be no match for the Bahraini security forces’ superior firepower, That is not to absolve hardliners in the Bahraini system of counterproductive policies or the king himself of failing to fulfill promises he made as crown prince, but rather to recognize that Iran’s ideological expansionism — its conceptual ‘export of revolutionis real. Over the past few years, Bahraini authorities have intercepted weapons shipments that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has sought to infiltrate into Bahrain (and the largely Shi’ite Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia).

Since President Obama has begun his outreach to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranian attempts to destabilize Bahrain have accelerated. There have now been four weapons caches seized in country, and two interceptions of smuggling attempts by boat, and two by bus. Forensic analysis pointed directly to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy operating in Iraq. Tehran no longer tries to hide or deny its role. On July 18, for example, just days after President Obama triumphantly announced the deal, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said, “[Regardless of] the Iran deal text, approved or not, we won’t stop supporting the oppressed nation in Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Lebanon.” Ten days later, the Bahraini opposition apparently used C4 for the first time, killing two policemen.

The Iranian escalation does no one any good. If the United States and other states are forced to decide between reform and security in the face of Iranian provocation, reform is going to be cast by the wayside. Ordinary Bahrainis regardless of religion or religious sect will be caught in the crossfire if Iran transforms Bahrain into a proxy battleground.

At the same time, the increasing Iranian aggression toward Bahrain simply foreshadows the immediate future with Iran’s hardliners empowered by a deal which does little to constrain Iran’s nuclear program but much to empower the Iranian hardliners bent on regional transformation. Increasingly it seems that Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” speech really was little more than Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “East of Suez” speech all over again.

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Will Trump Really Help Jeb?

The conventional wisdom of the day is that Donald Trump isn’t the only person to benefit from his astonishing rise in the polls. While the lavish attention Trump is getting from the media has effectively marginalized some of the conservatives in the field, the leading moderate is believed to be the immediate beneficiary of this development. Though he is the last person most of those backing Trump wish to see nominated for president by the Republicans, Jeb Bush seems to be enjoying the reality star’s rise almost as much as he is. But the problem with such conventional wisdom is that while it is logical, politics seldom is that symmetrical. If Trump truly has transformed the GOP race, the assumption that he will help Republicans learn to love the third man named Bush who aspires to lead them could be wrong.

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The conventional wisdom of the day is that Donald Trump isn’t the only person to benefit from his astonishing rise in the polls. While the lavish attention Trump is getting from the media has effectively marginalized some of the conservatives in the field, the leading moderate is believed to be the immediate beneficiary of this development. Though he is the last person most of those backing Trump wish to see nominated for president by the Republicans, Jeb Bush seems to be enjoying the reality star’s rise almost as much as he is. But the problem with such conventional wisdom is that while it is logical, politics seldom is that symmetrical. If Trump truly has transformed the GOP race, the assumption that he will help Republicans learn to love the third man named Bush who aspires to lead them could be wrong.

There is no question that Trump has really hurt Bush’s conservative rivals. Rand Paul may still hold onto the sliver of the GOP electorate that identifies as libertarian and previously backed his father, although some of them consider him far too mainstream and moderate for their taste. Paul was already in trouble when Trump announced since the competition from conservatives like Ted Cruz had stolen some of his thunder and made it less likely that Tea Partiers would back him. But Trump’s entry has completely marginalized Paul. To some extent, the same is now also true for Cruz whose momentum has been halted by the Trump distraction.

The problem for them, as well as for other conservatives such as Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee or Bobby Jindal, who are largely running against the government is that its impossible to outdo Trump on that score. While a man like Cruz has spent his entire time in Congress trying to blow up the system from within, even that stance (which infuriates his colleagues) pales in comparison to Trump’s dismissal of the entire political system as worthy of disdain. If you are the sort of voter who is impatient with the way our government works and cynical about all politicians, Trumps non-politician status makes even the most hard-core Tea Party politician look like a member of the establishment.

He’s also had a negative impact on those candidates like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio who were expected to challenge Bush for center-right conservatives and moderates simply because they are being ignored in the 24/7 Trumpworld in which we seem to be living these days. Worse than that, he may be attracting some of the working class conservatives that might otherwise vote for an alternative to Bush, a man whom many in the party think is just the latest plutocrat to demand the party’s leadership as his due.

Since few of those voters who might be attracted to Trump’s bluster would have even considered voting for Bush, that should clear the field for the son and brother of former presidents. Jeb aspires to be seen as the adult in the room and the one most likely to give measured conservative responses to the Democrats and their cheerleaders in the liberal media. If Trump survives the first debates without being exposed as a charlatan with no clear answers beyond his canned simplistic sound bytes on the issues (no sure thing), then thinking is that he will clarify the race in a way that leaves Bush as not only the only moderate in the race but also the only logical non-Trump around whom the party will be forced to rally whether they like him or not. In essence, that means Trump will not only ease Bush’s path to the nomination but actually transform him into the dominate frontrunner that may pundits thought he would be when he first indicated he was running in 2014.

But that logical scenario doesn’t take into account the possibility that Trump isn’t just temporarily disrupting the Republican race. If his success actually shows us that the winner will have to be able to be able to compete with him for the large portion of the electorate that not only distrusts career politicians — let alone political dynasties like the Bushes and the Clintons — but wants a leader who is willing to fight with both fists rather than being content to play the adult in the room as Jeb is inclined to do.

On that point, a piece today by Byron York in the Washington Examiner is highly instructive. York writes about the way Bush responded to the all out attack on him last week by Hillary Clinton in a speech to the National Urban League. Bush followed Clinton at the event. But instead of responding to her charges, even briefly, he simply ignored her attacks that slammed his emphasis on “the right to rise” while calling for an end to ObamaCare or reforming (Hillary called it “phasing out”) Medicare and cast him as the spokesman for the privileged who care nothing for civil rights or the plight of ordinary people. Instead, Bush stuck to his speech touting his accomplishments as governor of Florida and eloquently giving his vision of a better America under a president dedicated to advancing liberty and therefore opportunity instead of expanding the power of government.

It was, as York quoted observers saying, a great speech. But it also demonstrated that he is not the sort of Republican who is inclined to mess up Hillary’s hair or otherwise hit back hard at them. This reinforced the belief held by many conservatives that the Bushes are too gentlemanly and moderate to be able to play in the big leagues with the Clintons. The two clans are friendly, but the Clintons have no problem trashing the Bushes while the latter always prefers to play nice rather than get into the gutter with their opponents and duke it out with them.

Not all Republicans or conservatives are in love with Donald Trump or even like him. His negatives are through the roof even among right-leaning voters and, even now about 80 percent of the GOP electorate is still choosing someone else. But the number of conservatives who like the idea of a combative nominee is a lot higher than that. Bush may think playing the elder statesman is the perfect response to Trumpmania. In the sense that no one can compete with Trump for the title of the most outrageous or combative candidate, he is right. But he’s wrong if the thinks that means the party is really interested in nominating someone who won’t take the gloves off with Hillary and the Democrats.

Is Trump helping Bush right now? Maybe in the sense that the billionaire is hurting the rivals he’s been worried about for most of the last year. but Bush is making a mistake if he thinks the soft-spoken routine will ultimately win over a critical mass of Republican voters. They will probably never nominate Trump but the idea that they will choose the polar opposite of him is a theory that may prove to be a disaster for Bush.

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Erdoğan is Right: Lift Immunity on Terror Supporters

The June 2015 elections in which his party lost an absolute majority of seats in parliament may have shocked President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but, like any dictator worth his salt, he’s not willing to go down without a fight. Indeed, it increasingly appears as if Erdoğan’s ruling party will not be able to form a coalition that, as explained in this piece immediately after the elections, ultimately means new elections until the impasse is broken. Read More

The June 2015 elections in which his party lost an absolute majority of seats in parliament may have shocked President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but, like any dictator worth his salt, he’s not willing to go down without a fight. Indeed, it increasingly appears as if Erdoğan’s ruling party will not be able to form a coalition that, as explained in this piece immediately after the elections, ultimately means new elections until the impasse is broken.

It is against this context that Erdoğan has literally turned his guns on Kurds inside Syria. Now, he is seeking to do much the same thing within Turkey by lifting the parliamentary immunity of senior Kurdish leaders, with the goal of handicapping the largely Kurdish party ahead of new elections. From Hürriyet Daily News:

Parliament must strip the immunity from prosecution of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers and make them “pay the price” for links to “terrorist groups,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said as the government increases its attacks on the Kurdish movement. “Those who exploit the people and the state’s tolerance and patience will receive the answer they deserve as soon as possible. Any step back is out of the question. This is a process and this process will continue with the same determination,” he said July 28 prior to a visit to China.

Many Kurds oppose lifting the parliamentary immunity of senior HDP leaders. Perhaps they have it wrong: Perhaps they should instead demand that Turkey lift immunity on any figure — even the prime minister or president — who have supported terrorist groups or, for that matter, been involved in corruption. HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a man whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet, lives well within his means. Turks may disagree with his politics and I certainly disagree with his economic philosophy, but no one can accuse him of corruption. The same cannot be said for Erdoğan who, beginning as mayor of Istanbul (during which there were 13 separate corruption cases brought) and then through his premiership and now presidency, accumulated vast sums of money far beyond that which his salary would suggest.

As for terrorism, there is no greater terror sponsor in Turkey than Erdoğan himself. He has repeatedly embraced not only Hamas, the terrorist movement, but also its most radical leaders. Indeed, for all Erdoğan depicts himself as a patron of the Palestinians, he is decidedly unwelcome in Ramallah and the West Bank because of his support for a group just as lethal to more moderate Palestinians as Israelis. Troubling questions remain regarding Turkish weapons shipments to Nigerian Islamists against the backdrop of the Boko Haram uprising and evidence is now overwhelming that Erdoğan was not only passively complicit but also directly responsible for supporting the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in Syria and Iraq. Just as Erdoğan has used his iron grip over deputies both to crush investigations of corruption and destroy evidence so he and his associates might never face trial for their alleged financial crimes, so, too, will he now use party minions in parliament to try to prevent any real investigation into his support for terrorism. But, many Turks — including Erdoğan’s inner circle — know privately that the crimes allegedly committed and the abuses of power are so evident mean that should Erdoğan ever lose his parliamentary majority, he will likely face life in prison if not meet the same fate as former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. Demanding the blanket lifting of immunity for crimes conducted while serving as elected officials suggests that justice will be blind to party affiliation. Even if the effort is unsuccessful in the short-term, forcing Erdoğan and his proxies effectively to defend immunity for their own corruption and terror sponsorship is important in the court of public opinion.

And as for Demirtaş? He has used exclusively peaceful means to promote greater rights and freedom for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Erdoğan’s desire to target him is transparent and lacks credibility. In effect, Erdoğan continues to pursue an autogolpe, a self-coup, in order to consolidate power and eviscerate the opposition. If Erdoğan continues to target Demirtaş and Turkey’s Kurds for short-term electoral gain, he will accomplish nothing but precipitating a civil war that ultimately may prove fatal to the Republic of Turkey that Erdoğan now leads. So, strip parliamentary immunity for HDP figures? Let us hope they say, “Bring it on, Mr. Erdoğan. And if you want Turks and the world to see you as anything but a cynical hypocrite, lift your own immunity while you are at it. There’s no question as to who will be left standing in the end.”

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Joe Biden’s Moment

You could spot Joe Biden’s presidential trial balloon from space. After spending several months feigning disinterest in another ill-fated White House bid, the Vice President of the United States has dropped the charade. The widely reported anecdote involving a deathbed request to his father by the late Beau Biden, in which he asked his dad to make one more run at the White House, was mainstreamed over the weekend by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. The overwrought outrage her column inspired from Hillary Clinton’s supporters is directly proportional to the unavoidable impression that her campaign is floundering. But prominent political commentators are vexed by Biden’s sudden interest in another campaign. What is the rationale for his candidacy, they ask? The answer is so obvious that it’s strange it has eluded otherwise capable political analysts: Biden may be better suited than Clinton to maintain the integrity of Barack Obama’s winning electoral coalition.  Read More

You could spot Joe Biden’s presidential trial balloon from space. After spending several months feigning disinterest in another ill-fated White House bid, the Vice President of the United States has dropped the charade. The widely reported anecdote involving a deathbed request to his father by the late Beau Biden, in which he asked his dad to make one more run at the White House, was mainstreamed over the weekend by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. The overwrought outrage her column inspired from Hillary Clinton’s supporters is directly proportional to the unavoidable impression that her campaign is floundering. But prominent political commentators are vexed by Biden’s sudden interest in another campaign. What is the rationale for his candidacy, they ask? The answer is so obvious that it’s strange it has eluded otherwise capable political analysts: Biden may be better suited than Clinton to maintain the integrity of Barack Obama’s winning electoral coalition. 

“What is the case for Biden over HRC?” the clearly perplexed New Yorker columnist Ryan Lizza asked. He went on to suggest that Biden couldn’t compete with Clinton in terms of his youth or his gender. Moreover, Biden lacks broad support from Democrats in polls, has less “lefty cred” than Clinton, doesn’t enjoy the support of the donor base, and is an inferior campaigner to the former secretary of state. “Makes no sense,” he remarked.

If Clinton’s reemergence as a political figure has demonstrated anything, beginning with her bumbling book tour in the summer of last year, it’s that her skills as a campaigner have atrophied. For his part, Biden has an earned reputation for making unforced errors on the trail. But campaigns are unpredictable, and straight-line projections are inherently fallacious. Perhaps Clinton’s most appealing trait for the Democratic electorate is her supposed ability to win the support of general election voters and retain the presidency for her party. Biden may, however, be better positioned than Clinton to retain the White House for Democrats in 2016.

In order to win the White House, Hillary Clinton will have to run a bitter, divisive campaign for the presidency that will pit gender, racial, religious, and age groups against one another in a way that will make the 2012 cycle look like a model of cordiality. Look no further than Clinton’s acrimonious speech to the National Urban League on Friday. There, the New York Times described Clinton’s speech as a “surprise attack” on Jeb Bush and Republicans that preempted the “high-minded,” “colorblind” appeal to unity the former Florida governor planned to deliver immediately following Clinton’s address. It is a sign of things to come, and a reflection of the desperation that has characterized Clinton’s efforts to keep Barak Obama’s coalition of the “ascendant electorate” – women, minorities, and younger voters — together.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ ability to attract the support of liberal white voters has compelled Clinton to redouble her efforts to appeal to traditionally Democratic-voting minorities. For now, Clinton can count on the backing of African-American and Hispanic Democrats. Though, Biden’s status as Barack Obama’s second could chip away at that support rather rapidly. An Economist/YouGov survey released this spring revealed that Biden’s favorability rating among black voters is comparable to Clintons (46 percent describe their feelings toward the vice president as “very favorable” compared with 45 percent who say the same for Biden.

That same survey found Biden is viewed favorably by 42 percent of women compared with Clinton’s 55 percent, but Clinton has seen her appeal toward women crater in the intervening months. YouGov’s latest survey, released last week, shows Clinton’s favorably among women collapsing to 45 percent while another 45 percent view her negatively. Whereas 52 percent of voters age 18 – 29 viewed Clinton favorably in the spring, only 40 percent feel the same today. Just 7 percent of younger voters described their views toward Clinton as “very favorable.”

Considering the fact that the GOP nominee is almost certain to be younger than Clinton on Election Day, the Democrats’ “coolness deficit” is going to be especially acute. The party that has spent the better part of the last decade manufacturing a celebrity cult of personality around Barack Obama is on the verge of an identity crisis perhaps best typified by the tortured liberal effort turn the “notorious” octogenarian Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg into a rock star. But unlike Hillary Clinton, who never fails to project coldness and insincerity, Joe Biden is a natural retail campaigner and a figure that effortlessly connects with his audience.

Biden is also a gaffe machine and a liability for Democrats on the stump. His suggestion, for example, that Republicans wanted to repose slavery on African-Americans in 2012 was unforgivable. The vice president’s penchant for stepping on rhetorical landmines is less evident on the debate stage. Yet he was tested on the national stage against Sarah Palin in 2008 and Paul Ryan in 2012, and in neither showing did the vice president embarrass himself or his party. When Clinton and Biden squared off against one another in 2007, the vice president held his own. In fact, his central concession to Clinton was that her experience in the White House perhaps rendered her better prepared for the presidency than most other candidates in the race. After eight years in the Naval Observatory, Biden now has a stronger claim to preparedness for the presidency.

Clinton cannot compete with Biden in terms of authenticity. In 2014, the Bidens reported an adjusted gross income of $338,844 with over $90,000 of that going to the federal government. The contrast with the “dead broke” Clinton family couldn’t be starker. From 2007 to 2014, the Clintons earned $141 million and contributed $43 million to federal taxes. “We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money,” Biden told a gathering of young people in July. “You ought to be demanding of all of us, all of us, because at least in our own party fights among ourselves, in primaries, that we adhere to a policy that doesn’t rest on millionaires and billionaires.”

And on the all-important matter of being perceived as empathetic – the issue that undid Mitt Romney’s campaign despite the fundamental conditions favoring Republicans in 2012 – Biden soars. By 57 to 35 percent, the latest Quinnipiac University survey revealed that voters think Biden “cares about the needs and problems of people like you.” Comparatively, only 45 percent said the same of Clinton while 52 percent disagreed – a substantial decline from May, when 48 to 47 percent believed Clinton did care about their concerns.

Finally and perhaps most counter intuitively, Biden can legitimately claim to be better suited to governance than Clinton. For most of the Obama presidency, Biden served as the administration’s go-to ambassador to Capitol Hill. He was integral in negotiating a resolution to the budget crisis that yielded something of a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats in the wake of the 2012 election. “Have you noticed? Every time there is a crisis, I get sent to the Hill,” Biden told a meeting of America’s mayors in January. They had indeed noticed.

The obstacles Biden will face as a candidate are logistical. As a late entrant into the race, the vice president will find it difficult to create the organization necessary to run an effective campaign and get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. That problem is nothing a little big-dollar donor love cannot remedy. “While the mid-summer saw a sudden burst of donations, the group is still missing contributions from a number of high-profile Democratic contributors, including a handful that have been skeptical of Clinton’s fundraising mechanism after donating to the group when it backed Obama in 2012,” Politico reported last week. If Biden can tap into a substantial amount of that sidelined Democratic money, he can compete with Clinton in the early primary states.

Hillary Clinton remains the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but those who do not see an opening for Biden are missing the forest. Clinton’s last claim to inevitability rests on her standing in the polls. But if Biden gets into the race, she will soon find that the increasingly pronounced anti-Clinton sentiment within the Democratic Party has found a less quixotic figure behind which it can rally. After nearly 30 years of seeking his party’s presidential nomination, Biden may have found his moment.

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Why Civility is a Democratic Virtue

Craig Shirley, a public affairs consultant and author of a fine book on Ronald Reagan, has written an article titled, “In Defense of Incivility.”

Capturing a certain temperament one finds on the right these days, Shirley insists that civility is not only overrated; more civility is an outright threat to American democracy, “the last thing we need in American politics.” [emphasis added] He argues that civility is a “way to control the citizenry, by shaming them into silence when focused anger would serve the Republic better.” Civility, he says, is un-conservative and un-American, while American conservatism is “uncivil and intellectual.” Indeed, he adds, civility permits many great evils while incivility is the source of many wonders for which we should be grateful. (It’s no surprise that Shirley praises Donald Trump’s incivility and anger as contributions to the 2016 presidential contest.) Read More

Craig Shirley, a public affairs consultant and author of a fine book on Ronald Reagan, has written an article titled, “In Defense of Incivility.”

Capturing a certain temperament one finds on the right these days, Shirley insists that civility is not only overrated; more civility is an outright threat to American democracy, “the last thing we need in American politics.” [emphasis added] He argues that civility is a “way to control the citizenry, by shaming them into silence when focused anger would serve the Republic better.” Civility, he says, is un-conservative and un-American, while American conservatism is “uncivil and intellectual.” Indeed, he adds, civility permits many great evils while incivility is the source of many wonders for which we should be grateful. (It’s no surprise that Shirley praises Donald Trump’s incivility and anger as contributions to the 2016 presidential contest.)

Civility is an important virtue that is poorly understood by some, I think, including Shirley and those (like the radio talk show host Mark Levin) who share his outlook.

Let’s start with the definition of incivility, which is rudeness, discourteousness, and impoliteness. Incivility derives from the Latin word incivilis, meaning “not of a citizen.” To be uncivil, then, is to act in ways that tend to put one at odds with what it means to be a responsible citizen.

There’s also considerable confusion among those who assume that civility is synonymous with lack of conviction and passion; that to be a civilized individual means to be devoid of principles and unwilling to fight for great causes. But, of course, one can be a vigorous and forceful advocate for liberty and justice without being uncivil. Nor does civility mean we don’t speak the truth, or call things by their rightful name, or shame anyone into silence, or call out nonsense when we see it. A person can be both civil and angry at injustice; Martin Luther King, Jr. showed that as well as anyone in recent American history. You need only read his Letter from a Birmingham City Jail — a masterpiece of American political and moral thought — to see this.

What civility attempts to do is to advance a certain mode of discourse, particularly when it comes to debates and disagreements with our fellow citizens. It assumes that in most cases – absent fairly extraordinary exceptions – basic good manners is what we owe others as fellow citizens and fellow human beings. Civility also helps inoculate us against one of the temptations in politics (and in life more broadly) — to demonize and dehumanize those who hold views different from our own. Civility is, as Stephen Carter has written, a precondition of democratic dialogue. It is also something that is prized within the Christian faith. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,” St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “so that you may know how to answer everyone.” And to the Galatians, Paul describes the fruits of the spirit as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Incivility is notably left off the list.

As for Mr. Shirley’s claim that a central tenet of conservatism is incivility: This is a bizarre assertion. There is nothing in conservatism that presupposes rudeness and boorishness. Think of the two most important figures in conservatism in the latter half of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, Jr. Both men were renowned for their grace, class, and good manners. They were remarkably and blessedly free of roiling resentments.

While often the target of vicious attacks, Reagan maintained a pretty charitable view of his political adversaries. “Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents,” former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who worked as a political aide in the Reagan White House, quotes him as admonishing his staff. Even Mr. Reagan’s rare flashes of anger did not cross lines of decency or turn ad hominem.

As for Mr. Buckley: as Andy Ferguson reminds us in this article, after a nasty exchange with Gore Vidal in 1968, Buckley for the rest of his life “admitted to being ashamed of the moment — not merely for the lapse in manners but for allowing so crude a provocation to produce exactly the effect Vidal intended.”

But the great model to look to here, as he is in so many areas, is Lincoln. As a young man, it is said, his satirical inclination and self-confident polemical power provided him with the “power to hurt.” But as he matured, William Lee Miller has written, “one can almost observe him curbing that inclination and becoming scrupulous and respectful.” His personal and professional dealings — with clients, editors, supporters, and opponents — had a “distinct quality of tact, generosity, and civility.”

Lord Charnwood, author of perhaps the greatest biography of Lincoln, said this about America’s 16th president:

For perhaps not many conquerors, and certainly few successful statesmen, have escaped the tendency of power to harden or at least to narrow their human sympathies; but in this man a natural wealth of tender compassion became richer and more tender while in the stress of deadly conflict he developed an astounding strength.

Very few of us are capable of emulating Lincoln in this way, but we do consider these qualities admirable and worth striving for. Craig Shirley, on the other hand, represents a current of thought on the right that apparently views these Lincolnian qualities — “With malice toward none, with charity for all” — as weakness, at least in political life. Populist rather than conservative, those who hold to this outlook dismiss individuals who speak favorably on behalf of civility as “elitists.” Moreover, they believe incivility is an American virtue, worthy of “three cheers.” They seem to think that what the American people are thirsting for in our politics – and from conservatives — is more anger, more crudity and more incivility.

They’re quite wrong, and the effort to turn conservatism into a bonfire of rage, a cavalcade of insults, is a disservice to conservatism and those who have represented it so well over the years.

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The Real Goal of the Nuclear Deal: Iran Détente

To listen to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry defend their nuclear deal in recent weeks, you’d think the issue at stake is a narrow one that solely concerned whether or not the agreement retards Tehran’s quest for a bomb. The assumption from the administration and its apologists that the deal does this even minimally is a dubious one. But one of the subtexts of the misleading way they have been conducting their end of this debate is their effort to distract both Congress and the public from the broader goals of the pact. While critics of the deal have highlighted Obama’s refusal to make the sanctions relief dependent on an end to support for terrorism, ballistic missile production or the nature of Iranian government, the answers from the administration have been consistent. They want to restrict the discussion to purely technical nuclear issues that can be obfuscated by deceptive claims or to the false choice between the agreement and war. But, to its credit, one of the president’s chief media cheerleaders did highlight the real goals of the administration in an article published on Friday. The New York Times feature titled “Deeper Aspirations Seen in Nuclear Deal With Iran” ought to be required reading for all members of the House and Senate. The choice here isn’t one between a flawed nuclear deal and war, but between Iran détente with a tyrannical, anti-Semitic, aggressive Islamist regime and a reboot of the diplomatic process that has been hijacked by appeasers.

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To listen to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry defend their nuclear deal in recent weeks, you’d think the issue at stake is a narrow one that solely concerned whether or not the agreement retards Tehran’s quest for a bomb. The assumption from the administration and its apologists that the deal does this even minimally is a dubious one. But one of the subtexts of the misleading way they have been conducting their end of this debate is their effort to distract both Congress and the public from the broader goals of the pact. While critics of the deal have highlighted Obama’s refusal to make the sanctions relief dependent on an end to support for terrorism, ballistic missile production or the nature of Iranian government, the answers from the administration have been consistent. They want to restrict the discussion to purely technical nuclear issues that can be obfuscated by deceptive claims or to the false choice between the agreement and war. But, to its credit, one of the president’s chief media cheerleaders did highlight the real goals of the administration in an article published on Friday. The New York Times feature titled “Deeper Aspirations Seen in Nuclear Deal With Iran” ought to be required reading for all members of the House and Senate. The choice here isn’t one between a flawed nuclear deal and war, but between Iran détente with a tyrannical, anti-Semitic, aggressive Islamist regime and a reboot of the diplomatic process that has been hijacked by appeasers.

As the Times points out, prior to the announcement of the final, lenient terms of the deal that expires in ten years the administration wasn’t so coy about its real objective:

Before his fight for the deal in Congress, Mr. Obama was far more open about his ultimate goals. In an interview in The Atlantic in March 2014, he said that a nuclear agreement with Iran was a good idea, even if the regime remained unchanged. But an agreement could do far more than that, he said:

“If, on the other hand, they are capable of changing; if, in fact, as a consequence of a deal on their nuclear program those voices and trends inside of Iran are strengthened, and their economy becomes more integrated into the international community, and there’s more travel and greater openness, even if that takes a decade or 15 years or 20 years, then that’s very much an outcome we should desire,” he said. …

And in an interview in December, Mr. Obama even seemed to welcome the rise of a powerful Iran. “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it,” he said. “Because if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of — inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power.”

The importance of this context for the discussion of the deal cannot be overemphasized.

The deal ought to be defeated on its own merits because it fails to achieve the administration’s stated objectives about stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All it accomplishes, if it can even be said to do that much, is to delay Iran’s march to a bomb for the period of the agreement while permitting to continue research with a large nuclear infrastructure under a loose inspections regime that makes a mockery of its past promises on all these issues.

But the point on which the administration has been most reluctant to comment is the more than $100 billion in frozen assets that will be released to Tehran. Critics rightly believe this money will, one way or another, help subsidize Iran’s terrorist allies and push for regional hegemony that worries neighboring Arab states as well as Israel, whose existence is threatened by Iran becoming a threshold nuclear state with Western approval.

No rational argument can be mustered against this assertion since the money will be Iran’s to use as it likes and any prohibitions on Iranian adventurism are likely to be even less effective in a post-deal environment than they were prior to it. But if, like President Obama, you believe that Iran is in the process of transforming from a revolutionary threat whose goals are mandated by the extreme religious beliefs and Islamist ideology of its rulers into one eager to be friends with the world, the prospect of a stronger Iran doesn’t trouble you.

That’s why President Obama did not predicate these negotiations on any pledges, even ones that were transparently false, of good behavior from Iran. He claims that insisting on an end to Iranian state sponsorship of terror or forcing it to renounce its goal of eliminating Israel would have prevented him from getting a deal on the nuclear question. But that formulation has it backward. The point of the negotiations was never about the nuclear details, something that was made clear by the astonishing series of concessions that the administration made throughout the talks. In October 2012, during his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney, Obama pledged that any deal would eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. Now he is advocating for one that leaves it in place under Western sponsorship while rewarding Tehran with the lifting of sanctions.

What Obama always wanted was a deal at any price because he thought it was the pathway to a new entente with Iran that would end the conflict with its Islamist leaders. But while a future in which Iran would no longer be a terror sponsor bent on destroying Israel and dominating the Middle East would be a good thing there is no rational reason to imagine this will happen. Indeed, by strengthening its government the president is ensuring that they will never have to choose between their aggressive goals and economic prosperity.

That’s why rather than being sidetracked into debates about the nuclear details, opponents need to focus on the real goal of the deal: détente with a regime that threatens the U.S. and its allies. The deal fails as a nuclear pact. But it is perhaps an even greater disaster when one realizes that its premise is a naive belief that Islamist tyrants are so enraptured with Obama that they are about to abandon their deeply held beliefs and evil intentions.

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Mainstream Israel Promotes Integration Despite the Lunatic Fringe

According to a front-page story in today’s Haaretz, everything you thought you knew about the Jewish terrorists suspected of perpetrating last week’s horrific murder of a Palestinian baby is wrong. The accepted wisdom, propagated by everyone from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Haaretz’s own editorial pages, is that the terrorists are motivated by a “climate of incitement,” in which extremist statements by right-wing rabbis and politicians lead them to believe that anything, even murder, is permissible to achieve their goals. But Israel’s premier counterterrorism agency – which, unlike espousers of the accepted wisdom, has spent years studying the terrorists up close – doesn’t buy it. Read More

According to a front-page story in today’s Haaretz, everything you thought you knew about the Jewish terrorists suspected of perpetrating last week’s horrific murder of a Palestinian baby is wrong. The accepted wisdom, propagated by everyone from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Haaretz’s own editorial pages, is that the terrorists are motivated by a “climate of incitement,” in which extremist statements by right-wing rabbis and politicians lead them to believe that anything, even murder, is permissible to achieve their goals. But Israel’s premier counterterrorism agency – which, unlike espousers of the accepted wisdom, has spent years studying the terrorists up close – doesn’t buy it.

These few dozen hardcore terrorists, the Shin Bet security service told Haaretz, heed neither rabbis nor politicians; they are “anarchist anti-Zionists” who consider even “extremist” rabbis too moderate. Moreover, their goal isn’t to promote Jewish settlement or stop territorial withdrawals or any other goal shared by the “extremist” rabbis and politicians; rather, it’s to overthrow the State of Israel itself and replace it with a religious “kingdom.” In this, they differ fundamentally even from the “price-tag” vandals, whose goal was limited to deterring house demolitions in the settlements and whose tactics – albeit completely unacceptable – were generally confined to vandalism, “with no clear intention to cause bodily harm.”

In other words, these terrorists don’t reflect a widespread “sickness” in Israeli society, as Rivlin likes to say; they are no more representative of mainstream Israel than neo-Nazi fringe groups are of mainstream modern Germany – and perhaps even less.

So how racist and extremist is mainstream Israeli society? Well, consider the following collection of news items from the last few days alone:

  • The OECD just issued a report praising Israel’s efforts to increase Arab employment, though noting that much remains to be done.
  • Israeli government figures show a sharp rise in the workforce participation rate among Arab women over the last 20 years, from 19 percent to 32.5 percent.
  • The Economy Ministry just inaugurated special scholarships for Bedouin engineering students, the latest in a series of affirmative action programs for the Arab community. Under another program, the government funds 85 percent of research at Arab high-tech startups, compared to only 50 percent at Jewish startups.
  • The government recently started investing in tourism development in Arab communities; inter alia, it sponsored Ramadan events in various Arab towns this year and ran a nationwide campaign encouraging Jews to visit them. As Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy – the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, noted, this doesn’t erase past discrimination, but “On the symbolic plane, this represents a significant step forward in government policy.”
  • The Druze Arab town of Beit Jann had the highest pass rate in the country on the 2013-14 matriculation exams.
  • Salah Hasarma just became the first Arab coach of a Jewish soccer team in Israel’s top league.
  • While a few Israeli Arabs have joined Islamic State, they aren’t flocking to do so at the same rate as Arabs from other Western countries. This, argues Prof. Hillel Frisch of Bar-Ilan University, indicates that Israeli Arabs are less dissatisfied with their lives than Arabs in many European countries – or at least, more aware of how lucky they are not to be living in the chaotic hell across the border.

To understand why the above news items are so important, consider a Biblical analogy I heard from rabbi and journalist Yishai Fleisher last week. When the king of Moab wants the prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people, he deliberately takes him to a place where “you will not see them all, but only the outskirts of their camp” (Numbers 23:13). Why? Because when you focus exclusively on one tiny fringe element of Israel, it’s easy to curse it. But when you see the whole of Israel in all its complexity, it’s much harder.

In this case, the tiny fringe is perpetrating horrific attacks on Arabs in an effort to overthrow the state. But the state it seeks to overthrow is investing heavily in trying to better integrate its Arab citizens and rectify past discrimination against them.

And if you’re going to choose a single part of Israel’s mosaic to represent the whole, the mainstream that promotes integration is surely a more representative piece than a lunatic fringe trying to overthrow the state.

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Denial and Hypocrisy Provide No Answers to Terrorism

Acting in the wake of last week’s firebombing of a home in a West Bank Arab village that took the life of a 20-month-old child, Israel’s government announced that it would use administrative detention — jailing someone without charges — in an effort to crack down on the Jewish extremists who allegedly carried out the atrocity. One can only hope that such draconian measures will be sufficient to control the small group from whom such murderers arise. Just as important, it’s vital that this event cause those who have considered the phenomenon of such “price tag” attacks on Arabs as an understandable reaction to Arab terror to sober up and realize the way such attitudes are leading to a dangerous escalation of an already difficult situation. But I’m not optimistic about that. The murder of an infant should cause everyone — Jews and Arabs as well as right-wing Jews and left-wing Jews — to view all forms of terrorism as a threat to us all. Yet that isn’t happening. The denial of the seriousness of the problem on the part of some on the Jewish right is disturbing. But it is no less discouraging then the willingness of the Jewish left to treat the actions of a few as an indictment of everyone who disagrees with them on policy questions. The same can be said of the hypocrisy being exhibited by Palestinians who honor terrorists that kill Jews.

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Acting in the wake of last week’s firebombing of a home in a West Bank Arab village that took the life of a 20-month-old child, Israel’s government announced that it would use administrative detention — jailing someone without charges — in an effort to crack down on the Jewish extremists who allegedly carried out the atrocity. One can only hope that such draconian measures will be sufficient to control the small group from whom such murderers arise. Just as important, it’s vital that this event cause those who have considered the phenomenon of such “price tag” attacks on Arabs as an understandable reaction to Arab terror to sober up and realize the way such attitudes are leading to a dangerous escalation of an already difficult situation. But I’m not optimistic about that. The murder of an infant should cause everyone — Jews and Arabs as well as right-wing Jews and left-wing Jews — to view all forms of terrorism as a threat to us all. Yet that isn’t happening. The denial of the seriousness of the problem on the part of some on the Jewish right is disturbing. But it is no less discouraging then the willingness of the Jewish left to treat the actions of a few as an indictment of everyone who disagrees with them on policy questions. The same can be said of the hypocrisy being exhibited by Palestinians who honor terrorists that kill Jews.

The reaction from some on the right to this awful crime shows how hard it is for some people to think outside of the ideological boxes in which we put ourselves. The several-decadeslong siege of Israel against an Arab and Muslim world that for the most part is still unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, has conditioned those of us who support it to view the conflict as one of good guys and bad guys. The notion that there are some Jews that have become the mirror image of Islamist terrorists is too much for some of us to accept. Even when we are confronted with evidence of how a tiny minority of Jews has started to act in the same manner as Israel’s enemies, some deny it. Judging by some of the reactions to my initial piece about this tragedy, there are a lot of Jews on the right who need a reality check.

Though these same people denounce those who believe terror must be condemned no matter which group is doing the killing as accepting enemy propaganda, it is they who have succumbed to the logic of Israel’s enemies. The fact that a few Jews have committed an evil act does not undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state or Zionism. Facing up to the facts about Jewish terrorism and doing something about it, as Israel’s government is attempting to do, is an affirmation of Zionism, not its abandonment. Denying the need to speak out against this unfortunate strain of hate is both irresponsible and harmful to Israel. Those who play this game, whether in Israel or abroad, are doing the cause they purport to support no favors.

By the same token, the glee with which some on the Jewish left have embraced this terrible crime as being somehow the fault of everyone who supports the right of Jews to live in the territories is just as counterproductive (for an example of this, read just about any article on this subject that has been published in Haaretz). That they are doing this to make political hay out of a tragedy is self-evident. But what they fail to understand is that the logic of their arguments is self-defeating.

What is most curious about those who seek to associate every one of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the settlements (a term that applies to residents of much of Jerusalem and the blocs of communities that even most left-wingers acknowledge will remain inside Israel even if there was a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians) and center-right political parties with the murders is that they treat Jewish terrorism more seriously than the Palestinian variety.

The Jewish left ignores or dismisses as irrelevant the daily incitement to hate Jews in the official Palestinian Authority media and the explicit embrace of terrorists by PA leaders such as their preferred peace partner Mahmoud Abbas. Yet the same people indict Prime Minister Netanyahu and a host of other Jews that disagree with them about the peace process and settlements also consistently condemn Jewish violence as somehow responsible for Jewish terror. While Palestinians get a pass from the left for their culture of hate, those invested in the illusion that peace is currently possible with them, miss no chance to demonize Jews who aren’t so foolish. Suffice it to say that the PA (not to mention Hamas) subsidizes terrorists. Israel’s government prosecutes them. Terror against Jews is widely applauded by Palestinians. The reaction from Jews to terror against Palestinians is just the opposite. But for those whose main goal is to trash their opponents on the right, there is no charge so extreme that they won’t embrace it in order to score some dubious political points. If that helps Israel delegitimize all of Israel — and, remember, Hamas and other anti-Zionist think Tel Aviv is just as much “occupied territory” as the most remote West Bank settlement — they don’t care.

As for the Palestinians, their hypocrisy is boundless. While every decent person should share in the grief for the victims of the despicable attack on Duma, the notion that Abbas, who has not only spent much of his early career facilitating acts of terror against Jews but who explicitly endorsed such attacks in Jerusalem last fall and who honors the murderers of Jewish children, has any moral authority to speak on this subject, is absurd.

This terrorist attack as well as the stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride March last week ought to signal a pause in business as usual when it comes to talking about violence in the Middle East. Acts of terror must be condemned without reservation no matter who committed them. So, too, must attempts to demonize political opponents. This a moment to lower our voices and to seek an end to violence and intolerance rather than engage political score settling.

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Beau Biden Story Means Democratic Race May Be About to Get Interesting

For the last year, most Democrats approached 2016 with an air of smug confidence. Their assumption was that while the scrum of Republican presidential candidates would tear each other to pieces as they did in 2012, Hillary Clinton’s coronation as their nominee would enable their party to sit back and calmly await the GOP winner. That would allow the Clinton campaign machine to act as if she was an incumbent thereby saving money and allowing her to stay above the fray and continue freezing out the press. That scenario has been looking shaky as, burdened by scandal, plunging favorability and trust numbers in the polls as well as an unexpectedly vigorous challenge on the left from Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton has begun looking very beatable lately. But her problems may have only just begun. If reports about Vice President Joe Biden seriously considering a presidential run are true, the Hillary coronation will become the fight of her life.

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For the last year, most Democrats approached 2016 with an air of smug confidence. Their assumption was that while the scrum of Republican presidential candidates would tear each other to pieces as they did in 2012, Hillary Clinton’s coronation as their nominee would enable their party to sit back and calmly await the GOP winner. That would allow the Clinton campaign machine to act as if she was an incumbent thereby saving money and allowing her to stay above the fray and continue freezing out the press. That scenario has been looking shaky as, burdened by scandal, plunging favorability and trust numbers in the polls as well as an unexpectedly vigorous challenge on the left from Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton has begun looking very beatable lately. But her problems may have only just begun. If reports about Vice President Joe Biden seriously considering a presidential run are true, the Hillary coronation will become the fight of her life.

This week the stories about Biden associates meeting with contributors fed the rumors about the vice president considering a third try for the presidency. But today’s column in the New York Times from Maureen Dowd in which she claims that the veep’s late son Beau urging his father to run for the presidency from his deathbed not only gives the Biden boomlet urgency, it also creates a tragic back story that may seize the imagination of the public.

Though nothing could be more natural than an incumbent vice president looking to succeed his boss, the strength of the Clinton juggernaut seemed to shelve that notion. President Obama also appeared to be lending his blessing to Clinton’s candidacy. But if Biden had any lingering ideas about one last try for the Oval Office, most observers thought the tragic death of his son earlier this year ended that possibility. But, if Dowd is to be believed, the Beau factor may be what is driving Biden to run.

Dowd may be the queen of liberal snark and is rightly despised by conservatives. But it should be remembered that she won her Pulitzer with columns that directed her trademark snark at the Clintons back during l’affaire Lewinsky. Her contempt for the former First Family is barely disguised. She may also relish assuming the role, as Howard Fineman put it in the Huffington Post, of the “living bard” of “the last of the old breed” of Irish politicians that gave us the Kennedys.

Of course, the mention of the Kennedys brings to mind Bobby Kennedy’s run for the presidency in 1968. Kennedy didn’t dare challenge President Lyndon Johnson until Eugene McCarthy’s left-wing insurgency showed that LBJ was mortal. Sanders is currently playing the role of McCarthy to Clinton’s Johnson. While an elderly bloviator like Biden is ill-suited to channel the charismatic Kennedy, it may be that his ambition will fill in the gap.

Those who think Biden needs much persuading to get him to throw his hat in the ring don’t know much about the vice president. On “Meet the Press” today, Chuck Todd quoted people close to the vice president as saying this is the “first time he felt prepared to be president because of his experience at the center of power during the last six and a half years. But though many dismiss him as a goofy, loquacious gaffe machine, he has always thought of himself as presidential material. Indeed, while many dismissed his 2008 run as a “last hurrah” for his career, I saw it as the longtime Delaware senator giving the American people one last chance to do the right thing and make him president.

There are still some formidable obstacles to a successful Biden campaign. He would be starting very late in the cycle with most of the big-money Democratic donors already committed to Clinton. Moreover, even a happy warrior like Biden who loves the rough and tumble of politics has to regard a tussle with the Clinton attack machine with some reservations.

But though most Democrats have been pooh-poohing the Hillary’s email and latest Clinton Cash scandals as insignificant, they understand that she is already damaged. They’ve also noticed that her inauthentic and phony campaign style is an ominous sign of weakness that has fed her poor poll numbers. They know she is vulnerable to criticisms from the left that she is unwilling to take stands on their core issues like the Keystone XL pipeline controversy. They may think they can beat anyone that emerges from the Republicans, a belief that has gotten much stronger as Donald Trump has risen to the top of the heap, but they know Hillary isn’t the unbeatable candidate they hoped for.

But if anything can convince Democrats to pass up on the opportunity to try to elect our first female president, the Beau Biden story might just do it. The phrase “What would Beau do?” has the potential to become a powerful theme that makes Biden, who is already seen with great sympathy by liberals, an attractive candidate who could deliver the kind of coup de grâce to Clinton that Sanders won’t manage. The Beau Biden tale means the Democratic race may be about to get very interesting. That’s the worst news Hillary Clinton could get.

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Considering Iran on the 25th Anniversary of Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was a momentous event that unleashed a cascade of tragedy that included those who died in Kuwait’s occupation by the Saddam Hussein and then its liberation to the tremendous suffering that Iraqis experienced in subsequent years.

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was a momentous event that unleashed a cascade of tragedy that included those who died in Kuwait’s occupation by the Saddam Hussein and then its liberation to the tremendous suffering that Iraqis experienced in subsequent years.

What is worth considering with the hindsight of history, however, is to consider what if anything might have prevented the Iraqi invasion. Contemporaries poured scorn on April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who famously told Saddam during a meeting before the invasion that the United States had “no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” To single out Glaspie, however, would be to scapegoat her for representing a policy which, however flawed, had been embraced by a far greater portion of officialdom. Indeed, from the Reagan years onward, it had been the consistent policy of the White House and State Department both to seek rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.

In December 1983, President Reagan dispatched Donald Rumsfeld, at the time retired from government and in the private sector, as a special envoy to meet with Saddam in Baghdad. The State Department reported that Saddam was pleased with Rumsfeld’s visit: “His remarks removed whatever obstacles remained in the way of resuming diplomatic relations, but did not take the decision to do so,” a diplomatic cable from the time read. Rumsfeld himself recalled in his memoirs, “I began to think [during the meeting] that through increased contacts we might be able to persuade the Iraqis to lean toward the United States and eventually modify their behavior.” Of course, it did not. Shortly after, Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and, less than five years after Rumsfeld’s initial meeting, Saddam would order the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The Iraqi leadership may have been slaughtering Iranians, Kurds, and other Iraqis, but elite Washington society then as now treated engagement with rogues as chic and sophisticated. To object to rapprochement with Saddam’s regime was to privilege Israeli interests over those of America, diplomats and journalists suggested. Just as today journalists rush to secure interviews with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, 30 years ago the new Iraqi ambassador Nizar Hamdoon was the toast of the town. In December 1985, the Washington Post Magazine gave a swooning account of a dinner party Hamdoon hosted. It was the first of many.

Rapprochement continued into the George H.W. Bush administration. On October 2, 1989, Bush signed a national security directive declaring, “Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests,” and calling for the U.S. government to provide economic and political incentives to increase influence and encourage Iraq to moderate its behavior.

It didn’t work. Saddam Hussein executed a British-Iranian journalist and then bragged, “Mrs. Thatcher wanted him. We’ve sent him in a box.” Still, proponents of engagement refused to give up. Senator Arlen Specter traveled twice to Baghdad to meet Saddam. He was so impressed with what he interpreted as Saddam’s sincerity that he helped block military sanctions on Iraq. “There is an opportunity, or may be an opportunity, to pursue discussions with Iraq,” he explained, adding, “I think that it is not the right time to impose sanctions.” Less than two months later, Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Fast forward a quarter-century. Few argue that Saddam Hussein should have been a partner to the United States. Whether for or against Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, most diplomats and historians understand that Saddam Hussein was mercurial, cruel, and completely untrustworthy. During the Bush administration, progressives repeatedly castigated Rumsfeld for his efforts at diplomatic engagement with a rogue leader like Saddam. Now the same figures seek to lift military sanctions on Iran, reach out to Iranian leaders with blood on their hands, and argue that Iran can be moderated through trade and careful diplomacy. Just as diplomats once waved off Saddam’s rhetoric calling Kuwait his 19th province as hyperbole meant for a domestic audience, today Secretary of State John Kerry does similar dismissing Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s calls for Israel’s annihilation and ‘death to America’ as meant for a domestic constituency (as if Iran were a democracy).

Alas, it almost seems that a quarter-century since Iraq invaded Kuwait, the United States has learned nothing about the perils of appeasing rogue regimes or the dangers of facilitating their military build-ups.

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‘The Situation Is Bad’

The New York Times has just published the most scathing indictment I have read of the Obama administration’s grossly inadequate train-and-assist program for the Syrian rebels. It didn’t appear on the editorial page but, rather, in the news columns. It contains no overt editorializing and is all the more damning for it.

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The New York Times has just published the most scathing indictment I have read of the Obama administration’s grossly inadequate train-and-assist program for the Syrian rebels. It didn’t appear on the editorial page but, rather, in the news columns. It contains no overt editorializing and is all the more damning for it.

The article, written by three Times reporters, is pegged to the embarrassing news that the commander and deputy commander and six other fighters of the only contingent of Syrian rebels so far trained by the Pentagon — a total of 54 men — have just been abducted by the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda offshoot which evidently has more money, personnel, and weapons than the American-backed groups. Before being kidnapped, the rebel commander, Nadeen Hassan, had spoken to the Times of the troubles he and his men faced. He initially applied to train 1,200 men. But that number was quickly whittled down:

After screening, just 125 of his recruits were invited to the first course. Of those, more than half were thrown out or quit.

The rest, he said, had deployed back to Syria, but had not been told whether American warplanes would defend them if Syrian forces attacked.

Mr. Hassan said the Americans, worried about the lack of recruits, were recalling men they had once rejected. Some, expelled on suspicion of embracing “Islamic State doctrine,” are unavailable: They have since died in Syria, he said — battling the Islamic State.

Other problems cited by Hassan include the following:

Mr. Hassan said the Pentagon program had not provided night vision goggles to counter the Islamic State’s expert night attacks. Yet, he said Tuesday, trainers had been pushing his men to quickly join front-line insurgent groups, “so they can get results to show their bosses.”…

Better-financed groups are luring recruits awaiting the next course; they make $225 a month, and with no budget, Mr. Hassan said, “I can’t buy them lunch.”

“The situation is bad,” he said.

And then we come to the little matter of who the insurgents are supposed to be fighting. It is commonly believed among the rebels that they are being asked by the Americans to fight only ISIS — not Bashar Assad. The U.S. claims they are not being made to sign formal pledges not to fight Assad but they might as well be:

Trainees must promise “to defend the Syrian people from Daesh” and to refrain from harming civilians and prisoners. An English translation of the pledge, circulated through American military channels, does not mention Mr. Assad or the government.

But the insurgents’ misperception is understandable, given official statements. Trainees will lose American support, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the United States Central Command said recently, if they “vector off and do things that we haven’t designed them to do initially.”

And while U.S. aircraft might bomb to protect the trainees from ISIS, they won’t bomb to protect anyone from Assad, even though his forces have killed far more people than ISIS has.

This is the most dysfunctional foreign assistance program ever. And it makes a mockery of recent administration claims that the U.S. and Turkey have agreed to set up an ISIS-free zone in northern Syria. As the Times notes: “Mr. Hassan’s trainees were mainly from villages within the 68-mile strip along the Turkish border that the moderate insurgents are supposed to seize, and had long been slated for deployment there. But, Mr. Hassan said, they are so few ‘they can barely cover 200 meters.’ “

Such shortcomings could be addressed if Turkey, the U.S., or other powers were willing to deploy their own troops to safeguard this safe zone. But there is no sign of that, which suggests that the safe-zone plan is DOA — just like so many of the rebels that the U.S. is counting on to fight for a Syria dominated neither by murderous Shiite nor by murderous Sunni extremists.

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Zero Tolerance for Jewish and Arab Terror in the Middle East

Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.

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Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.

The arson murder came at the end of a week when a dispute over the status of illegally built structures in the West Bank settlement of Beit El threatened to escalate from verbal violence to something far worse. Fortunately, that standoff between settlers and the army was settled with a political compromise though that solution did little to enhance the credibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government that depends on supporters of the settlements for its narrow majority.

Only yesterday, Israelis were disturbed by the way residents of the community and some of their political supporters abused soldiers sent to the place to enforce the law and keep the peace. Many were shocked when one member of the Knesset threatened to “raze the Supreme Court” in retaliation for the destruction of a few buildings that had been erected without proper legal permission. Netanyahu assuaged the settlers with promises to build elsewhere in Beit El, something that highlighted the fact that his narrow majority rests on right-wing support. That all of this took place in the days after Tisha B’Av — the annual commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans that is attributed by Jewish tradition to disunity and senseless hatred — heightened the divisive nature of the incident. As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote, the willingness of some Jews to demonize their fellow citizens in uniform who defend them was outrageous. Indeed, at moments like this, the divisions within Israeli society seem as great as those that separate it from its Arab and Muslim foes.

But the attack on the Arab village made plain an even greater problem. Though the overwhelming majority of those Jews who live in the West Bank are peaceful and condemn violence against both Jews and Arabs, a minority of extremists also exists. They were the ones inciting hate and violence at Beit El earlier this week and it is likely from their ranks that the even smaller group of Jews who are prepared to act on those beliefs can be found.

Is the government of Israel at fault here?

To the extent that the authorities failed to sufficiently monitor and stop potential killers before they acted, there is probably plenty of blame to pass around. But it is wrong to say that the government has not acted against settler extremists where their actions escalated from mere rhetoric to actual terrorism. Indeed, if you listen to many settlers, they believe that the Israel Defense Forces are more interested in stopping Jews from attacking Arabs than in protecting settlers from Arab terror.

But the problem here goes deeper than one of law enforcement. The situation that led to the tragedy in Duma is one in which those in the West Bank live under constant threat of terrorism. As even the New York Times noted today, the village where the arson murder took place was close to the site of an attack where a Jew was fatally shot by Arab terrorists when he was driving home from a basketball game. Indeed, terror attacks on Jews in the West Bank are so commonplace that they are rarely covered at all by the Western press.

For some settlers, the crimes committed against them rationalize if not justify similar violence directed at Arabs. That is a position that is rightly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Israelis as well as their government. But at this point, as was the case after the heinous 1994 mass killing of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by a settler, more than lip service is needed for the effort to combat Jewish extremism. The settler movement, as well as its political supporters, must come to grips with the virus of Jewish terror and thoroughly wipe it out. Tolerance for those who might justify such horrible acts — especially the radical minority that do so in the name of Judaism — must come to an end.

But even as those who care about Israel condemn Jewish violence and applaud efforts to ensure that the extremists are isolated and, where necessary, prosecuted, we should not lose sight of the fact that much of what is being said about the crime in Duma from Palestinian and anti-Israeli sources is deeply hypocritical.

Unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Israeli government does not applaud terrorists; it seeks to prosecute them. There will be no parks or sports teams named after those who killed a child in Duma as there are for Palestinians who kill Jews. Nor will there be programs on Israeli television and radio extolling the deeds of the killers.

It is little consolation to either the Arab victims or dismayed Israeli onlookers to note that the culture of hate among Jewish extremists is a minority phenomenon while the one that prevails among Palestinians embraces a wide consensus of opinion and, indeed, is integral to their national identity. But it should not escape the notice of the world that the reaction of Israelis and their government to the death of an Arab child is shame while Palestinians routinely cheer the many instances where Jewish children are slain by Arabs. The three-fingered social media meme among Palestinians last year that mocked the plight of the three Israeli teenagers that were kidnaped and murdered by Hamas last summer was an indication of the moral chasm that divides these two societies.

The attack on Duma does also raise troubling questions about how peace might ever be attained. For some critics of Israel and many Jewish left-wingers, the answer is easy: get rid of the settlements and separate the two peoples. But even if Israel were to do so, the history of the past 20 years of attempts to make peace shows that this wouldn’t solve the problem.

Ten years ago Israel removed every single soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in the hope that that the separation would end the violence if not foster peace. But instead Israelis watched Gaza become a launching pad for terror attacks via rockets and tunnels. Far from fostering peace, the withdrawal seemed to encourage Palestinians to continue their war on Israel’s existence. If the overwhelming majority of Israelis consider such a withdrawal from the far more strategic West Bank to be unimaginable it is because they know that it would likely lead to the creation of another and even more dangerous terror base on their doorstep, not mutual coexistence. Even the so-called “moderates” among the Palestinians reject the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter its borders are drawn. So long as Palestinians view their national identity as inextricably linked to a violent war on Zionism, terror will continue and peace will be impossible.

But the events of the last week show that it isn’t good enough for Jews to merely condemn an Arab and Muslim political culture that will not allow peace to happen. It is also incumbent on Israelis and their friends to acknowledge that horrors such as those that occurred at Duma only serve to justify Arab hatred and serve the cause of the Islamist haters that are gaining ground throughout the Middle East. Just as we are right to ask Muslims to police their extremists, so, too, must Jews also act against their haters.

There should be zero tolerance for hate and terror among both Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, there seems little chance that Palestinians will isolate and reject Fatah-linked terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad the way Israelis are condemning the Duma killers. Indeed, the calls for more terror attacks on Jews in response to Duma from the government of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have already begun. But the answer begins with appropriate action against the terrorists and those who support them by the Israeli government.

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Hillary Clinton’s Privilege

Among the more charming preoccupations of the modern left is its newfound interest in a mock social science that involves divining forms of “privilege” allegedly enjoyed by otherwise undeserving individuals. The Appalachian family of five in the hills of West Virginia living on a logger’s salary and food stamps might be surprised to learn that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege,” but that is the supposedly dispassionate assessment of their classifiers toiling away at this or the other coastal opinion journal. Similarly, men, heterosexuals, those who identify as the gender of their birth, et cetera, et cetera, are also presumed heirs to a legacy of privilege that yields them unwarranted advantages. This is not a study characterized by the empiricism that typifies genuine scholarly discipline; more often, it is grievance and resentment in pursuit of a methodology that legitimizes base acrimony. What exposes this unhealthy myopia as something less than objective analysis is that so few of those consumed with identifying and condemning privilege cannot see it where it is most prominent: namely, with those who occupy positions of power. The very embodiment of unearned privilege is running for the presidency in 2016, but so few on the left seem equipped or willing to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has been afforded leeway that anyone else in her present position would be denied.  Read More

Among the more charming preoccupations of the modern left is its newfound interest in a mock social science that involves divining forms of “privilege” allegedly enjoyed by otherwise undeserving individuals. The Appalachian family of five in the hills of West Virginia living on a logger’s salary and food stamps might be surprised to learn that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege,” but that is the supposedly dispassionate assessment of their classifiers toiling away at this or the other coastal opinion journal. Similarly, men, heterosexuals, those who identify as the gender of their birth, et cetera, et cetera, are also presumed heirs to a legacy of privilege that yields them unwarranted advantages. This is not a study characterized by the empiricism that typifies genuine scholarly discipline; more often, it is grievance and resentment in pursuit of a methodology that legitimizes base acrimony. What exposes this unhealthy myopia as something less than objective analysis is that so few of those consumed with identifying and condemning privilege cannot see it where it is most prominent: namely, with those who occupy positions of power. The very embodiment of unearned privilege is running for the presidency in 2016, but so few on the left seem equipped or willing to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has been afforded leeway that anyone else in her present position would be denied. 

The appearance of malfeasance that burdens Clinton’s political ambition as did Jacob Marley’s chains has lost much of its shock value if only because new revelations about her alleged misconduct are a near daily occurrence. In just the last week alone, a variety of disclosures regarding Clinton’s past and present behavior have exploded onto the headlines. Their impact has, however, been muted.

Shortly after Clinton was sworn into office as secretary of state in 2009, the IRS began an investigation into Americans who held secret accounts in the Swiss bank UBS. Clinton intervened, a move the Wall Street Journal characterized as “unusual,” and negotiated a settlement that provided the IRS with just 10 percent of the account information it had sought. In the following months, donations from UBS to the Clinton Foundation increased from less than $60,000 in 2008 to $600,000 in 2014. What’s more, the financial institution joined the Foundation to launch a multi-million dollar inner-city loan program and paid President Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a handful of Q&A sessions with one of the bank’s administrators. There is no overt indication of wrongdoing here, but the Journal noted, “Her involvement with UBS is a prime example of how the Clintons’ private and political activities overlap.”

Involvement in Swiss banking activities, much less potentially shielding tens of thousands of secret American accounts from IRS scrutiny, used to be a fixation of the American left. Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and its allies spent countless man-hours creating the impression that Mitt Romney had avoided paying taxes by stashing his funds in a Swiss bank account. Vox.com writer Matt Yglesias, who wrote for Slate at the time, speculated that Romney might have been a beneficiary of the 2009 “Swiss bank account amnesty.” He speculated that this might have been one reason the GOP’s 2012 nominee declined to disclose his income tax filings. “But even though the amnesty would eliminate any legal or financial liability for past acts, it would hardly eliminate political liability,” Yglesias wrote. As Romney might say, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. By rights, liberals should perceive Clinton’s “political liability” as even more perilous than Romney’s, seeing as she was something of an architect of this “amnesty.” And, yet, to attack her as she deserves would be to handicap further Democrats’ chances of retaining the White House in 2016. Thus, Clinton is spared due censure.

And what of the latest developments in the sprawling email scandal that has robbed Clinton of the voters’ trust? For partisan Democrats, the news just keeps getting worse.

On the heels of a recommendation to the Department of Justice from two independent inspectors general requesting an investigation into the likelihood that Clinton mishandled classified information on her “homebrew” email server, more evidence has emerged that indicates Clinton flagrantly lied to the public when she contended that she neither sent nor received sensitive information via electronic mail. This week, an investigation conducted by McClatchy reporters revealed that, of the emails that had not been destroyed and to which the IGs had access, several of them contained classified information. In fact, Clinton had allegedly mishandled sensitive documents from U.S. intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Furthermore, Clinton attorney David Kendall, a civilian apparently without appropriate clearance, is currently in possession of the 30,400 emails Clinton declined to delete on a thumb drive. Senate Judiciary Chairman and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley requested the FBI and the DOJ investigate this potential breach of national security, but you would be well advised to not hold your breath while awaiting their compliance.

When pressed by U.S. Senate investigators on the prospect that sensitive information is not only in the hands of a civilian but is unaccounted for, Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill replied merely, “the thumb drive is secure.” He declined to elaborate, according to McClatchy. Nothing in Kendall’s public biography indicates that he is cleared to handle classified information, even if it was appropriate to keep those documents on a keychain flash drive. Anyone else in this position (including former CIA Director and U.S. Army General David Petraeus) would be subject to prosecution.

And what has been the Hillary campaign’s response to this brazen and unprofessional conduct and breach of the public trust? To attack the news outlets that initially misreported the bombshell. On Thursday, the Clinton campaign made public a letter they forwarded to New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet excoriating his outlet for initially reporting that the IGs had recommended to the DOJ that Clinton herself be criminally investigated. Team Clinton accused the Times of “egregious” errors and an “apparent abandonment of standard journalistic practices.” This overwrought reaction to a minor error in an otherwise accurate story is a reflection on her candidacy; it is a transparent effort to shift the focus of this story away from Clinton and onto the reporters covering her. The left’s cheering section has predictably taken the bait.

“In sports and politics, when athletes/candidates are complaining about the refs, it usually means they are losing. And it is NEVER becoming,” Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd wrote regarding Republican candidates complaining about the biases of the political press. Surely, this admonition applies to Clinton’s effort to misdirect the focus from her misconduct onto those media outlets that report on it. Perhaps Todd believes it does, but he has not yet said as much.

The political much less legal consequences for Hillary Clinton’s actions would be dire were she anyone other than Hillary Clinton. The former secretary’s status as the anointed heir to Barack Obama, the only Democrat with the ability to win the White House and secure his legacy, and her stature as the most prominent woman in American political life affords her the kind of privilege denied mere mortals. Somehow, progressives who obsess over barely perceptible or outright invented privileges that lurk behind every dark corner have failed to see the most glaring of double standards that fester right under their noses.

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For 2016 Dems Need a Mythical War on Voting Rights

When the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, America was a segregated nation. Many states, especially in the South, had discriminatory voting laws that worked to prevent African-Americans from voting. Despite furious opposition from the Jim Crow caucus within the Democratic Party, a bipartisan Congressional majority enacted the law. That began the process of redressing this historic injustice that was part of the unfinished legacy of the Civil War that had concluded a century earlier. We’ve come a long way since then. Jim Crow is but an awful memory and blacks not only vote in most of the South at the same rates that whites do but also can look to a large Congressional Black Caucus whose existence is largely due to subsequent court interpretations of the Act that created minority-majority districts. But for the left, it’s always 1965 and a revival of Jim Crow is just around the corner. That’s the gist of the cover story of this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “A Dream Undone,” that takes it as a given that minority voting rights are not only under attack but about to disappear.

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When the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, America was a segregated nation. Many states, especially in the South, had discriminatory voting laws that worked to prevent African-Americans from voting. Despite furious opposition from the Jim Crow caucus within the Democratic Party, a bipartisan Congressional majority enacted the law. That began the process of redressing this historic injustice that was part of the unfinished legacy of the Civil War that had concluded a century earlier. We’ve come a long way since then. Jim Crow is but an awful memory and blacks not only vote in most of the South at the same rates that whites do but also can look to a large Congressional Black Caucus whose existence is largely due to subsequent court interpretations of the Act that created minority-majority districts. But for the left, it’s always 1965 and a revival of Jim Crow is just around the corner. That’s the gist of the cover story of this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “A Dream Undone,” that takes it as a given that minority voting rights are not only under attack but about to disappear.

That this is palpably false is self-evident since efforts to single out blacks and prevent them from voting simply do not exist anywhere in the nation. Why then devote space to a nonexistent problem? The Times is singing from the Democratic Party hymnal heading into 2016 as Hillary Clinton attempts to scare African-American voters who are somewhat apathetic about her candidacy into turning out in the same numbers they did for Barack Obama. But if Democrats want to frighten their party’s base into thinking Jim Crow is on its way back, they’ll have to do better than arcane disputes about voter ID or early voting laws.

The conceit of Jim Rutenberg’s lengthy essay is that there is a clear continuum between the death rattle of the segregationists south that began to die in the early 1960s and today’s Republican Party. The superficial justification for this thesis is the way the “solid South” that was run by the racist wing of the Democratic Party was transformed into contemporary deep red South dominated by the GOP. That happened because conservative white voters abandoned the Democrats for the Republicans. But while liberals may view these voters with suspicion, there is no evidence that they are clamoring for a return to the past. One of the greatest victories of the struggle for Civil Rights was the way it transformed the white South from a bastion of racism to one in which racial equality was taken as a given. Race exists as an issue in the America of 2015, but comparisons with 1965 aren’t merely misleading, they are flat out falsehoods. That is especially true in the South, where blacks vote and hold office in numbers that are largely commensurate with their share of the overall population.

At the heart of the controversy are court rulings that have effectively ended federal supervision of voting laws in much of the South. States and localities have correctly argued that a regulation that was created to police the south of the 1960s has no relevance today. But the Obama administration and its liberal cheerleaders are desperate to try and revive the practice because it feeds the notion of a voting rights crisis even when they cannot prove there is one.

The current arguments about voter integrity laws have also been manipulated by the left into arguments about race. But to assume, as Rutenberg does with almost no attempts to persuade readers of the justice of this charge, is to betray the political agenda behind the opposition to voter ID. Liberals argue that laws that seek to have voters identify themselves at the polls with a picture ID disproportionately impact minorities, the elderly and the poor. But the disparate impact argument falls short of proof of racism. Blacks are just as capable of getting a picture ID (which are easily provided by the government even if you don’t have a driver’s license, a passport or some other form of identification) as anyone else. It’s also true that most of those who won’t bother to get a picture ID also won’t bother to register or vote. Moreover, polls have shown that like the overwhelming majority of Americans, blacks support voter ID rules.

It’s easy to understand why this is so despite the hyperbolic rhetoric about voter ID heard from Democrats and echoed in the Times Magazine article. Most Americans rightly think that if you need a picture ID to get on a plane or train, transact any business with the government or a bank, get a beer or alcoholic drink or even buy prescription drugs, then it only makes sense that you should do when doing something that is more important such as voting.

Interestingly, Rutenberg’s piece acknowledges something that most liberals won’t do when discussing voter ID: voter fraud is not a myth. The left claims that there is no such thing as voter fraud in contemporary America. Of course, making such an assumption requires us to forget everything we know about American political history as well as human nature. But the article does mention a prominent case of mass cheating in Florida that led to a major push for voter integrity laws. Rutenberg also trips over but doesn’t quite understand another major reason why there aren’t many cases of vote cheating scandals: the complete lack of interest in the subject on the part of the Obama administration which shelved all such investigations when Eric Holder was attorney general. Holder also acknowledges his disdain for calls for prosecuting Black Panther activists who were intimidating voters in Philadelphia during the election that brought his boss to power.

Philadelphia might have been a good spot for Rutenberg to examine the kind of suspicious vote totals in that Democratic stronghold that might yield more such examples. Indeed, Pennsylvania Republicans believed a voter ID law that was passed but never implemented might win them the state in 2012. That wasn’t because they planned on denying the vote to blacks but because they hoped it might deter Democrats from cheating. But he has no more interest in the topic than Holder since to do so might take the air out of his accusations of racism.

But, of course, voter ID isn’t the only reason why Democrats claim voting rights are in danger. They also to point to efforts to pull back on the movement for early voting throughout the nation. According to Rutenberg, North Carolina’s efforts to have only one week of early voting rather two or several is evidence of an effort to roll back black rights. But unlike with voter ID there is not even any real evidence of disparate impact.

What other evidence is there of a war on voting rights? The article also cites disputes about the drawing of district lines. But there is a clear problem with this line of attack. One of the most obvious changes between 1965 and 2015 is that there are a lot of blacks and Hispanics in Congress. That is not only due to the ability of more minorities to vote but to the drawing of districts in such a way as to create minority majority constituencies that more or less guarantee that a black or a Hispanic will win.

As Rutenberg writes, this practice has been challenged but it has largely been upheld even when the districts have no geographic continuity and can stretch across traditional political boundaries. But the big loser here has not been conservatives or Republicans. Instead it is Democrats who have been devastated by a form of gerrymandering that drains their most reliable supporters — African Americans — out of competitive districts and restricts them to non-competitive Democratic bastions. That has helped build a Congressional GOP majority but while Democrats often lament the impact of gerrymandering they often fail to acknowledge that the Voting Rights Act created the real problem for their party. But for Rutenberg it is all part of a narrative that points to an attack on voting rights.

Rutenberg begins and ends his article with an interview with Henry Frye, a black man who was denied the right to register in 1956 North Carolina. Today that same man not only lives in a country where such outrages are a part of the past, he also lived to see an America with a black president and attorney general. That doesn’t mean prejudice is gone but it does show that the Voting Rights Act achieved its purpose. But today, Frye believes disputes over voter ID and early voting is the moral equivalent to Jim Crow.

Democrats hope other blacks have bought into the same myth. But the comparison, like the shaky reasoning that underpins the entire article, has no basis in fact. But for liberals, a mythical war on voting rights must be invented if they hope to hold onto the White House next year.

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Will Republicans Fumble Their Planned Parenthood Victory?

The release of yet another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s macabre culture of callous disregard for the bodies of aborted fetuses and the marketplace for their dismembered body parts represents another blow to the organization’s status as privileged recipient of taxpayer funds. Planned Parenthood is panicking, acting erratically, employing crisis communications professionals, and concocting flimsy exculpatory narratives aimed at impugning the motives of their critics. That’s a far cry from just three years ago, when Planned Parenthood’s celebrity president, Cecile Richards, addressed the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention in prime time. The organization’s erstwhile Democratic allies are getting squeamish. The way is clear for the GOP to deliver the coup de grâce; momentum is on their side. Only Republicans can rob their party of a long-sought political victory. But as much as pro-life activists might hope to see the GOP act hastily at this moment, such injudiciousness would be self-defeating. Read More

The release of yet another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s macabre culture of callous disregard for the bodies of aborted fetuses and the marketplace for their dismembered body parts represents another blow to the organization’s status as privileged recipient of taxpayer funds. Planned Parenthood is panicking, acting erratically, employing crisis communications professionals, and concocting flimsy exculpatory narratives aimed at impugning the motives of their critics. That’s a far cry from just three years ago, when Planned Parenthood’s celebrity president, Cecile Richards, addressed the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention in prime time. The organization’s erstwhile Democratic allies are getting squeamish. The way is clear for the GOP to deliver the coup de grâce; momentum is on their side. Only Republicans can rob their party of a long-sought political victory. But as much as pro-life activists might hope to see the GOP act hastily at this moment, such injudiciousness would be self-defeating.

Just over 24 hours ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told one of New Hampshire’s leading newspapers that the revelations contained in the Planned Parenthood videos were “disturbing.” She could not have known how right she was. On Thursday, a fourth installment in the series was released, and it was as repulsive as anything that has yet been revealed to the public.

In the video, Colorado-based Planned Parenthood Vice President Dr. Savita Ginde is featured explaining how her organization violates the spirit if not he letter of the law prohibiting institutions from profiting in the trade of human organs obtained through abortion. “Ginde also admits on video that some of the organ harvesting takes place on babies delivered intact and potentially alive first, which would violate the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” HotAir’s Ed Morrissey recounted.

“It’s another boy,” one medical technician exclaimed in mock celebration after extracting another aborted fetus from the mother’s womb. “I just want to see one leg and one foot,” the technician added. “It’s a baby,” Dr. Ginde remarked as she observed the dismemberment of one of the extracted bodies.

In that moment, in which the aborted fetus is referred to as “a baby,” Planned Parenthood’s supporters’ most effective argument was shattered. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Christian Schneider has observed that the abortion industry’s defenders have conspicuously avoided making note of the fact that the byproducts of Planned Parenthood’s harvest are human body parts. In fact, they’re inclined to scold anyone who deviates from their preferred linguistic parameters:

Of course, we all know that in abortion lexicon, a fetus cannot be considered a “baby,” because ending a “baby’s” life is far less palatable than, say, “terminating a fetus.” Abortion advocates often denigrate human life by calling the child a “clump of cells” or an “embryo.”

In fact, the entire abortion industry coasts on a game of linguistics. In an article that forever euthanized satire, the New Republic called aborted babies “products of conception” and said referring to “baby parts” was an attempt to “anthropomorphize” the human fetus. “The term baby is medically incorrect as it doesn’t apply until birth,” said the article’s author, Dr. Jen Gunter.

Dr. Gunter has been undone, and by an ally no less.

As Planned Parenthood’s supporters begin to wither in the face of overwhelming if circumstantial evidence that grotesque inhumanity has become the defining feature of that institution, momentum is building in Congress to finally end the flow of taxpayer subsidies to the abortion provider. The bill to defund Planned Parenthood, written by freshman Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, directs all its funds toward other institutions that provide women’s health care-related services, like community hospitals and clinics. “There will be no reduction in overall federal funding available to support women’s health,” Senator Mitch McConnell said after promising to hold a vote on the measure before the August recess.

The reaction to the GOP’s move from traditional Democratic supporters of the abortion services provider has been surprisingly muted. Far from launching into a tirade of garment-rending lamentations about the GOP’s anti-women bigotry, Clinton called the Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood “regrettable.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeated the condemnation of the videos and the surreptitious methods used to obtain the damning footage. When pressed as to whether the president would veto such a measure, however, Earnest said Barack Obama opposed the bill but declined to say if he would veto it.

For the time being, the political moment favors Planned Parenthood’s opponents. The revelations that have been exposed over the last month are so abhorrent that few prominent Democrats appear willing to stand by the organization. But the obstacles to passing a defunding measure and sending it to the president’s desk where Obama would face the hard choice of either vetoing it outright or pocketing it are not pro-choice liberals but Republicans and centrist Democrats. GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois have already gone on record saying they will not support a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Democratic Senators Bob Casey and  Joe Manchin, too, have said they will not back such a bill.

With the House having already adjourned for the summer recess, the Senate has few incentives to pass such a controversial measure. To allow it to fester and generate controversy over the course of August would do the defund effort no favors — particularly considering that there is now talk of a new government shutdown over the defund effort. Even if there are enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass a defund bill after the August recess, it’s unclear that the provision would even be legal. “The laws governing Medicaid – the health insurance program for low-income families – prevent states from excluding certain providers solely because of other medical services they provide, like abortions,” CBS News reported. “Those laws also say Medicaid recipients must be allowed to seek treatment from anyone who is qualified to perform the services. This is sometimes called a ‘freedom of choice’ provision.” The report added that a 2011 Indiana law that sought to prevent Medicaid recipients from obtaining services from Planned Parenthood did not survive scrutiny in the courts.

But these delays may be a blessing in disguise. A Los Angeles area court recently granted an injunction request that prevents the release of further videos featuring Planned Parenthood administrators behaving ghoulishly. However, as Popehat blogger Ken White noted, the order may allow for plaintiffs to pursue satisfaction for damages done after the videos have been released, but it almost certainly cannot preempt their release entirely. That is especially true if the group behind the videos, the Center for Medical Progress, has already provided them to a third party. Therefore, expect the many repulsive videos to keep coming – as many as eight more are reportedly on deck. And every one that comes out forces one more prominent Democrat to soften his or her support for Planned Parenthood. Drip, drip, drip; over the course of a sleepy August in which the only game in town is the increasingly rote and boorish performance art piece masquerading as a presidential campaign, the revelations about Planned Parenthood’s conduct will find their audience.

The tide is perceptibly turning. Republicans would be foolish to let the pressure on Planned Parenthood lapse, but neither should they make themselves the focus of this story. Republicans should avoid being drawn into a convoluted debate on the legal merits of the defund effort, or its viability in the courts. They would also be well served if they were to ignore arcane whip counting and decline to opine on the politics of a presidential veto. As long as the debate is a philosophical one over whether we as a society should allow this kind of barbarism, conservatives will find themselves on the winning side. In the meantime, let the videos flow and enjoy watching Planned Parenthood supporters squirm in the sunlight.

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A French Dissent From Obama’s Iran Deal Party Line

The Obama administration party line on the Iran deal couldn’t be any clearer. Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry to the actors reading from a simplistic script in an agitprop advertisement extolling the agreement’s virtues have all been consistent on one thing: The only alternative to the deal is war. Any hope of getting a better agreement that would provide genuine scrutiny of their nuclear program or eliminate its infrastructure and ability to do research that will make a bomb a simple thing once this pact expires is, as Kerry keeps telling us, a “unicorn.” According to the president, 99 percent of the world (with the one percent being limited to Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress) agrees with this, especially America’s European allies who were crucial to the implementation of sanctions on Iran. But, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports, the French government may actually believe that a better deal is still possible even in the event that Congress votes the agreement down.

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The Obama administration party line on the Iran deal couldn’t be any clearer. Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry to the actors reading from a simplistic script in an agitprop advertisement extolling the agreement’s virtues have all been consistent on one thing: The only alternative to the deal is war. Any hope of getting a better agreement that would provide genuine scrutiny of their nuclear program or eliminate its infrastructure and ability to do research that will make a bomb a simple thing once this pact expires is, as Kerry keeps telling us, a “unicorn.” According to the president, 99 percent of the world (with the one percent being limited to Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress) agrees with this, especially America’s European allies who were crucial to the implementation of sanctions on Iran. But, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports, the French government may actually believe that a better deal is still possible even in the event that Congress votes the agreement down.

This crack in the supposedly solid wall of support for the notion that there is no alternative to the deal comes at an unfortunate moment for the administration. The polls are showing that voters aren’t happy with the deal and Congressional Republicans seem certain to vote it down, leaving the outcome in the hands of a few Democrats whose support will be necessary for an override of an expected Obama veto. The best argument for the deal isn’t on its merits since even most Democrats know it falls far short of what the administration had set as its goals when this process began. But the notion that there is no alternative and that all of our allies will immediately abandon the U.S. position if Congress votes the deal down is persuasive to many. But what if that isn’t so?

That’s the upshot of Rogin’s piece, which reports that Jacques Audibert, the senior diplomatic advisor to French President Francois Hollande told two members of Congress that Kerry’s predictions were false. As Rogin writes:

According to both lawmakers, Audibert expressed support for the deal overall, but also directly disputed Kerry’s claim that a Congressional rejection of the Iran deal would result in the worst of all worlds, the collapse of sanctions and Iran racing to the bomb without restrictions.

“He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage,” [Democratic Rep. Loretta] Sanchez told me in an interview. “He thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal.”

The French embassy denied the report, but Sanchez and Rogin are obviously telling the truth about a moment of refreshing candor from Audibert.

Kerry told Congress there’s no way he could go back to Iran for a better deal and that Europe, which is eager to start doing business with the Islamist regime, would not support any effort to strengthen its terms. But the French, who reportedly took a tougher stand at some points during the negotiations than the Americans, know that this isn’t true.

This is an important admission that proves a better deal is no unicorn. In fact, it goes to the heart of everything that was wrong about the administration’s approach to the negotiations. Every time the Iranians said “no” during the last two and a half years — whether it concerned their right to enrich uranium, the extent of their nuclear infrastructure, inspections, an agreement that expired rather than was permanent, past military research and a host of other issues — Obama and Kerry simply backed down. They did so because they told themselves that there was no alternative short of war. But what was really animating their decision was, contrary to their promises, a belief that any deal at any price was better than none at all.

This means that, if they are capable of resisting partisan pressures, Congressional Democrats should be able to vote “no” on the deal with an easy conscience. The talk about war being the only other option has always been a big lie. It was Obama who fecklessly threw away the West’s enormous economic and political leverage over Iran when he signed the interim agreement that began the process of dismantling sanctions and giving approval to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But a return to the negotiating table would provide the Islamist regime with a wake-up call because it would force them to realize that a pushover president isn’t calling all the shots and able to ram through an agreement based on appeasement, rather than a defense of U.S. interests.

There were already a lot of good reasons for Congress to vote down the deal. But with this embarrassing French dissent from Obama’s talking points, it just received one more that ought, if Democrats are being honest about making their decisions on the basis of what is good for U.S. security, persuade fair-minded members to tell the president that this weak deal isn’t good enough.

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Terrorism and the Latest Iran Deal Distraction

Though the polls show increasing opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama seems to be winning in the court of public opinion on the issue this week. The reason is that a series of inflammatory comments about the agreement from Republican presidential candidates have made it appear as if its critics are nothing but a pack of cynical partisans seeking to gain ground on Donald Trump by trying to outdo each other with outrageous insults of the president. Like Mike Huckabee’s crack about President Obama marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Senator Ted Cruz’s line about the pact making “the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of Islamic terrorism” has been widely panned. The president termed it “outrageous” and even Mitt Romney tweeted that it “was way over the line” and “hurts the cause” of those trying to stop it in Congress. Romney’s right in the sense that this kerfuffle is helping the president to pose as the adult in the conversation and being used by the administration to help portray its critics as crackpots or warmongers. But though it would be foolish to deny that these candidates to help their campaigns are using Iran, there’s more substance here than is being acknowledged by most of those commenting on it. The terror angle to the Iran agreement has been largely swept under the rug by the administration. Though Cruz’s effort probably won’t lead to much serious thought about it, that has more to do with the media’s antipathy for him and willingness to follow Obama’s lead than it does with the facts of the case.

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Though the polls show increasing opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama seems to be winning in the court of public opinion on the issue this week. The reason is that a series of inflammatory comments about the agreement from Republican presidential candidates have made it appear as if its critics are nothing but a pack of cynical partisans seeking to gain ground on Donald Trump by trying to outdo each other with outrageous insults of the president. Like Mike Huckabee’s crack about President Obama marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Senator Ted Cruz’s line about the pact making “the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of Islamic terrorism” has been widely panned. The president termed it “outrageous” and even Mitt Romney tweeted that it “was way over the line” and “hurts the cause” of those trying to stop it in Congress. Romney’s right in the sense that this kerfuffle is helping the president to pose as the adult in the conversation and being used by the administration to help portray its critics as crackpots or warmongers. But though it would be foolish to deny that these candidates to help their campaigns are using Iran, there’s more substance here than is being acknowledged by most of those commenting on it. The terror angle to the Iran agreement has been largely swept under the rug by the administration. Though Cruz’s effort probably won’t lead to much serious thought about it, that has more to do with the media’s antipathy for him and willingness to follow Obama’s lead than it does with the facts of the case.

Like Huckabee, Cruz is in a difficult position right now in the presidential race. While both were always long shot candidates, the Donald Trump boom has marginalized them, and the rest of the conservative field since the reality star seems to have cornered the market on outrage about Obama and illegal immigration. While Cruz has been waging a scorched earth campaign against Washington and the Republican establishment since he entered the Senate in January 2013, Trump’s outrageous behavior and willingness to say anything about anyone has seemingly rendered the Texan obsolete. Though that may change, there’s no doubt that there seems even less room for a Cruz or a Huckabee in the presidential sweepstakes than there was before.

But no matter what his motivations — and Cruz has been a consistent critic of administration policy on Iran throughout his brief career — may be, merely dismissing the terror angle to the deal isn’t sufficient.

It is true that the remarks are being interpreted as an accusation that President Obama actually wants to aid international terrorism rather than this result being an unfortunate result of a misguided policy. The same was true of Huckabee’s “oven” comment that was seen as an accusation that the president actually wanted Israel to be incinerated by an Iranian bomb rather than the deal being the fruit of Obama’s illusions about the Islamist regime’s willingness to change.

Obama dismissed Cruz by saying, “We’ve had a sitting senator, who also happens to be running for president, suggest that I’m the leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

It’s true that it would be inaccurate to say that Obama is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. That title belongs to his Iranian negotiating partners, as the State Department recently acknowledged.

But, as Cruz was pointing out, one of the key items in the nuclear deal that the president is championing, is the release of $100 billion to the regime that had been denied them due to economic sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Iran won’t be able to use those funds to support its Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon, its Hamas allies in Gaza, or the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But as even National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted, once it is their hands, they will be free to do with the money, as they like. Kerry may have lectured members of Congress this week that it is already illegal for Iran to aid these groups. Yet those strictures haven’t hampered them in the past, and there’s no reason to believe that they will in a future in which the world is rushing to do business with Iran. Like it or not, the released funds are fungible, and some of it will, one way or another, wind up in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas.

This is not a small point or a semantic argument. By choosing to strike a deal with Iran that deliberately ignored its role as a state sponsor of terror, its quest for regional autonomy, its tyrannical abuses at home or its oft-stated goal of destroying Israel, the president essentially gave all these elements of the regime Western sanction. The administration may say that it disapproves of all of it and will seek to curb Iranian excesses in the future. But the goal here is not merely a shaky nuclear deal that in the best-case scenario will only put off an Iranian bomb for a decade. The president’s objective has been something far more ambitious: a détente with Iran that will allow it “to get right with the world.” We may well scoff at such naïveté but, in order to buy into the Iran deal, you have to actually think that Iran will stop aiding terror or fomenting conflict throughout the Middle East. Once you discard this absurd hope, you have to accept the fact that the funds the U.S. is agreeing to release to Iran will soon be paying for a Hezbollah or Hamas rocket aimed at Israel or a murder squad roving Europe in search of some enemy of the Islamist regime.

So while Cruz’s comments were, like Huckabee’s (which alluded to the fact that Iran is threatening Israel with another Holocaust even if this time, the Jews are in a position to defend themselves rather than being marched to the slaughter as an indifferent West looks on) easy to distort or dismiss as an Iran deal distraction, they point to something all too real, not political hyperbole. If the administration wishes to make its case for the deal, it must do better than merely dismissing the likelihood that what it is doing is aiding terror, since that is very much what will happen.

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What If Conservatives Threw a Revolution and No One Came?

Republicans are on edge. The “base” is restless. Incandescent outrage over the way that the GOP’s elected representatives have dismissed and ignored their core voters is boiling over. Donald Trump, we are told, is the walking, bloviating manifestation of their righteous ire. A full-scale revolt is in the works, we are forever warned by the commentary class. It’s only just over the horizon. And yet, the revolution never seems to materialize. A look at the polls in the summer of an off year suggests that much of this dissatisfaction with Republican leaders, real as it is, is not shared by a critical mass of the party’s core voters.  Read More

Republicans are on edge. The “base” is restless. Incandescent outrage over the way that the GOP’s elected representatives have dismissed and ignored their core voters is boiling over. Donald Trump, we are told, is the walking, bloviating manifestation of their righteous ire. A full-scale revolt is in the works, we are forever warned by the commentary class. It’s only just over the horizon. And yet, the revolution never seems to materialize. A look at the polls in the summer of an off year suggests that much of this dissatisfaction with Republican leaders, real as it is, is not shared by a critical mass of the party’s core voters. 

Surely, spectacular and unequivocal failure wasn’t exactly what North Carolina Republican Representative Mark Meadows had in mind when he mounted a quixotic coup against House Speaker John Boehner this week. While he had to know the effort was doomed to fail from the start, perhaps he thought that his martyrdom would spark a grassroots movement of likeminded conservatives who have had enough with the House GOP leader. The measure Meadows submitted to remove Boehner from his post must be passed out of the Rules Committee where the GOP members, all of whom have Boehner to thank for their positions, are unlikely to look favorably upon it. “It isn’t deserving of a vote,” the House Speaker said, signaling that the measure’s fate is sealed.

Boehner dismissed the failed coup as merely a quirk of the American system whereby any majority that is large enough will always be near impossible to control. “We’ve got a member here, a member there, who are off the reservation,” he averred. “No big deal.” True, the Republican conference is a herd of cats. Even Nancy Pelosi faced grumbling among Democratic House Caucus members following a historic Democratic victory in 2008 for failing to embrace sufficiently left-wing policy prescriptions. She even faced a primary challenge that year from the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. But there was no leadership challenge from a representative of the ascendant progressive Democratic base. Indeed, after the party expanded its majorities in 2008, the only substantial change in Democratic leadership occurred when Henry Waxman took control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from John Dingell. If Boehner cannot keep his members in line, perhaps it is time for a change at the top.

It would be a mistake, however, to confuse a lack of faith in GOP leadership for a vote of confidence in the insurrectionists. The loudest and most boisterous voices within the conservative movement appear eager to register their dissatisfaction with GOP leadership in whatever way possible, but their prominence and overrepresentation among activist elements within the conservative firmament may be presenting a distorted view of their actual influence. Polls suggest that there is far less dissension in the GOP’s ranks than is apparent at first glance.

A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month revealed that the GOP’s favorability ratings have collapsed, and that implosion is due almost entirely to a loss of faith among self-identified Republicans. “Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago,” Pew revealed. “About two-thirds (68%) express a favorable opinion of their party, the lowest share in more than two years. Six months ago, 86% of Republicans viewed the GOP positively.” So you might expect to see some of that antipathy expressed as frustration with the party’s elected leaders and a reduction in support for its candidates. So far, that has not occurred.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday indicated that the GOP is still winning the generic congressional ballot tests ahead of the 2016 election. By 39 to 37 percent, more voters would back the Republican candidate for House races. Similarly, the Senatorial GOP candidate bests the Democratic candidate by 40 to 38 percent. In both cases, the GOP secures the support of 90 percent of self-described Republicans. Democrats, by contrast, are only able to maintain 86 and 87 percent support respectively. That indicates that the Democratic “base” is slightly more restive than even the GOP’s.

As for disaffection, Republicans remain far more enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than are their Democratic counterparts. A CNN/ORC survey released this week showed that 31 percent of Republicans are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting in 2016 whereas just 18 percent of surveyed Democrats said the same. The story is not all that different for self-described conservatives. By 27 to 22 percent, more conservatives than liberals would describe themselves as “extremely enthusiastic.”

If there is a grassroots conservative revolt in the works against the GOP “establishment” that serves as the boogieman for so many political commentators, it’s so sub rosa that it’s virtually imperceptible. There is plenty of evidence that indicates that conservatives — and Americans in general — are deeply dissatisfied with their congressional representatives. There is not, however, much evidence to support the contention that the “establishment” is days away from a revolt of the masses that will result in a radical realignment. In fact, the opposite is the case; Republican voters seem prepared if not eager to affirm their support for the party next November.

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Our Morally Disoriented Times

I’m not a big game hunter. I like animals, we have a dog that is beloved by my family, and I don’t know why anyone would take particular delight in shooting a lion. But the world-wide reaction to the killing of Cecil (which is briefly touched on by John Hinderaker here) is both amazing and illuminating on the times in which we live.

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I’m not a big game hunter. I like animals, we have a dog that is beloved by my family, and I don’t know why anyone would take particular delight in shooting a lion. But the world-wide reaction to the killing of Cecil (which is briefly touched on by John Hinderaker here) is both amazing and illuminating on the times in which we live.

Walter James Palmer, the dentist who illegally but apparently mistakenly killed the famed lion, is now a notorious and hated figure. There are reports that he’s had to go into hiding. He’s been the subject of death threats. Celebrities and supermodels are excoriating him. The comedian Jimmy Kimmel was so overwhelmed by emotions that he teared up and almost broke down during his monologue.

I understand why Cecil’s death touched people’s human sympathies. But here’s my question: Why doesn’t the dismemberment of unborn children do at least the same thing? Indeed, why are so many people who were so profoundly moved by the killing of a lion so indifferent to the butchery that is routinely performed by Planned Parenthood and that’s been documented in several videos by the Center for Medical Progress? Will Jimmy Kimmel draw attention to, and weep over, the wholesale destruction of unborn children and the sale of their body parts — by an organization that receives taxpayer support, no less?

I rather doubt it. It’s fair to ask, I think, what is it about progressives in particular that causes them to be so deeply disturbed by the killing of an animal and so deeply committed to allowing unborn children to be aborted that they would even invent a constitutional right to allow it?

It would certainly be worthwhile to have this question posed to people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the leadership of the Democratic Party. But it never will be, in part because so many journalists share their attitudes, worldview and moral intuitions.

The killing of a single beautiful lion triggers a massive outpouring of emotion and grief and rage; the massive slaughter of unborn children is ignored when it’s not viewed as a sign of liberation and enlightenment. Such is the morally disoriented state in which we find ourselves.

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Grist for Israel’s Defamers

For those who have followed the discussion of my essay on the documentary film Censored Voices, I bring your attention to my “last word” on the subject at Mosaic Magazine. There I suggest that the film is fairly close on the spectrum to Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” (in his bestselling book My Promised Land and in The New Yorker), which I dissected at length a year ago, also at Mosaic Magazine. That’s a resemblance worth further elaboration, so here it is.
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For those who have followed the discussion of my essay on the documentary film Censored Voices, I bring your attention to my “last word” on the subject at Mosaic Magazine. There I suggest that the film is fairly close on the spectrum to Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” (in his bestselling book My Promised Land and in The New Yorker), which I dissected at length a year ago, also at Mosaic Magazine. That’s a resemblance worth further elaboration, so here it is.

Shavit purports to reveal the details of a forgotten Israeli massacre of Palestinians in July 1948, which he rediscovered by interviewing Israeli veterans twenty years ago. For his account, he went back to his tapes. The director of Censored Voices, Mor Loushy, purports to reveal the censored details of Israeli war crimes committed in June 1967 against Palestinians and other Arabs—crimes she rediscovered in tapes of discussions among Israeli soldiers.

The notion of hidden war crimes preserved on privately-held tapes is almost irresistible. Is anyone bothered that no one else has access to these tapes, which (like all evidence) need to be scrutinized critically? Does anyone care if the case for war crimes rests on isolated quotes, summations, and soundbites? I’ve called on Shavit and Loushy to place all their material in a public archive where it can be examined by historians. It’s reprehensible to put these “crimes” on the public agenda, yet continue to monopolize the supposed evidence for them.

Both Shavit and Loushy use numbers — in fact, the same number —to embed their narratives in the minds of readers or viewers. Shavit claims that Israeli soldiers, in the course of a broader massacre, cut down seventy persons who had taken refuge in a mosque in Lydda—a number he repeats five times in his book. This is what I call a sticky statistic. When I told a friend that I would be looking closely at the mosque “massacre,” he replied: “Where seventy were killed, right?” I was taken aback: the statistic, through its repetition, had stuck. As I later showed, the “seventy” isn’t attested by any source except local Palestinian lore, and contemporary Israeli sources put the number at less than half of that. (They also totally contradict the “massacre” claim.)

Loushy (and her partner and producer Daniel Sivan) use the same number to describe the scale of the “brutal censorship” that kept the Six-Day War “crimes” secret for so long. They allege that seventy percent of the original testimonies of soldiers were cut by the Israeli military censor in 1967, and thus consigned to oblivion. (For example, Sivan repeats the figure twice in this one interview.) This statistic is also sticky, and it has surfaced in just about every review of the film, as well as in the Economist, where you expect statistics to have been vetted. As I show, this “seventy” is a fiction. The extent of official censorship of the original testimonies, according to a careful assessment by their foremost historian, was negligible.

The agonized soldiers, the forgotten tapes, and the memorable numbers are all vehicles to deliver this message: Israel is guilty of crimes in the two wars that gave it independence and its current borders, 1948 and 1967. It is too late for individuals to be tried for these crimes, but there must be atonement. For Shavit and Loushy, that atonement is self-evident: Israel must end the “occupation.” Only thus can it cleanse itself of sins.

The ascendence of this argument in the Israeli mainstream left isn’t accidental. The Second Intifada, the debacle of Gaza, Palestinian refusal to talk — all of these have undercut the rationale for peace as a transaction between Israelis and Palestinians. How can Israelis and Jews be persuaded that a Palestinian state is still an urgent necessity — so much so that it might even justify unilateral withdrawal? Some invoke demography, but others instill guilt. Yes, a Palestinian state is a huge risk. Yes, there is no partner. Yes, the rockets may fall. Yes, the blood may flow. But if we end the “occupation,” we will cleanse ourselves of guilt. If this is the aim of such revelations, then the desired effect is only enhanced by exaggerating the “crimes,” ripping them out of context, and claiming they were somehow covered up.

This is the present-day purpose of these historical exposés. But that isn’t necessarily their present-day effect. Israel’s critics adduce the claims of Shavit and Loushy as evidence that Israel repeatedly commits and covers up the same crimes. Israel’s history, writes one defamer (while generously quoting from Shavit), is “a history of Lyddas piling up into a mountain, remembered or almost forgotten except by the survivors.” A reviewer of Loushy’s film insists that “year after year since 1967, including in recent weeks, Palestinians, with faces and names, are still expelled, imprisoned without trial and killed.”

Incredibly, both Shavit and Loushy are oblivious to this use of their work. Shavit: “Even the most difficult parts of my book were not used by Israel’s enemies because they were afraid to quote something that is written by a really devoted Zionist.” Loushy: “I find it difficult to believe that someone would attack Israel because of the film.” Shavit and Loushy grossly underestimate the resourcefulness of Israel’s enemies, who will mine any vein for historical evidence of Israeli misdeeds and then deploy it to condemn Israel in the present. This isn’t a reason to avoid research critical of Israel’s history. It is a reason to establish facts scrupulously, from a full range of sources, and put them in broader context. Famed journalists and beginning directors don’t get a pass on that.

Much of Israel’s self-critical output makes its way to discussions at American synagogues and Sabbath tables. Even sophisticated audiences often take too much of it at face value. As Censored Voices moves into Jewish film festivals and American theaters, I’ll be watching to see who passively accepts it and who reports the evidence that its very premise is fabricated. I’m guessing most viewers won’t question what they see on the screen. How many is “most”? Oh, probably around seventy percent.

(Again, my “last word” at Mosaic Magazine, here.)

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