Commentary Magazine


The Problem With ‘Creative Negotiations’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Innocent Abroad: Obama’s Iran Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Money Moderate Iran?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ineffective Campaign in Yemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charles Krauthammer on Things That Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Will Turkey Compensate Armenians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Embrace, Don’t Cut off Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what might be done instead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Southern Iraq Bypassing Kurdistan in Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Reverse Iran Deal Ratification Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can We Speak of Iran and the Holocaust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Call It a Comeback (Because It Isn’t)

The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

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The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

Hillary was not inevitable, as it turned out, which is why she’s back running again this year. But she seems inevitable again, and this time more so. Are pundits who may be repeating their mistake with Hillary repeating the same mistake by dismissing Chris Christie’s chances to win the GOP nomination?

In a word, no.

The New Jersey governor has launched what is being termed a “comeback” tour, and the plan appears to have both a geographic center and a policy one. As the Washington Post reports:

Chris Christie kicked off a two day swing to New Hampshire with a sober prescription for tackling escalating entitlement spending.

The New Jersey governor and potential Republican presidential candidate proposed raising the retirement age for Social security to 69, means testing for Social Security, and gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Christie outlined his proposals on entitlement reform at a speech Tuesday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

“In the short term, it is growing the deficit and slowly but surely taking over all of government. In the long term, it will steal our children’s future and bankrupt our nation. Meanwhile, our leaders in Washington are not telling people the truth. Washington is still not dealing with the problem,” Christie said.

“Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not,” the governor added.

As Hail Marys go, there is logic to this plan. Geographically, it makes sense. The crowded field of social conservatives and candidates with Midwest ties/appeal makes Iowa a stretch for Christie. New Hampshire, on the other hand, is much closer to home for a northeastern Republican, and ideologically probably a better fit than Iowa for someone like Christie.

Additionally, the idea that candidates might waste resources trying to win Iowa at the expense of New Hampshire isn’t crazy at all. In fact, since 1980, for every presidential-election year in which there was no Republican presidential incumbent, Iowa and New Hampshire chose different winners. This streak almost ended in 2012 when it appeared Mitt Romney won Iowa and then went on to win New Hampshire, but once all the votes were counted it turned out Rick Santorum had actually won Iowa. The smart money, then, in New Hampshire is never on the winner of the Iowa caucuses (at least not when it’s an open seat). Christie probably knows this.

However, with such a crowded field, even assuming the Iowa winner doesn’t also win New Hampshire (and he will still likely compete there for votes anyway) Christie will have a steep hill to climb. Jeb Bush is his most significant rival for establishment votes, and Bush will have lots of money to blanket the northeast in ads while Christie’s campaign is just getting out of the gate. Rand Paul will likely be competitive in New Hampshire, with its libertarian streak (his father did reasonably well in New Hampshire). And then there will still be Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and others.

On the policy side, I don’t think I even need to point out the risk involved in making entitlement reform the centerpiece of your agenda. It is bold, and Christie does need to stand out from the pack. He needs conservative votes, not just establishment support, and conservatives might be more amenable to such cuts (in theory at least, and it’ll vary depending on which piece of the safety net we’re talking about).

Christie is very good in person, so the town hall format should help him. He’s also got the “straight-talker” bona fides to at least portray himself as the guy who’s telling you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. But that can go south in a hurry, considering Christie’s temper.

And further, as Harry Enten points out today, “The Politics Of Christie’s ‘Bold’ Social Security Plan Are Atrocious.” Enten writes:

According to a January 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, Republicans are more likely than Democrats, independents and the general public to say that income should not be a determining factor in receiving Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of Republicans believe that Social Security should go to only those below a certain income level. Seventy percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposal. …

In a September 2013 Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center poll, 58 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 were opposed to raising the age of eligibility on Social Security. Just 33 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 support such a proposal. According to an April 2013 Fox News survey, Republicans overall are more split. Still, does Christie really want to try to push the idea of raising the retirement age in New Hampshire, where 56 percent of primary voters are over the age of 50? For a moderate Republican like Christie, New Hampshire is a crucial state. His plan doesn’t seem like smart politics.

No, it doesn’t. But Christie can’t really afford to play it safe. Or can he? Is he learning the wrong lesson himself from 2008? McCain’s comeback was not due to bold conservative reform plans. If anything, he was the “safe” candidate in the field: the war hero with clean hands and decades of service. As other, more hyped candidates flamed out early, McCain simply remained standing.

He also benefited from the electoral math, specifically in having others in the race like Mike Huckabee who could siphon votes from Romney without posing a serious threat to McCain.

Then again, considering the strength of the field this year, Christie can’t plausibly expect every other serious candidate to implode. So he’s going for broke. It’s an interesting idea that may be making headlines today but will ultimately be a footnote in the story of 2016.

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Why Are We Giving F-16s to an Iranian-Infiltrated Government?

The summit meeting between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Tuesday went about as well as expected. That is to say, it was, like most high-level summits, full of affirmations of friendship and good will but few if any concrete achievements. Obama was predictably effusive about Abadi, whom he called a “strong partner”: “Although there is the natural back-and-forth that exists in any democracy, Prime Minister Abadi has kept true to his commitments to reach out to them and to respond to their concerns and to make sure that power is not solely concentrated within Baghdad.”

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The summit meeting between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Tuesday went about as well as expected. That is to say, it was, like most high-level summits, full of affirmations of friendship and good will but few if any concrete achievements. Obama was predictably effusive about Abadi, whom he called a “strong partner”: “Although there is the natural back-and-forth that exists in any democracy, Prime Minister Abadi has kept true to his commitments to reach out to them and to respond to their concerns and to make sure that power is not solely concentrated within Baghdad.”

In reality, while Abadi seems well intentioned, he is also fairly ineffectual. He may not actively be victimizing Sunnis, as his predecessor and rival, Nouri al-Maliki, did, but he has not succeeded in creating a government-supported Sunni militia to fight ISIS. Nor has he been able to stop Shiite militias from rampaging through Sunni towns. The reality is that Abadi is far from the most powerful man in Iraq, a title that probably belongs rightfully to Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, who is the puppet-master pulling the strings of the Shiite militias. Nevertheless, it is in America’s interest to buttress Abadi’s power, and having the president of the United States effusively compliment him in public makes sense, even if those compliments are not, strictly speaking, truthful.

While I wasn’t troubled by this fulsome praise of the Iraqi prime, I was troubled by something I read in the very last paragraph of the New York Times article reporting on his visit: “On Tuesday, Mr. Abadi was scheduled to meet with Iraqi pilots who are being trained in the United States to fly F-16s. Iraqi officials said that 14 pilots were scheduled to be trained by September, when the Iraqi military hopes to start flying the planes in Iraq.”

Huh? I remembered that the delivery of the F-16s had been delayed last year after ISIS fighters imperiled the Balad air base where they were supposed to be based. I didn’t realize that the F-16 delivery was on again. But apparently it is. Googling around, I quickly found a Reuters dispatch which said that Iraq is scheduled to take its first delivery of the fighter aircraft this summer. In all, 36 F-16s are eventually to be delivered.

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

Paging the House and Senate Armed Services Committees! Congress needs to get involved in this issue urgently to assess whether it makes sense to continue with the F-16 transfer to Iraq—and, if it doesn’t, to block the sale before Gen. Suleimani’s boys are using F-16s to drop bombs on the heads of American or Israeli soldiers.

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More Nixonian Moments for Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s first official campaign appearance yesterday after announcing her candidacy on Sunday set off a media circus as reporters chased her around Iowa in search of a big political story. But though Clinton’s wooden appearance at a community college was newsworthy, it was not quite as interesting as the one about her that surfaced in Washington. As the New York Times reports, it turns out that contrary to the spin from her camp, Mrs. Clinton was actually asked about whether she was using a private email account to conduct business while serving as secretary of state a full two years ago. As long ago as December 13, 2012, Clinton was asked by Rep. Darrel Issa, the chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight, whether this was the case. Mrs. Clinton never replied to the query that would blow up in her face in 2015. In doing so, it must be admitted that the former first lady saved herself from possible charges of lying to Congress. But the revelation that she wiped her home server clean when she was already on notice that the House wanted to know about the emails is one more brick in the wall of Nixonian stonewalling that makes it hard to take her claims of transparency or of being the candidate of “everyday Americans” seriously.

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Hillary Clinton’s first official campaign appearance yesterday after announcing her candidacy on Sunday set off a media circus as reporters chased her around Iowa in search of a big political story. But though Clinton’s wooden appearance at a community college was newsworthy, it was not quite as interesting as the one about her that surfaced in Washington. As the New York Times reports, it turns out that contrary to the spin from her camp, Mrs. Clinton was actually asked about whether she was using a private email account to conduct business while serving as secretary of state a full two years ago. As long ago as December 13, 2012, Clinton was asked by Rep. Darrel Issa, the chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight, whether this was the case. Mrs. Clinton never replied to the query that would blow up in her face in 2015. In doing so, it must be admitted that the former first lady saved herself from possible charges of lying to Congress. But the revelation that she wiped her home server clean when she was already on notice that the House wanted to know about the emails is one more brick in the wall of Nixonian stonewalling that makes it hard to take her claims of transparency or of being the candidate of “everyday Americans” seriously.

Of course, Clinton and her supporters are dismissing the significance of this latest piece of an embarrassing scandal saying, as all those caught making mischief do, that the voters want to hear about more important things. To that end, Clinton was engaging in staged photo-ops in Iowa where she had to pretend to listen and to care about what community college students thought. Clinton’s demeanor or speaking style is so forced that she makes a stiff like Mitt Romney seem charismatic. Though there is little doubt about her inevitable coronation as the Democratic presidential nominee, convincing voters to embrace a candidate who is clearly out of practice when it comes to faking interest in what those who aren’t paying her six-figure honorariums have to say remains a problem.

But the drip-drip-drip of stories about the emails should remind voters that the apt comparison for Clinton is not Romney (GOP groups hope to demolish her with negative ads the same way Democrats eviscerated the 2012 Republican nominee) but the president whose impeachment Hillary worked to obtain as a young lawyer.

Clinton’s apologists can complain all they want about her critics seeking to distract voters with fake scandals, but the fact remains that she conducted herself in office in an unaccountable manner and then covered up evidence of her activities by using a private email server that was eventually destroyed even as House committees sought information it contained as they began the investigation of the Benghazi terror attack. Her private account shielded her communications from investigators and the press. The successful effort to cover this up and then to ensure that no one will ever know the truth about Clinton’s work was a brilliant piece of lawyering that will guarantee that her secrets will never be uncovered, whatever they might be.

Liberals are right when they say Clinton did nothing that will cause her to be subjected to investigations aimed at punishing her for violating or pushing the boundaries of government accountability regulations. But they are wrong when they assert this is meaningless. As the woman who intends to serve what will, in effect, be Barack Obama’s third term in the White House, the spectacle of such deceitful behavior that skirts the boundaries of legality is exactly the sort of thing that may be fatal to Democratic efforts to reassemble the hope-and-change coalition that won in 2008 and 2012. Combined with her shaky performances in even the most controlled circumstances such as yesterday’s show in Iowa, this is a bad beginning to a presidential campaign that ought to already be running smoothly.

Bad retail political skills combined with inauthenticity, a penchant for secrecy, and stonewalling is a bad combination for politician, though not necessarily ones that bar one from winning the White House. Unfortunately, the only real precedent for such a person winning the presidency is Nixon. That’s a bad omen for a woman that hopes to lead the party that regards him as the symbol of everything they hate about American politics.

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BDS Drops Its Veil: Campus Anti-Semitism

The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

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The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

Horwitz may have removed Israel from her Facebook persona but couldn’t escape being classified as a Jew and was therefore suspect in the eyes of those who have come to treat support for the war on Zionism as a litmus test of liberal bona fides. But the significance of the incident lies not so much in the snub of a Hispanic student (she was adopted from Paraguay and considers herself both a South American and a Jew) by a coalition that is supposed to exist to support such persons simply because she is also Jewish and unwilling to disavow Israel under questioning. Rather, it is the insouciance with which the members of the student group—including the chapter president of the NAACP—regarded the inquisition of a Jewish student about her faith as being not only acceptable but something that should be expected.

Horwitz has demanded a public apology, but she shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for it. Nor should she expect much comfort from the university that has also been asked to investigate what happened. The reason is that so long as support for a movement that singles out the one Jewish state in the world and its supporters for discriminatory treatment and opprobrium is not merely tolerated as an opinion but treated as a reasonable point of view about which decent people may differ, we can’t be surprised that Jew hatred is being normalized.

Had the coalition merely asked Horwitz about her stand about divestment without connecting it to her faith, that might pass the anti-Semitism smell test even if it would still be troubling that blacks and Hispanics have adopted the attack on Zionism as their own cause. But by linking this issue to Judaism they have acknowledged the fact that the divestment cause is not merely a political criticism of Israel’s government or its policies but primarily focused on singling out Jews for biased treatment.

Stanford’s Student Senate has already endorsed divestment from Israel, a move that places all supporters of the Jewish state on the defensive. But in the course of the battle over this attack on Israel, it’s clear that advocates of divestment have ceased being careful about trying to separate their campaign against the right of the Jews to have a state in their ancient homeland—a concept that is not denied to any other people on the planet—from one against anyone who openly identifies as a Jew. The Stanford Review has reported that the Students of Color has asked candidates for student offices to pledge not to affiliate with Jewish groups. In doing so, and in quizzing students about their Jewish faith, such persons are not merely advocating for a discriminatory practice—divestment—but making it clear that any Jew who chooses not to join the gang attack on the Jewish state will be stigmatized.

This is not the first time students at a major university have been caught practicing anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, a Jewish student at UCLA was similarly interrogated by a student committee interviewing candidates for a campus judicial committee and was asked if her Judaism would impact their conduct. That case was caught on film, making it easier to call out the offenders–something that didn’t happen at Stanford, thus allowing Horwitz’s inquisitors to claim they were misinterpreted.

The Anti-Defamation League is calling the Stanford incident “an important teaching moment” in which the “university needs to make it clear to students and student groups that singling out identity and questioning on those kind of issues is discriminatory.” They’re right about that, but the problem won’t be dealt with by ignoring the clear connection between the worldwide BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement and anti-Semitism. That’s a stand that many supporters of Israel have refused to take believing that crying anti-Semitism will cloud the issue and make it harder to advocate for Israel. But divestment advocates are making it increasingly obvious they have no scruples about the link between Jew hatred and treating Israel as a pariah state. BDS isn’t about a political dispute within Israel, its borders, or sympathy for the Palestinians. It’s a war on Jews.

So long as an ideology that is aimed solely at discriminating against the Jewish state is treated as acceptable opinion and not one rooted in bias, these incidents will not only keep popping up; they will spread and become the norm on campuses and in those parts of society where elite academic opinion has influence.

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The Real Reason Bill de Blasio Hasn’t Endorsed Hillary

Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

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Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

To recap, here’s what de Blasio said when asked directly about endorsing Hillary on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD:

Well, in the last quarter century, they’ll have had a Clinton as president for eight years of that last quarter century, so that’s going to be difficult. Let me ask you this, are you for her now, unequivocally? Or do you want to wait to see if she takes your advice on moving to a more progressive agenda?

BILL DE BLASIO:

I think like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear, bold vision for progressives–

CHUCK TODD:

But you’re technically not yet endorsing her?

BILL DE BLASIO:

No, not until I see, and again, I would say this about any candidate, until I see an actual vision of where they want to go. I think she’s a tremendous public servant. I think she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office. And by the way, thoroughly vetted, we can say that. But we need to see the substance.

The Clintons demand loyalty above all else, and de Blasio was Hillary’s campaign manager for the Senate in 2000. So this certainly looked to some in Clintonland like a betrayal. Clinton ally Hilary Rosen responded angrily on Twitter, with a classic Clintonian threat:

The whole thing was, I thought, blown way out of proportion. But reporters spent the next couple days asking de Blasio if perhaps he had reconsidered his comments about the Central Committee chairwoman. Politico reports this morning that he’s sticking to his story:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is standing by his remarks on “Meet the Press” that he is not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. …

“It’s the same things I’ve said publicly: progressive taxation, raising wages and benefits, investment in infrastructure and education, the willingness to tax the wealthy so we have the resources to actually change the dynamic in this country,” the progressive Democratic mayor said.

This obstinacy has inspired some quizzical looks. Who shrugs off the horse’s head in the bed? What’s de Blasio up to?

In fact, there is a very good reason for Bill de Blasio to keep his initial distance from Hillary: self-preservation. Hillary Clinton, and the crony capitalist aristocracy she represents, is a direct threat to de Blasio’s career.

Remember, de Blasio was swept into office on the combined power of one good television ad and the tide of left-wing populism that sought to turn the animating ideas behind Occupy Wall Street into something productive. The Tea Partiers didn’t just rage against the government (they also didn’t defecate on police cars, as their liberal counterparts did); they got involved, ran candidates for office, formed a congressional caucus, and shaped legislation.

So as terrible as the policy preferences of de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are, and as shallow as their understanding of basic economics continues to be, there was at least something healthy about their elections: it showed left-wingers re-engaging with the democratic process. Warren has secured a place for herself as a national figure. She occupies a safe Senate seat and sits on the banking committee, and even has a legion of fans who want her to run for president. She demonstrated her transformation into the Democrats’ Ted Cruz with her recent attempt to shut down the federal government over a policy dispute. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going anywhere.

The same is not necessarily true of de Blasio. That’s why he scheduled a trip to Iowa to talk about inequality, and why he continues to act as though he’s a single-issue activist instead of an influential political executive.

But far more of a danger to de Blasio is the looming success of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. As Ben Domenech wrote in the September issue of COMMENTARY, the populist base of the Democratic Party will be one casualty of Hillary’s coronation: “She is still the Hillary who spent six years on the Walmart board of directors; the Hillary at her most comfortable rubbing elbows in Aspen, the Hamptons, and Davos; the Hillary whose family foundation depends on the donations of big banks and held its annual donor briefing in the auditorium of Goldman Sachs, which reportedly paid her $400,000 for two speeches last year,” Domenech wrote, adding: “The past few years have been better for Wall Street than anybody, and when it comes to the battles over regulation, taxation, and trade policy, the progressive base seems ready to concede defeat.”

De Blasio isn’t, however. Elizabeth Warren could survive the receding tide of liberal populism because she has transitioned seamlessly into a progressive cog in the bureaucratic statist machine. Warren sold out the moment she was presented with the opportunity to wield state power to settle scores.

De Blasio, however, has no such job security and no obvious fallback plan. What de Blasio has instead is the great media megaphone of New York City. And he intends to use it.

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Did Obama Win By Losing on Corker’s Bill?

The big news today out of Washington isn’t that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker managed to appease enough Democrats to lock up what will probably be a veto-proof majority for a bill mandating a Senate vote on any final Iran deal. The real story is that the White House has now announced that it won’t, despite months of threats to do so, veto the amended bill. Their excuse is that the Democratic amendments Corker swallowed alter the bill so much that it no longer constitutes much of an obstruction to the president’s plans to pursue détente with the Islamist regime. That is, as Corker rightly insists, mostly spin. But the question we should be asking is whether conceding that Congress has a right to an up-or-down vote on the agreement will give the administration the room to maneuver that will enable it to pass the deal despite the clear sense of Congress that it is a disaster.

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The big news today out of Washington isn’t that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker managed to appease enough Democrats to lock up what will probably be a veto-proof majority for a bill mandating a Senate vote on any final Iran deal. The real story is that the White House has now announced that it won’t, despite months of threats to do so, veto the amended bill. Their excuse is that the Democratic amendments Corker swallowed alter the bill so much that it no longer constitutes much of an obstruction to the president’s plans to pursue détente with the Islamist regime. That is, as Corker rightly insists, mostly spin. But the question we should be asking is whether conceding that Congress has a right to an up-or-down vote on the agreement will give the administration the room to maneuver that will enable it to pass the deal despite the clear sense of Congress that it is a disaster.

The concessions Corker made are not insubstantial, but by themselves they don’t destroy the basic principle that he and Robert Menendez, the former ranking member of the committee, sought to establish. Despite the effort of the White House to portray the deal as something that doesn’t fall under the normal constitutional rubric of a treaty that must be submitted to the Senate for approval, Corker-Menendez will allow Congress the final say on a nuclear pact. That’s a victory for critics of the president’s diplomatic strategy as well as a blow struck for the sort of constitutional principles that this president has routinely trashed on issues such as environmental regulations and illegal immigration.

But by stating that he’ll sign Corker-Menendez, Obama may have won over a large number of Democratic senators who were planning to vote for Corker-Menendez as well as a bill promising more sanctions on Iran in the event that the diplomatic process fails. As Max Boot wrote earlier, the bill strengthens the president’s hand in the final negotiations with Iran since he can say that he is responsible to Congress and won’t be able to make as many concessions as he might have liked. But assuming that he does continue to make enough concessions to enable Iran to finally sign on to a written version of the agreement by June, the concessions the president won today will be useful to him as he seeks Senate approval for the deal.

One can view the White House waving the white flag on this issue as a signal defeat and in that sense it is. But in doing so the president has strengthened his ability to rally Democrats and perhaps some wavering Republicans—like Corker—to vote for the Iran deal once it is finished. Indeed, so long as they have their say on it, Democrats and Republicans may decide that procedure has precedence over substance and wind up giving the president what he wants anyway.

It may be that the White House move on Corker-Menendez ensures that Obama will get most Democrats to back the Iran deal no matter how awful a bargain it turns out to be. In addition, by forcing Corker to cut in half the amount of time the Senate has to study what will be a complicated document (from 60 days to 30) and by eliminating other issues from the mix—such as forcing the administration to certify that Iran is not supporting anti-American terrorism—he has simplified the president’s task in gaining the agreement’s eventual passage.

The main point here was never just about the president trying to act like a monarch and ratifying a treaty without Congress but whether the Senate could exercise its constitutional responsibilities in a way that could help get a better deal from Iran. The pact Obama has agreed to provides Iran with a path to a bomb both by easy cheating and by adhering to its terms provided they have the patience to wait until it expires.

Corker can, as Max noted, take a bow for working in a bipartisan manner and getting something passed. But just as the Iranians learned they could bulldoze the president in an impasse, what opponents of his appeasement must ponder is whether this is a precedent for future negotiations with the White House that will bring the Tennessee Republican over to the president’s side in a final vote on an Iran deal. If the Senate is outmaneuvered in the months ahead and winds up belatedly ratifying a weak deal, we may look back on today’s events and say this was the moment when the president finally wised up and locked up sufficient support for appeasement.

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Tom Friedman’s Iran Ignorance

Jonathan Tobin highlights well some problems with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s defense of President Barack Obama’s empathy with Iran. Perhaps a greater irony, however, is how wrong Friedman gets Iranian history. Friedman describes how:

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Jonathan Tobin highlights well some problems with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s defense of President Barack Obama’s empathy with Iran. Perhaps a greater irony, however, is how wrong Friedman gets Iranian history. Friedman describes how:

We, the United States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Three problems with this conventional wisdom:

  • Firstly, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq was not much of a democrat. Or, if he was a democrat, then he was a democrat in the mold of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide: he was democratic so long as you agreed with him; Iranians who voiced opposition might easily find themselves lynched.
  • Second, while Kermit Roosevelt wrote the main English-language account of the 1953 coup in Countercoup, he exaggerated his own and the United States role in what was a much broader operation. The idea for the coup was British because Mosaddeq had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (a predecessor of British Petroleum) and then refused to negotiate. The United States was more concerned by Mosaddeq’s pro-Soviet proclivities. So too were the Iranians themselves, especially the military and the clergy. That’s right, the folks who run the Islamic Republic today were co-conspirators with the United States and deeply opposed to Mosaddeq’s anti-clerical attitudes. So when Friedman self-flagellates, he essentially is apologizing to the Iranians who supported the coup.
  • Third, Friedman gets the shah wrong. Mohammad Reza Shah was a deeply problematic figure, and he grew far more dictatorial after the 1953 coup, but at the time of the coup, he was a popular head of state whom Mosaddeq was seeking to force out in order to assume dictatorial power himself. Then again, he was a dictator in the mold of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey: he sought dictatorial powers to modernize Iran, making Iranians equal under the law regardless of religion and enfranchising women. Still, the shah’s regime was brutal at time, and there were no angels in this story. But the idea that the 1953 coup motivates the Iranian nuclear program is bizarre. While the shah had a nuclear program himself, the resurrection of the Iranian nuclear program after the Islamic Revolution can be traced more to Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Iran.

There’s also a broader problem underlying both Obama’s and Friedman’s assumptions about Iranian motivations, and that is the assumption that grievance motivates the Iranian nuclear drive. That’s lazy thinking and belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic. At its heart, the Islamic Republic is an ideological state. The reason why Obama’s interpretation that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s statements can be discounted because he’s playing to a political constituency are so bizarre is that such an explanation suggests ignorance of the fact that the supreme leader derives legitimacy from God rather than from the Iranian public. The Islamic Republic simply isn’t a normal, status quo state; it’s a revisionist, ideological power. Iran’s nuclear behavior is rooted not in grievances real or imagined, but rather in a desire to export its revolution.

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