Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2013

The Syrian Tragedy and Obama’s Absence

The more you read about Syria, the worse it looks for the Obama administration. In its weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal has a long article exploring what happened when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on a massive scale on August 21, killing an estimated 1,400 people.

The article reveals that the White House not only refused to provide arms to the rebels but it even refused their requests for protective equipment to deal with chemical weapons attacks:

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The more you read about Syria, the worse it looks for the Obama administration. In its weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal has a long article exploring what happened when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on a massive scale on August 21, killing an estimated 1,400 people.

The article reveals that the White House not only refused to provide arms to the rebels but it even refused their requests for protective equipment to deal with chemical weapons attacks:

Syrian opposition leaders made their first formal appeal to the U.S. for protection from chemical weapons back in June 2012. At a meeting in Washington, opposition representatives handed administration officials a request for various nonlethal supplies, including 2,500 gas masks, say people who attended….

White House advisers, they say, questioned whether the masks would make much of a difference. Some worried that if Islamic extremists in the opposition got their hands on them they might try to seize poison gas from the regime. Administrative lawyers worried about potentially running afoul of domestic and international law.

“It was never ‘no.'” says one opposition representative about what would become a series of requests. “But it would never happen.”

This is shameful and bizarre. None of the reasons the White House gave for refusing to provide gas masks, etc., stand up to much scrutiny–especially when the administration was already ostensibly committed to providing non-lethal supplies to the opposition. This was simply inertia and foot-dragging, all a result of the fatal ambivalence and irresolution in the Oval Office.

When Assad’s goons stepped up their use of chemical weapons, Obama was briefly spurred into contemplating tougher action, before just as quickly backing off, and seizing a face-saving Russian offer to destroy the Syrian chemical-weapons stockpile. The Journal article reports: “U.S. intercepts show a Russian official later boasting to a Syrian counterpart about how easy it had been to get the U.S. to back off strike plans.”

Given Obama’s mishandling of Syria, it is a shame that Republicans have let him off the hook–first by not coalescing around a tough-minded position (how could the GOP knock Obama for being soft while refusing to endorse air strikes?), and then by changing the subject to the completely unnecessary and unproductive government shutdown. The tragedy of an irresolute and weak U.S. foreign policy is compounded by the tragedy of an equally weak and irresolute opposition party, which doesn’t know where it stands on foreign policy. It tells you something that the most devastating critique in recent days of the Obama foreign policy has been delivered by a member of the Saudi royal family who aptly summed it up as “just complete chaos. Confusion. No policy.”

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The Arctic Strategy

At the Halifax Security Forum over the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out a new Arctic strategy for the U.S. military. The need for such a strategy is obvious given that the Arctic’s copious natural resources and fast routes for maritime travel are ready for exploitation because of the melting of the polar ice caps. If the U.S. doesn’t act to protect its interests, other nations such as Russia will seize the initiative.

Hagel is right to call on the U.S. armed forces to be ready to preserve freedom of navigation, defend Alaska, and to ensure the safety of efforts to operate in the Arctic environment. The question left unanswered is: How will we pay for this expanding mission?

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At the Halifax Security Forum over the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out a new Arctic strategy for the U.S. military. The need for such a strategy is obvious given that the Arctic’s copious natural resources and fast routes for maritime travel are ready for exploitation because of the melting of the polar ice caps. If the U.S. doesn’t act to protect its interests, other nations such as Russia will seize the initiative.

Hagel is right to call on the U.S. armed forces to be ready to preserve freedom of navigation, defend Alaska, and to ensure the safety of efforts to operate in the Arctic environment. The question left unanswered is: How will we pay for this expanding mission?

Sequestration isn’t going away anytime soon. Combined with previous budget cuts, this will result in a trillion dollars being sliced from the defense budget over the next decade. U.S. military capabilities will decline by at least a third. But U.S. military missions aren’t declining at all. They are growing. In addition to Arctic operations, the U.S. armed forces are stepping up cyber and space commitments, among others.

As I have repeatedly written, there is a growing mismatch between commitments and resources. It is not reasonable to expect the U.S. armed forces to do 30 percent more with 30 percent less money. Yet that seems to be what Washington wants. Unless Congress coughs up more money, and fast, the result will be a readiness crisis to recall the “hollow” days of the 1970s.

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Iranian Regime: Israel Killed Kennedy

As Americans reflected on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Iranian government—now depicted as having moderated by journalists taken in by President Rouhani’s charm offensive—showed its true colors.

Press TV, Iran’s official English-language  propaganda outlet, published an article by an American 9/11 revisionist arguing that Israel “called the shots” from the grassy knoll:

Israel and its global Zionist crime syndicate were major players if not THE main player in the JFK assassination – must be taken seriously. Israel had a powerful motive… Ben Gurion haughtily refused to answer JFK’s letter demanding that Israel abandon its nuclear aspirations. Instead, he resigned. Six months later, JFK was publicly executed. A few years after that, Ben Gurion got his nuclear weapons… and his longed-for war of aggression to steal Jerusalem.

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As Americans reflected on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Iranian government—now depicted as having moderated by journalists taken in by President Rouhani’s charm offensive—showed its true colors.

Press TV, Iran’s official English-language  propaganda outlet, published an article by an American 9/11 revisionist arguing that Israel “called the shots” from the grassy knoll:

Israel and its global Zionist crime syndicate were major players if not THE main player in the JFK assassination – must be taken seriously. Israel had a powerful motive… Ben Gurion haughtily refused to answer JFK’s letter demanding that Israel abandon its nuclear aspirations. Instead, he resigned. Six months later, JFK was publicly executed. A few years after that, Ben Gurion got his nuclear weapons… and his longed-for war of aggression to steal Jerusalem.

Those who see the Zionists as prime movers in the JFK assassination argue that none of the other anti-JFK factions had such an overpoweringly existential motive, nor a track record of such wildly reckless deception and violence. Without Zionist involvement, the U.S. military, CIA, and organized crime might have pushed back against JFK using gentler means.

Were the Zionists really in a position to set the JFK assassination wheels in motion? Skeptics argue that Israel is just a tiny entity of eight million people, so it is preposterous to imagine that it is dominating the U.S. empire or steering history. Yet the facts are otherwise: The tiny Zionist entity of eight million people, together with its millions of fanatical loyalists all over the world, clearly dominates U.S. foreign policy, and has done so since the murder of JFK.

The whole thing is noxious hate, but it is true to the ideology and conspiracy theories which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif endorse. Perhaps President Obama will congratulate himself on the temporary nuclear deal, but there should be no naïveté about the regime which he now treats as a diplomatic partner.

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The Barbaric Cruelty of North Korea

It seems like only yesterday that gullible commentators were welcoming the ascension of Stalinist prince Kim Jong-un in North Korea and claiming he would inaugurate a new era of openness. There has since been scant evidence of change–and to the extent that there has been change, it has generally been for the worse. 

The latest sign of just how despicable this regime is? The detention of an 85-year-old American, a Korean War veteran named Merrill Newman, who was hauled off his airplane as he was about to leave the North at the end of a tour. His family has no idea why he was arrested. They don’t even know if he has received the drugs he needs to keep him alive, which they have sent via the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. 

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It seems like only yesterday that gullible commentators were welcoming the ascension of Stalinist prince Kim Jong-un in North Korea and claiming he would inaugurate a new era of openness. There has since been scant evidence of change–and to the extent that there has been change, it has generally been for the worse. 

The latest sign of just how despicable this regime is? The detention of an 85-year-old American, a Korean War veteran named Merrill Newman, who was hauled off his airplane as he was about to leave the North at the end of a tour. His family has no idea why he was arrested. They don’t even know if he has received the drugs he needs to keep him alive, which they have sent via the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. 

Even by North Korea’s barbaric standards, this is pretty cruel and shocking behavior. Moreover, it makes little sense from the standpoint of a regime that would like to encourage tourism to keep a small pittance of hard-currency earnings flowing. 

It’s impossible to say why the North Koreans detained Newman. But it’s obvious that this is yet another sign of a hard-line regime that will never voluntarily liberalize on its own, at least not under Kim Jong-un’s leadership.

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Taking Iranian Jews Hostages

While Iranian Jews have traditionally had it better than some of their religious brethren in Arab lands, the situation for the Iranian Jewish community since the Islamic Revolution has been precarious. The community may number as much as 20,000 now, but that represents less than a fifth of the community’s numbers before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return.

While traditionally Iranians treated Jews relatively well, the notion that Persia and Iran were havens for the Jewish community is nonsense. I’ve previously outlined some excellent histories of the Iranian Jewish community, here and here, for example, while noting the unresolved problem of Iran’s missing Jews, seized and imprisoned, but apparently never formerly charged and certainly never released.

In the past week, however, there have been worrisome signs inside Iran. First, the Jewish representative in Iran’s parliament (a seat is always set aside for one Jewish representative; whomever takes the position is widely despised and treated as collaborating with an oppressive regime) was trotted out to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Fars News Agency described the representative’s speech on Wednesday:

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While Iranian Jews have traditionally had it better than some of their religious brethren in Arab lands, the situation for the Iranian Jewish community since the Islamic Revolution has been precarious. The community may number as much as 20,000 now, but that represents less than a fifth of the community’s numbers before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return.

While traditionally Iranians treated Jews relatively well, the notion that Persia and Iran were havens for the Jewish community is nonsense. I’ve previously outlined some excellent histories of the Iranian Jewish community, here and here, for example, while noting the unresolved problem of Iran’s missing Jews, seized and imprisoned, but apparently never formerly charged and certainly never released.

In the past week, however, there have been worrisome signs inside Iran. First, the Jewish representative in Iran’s parliament (a seat is always set aside for one Jewish representative; whomever takes the position is widely despised and treated as collaborating with an oppressive regime) was trotted out to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Fars News Agency described the representative’s speech on Wednesday:

“We Iranian Jews condemn the spiteful, brazen, warmongering and unrealistic statements of Netanyahu, and reiterate that neither him (Netanyahu) nor any other alien has the right to meddle in Iran’s affairs,” [Siamak] Marreh Sadeq said, addressing an open session of the Iranian parliament on Wednesday. “The Zionist regime’s prime minister with its long track record of crime, occupation, assault, savagery and manslaughter cannot comment on Iran’s international conditions or the global peace or the relations of the monotheist Iranian nation with other world countries,” he said.

Then, Iranian officials trotted out members of the Iranian Jewish community to collectively demonstrate in favor of Iran’s negotiating position. “Jews from all Iranian Jewish communities, especially from Tehran, will take part in this gathering to show their solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s stances in the recent talks, specially the issues proposed to Group 5+1,” Marreh Sedq announced, also on Wednesday.

When Iran displays its remaining Jews as props—spontaneous and voluntary demonstrations are rare in Iran, and limited to opposition to the regime—there is an implicit threat that if they do not participate, jobs, education, and housing are at stake, as could be their very freedom. Jews, along with Baha’is, have, as minorities, long been the canary in the Iranian coal mine. The West should not miss the message: We have 20,000 hostages. Such are the tactics of an untrustworthy regime, not a friendly or sincere partner.

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Bashing Allies, Embracing Adversaries

One of the more disappointing aspects of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent Iran diplomacy is the willingness to sacrifice allies for the sake of ephemeral diplomatic deals, and the willingness to reward intransigence with concessions, all the while believing that incentive brings flexibility rather than contempt.

The Obama administration—or at least its chorus—has been particularly noxious in addressing criticism. Rather than addressing argument with argument, it has sought too often to smear those who disagree with the president or distrust Iranian motives. Hence, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen smeared the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Mark Dubowitz, suggesting that he acted on the instruction of Israel. Ali Gharib, a prolific tweeter and one-time “Open Zion” editor whom Peter Beinart lamented had been spuriously accused of anti-Semitism, implied that congressional opposition to Obama’s policy on Iran was because Israel controlled Congress. Then again, as many defenders of Chuck Hagel suggest, perhaps attributing opposing views to dual loyalty is not really anti-Semitic after all.

Perhaps it would be comforting for those slurred to believe that such behavior is simply the domain of the Obama administration, or motivated by disdain for Israel in certain policy circles. The problem is larger, however. It is a theme I explore in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a study of a half century of U.S. attempts to engage rogue regimes and terrorist groups. It is not limited to the resentment with which Israel is treated as it dissents, nor did such practices start in 2009, when Obama took office.

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One of the more disappointing aspects of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent Iran diplomacy is the willingness to sacrifice allies for the sake of ephemeral diplomatic deals, and the willingness to reward intransigence with concessions, all the while believing that incentive brings flexibility rather than contempt.

The Obama administration—or at least its chorus—has been particularly noxious in addressing criticism. Rather than addressing argument with argument, it has sought too often to smear those who disagree with the president or distrust Iranian motives. Hence, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen smeared the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Mark Dubowitz, suggesting that he acted on the instruction of Israel. Ali Gharib, a prolific tweeter and one-time “Open Zion” editor whom Peter Beinart lamented had been spuriously accused of anti-Semitism, implied that congressional opposition to Obama’s policy on Iran was because Israel controlled Congress. Then again, as many defenders of Chuck Hagel suggest, perhaps attributing opposing views to dual loyalty is not really anti-Semitic after all.

Perhaps it would be comforting for those slurred to believe that such behavior is simply the domain of the Obama administration, or motivated by disdain for Israel in certain policy circles. The problem is larger, however. It is a theme I explore in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a study of a half century of U.S. attempts to engage rogue regimes and terrorist groups. It is not limited to the resentment with which Israel is treated as it dissents, nor did such practices start in 2009, when Obama took office.

In 1993, the Clinton administration was engaged in a full-court press to engage North Korea which at the time was, much like today, threatening its neighbors and pushing ahead with a covert nuclear program. Whereas the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations had long coordinated with Seoul, South Korean warnings and its incessant urging of caution antagonized American diplomats who did not want South Korea’s analysis of North Korean politics, intentions, and diplomatic strategy to get in the way of a deal. When South Korean President Kim Young Sam tired of having his concerns dismissed or, even worse, belittled by diplomats who could not speak Korean and considered themselves experts on the region after just months on the job, complained to journalists that North Korea was leading America on and manipulating negotiators “to buy time,” the State Department was furious. When he repeated his criticism the following year, Clinton blew his top. In hindsight, of course, the South Koreans were right.

The goal of diplomacy should never be to reach a deal; rather, it should be to solve the problem. Alas, diplomats and presidents in search of a legacy often refuse to see the forest through the trees. They single-mindedly focus on getting to yes regardless of whether the cost of the deal outweighs the benefit. When evidence about an adversary’s behavior or intentions threatens forward diplomatic momentum, there are two possible actions: good presidents recalibrate policy to reflect the reality of an adversary. Bad presidents ignore evidence and slander those presenting it. Obama and Kerry appear intent on securing their legacy, although probably not in the way they intended.

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Was There An Alternative to the Iran Deal?

As I wrote earlier this morning, the deal that President Obama has struck with Iran has very little chance of actually stopping them from reaching their nuclear goal. Their centrifuges remain intact and will, at best, delay them from “breaking out” to full nuclear capability by a few weeks. It will reward them for a decade of lies and deceptions and effectively normalize a rogue regime that continues to sponsor international terrorism and spew anti-Semitism while also starting the process of unraveling sanctions. But to all this Secretary of State John Kerry has what he thinks is a devastating answer: what’s the alternative?

The point of this question is to not-so-subtly imply that the only other choice was a war that no one wants. But this favorite rhetorical device of the president’s in which he poses false choices is a deception. There was an alternative to surrendering to Iran’s diplomatic demands that we effectively recognize their “right” to enrich uranium and scrapping the president’s campaign promise that his goal was to force it give up its nuclear program–and it didn’t mean war. All it required was for him to tighten sanctions and enforce them to the point where Iran’s elites, rather than the common people, started to feel the economic pain. But by wasting five years during which he opposed sanctions, stalled on their enforcement and then started to scale them back at the first hint of an Iranian willingness to negotiate, the president has discarded all of America’s leverage.

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As I wrote earlier this morning, the deal that President Obama has struck with Iran has very little chance of actually stopping them from reaching their nuclear goal. Their centrifuges remain intact and will, at best, delay them from “breaking out” to full nuclear capability by a few weeks. It will reward them for a decade of lies and deceptions and effectively normalize a rogue regime that continues to sponsor international terrorism and spew anti-Semitism while also starting the process of unraveling sanctions. But to all this Secretary of State John Kerry has what he thinks is a devastating answer: what’s the alternative?

The point of this question is to not-so-subtly imply that the only other choice was a war that no one wants. But this favorite rhetorical device of the president’s in which he poses false choices is a deception. There was an alternative to surrendering to Iran’s diplomatic demands that we effectively recognize their “right” to enrich uranium and scrapping the president’s campaign promise that his goal was to force it give up its nuclear program–and it didn’t mean war. All it required was for him to tighten sanctions and enforce them to the point where Iran’s elites, rather than the common people, started to feel the economic pain. But by wasting five years during which he opposed sanctions, stalled on their enforcement and then started to scale them back at the first hint of an Iranian willingness to negotiate, the president has discarded all of America’s leverage.

Kerry’s assumption and that of others who advocated appeasement of Iran is based on the idea that it was not reasonable or realistic for the West to demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program as the president demanded in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney last year. They say that asking for the dismantling of the centrifuges that will continue to spin and enrich uranium even after the president’s deal is in place was just too much, as was the demand that the nuclear facilities that are openly discussed and covered in the deal (as opposed to the secret underground Iranian nuclear facilities that even the New York Times concedes that the CIA, the Europeans, and the Israelis believe exist) be decommissioned or that its stockpile of enriched uranium be shipped out of the country.

Why were these demands unrealistic? Because the Iranians said they were.

That’s it. The entire foundation of this agreement isn’t a matter of what was technically feasible or even a belief that the sanctions weren’t working or couldn’t be tightened to the point where the Iranian economy could collapse. Everyone knows that the sanctions are hurting, but if Iran’s oil trade was subjected to a complete embargo (as a third round of sanctions that Congress was considering would have done), Tehran could have been brought to its knees.

If the Iranians had been pushed harder and sooner and had they believed that there was a credible threat of force on the table from the United States, which was clearly not the case, they might have been convinced that they had no alternative but to give up their nukes. But for five years, President Obama has been signaling not only that they needn’t fear him but also that he was willing to settle for far less than the demands he had been making in public. We don’t know for how long the administration has been conducting the secret diplomatic talks with Iran or whether they were run by Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett. But it’s apparent that Washington’s assumption that it couldn’t make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear toys was a self-fulfilling prophecy. By refusing to push them harder and by showing their willingness to accept far less than the minimum that would have ensured that a weapon was not possible, they gave the Iranians the confidence to stick to their positions in the talks.

So what Kerry and other administration apologists are doing is turning the question of alternatives on its head. Instead of falsely implying that the only alternative to appeasement was war, he should be called to account for not exploring all the diplomatic and economic options that could have brought about a far more satisfactory result than the weak deal he signed.

In exchange for superficial and easily reversed nuclear concessions, Obama and Kerry have normalized Iran and begun the process of unraveling sanctions. The alternative to this was an American foreign policy that was determined to make it clear to Iran that they would have to give up their nuclear program in the same manner than Libya was forced not do and they would not be given the chance to take the North Korean route to nuclear capability.

Instead of avoiding war, what Kerry has done is to set in motion a chain of events that may actually make armed conflict more likely. It’s not just that Israel must now come to terms with the fact that it has been abandoned and betrayed by its American ally and must consider whether it must strike Iran’s nuclear facilities before it is too late. Saudi Arabia must now also consider whether it has no choice but to buy a bomb (likely from Pakistan) to defend its existence against a deadly rival across the Persian Gulf. The Western stamp of approval on Iran will also embolden its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries and make it even less likely that Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad will be toppled in Syria.

By deciding that the U.S. was too weak to stand up to Iranian demands, Obama and Kerry have put the Islamist regime in a position where it can throw its weight around in the region without any fear of U.S. retaliation.

The choice here was not between war with Iran or a weak deal. It was between the U.S. using all its economic power and diplomatic influence to make sure that Iran had to give up its nuclear program and a policy of appeasement aimed at allowing the president to retreat from his promises. The Middle East and the rest of the world may wind up paying a terrible price for Obama’s false choices.

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Can the Iran Deal Succeed? Not Likely.

If President Obama can follow up the nuclear deal with Iran that he announced last night with another one in the next year that will dramatically roll back the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress achieved on his watch, then this event will be remembered as a diplomatic triumph that made the world safer.

In order for this to happen he will have to hope that Iran does not follow up this negotiation with more stalling tactics and settle for more limited agreements that do not do anything more than add a few weeks at most to the amount of time needed for them to “break out” and convert their nuclear stockpile into weapons-grade material. He will have to count on the Iranians not following the North Korean model of making nuclear deals only to break them once they are ready to put a nuclear site online. He will also have to hope that there are no secret underground sites in Iran that are not covered by the agreement though, as the New York Times noted this morning, even the CIA, Europe, and Israel believe such sites exist where uranium enrichment can continue unhindered. The president will also have to hope that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to effectively monitor activity inside Iran and detect cheating despite the fact that, as the Times also conceded, “Iran did not agree to all of the intrusive inspection regime” the IAEA had said was needed to ensure that the program is peaceful.

It must be conceded that the chances that this agreement will make it less likely that Iran will eventually reach its nuclear goal are not zero. It may be that Iran has truly abandoned its goal of a weapon, that it will negotiate in good faith and won’t cheat, and that there are no secret nuclear facilities in the country even though just about everyone in the intelligence world assumes there are. If so the world is safer, and many years from now, the president will go down in history as a great peacemaker worthy of a Nobel Prize. But since that scenario rests on a series of assumptions that range from highly unlikely to completely far-fetched, the only possible reaction to the deal from sober observers must be dismay. In exchange for measures that only slightly delay Iran’s nuclear progress that don’t come even close to putting them into compliance with United Nations resolutions on the nuclear question, the administration has begun the process of lifting sanctions on Iran. Even more seriously, it has, in effect, normalized a rogue regime that is still sponsoring international terrorism, waging war in Syria, and spewing international sanctions, while effectively taking any threat of the use force against Tehran off the table. All in all, this is a good day for the ayatollahs and bad one for U.S. interests and allies that are endangered by any result that leaves Iran’s nuclear capability intact.

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If President Obama can follow up the nuclear deal with Iran that he announced last night with another one in the next year that will dramatically roll back the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress achieved on his watch, then this event will be remembered as a diplomatic triumph that made the world safer.

In order for this to happen he will have to hope that Iran does not follow up this negotiation with more stalling tactics and settle for more limited agreements that do not do anything more than add a few weeks at most to the amount of time needed for them to “break out” and convert their nuclear stockpile into weapons-grade material. He will have to count on the Iranians not following the North Korean model of making nuclear deals only to break them once they are ready to put a nuclear site online. He will also have to hope that there are no secret underground sites in Iran that are not covered by the agreement though, as the New York Times noted this morning, even the CIA, Europe, and Israel believe such sites exist where uranium enrichment can continue unhindered. The president will also have to hope that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to effectively monitor activity inside Iran and detect cheating despite the fact that, as the Times also conceded, “Iran did not agree to all of the intrusive inspection regime” the IAEA had said was needed to ensure that the program is peaceful.

It must be conceded that the chances that this agreement will make it less likely that Iran will eventually reach its nuclear goal are not zero. It may be that Iran has truly abandoned its goal of a weapon, that it will negotiate in good faith and won’t cheat, and that there are no secret nuclear facilities in the country even though just about everyone in the intelligence world assumes there are. If so the world is safer, and many years from now, the president will go down in history as a great peacemaker worthy of a Nobel Prize. But since that scenario rests on a series of assumptions that range from highly unlikely to completely far-fetched, the only possible reaction to the deal from sober observers must be dismay. In exchange for measures that only slightly delay Iran’s nuclear progress that don’t come even close to putting them into compliance with United Nations resolutions on the nuclear question, the administration has begun the process of lifting sanctions on Iran. Even more seriously, it has, in effect, normalized a rogue regime that is still sponsoring international terrorism, waging war in Syria, and spewing international sanctions, while effectively taking any threat of the use force against Tehran off the table. All in all, this is a good day for the ayatollahs and bad one for U.S. interests and allies that are endangered by any result that leaves Iran’s nuclear capability intact.

The details of the agreement are troublesome. Even while Iran gets a significant cash gift in terms of billions of dollars of unfrozen funds, its centrifuges will not be dismantled and it will be allowed to go on enriching uranium that can be converted to weapons-grade fuel. Its nuclear facilities will stay open, including the plutonium plant under construction. Its stockpile of enriched uranium will be diluted or converted into oxide, but that is nothing more than a storage option since the administration knows very well it could quickly be restored to its former state. Iran will have inspections, but they will be limited and there is little doubt that the IAEA, which has met every possible obstacle and obstruction to its work in Iran, will go on being stiffed no matter what the piece of paper obtained by Secretary of State Kerry says.

Far more important than even these points, Iran has effectively won its diplomatic objective of getting the West to recognize its “right” to enrich uranium. Though the U.S. is saying the two sides have agreed to disagree on this point, by signing a deal that allows Iran to go on enriching the question is now off the table in perpetuity. Iran’s nuclear program is effectively rendered legal by this deal. From now on, all disputes about enrichment will be considered as mere quibbling by the international forums that have heretofore accepted the West’s arguments about the question.

As for the vital sanctions relief, it is true the release of some of their frozen assets does not change the tough restrictions on doing business with Iran that are still in place. If we assume that the U.S. and its European allies will stick to their resolve to go on squeezing Iran, the small chance that President Obama’s initiative will truly lead to an end to their nuclear program would be enhanced. But that is an even shakier belief than any of the other suppositions that form the foundation of this policy.

As anyone who has ever closely looked at the way that the U.S. enforced sanctions against Iran, let alone its less-zealous European allies, the restrictions were always filled with holes. The New York Times reported back in 2010 that the Treasury Department had already issued over 10,000 exemptions to the sanctions against Iran, thereby allowing Tehran billions more in business deals. Just as troubling, the Daily Beast reported earlier this month that as far back as June the U.S. had all but stopped enforcing a crucial aspect of the sanctions by largely halting the designation of violators of the rules. That more or less gave impunity to those doing business with Iran.

Does anyone want to seriously argue that now that the president has proclaimed that Iran has embraced diplomacy and that a path to resolving the nuclear question has been agreed to, the Treasury Department and the White House will actually ramp up enforcement? Does anyone seriously believe Kerry’s piece of paper will not act as a green light to the Europeans, who have been desperate to resume business with Iran, and cannot fail to interpret it as a sign they can ease up as well? And can anyone argue with a straight face that nations like China that have continued to do business with Iran will not only increase such efforts after the U.S. has declared that peace with Iran is at hand.

The president can pretend that he is still holding the ayatollah’s feet to the fire. But now that he has normalized a regime that goes on sponsoring terror, threatening Israel and spewing anti-Semitic hate, there will be no reassembling the coalition against Iran even if he eventually comes to the conclusion that he has been, like every other diplomatic partner of Iran, fooled by them.

The president’s campaign promise to end Iran’s nuclear program is now officially thrown on the scrap heap of history. He can only hope that when Iran does choose to take the final step to a weapon he will no longer be in the White House or that Americans will have been so diverted by other concerns that no one will care or seek to hold him accountable. But whether Tehran waits that long or not, this is a dark day for the cause of international peace and security. Iran has got its long-sought Western seal of approval for a nuclear program that enhances its power immeasurably. The rest of the region and those elsewhere who are not deceived by this agreement can only tremble.

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Education Revolution? Don’t Believe the Hype or the Counter-Hype

Only two years ago, in fall 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig opened their Stanford University class in artificial intelligence to anyone who cared to take it online. About 160,000 students from 190 countries signed up. Their class was not the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). But Thrun was no rumpled academic; he was a Silicon Valley visionary, associated with Google, and known for his work on self-driving cars. When Thrun founded Udacity to make and deliver MOOCs, and declared that MOOCs would drive nearly all universities out of business, many believed he would change education forever. David Brooks issued an educational tsunami warning. Tom Friedman declared a revolution; nothing had more potential to lift people out of poverty; nothing had more potential to “unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems.”

Today, not so much. According to a recent New Yorker essay on the self-driving car, Google people not only work in jeans and sit on exercise balls but also like to say “In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data.” So perhaps people should listen to Thrun’s most recent declaration, reported in Max Chafkin’s Fast Company profile of Thrun: “I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial. But the data was at odds with this idea. … We have a lousy product.”

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Only two years ago, in fall 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig opened their Stanford University class in artificial intelligence to anyone who cared to take it online. About 160,000 students from 190 countries signed up. Their class was not the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). But Thrun was no rumpled academic; he was a Silicon Valley visionary, associated with Google, and known for his work on self-driving cars. When Thrun founded Udacity to make and deliver MOOCs, and declared that MOOCs would drive nearly all universities out of business, many believed he would change education forever. David Brooks issued an educational tsunami warning. Tom Friedman declared a revolution; nothing had more potential to lift people out of poverty; nothing had more potential to “unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems.”

Today, not so much. According to a recent New Yorker essay on the self-driving car, Google people not only work in jeans and sit on exercise balls but also like to say “In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data.” So perhaps people should listen to Thrun’s most recent declaration, reported in Max Chafkin’s Fast Company profile of Thrun: “I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial. But the data was at odds with this idea. … We have a lousy product.”

Two disappointments stick out. First, Thrun, like Friedman, thought that MOOCs, because of their low cost per student, would serve the poor and underserved. But the data we have so far indicate that the people who sign up for them already have degrees. According to Steve Kolowich’s account of a recent University of Pennsylvania survey of 34,779 MOOC students, more than 80 percent of respondents had a two- or four-year degree and 44 percent had some graduate education. In countries like Brazil, India, and China, “80 percent of MOOC students come from the wealthiest and most well educated 6 percent of the population.” Presumably, those who complete MOOCs successfully are still more elite.

Second, Thrun thought that MOOCs would offer at least as good a product as traditional education does at a tiny fraction of the cost. But a partnership between Udacity and San Jose State University has produced “disastrous” results. “Among those pupils who took remedial math during the pilot program, just 25% passed. And when the online class was compared with the in-person variety, the numbers were even more discouraging. A student taking college algebra in person was 52% more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class.”

All this is no surprise. The kinds of students Thrun and others asserted MOOCs would reach, the poor and underserved, are most likely to require the kind of guidance and support that a massive lecture-based platform is least likely to provide. As Thrun says of the San Jose students, it’s “a group for which this medium is not a good fit.”

Thrun has concluded that the future of Udacity is in professional development, providing courses, like one for saleforce.com on “how to best use its application programming interface.” Predictably, those who were (justifiably) skeptical of MOOCs all along are saying I told you so.

But to declare the end of MOOCs is to place as much blind trust in Sebastian Thrun as those who declared the revolution did. In an inadvertently comic part of the Fast Company profile, we learn that Thrun concluded that MOOC problems are irremediable based on one important experiment, a statistics class taught by “the master himself.” Although Thrun deployed such sophisticated pedagogical techniques as trying to convey “his enthusiasm for the subject,” completion rates remained low. If Thrun can’t solve the MOOC problem singlehandedly, we are asked to conclude, then MOOCs are doomed.

But the high cost of higher education hasn’t gone away, it is still far from clear that MOOCs are much, if any, worse than big lecture classes routinely taught at universities, and MOOCs can still offer advantages, including scheduling flexibility, self-paced learning, and instant feedback, that brick and mortar colleges are not in a good position to offer. Udacity has rivals, including EdX and Coursera, who have no intention of abandoning the field. I do not think that MOOCs are as transformative as Thrun once did, but there is no good reason to dismiss them either.

Toward the end of the Thrun profile, we are taken to a soundproof studio, where an instructor “with wavy shoulder-length hair, wearing a baggy T-shirt and cargo shorts” struggles to convey a difficult concept. “Lounging,” (but of course) “on a beanbag chair,” one of Udacity’s course developers works to help the instructor, whose “only formal teaching credential is as an assistant scuba-diving instructor” get through a take. Perhaps the lesson of the hyped rise of MOOCS, and what is likely to be their hyped fall, is that we shouldn’t be so quick to think that Silicon Valley knows what is good for us, just because they are more clever and casually dressed than we are.

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JFK and Obama: Press Access Lessons

On a day when the nation is awash with memories of John F. Kennedy and the 50th anniversary of his assassination, one comparison between JFK and Barack Obama is highly instructive: their attitudes toward the press and the control of information.

Few presidents have been as secretive as President Obama. As Chuck Todd rightly pointed out yesterday during the daily brief at the White House, this administration has not merely done its best to shut down the working press and silence dissent from within the ranks of the government with an unprecedented number of investigations and prosecutions over leaks. It has also created what amounts to nothing less than a state media as the White House has excluded journalists from some events and instead distributed its own official photos and stories via official websites (which unlike the ObamaCare site, don’t crash). Doing so enables the president to control the story in a way that few of his predecessors, even before the era of the mass media, could have dreamed of doing. By contrast, President Kennedy offered reporters and photographers an equally unprecedented amount of access.

The irony here is that by treating the press as his friends and allies rather than enemies, Kennedy was able to keep secrets about his health and his disgraceful personal conduct during his presidency since none of his journalistic cronies and enablers wished to undermine their friend in the Oval Office. He smartly used press conferences to reach the American people directly where he could show off his wit and command of the issues, but in doing so he knew the press he had seduced had his back.

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On a day when the nation is awash with memories of John F. Kennedy and the 50th anniversary of his assassination, one comparison between JFK and Barack Obama is highly instructive: their attitudes toward the press and the control of information.

Few presidents have been as secretive as President Obama. As Chuck Todd rightly pointed out yesterday during the daily brief at the White House, this administration has not merely done its best to shut down the working press and silence dissent from within the ranks of the government with an unprecedented number of investigations and prosecutions over leaks. It has also created what amounts to nothing less than a state media as the White House has excluded journalists from some events and instead distributed its own official photos and stories via official websites (which unlike the ObamaCare site, don’t crash). Doing so enables the president to control the story in a way that few of his predecessors, even before the era of the mass media, could have dreamed of doing. By contrast, President Kennedy offered reporters and photographers an equally unprecedented amount of access.

The irony here is that by treating the press as his friends and allies rather than enemies, Kennedy was able to keep secrets about his health and his disgraceful personal conduct during his presidency since none of his journalistic cronies and enablers wished to undermine their friend in the Oval Office. He smartly used press conferences to reach the American people directly where he could show off his wit and command of the issues, but in doing so he knew the press he had seduced had his back.

Though most of the White House press corps is as, if not more, eager to help Obama as their predecessors were to aid Kennedy, over the course of five years of stonewalling, deceptions, and end runs, he has managed to alienate even liberals who now are justified in complaining that the White House is little different from Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime when it comes to control of information.

The moral of the story is not just that Obama seems a lot closer to Richard Nixon in his behavior than to that of his avowed hero Kennedy, though that is a fair conclusion. Rather, it is that what is most needed in a democracy is a vigorous and free press that is neither prevented from doing its job by a semi-official government media run publishing propaganda from the White House nor compromised by the hero worship and cronyism.

Looking back on the history of the Kennedy era, the press should never lose the sense of shame that it ought to feel about its cover ups of the truth about the president’s health and his dissolute and even reckless personal behavior (having mistresses is one thing, debauching interns and sleeping with the molls of gangsters under federal investigation is quite another). But neither should it allow itself to be intimidated by a White House press operation that appears to be the polar opposite of Kennedy’s clever decision to co-opt the press.

Is it too much to ask that journalists not go into the tank for politicians or to be allowed to do their job without being superseded by a state propaganda arm? No, it’s not. Instead, of obsessing about Kennedy’s death, our media would do better to learn the lessons of JFK and Obama’s abuse of press freedom.

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What Obama Wrought: Iran’s Normalization

The news today out of Geneva remains inconclusive. Despite the best efforts of Western negotiators, a nuclear agreement with Iran still remains elusive. Though the talks continue there’s no guarantee they will succeed as the Iranians remain resolute about defending both their “right” to go on enriching uranium and to keep constructing a plutonium nuclear plant that gives them a second path to a bomb. The breathless pursuit of a deal on the part of the Obama administration despite the fact that their offer will allow the Iranians to retain their nuclear infrastructure and to keep enriching uranium is the main story here. It will allow the Iranians a path to a nuclear breakout in the North Korean mode and once sanctions are loosened and Washington can pretend it has resolved the issue, the likelihood of a strong Western response to such a development would be nil.

But whether Secretary of State Kerry and his P5+1 colleagues get the Pyrrhic victory they are seeking this week or are forced to wait weeks or months more for the ayatollahs to give their assent to a piece of paper they will almost certainly obstruct, the latest round of talks has achieved something very different that seemed almost unimaginable only a few months ago. By devoting so much effort to sell the world on the notion that Iran is moderating and wants to deal, the administration hasn’t just tried to create a constituency for engagement with Iran but has, in effect, normalized a rogue, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime that richly deserved the opprobrium that had been directed at it in the last decade. In doing so, they have not only handed Tehran an undeserved victory without getting anything in return. They have also rendered it even less likely that the international community will be able to muster the strength to restrain an Islamist government whose violent intent is not in doubt.

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The news today out of Geneva remains inconclusive. Despite the best efforts of Western negotiators, a nuclear agreement with Iran still remains elusive. Though the talks continue there’s no guarantee they will succeed as the Iranians remain resolute about defending both their “right” to go on enriching uranium and to keep constructing a plutonium nuclear plant that gives them a second path to a bomb. The breathless pursuit of a deal on the part of the Obama administration despite the fact that their offer will allow the Iranians to retain their nuclear infrastructure and to keep enriching uranium is the main story here. It will allow the Iranians a path to a nuclear breakout in the North Korean mode and once sanctions are loosened and Washington can pretend it has resolved the issue, the likelihood of a strong Western response to such a development would be nil.

But whether Secretary of State Kerry and his P5+1 colleagues get the Pyrrhic victory they are seeking this week or are forced to wait weeks or months more for the ayatollahs to give their assent to a piece of paper they will almost certainly obstruct, the latest round of talks has achieved something very different that seemed almost unimaginable only a few months ago. By devoting so much effort to sell the world on the notion that Iran is moderating and wants to deal, the administration hasn’t just tried to create a constituency for engagement with Iran but has, in effect, normalized a rogue, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime that richly deserved the opprobrium that had been directed at it in the last decade. In doing so, they have not only handed Tehran an undeserved victory without getting anything in return. They have also rendered it even less likely that the international community will be able to muster the strength to restrain an Islamist government whose violent intent is not in doubt.

When Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s faux presidential election in June, what followed was an orchestrated effort on the part of the regime to sell their new front man as someone who would effect genuine change. Given his long record as a faithful servant of first Ayatollah Khomeini and then his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as his role in past diplomatic deceptions of the West, this was a stretch. But it wasn’t long before it became apparent that the supreme leader had made a clever tactical decision in allowing Rouhani to run and then win the election. Those in the West, like President Obama, who were desperate for a way out of the nuclear confrontation with Iran soon became as invested in the myth of Rouhani’s moderation and, by extension, that of the regime itself, as the Iranians had been. Thus, even when the person pulling the strings in Tehran issues forth another proclamation of hate, as Khamenei did this week, the muted response from Washington to the latest broadside of anti-Semitic slander said more about the change in attitude than even their defense of the negotiations.

In order to justify their decision to appease the Iranians, it is necessary to not just attempt to launder their image but to treat their representatives as reasonable actors and their positions as merely a different point of view about a difficult subject. But in spite of the U.S. commitment to engagement, this remains the same rogue regime that rightly earned in its place in George W. Bush’s famous line about an axis of hate alongside Iraq and fellow nuclear scofflaw North Korea. It still brutally represses religious minorities and dissenters within its borders and is one of the world’s leading sources of anti-Semitic hate. It is still the leading state sponsor of terror around the world. And its hostile intent toward both Israel and moderate Arab nations like Saudi Arabia is something that neither the supreme leader nor the rest of the regime bothers to hide.

It should also be recalled that Iran’s strategic ambitions were further bolstered this year by the administration’s astonishing retreat in Syria that ensured that Tehran’s close ally Bashar Assad would hold onto power despite President Obama’s repeated calls for his ouster. Indeed, with Hamas now seeking to re-establish ties with Iran after breaking them off in recent years over their disagreement about Syria, the web of the regime’s auxiliaries will stretch across the Middle East posing a threat not just to Israel and Saudi Arabia, but to the United States and the rest of the West.

Yet President Obama clings to the notion that Rouhani’s election means the Islamist regime has been housetrained to the extent that it can be lived with or at least contained. Doing so sets the stage for Iran’s return to the international stage as an accepted player even if it doesn’t observe their nuclear commitments. That’s why even if Obama or his successor has a change of heart about the deal on the table this week, it will be that much harder to ever again isolate it as much as it is today. The fateful step being taken is not just the possibility of Kerry signing a bad deal. It’s the process of normalization that goes with it that represents Iran’s greatest and undeserved victory.

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JFK’s Legacy: The Charisma Fallacy

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s tragic death has brought forth a predictable outpouring of commentary debating his legacy. It is a sign of how the historical debate has shifted since the early days of Camelot, when court chroniclers like Arthur Schlesinger and William Manchester dominated the debate, that today’s leading JFK biographer, Robert Dallek, adopts a somewhat defensive stance in an op-ed about Kennedy’s legacy.

Dallek tries to mount a defense of Kennedy that is premised on might-have-beens–i.e. the claim that, had he lived, JFK would have done more on civil rights and less on Vietnam. Perhaps so, but the evidence for either contention is hardly conclusive, to put it mildly.

In the end Dallek, a good historian, falls back on this: “Kennedy’s greatest success was the very thing that critics often cast as a shortcoming: his charisma, his feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and his willingness to use it to great ends.”

There is little doubt that there is something here–Kennedy did inspire a generation and many felt called to public service because of his example. But the nation also paid a high cost for the youthful charisma that Kennedy brought to the presidency because its flip side was lack of know-how and experience.

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The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s tragic death has brought forth a predictable outpouring of commentary debating his legacy. It is a sign of how the historical debate has shifted since the early days of Camelot, when court chroniclers like Arthur Schlesinger and William Manchester dominated the debate, that today’s leading JFK biographer, Robert Dallek, adopts a somewhat defensive stance in an op-ed about Kennedy’s legacy.

Dallek tries to mount a defense of Kennedy that is premised on might-have-beens–i.e. the claim that, had he lived, JFK would have done more on civil rights and less on Vietnam. Perhaps so, but the evidence for either contention is hardly conclusive, to put it mildly.

In the end Dallek, a good historian, falls back on this: “Kennedy’s greatest success was the very thing that critics often cast as a shortcoming: his charisma, his feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and his willingness to use it to great ends.”

There is little doubt that there is something here–Kennedy did inspire a generation and many felt called to public service because of his example. But the nation also paid a high cost for the youthful charisma that Kennedy brought to the presidency because its flip side was lack of know-how and experience.

Even Kennedy admirers have to admit his many early stumbles, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion (why on earth approve a hare-brained CIA scheme to restage D-Day but without air cover?), the Berlin crisis, and the Vienna summit with Khrushchev where the Soviet leader came away convinced that the new president was weak–a conclusion that led directly to the worst days of the Cold War. To be sure, Kennedy deserved high marks for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis when he resisted the militaristic advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff that, if adopted, could easily have triggered World War III. (Was this the last time that the top generals were more hawkish than the top civilian policymakers?)

Undoubtedly this was a sign of his growing maturity in office, and yet this chronicle of a president growing into his job bumps up against some inconvenient facts. Namely that in the last months of his life Kennedy was guilty of one of his worst blunders in office–approving the plot to overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem when it was obvious that there was no better alternative among all the South Vietnamese generals hungry for his post. Kennedy immediately expressed contrition for Diem’s death but he did not live to see how the removal of South Vietnam’s leader embroiled that country in years of instability and fostered a sense of American ownership of the conflict.

It is little wonder that in succeeding decades, as the luster of Camelot has faded, historians have been elevating Eisenhower and demoting Kennedy among the ranks of presidents–the former getting newfound respect for his steadiness, experience and deft handling of the international scene, all qualities that Kennedy lacked at least at first.

Yet we never seem to learn–we keep choosing charisma over experience. That helps to explain how Clinton beat Bush Sr., how Bush Jr. beat Gore, and how Obama beat McCain. It is remarkable that few would fly in a plane piloted by an inexperienced pilot or consent to surgery from an inexperienced surgeon–yet we regularly turn over the highest and hardest office in the land to newcomers, especially newcomers to the field of international relations which happens to be what the bulk of the presidency is concerned with. The predictable result is more early stumbles, such as Clinton’s failed health-care initiative, the Black Hawk Down disaster, and the failure to intervene early in Bosnia; Bush Jr.’s failure to boost the size of the armed forces, pay attention to the Al Qaeda threat before 9/11, and to do more to prepare for nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama’s ignoring of the Green Revolution in Iran, his heavy-handed insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, and other missteps too numerous to mention.

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Can Washington Get Worse? You Bet it Will.

The main justification put forward by Democrats defending their decision to blow up the Senate rules and end filibusters on Cabinet and judicial nominations is that things are so bad now, they can’t get worse. That’s the spin President Obama put on the situation yesterday as he took a rare turn in the White House press room to spike the football after Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed through the measure he hopes will allow him to pack the federal courts with liberals. This idea is integral to the president’s argument that Republican obstructionism has made it impossible for him to govern. Even on topics where Republican input has been nil such as the ObamaCare rollout, Democrats have stuck to this theme blaming Republicans for stirring up dissent against their unpopular dysfunctional legislation even as most Americans have focused on the president’s broken promises and a dysfunctional website.

There’s no denying that partisanship is nastier in Congress than it once was. But if President Obama and Reid think it can’t get worse, they’re kidding themselves. For all of the bitter combat that has been carried on in just the last year over the budget, ObamaCare, the shutdown, and the various administration scandals, the business of government has largely proceeded unhindered. Many nominations have been approved, bipartisan legislation passed, and the unanimous consent to keep the upper body functioning has almost always been there. But now that Reed has pushed the plunger on the so-called nuclear option, all bets are off. The 45 Senate Republicans may no longer have the power to block the president’s appointments on their own, but Senate procedures still give them plenty of latitude to put holds on legislation. Not only will Reed find it even harder to do his job now that he has broken faith with his opponents and sought to squelch dissent, he and the president may also discover that the benefits of their decision will not be as great as they think.

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The main justification put forward by Democrats defending their decision to blow up the Senate rules and end filibusters on Cabinet and judicial nominations is that things are so bad now, they can’t get worse. That’s the spin President Obama put on the situation yesterday as he took a rare turn in the White House press room to spike the football after Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed through the measure he hopes will allow him to pack the federal courts with liberals. This idea is integral to the president’s argument that Republican obstructionism has made it impossible for him to govern. Even on topics where Republican input has been nil such as the ObamaCare rollout, Democrats have stuck to this theme blaming Republicans for stirring up dissent against their unpopular dysfunctional legislation even as most Americans have focused on the president’s broken promises and a dysfunctional website.

There’s no denying that partisanship is nastier in Congress than it once was. But if President Obama and Reid think it can’t get worse, they’re kidding themselves. For all of the bitter combat that has been carried on in just the last year over the budget, ObamaCare, the shutdown, and the various administration scandals, the business of government has largely proceeded unhindered. Many nominations have been approved, bipartisan legislation passed, and the unanimous consent to keep the upper body functioning has almost always been there. But now that Reed has pushed the plunger on the so-called nuclear option, all bets are off. The 45 Senate Republicans may no longer have the power to block the president’s appointments on their own, but Senate procedures still give them plenty of latitude to put holds on legislation. Not only will Reed find it even harder to do his job now that he has broken faith with his opponents and sought to squelch dissent, he and the president may also discover that the benefits of their decision will not be as great as they think.

On the surface, it would seem that the president now has carte blanche to do what he has longed to accomplish since moving into the White House: fundamentally alter the balance of the federal courts by packing federal district and appeals courts with the kind of hard-core ideological liberals that were being blocked by filibusters. He may well attempt to do that in the coming 12 months before the midterm elections give the GOP an opportunity to win back the Senate. But those who assume this will now become as easy as pie have forgotten about what will be uppermost on the minds of the several red-state Democrats who face uphill reelection fights next year.

As Josh Gerstein points out in Politico, the roster of potential liberal judges is filled by the ranks of left-wing jurists and lawyers that had little chance of getting the 60 votes they needed under the old rules. But getting to 51 votes may not be so easy for these liberals when you consider that many of the Democrats the president is counting on won’t want to hand their Republican opponents new talking points by rubber-stamping ideological judges. While some may get through, any controversial nominee will find themselves being thrown under the bus by moderate Democrats who can no longer count on the GOP or the filibuster rules to save them from a vote they’d rather not take.

But that’s just the most obvious fallout from Reed’s move. Just as important is the way the rules change will now make it impossible for bipartisan coalitions to be assembled. The Senate has become more like the House in recent years as firebrand newcomers on both sides of the aisle have replaced old warhorses. But as we saw with immigration reform this year, for all the bitterness in D.C., enough conservatives and liberals were still able to work together to get a bill passed in the Senate. But after the president’s scorched-earth approach to the shutdown and the nuclear option being employed, you can forget about anything like that happening again in the foreseeable future. This will alter the nature of the Senate far more than anything we have seen before. The Tea Party had made it tough for Republicans to work with Democrats in the last three years. But the president has now ensured that even those inclined to ignore them will also refuse to play ball.

The Democrats’ mindset is based on an assumption that when the Republicans got control of the Senate again, whether in 2015 or at some later date, they would have employed the nuclear option as they threatened to do first in 2005 when Democrats were defending the filibuster. At this point, there’s no longer any way of knowing whether that would have happened even if the Democrats hadn’t struck first. Up until this point, it’s doubtful that we’ve ever had a Senate majority leader so incapable of working with the minority as Reid has shown himself to be. Perhaps Mitch McConnell or his successor would have wound up doing the same, but since the Republicans always backed away from pushing the button on the filibuster that question is now in the realm of counter-factual fiction, not serious analysis. But what we do know now is that it is highly unlikely that the GOP will refrain from playing just as rough in the future when it is their turn to control the Senate.

That’s why Democrats do well to avoid celebrations of their move. The benefits from it to President Obama will be minimal. But the costs in terms of dysfunction and the certainty of even worse political warfare to come are considerable. 

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Turkey Gives Seized Media to Erdoğan Ally

Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.

Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes. Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:

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Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.

Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes. Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:

“Negotiations between Çukurova Holding and businessman Ethem Sancak, an experienced individual who has achieved success in the media sector, have been finalized with a deal,” the Turkmedya group, which operates the 11 sold assets, announced on Nov. 21 in a statement. The 11 Turkmedya assets, including  daily newspapers Akşam and Güneş, digital pay-TV operator Digiturk and news broadcaster SkyTurk 360, were initially agreed to be sold to companies Cengiz, Kolin and Limak, all of which operate mostly in the construction sector. However, the three companies, who recently successfully made a joint tender bid for Istanbul’s third airport, had decided to withdraw their offer.

What the article does not report is that Sancak is a close Erdoğan ally. So once again the Turkish government seizes independent newspapers and television and transfers it for a fire sale price to a staunch government supporter. The best that can be said about the deal is that at least Erdoğan is not simply giving away Turkey’s once independent media outlets to family members, but branching out to unrelated supporters as well. Simply put, independent voices—whether students at Gezi Park, politicians within his own party, or journalists—are no longer welcome in the new Turkey.

Given how Obama once expressed his love for Erdoğan, perhaps it’s time for a journalist to ask, “Mr. President, what do you see in this man?”

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Democrats’ “Nuclear Option” Logic: Formalizing Thoughtlessness

President Obama’s public statement yesterday about the Democrats eliminating the filibuster for their agenda items so as to further purge minority input was, as usual, deceptively revealing. It’s not that the president said anything intelligent or edifying in itself; his grasp on the details of policy isn’t strong enough to educate the public. Additionally, this particular episode is really quite simple.

When the Democrats were in the minority, they broke the accepted norms of the Senate to block a circuit court nominee they didn’t like. Recently, Republicans employed that same tactic on President Obama, so Harry Reid escalated the fight by breaking even more important norms of the Senate. This has been the pattern throughout Reid’s time as Democratic Senate leader: introduce an innovation designed to undermine the Senate’s rules and integrity, and then when Republicans return the favor simply find some other way to erode any check on his power.

And that, in turn, is at the center of this: power. When Barack Obama was in the Senate and the Republican majority threatened to employ this “nuclear option,” then-senator, now-hypocrite Obama said this:

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President Obama’s public statement yesterday about the Democrats eliminating the filibuster for their agenda items so as to further purge minority input was, as usual, deceptively revealing. It’s not that the president said anything intelligent or edifying in itself; his grasp on the details of policy isn’t strong enough to educate the public. Additionally, this particular episode is really quite simple.

When the Democrats were in the minority, they broke the accepted norms of the Senate to block a circuit court nominee they didn’t like. Recently, Republicans employed that same tactic on President Obama, so Harry Reid escalated the fight by breaking even more important norms of the Senate. This has been the pattern throughout Reid’s time as Democratic Senate leader: introduce an innovation designed to undermine the Senate’s rules and integrity, and then when Republicans return the favor simply find some other way to erode any check on his power.

And that, in turn, is at the center of this: power. When Barack Obama was in the Senate and the Republican majority threatened to employ this “nuclear option,” then-senator, now-hypocrite Obama said this:

What [Americans] don’t expect is for one party – be it Republican or Democrat – to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. … I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it’s good for our democracy.

Obama’s support for the nuclear option now is understandable: his legacy, after all, will be what he did as president, not senator. Reid, on the other hand, will have left behind an institution barely recognizable as the one he joined a quarter-century ago. Obama was part of that institution for about five minutes before he geared up to run for president, so he has no intellectual or emotional attachment to the Senate.

But what was revealing about what Obama said yesterday was not the hypocrisy–something that has been a hallmark of his political career and especially his presidency. It was when he said this:

Now, I want to be clear, the Senate has actually done some good bipartisan work this year.  Bipartisan majorities have passed common-sense legislation to fix our broken immigration system and upgrade our courts — our ports.  It’s passed a farm bill that helps rural communities and vulnerable Americans.  It’s passed legislation that would protect Americans from being fired based on their sexual orientation.  So we know that there are folks there, Republican and Democrat, who want to get things done.  And, frankly, privately they’ve expressed to me their recognition that the system in the Senate had broken down, and what used to be a sporadic exercise of the filibuster had gotten completely out of hand.

In other words, the Senate is basically working and the president knows it. Its role as a deliberative body has not stopped it from passing major bipartisan legislation on even complicated and divisive issues, as the president admits. The president took no questions after his statement yesterday because his position is frankly indefensible, which he seems to recognize. (And possibly his disastrous press conference on ObamaCare last week has convinced him that when he goes off-script he swiftly loses all coherence.) But had he taken a question, he might have been asked about the most obvious refutation of his new support for a less thoughtful Senate: his signature “achievement.”

Indeed it is appropriate that the two coincide. We are currently dealing with the latest major wave of disastrous effects on the country’s economy and health care inflicted by ObamaCare. What happens when the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is turned into a partisan weapon? We get bills like ObamaCare. Politico now reports:

Veteran House Democratic aides are sick over the insurance prices they’ll pay under Obamacare, and they’re scrambling to find a cure.

“In a shock to the system, the older staff in my office (folks over 59) have now found out their personal health insurance costs (even with the government contribution) have gone up 3-4 times what they were paying before,” Minh Ta, chief of staff to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), wrote to fellow Democratic chiefs of staff in an email message obtained by POLITICO. “Simply unacceptable.”

That would be the Gwen Moore who voted for ObamaCare. Moore serves in the House, but it’s much the same in the Senate. This is a symptom of the broader problem with ObamaCare. Democrats are claiming they didn’t know the bill does what it does–witness the frantic Democratic response to the evaporation of all the major promises used to pass the bill. Now, they’re either lying when they say they didn’t know what was in the bill they voted for, or they’re admitting that they have no idea what they’re doing when they cast votes, and are just following orders from the White House and Harry Reid.

Here’s Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu announcing her bill earlier this month that if you like your plan, you can keep it–to fix Obama’s false promise. Yet ObamaCare was plainly crafted to ensure that people would lose their insurance. And Landrieu voted for it. Then in September 2010 Landrieu helped the Democrats kill a GOP resolution that would have prevented many of those cancellations. Did she not read ObamaCare? Did she not read the 2010 resolution?

If there’s anything wrong with the Senate in the age of Obama and Reid, it’s that Democrats are desperately in need of rules that would slow debate and encourage deliberation, now more than ever. Instead, they’re moving in the opposite direction, because, as the president himself said, that’s where the power is.

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Learning from Iran’s Past Enrichment Suspensions

A pause in Iranian uranium enrichment seems to be the chief point upon which Secretary of State John Kerry will claim victory should Iranian and international diplomats hammer out an agreement. Celebration of any such agreement would be premature at best, not only because the American and Western goal was simply to entice Tehran to a second round of talks whose outcome would be far from certain, but also because Kerry’s triumph would be Pyrrhic at best given Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s history.

As Iran’s nuclear negotiator a decade ago, Rouhani also temporarily suspended uranium enrichment, a move for which he received hardline anger. In an interview with the state-run news website Aftab, he defended himself. His goal was “to counter global consensus against Iran,” he said, adding, “We did not accept suspension in construction of centrifuges and continued the effort. … We needed a greater number.” As I explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed at the time, what American and European diplomats considered progress, the Iranian government understood to be an opportunity to expand their program.

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A pause in Iranian uranium enrichment seems to be the chief point upon which Secretary of State John Kerry will claim victory should Iranian and international diplomats hammer out an agreement. Celebration of any such agreement would be premature at best, not only because the American and Western goal was simply to entice Tehran to a second round of talks whose outcome would be far from certain, but also because Kerry’s triumph would be Pyrrhic at best given Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s history.

As Iran’s nuclear negotiator a decade ago, Rouhani also temporarily suspended uranium enrichment, a move for which he received hardline anger. In an interview with the state-run news website Aftab, he defended himself. His goal was “to counter global consensus against Iran,” he said, adding, “We did not accept suspension in construction of centrifuges and continued the effort. … We needed a greater number.” As I explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed at the time, what American and European diplomats considered progress, the Iranian government understood to be an opportunity to expand their program.

It was a strategy about which other Iranian officials also bragged: Talk softly, lull the West into complacency, and then import everything needed for a technological leap to the next nuclear level. Rouhani, himself, outlined a doctrine of surprise in a February 9, 2005 speech to Iranian leaders. What is the key reason Iran is successful against the West, Rouhani asks, before he answers:

Even after the victory of the revolution – in all phases – the plots and plans they had designed against the revolution or against the development of the regime and the nation were defeated.  Why?  Again it was because they were taken by surprise.  The actions of the regime took the world by surprise and they were usually unpredictable. 

Rather than aim for suspension of enrichment—or at least some levels of enrichment–during an interim period, an issue which should be a no-brainer given the fact that six unanimous or near-unanimous UN Security Council resolutions call for just that, Rouhani’s history suggest that anything short of a freeze on all work, equipment installation, and construction in every facility would be counterproductive. Celebrating a pause which the Iranian regime uses to modernize, reconfigure, and install equipment to increase the effectiveness of their enrichment program would be strategic malpractice. Unfortunately, it seems, we live in a world where diplomats believe any deal, no matter how bad, trumps utilizing economic leverage to achieve a far better solution.

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More Double-Speak from Iran’s Nuke Chief

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may be the warm and fuzzy face of Iranian diplomatic outreach to the West, but inside Iran, the face of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is Ali Akbar Salehi, a former foreign minister who now serves as the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization. After some anonymous Iranian figures encouraged speculation that Iran might be willing to negotiate about the once-covert nuclear plant at Fordo, near Qom—speculation which the New York Times dutifully reported—it was Salehi who (even before the New York Times went to press) declared in no uncertain terms that the Iranian government would under no circumstances shutter the underground facility.

Now, Salehi is at it again and, as usual, Western journalists ignore his inconvenient statements because they do not appear to fit with the narrative of Iranian flexibility and diplomatic sincerity that so many Western officials and writers appear so desperate to believe. On November 19, Mehr News Agency published a report regarding a visit by Salehi to over 1,000 Tehran University students who volunteered as human shields and formed a human chain around Fordo. According to an unclassified U.S. government summary of his speech, he declared, “All actions are taken within a framework which is agreed upon by all officials. All our rights are safe. […] God willing, the outlook before us will be the beginning of the end of the fabricated nuclear dossier.”

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may be the warm and fuzzy face of Iranian diplomatic outreach to the West, but inside Iran, the face of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is Ali Akbar Salehi, a former foreign minister who now serves as the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization. After some anonymous Iranian figures encouraged speculation that Iran might be willing to negotiate about the once-covert nuclear plant at Fordo, near Qom—speculation which the New York Times dutifully reported—it was Salehi who (even before the New York Times went to press) declared in no uncertain terms that the Iranian government would under no circumstances shutter the underground facility.

Now, Salehi is at it again and, as usual, Western journalists ignore his inconvenient statements because they do not appear to fit with the narrative of Iranian flexibility and diplomatic sincerity that so many Western officials and writers appear so desperate to believe. On November 19, Mehr News Agency published a report regarding a visit by Salehi to over 1,000 Tehran University students who volunteered as human shields and formed a human chain around Fordo. According to an unclassified U.S. government summary of his speech, he declared, “All actions are taken within a framework which is agreed upon by all officials. All our rights are safe. […] God willing, the outlook before us will be the beginning of the end of the fabricated nuclear dossier.”

Generally speaking, any regime that believes it needs to utilize human shields is not one that should be trusted, nor is it a regime to which the United States or any progressive country should ever want to throw a life line.

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Adelson’s Internet Gambling Crusade

At first glance, there’s little doubt that most of the people who love to hate Sheldon Adelson are going to assume that he’s in it strictly for the money or to pursue some conservative agenda. But the more you look at it, the casino mogul’s new cause is not one that seems to directly advance either his financial interests or the political or Jewish causes that are close to his heart. Thus, the news reported first last week by the Washington Post that Adelson is going all in on an effort to ban Internet gambling is puzzling his chorus of detractors as well as some of his usual allies. Indeed, most in the gaming industry oppose his efforts, as do many Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who might otherwise look to him for support. But Adelson, who is launching the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and prepared to back it with his $20-plus billion personal fortune, is convinced that he can change the nation’s mind about the topic. As Forbes notes, Adelson’s initiative comes at a time when:

For the first time most of the U.S gambling interests—from the casinos to the horse track owners, state lotteries and Native American tribes, appear to be starting to coalesce around a pro-online gambling position. Adelson’s effort will likely rip apart the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s lobbying group in Washington.

With online gambling now legal in Nevada, Delaware, and in New Jersey (as of today) and with 12 states set to consider it in the near future, the odds against Adelson’s initiative are long. But whether he is able to stop or even slow down the race of state governments to cash in on what they believe will be a windfall, the billionaire happens to be in the right. The spread of gambling on personal computers and smart phones will not only harm his industry but cause untold societal damage, especially to the poor.

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At first glance, there’s little doubt that most of the people who love to hate Sheldon Adelson are going to assume that he’s in it strictly for the money or to pursue some conservative agenda. But the more you look at it, the casino mogul’s new cause is not one that seems to directly advance either his financial interests or the political or Jewish causes that are close to his heart. Thus, the news reported first last week by the Washington Post that Adelson is going all in on an effort to ban Internet gambling is puzzling his chorus of detractors as well as some of his usual allies. Indeed, most in the gaming industry oppose his efforts, as do many Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who might otherwise look to him for support. But Adelson, who is launching the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and prepared to back it with his $20-plus billion personal fortune, is convinced that he can change the nation’s mind about the topic. As Forbes notes, Adelson’s initiative comes at a time when:

For the first time most of the U.S gambling interests—from the casinos to the horse track owners, state lotteries and Native American tribes, appear to be starting to coalesce around a pro-online gambling position. Adelson’s effort will likely rip apart the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s lobbying group in Washington.

With online gambling now legal in Nevada, Delaware, and in New Jersey (as of today) and with 12 states set to consider it in the near future, the odds against Adelson’s initiative are long. But whether he is able to stop or even slow down the race of state governments to cash in on what they believe will be a windfall, the billionaire happens to be in the right. The spread of gambling on personal computers and smart phones will not only harm his industry but cause untold societal damage, especially to the poor.

Internet gambling was deemed illegal by the federal government up until an opinion handed down in 2011 by the Justice Department made it possible. That led both most casinos and other potential gambling venues to get behind efforts to get the states to legalize such businesses. Politicians like Christie, eager for more revenue to balance their budgets without having to cut more services or to raise taxes, also look at it as a way to obtain free money. They also think it will help bolster gambling havens like Atlantic City that are suffering from the proliferation of legal casinos around the country. They point out that Internet gambling already exists via offshore sites that attempt to skirt the laws and that there is no reason for states not to cash in and take their share. Adelson’s numerous opponents also point to his own record as a casino owner and his onetime interest in Internet gambling as proof that his moral concerns are hypocritical.

But whether he is tilting against windmills or not, Adelson is right to try and facilitate a debate about the social costs of this trend before it is too late.

Gambling, whether at destination resorts like the ones Adelson owns in Las Vegas and Macao, or via state lotteries, is generally depicted in the media—and in the flood of advertisements perpetually seeking to entice people to gamble—as entertainment with no down sides for society. It is that for many Americans, but we don’t hear enough about how this supposedly harmless vice destroys countless families and lives. Wherever legal gambling flourishes, it generates a lot of work for bankruptcy lawyers and sets off waves of crime as debt-ridden gamblers resort to thievery and embezzlement. Every conceivable social pathology comes in its wake and though governments profit at one end with their large take of the cut, they pay for it in many other ways that have to do with the damage done to those destroyed by gambling.

The odds of winning in state lotteries are so astronomical that they are in effect a tax on stupidity. They would be considered scams were anyone but the government operating them. But the low cost of tickets makes it harder for gambling addicts to ruin themselves with it. Similarly, however great the toll of suffering due to legal casinos may be, its impact is limited by the fact that going to such a place is not an impulse decision but rather a planned excursion.

But once high-stakes gambling becomes something you can play on your phone, the stakes for society will increase exponentially. Scoff at sermons about the evils of gambling preached by a casino owner all you like. But Adelson’s right that once this spreads across the country, it will sink the nation in a new wave of addiction whose costs will be incalculable.

So far, Adelson’s group, which is being fronted by a bipartisan trio of retired politicians—Republican former New York Governor George Pataki, former Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb—has been met with skepticism as was evident when the three were grilled this morning by Chuck Todd on his MSNBC program. Trying to convince Americans that more legal gambling is wrong—a proposition that might have appealed to previous generations—may be like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. But unlike casinos and state lotteries which are off limits for kids, Internet gambling will also likely victimize children who have access to smart phones with little assurance that regulations will make this impossible. As such, Adelson’s group may be right to say that this could be like the “Joe Camel” moment when the nation turned on cigarette advertising because of the way it exploited children and created lifetime addictions.

Liberals who care about the way gambling singles out the poor ought to be on his side. So, too, should conservatives who claim to care about communal values as well as those who understand that the answer to the question of how to finance big government should be found in lower expenditures, not soaking middle-class and poor gambling addicts.

With many Republicans and most of the gaming industry against him, it’s not clear that all the money in Adelson’s deep pockets will be enough to prevent more states from following New Jersey’s example. Nor are the odds in favor of his attempt to get federal legislation to close the legal Internet gambling sites down. But even if all he’s able to do is to raise awareness of the grievous social costs of this scourge, it will have been worth it. I doubt that this will improve his image in a mainstream media that despises Adelson for his support for conservatives and deprecates his backing for Israel’s Likud government. But whatever you may think of his politics, Adelson’s stand deserves respect and support.

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Why the Deal Is Bad: Iran Nuke Breakout

The noises emanating from diplomatic sources in Geneva this week continue to assure the world that they are close to a breakthrough that will resolve the standoff between the West and Iran. How close they actually are remains a mystery as Secretary of State John Kerry and his colleagues are discovering the same truth about negotiating with Iran that their predecessors discovered long ago: those who make concessions to the ayatollahs are rewarded with more prevarications and delay, not signed agreements. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still playing the optimist card in their attempts to beat back critics of their effort to craft a new era of détente with Iran. That was evident in their response to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who spiced up a week of negotiations by giving a televised speech that abused both the U.S. and France but reserved, as usual, his main vitriol for Israel, which he described as “an illegitimate regime,” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.” While the French responded angrily to this provocation, the U.S. was unruffled and answered with the mildest of reproofs:

A senior Obama administration official was more circumspect Wednesday night in responding to the ayatollah’s speech, which also assailed the United States and France. “I don’t ever like it when people use rhetoric that in any way talks about the U.S. in ways that I find very uncomfortable and not warranted whatsoever,” said the senior administration official, who cannot be identified under the diplomatic protocol for briefing reporters.

“There are decades of mistrust between the United States and Iran, and we certainly have had many people in our society say difficult things about Iran and Iranians,” the official added. “So I would hope that neither in the U.S. nor in Iran would leaders use rhetoric that may work well in a domestic constituency, but add to the decades of mistrust on both sides.”

To term such a response to hate speech by a world leader seeking nuclear weapons as spineless would be an understatement, especially when the same administration is so fearful that actions by Congress could spook the Iranians away from the talks. But the main problem here isn’t so much the obsequious manner with which President Obama and Kerry are breathlessly pursuing a deal with Iran. It is that the deal they are seeking to entice the Iranians into signing would ensure that Tehran would have the chance to get the weapons the U.S. is seeking to deny them.

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The noises emanating from diplomatic sources in Geneva this week continue to assure the world that they are close to a breakthrough that will resolve the standoff between the West and Iran. How close they actually are remains a mystery as Secretary of State John Kerry and his colleagues are discovering the same truth about negotiating with Iran that their predecessors discovered long ago: those who make concessions to the ayatollahs are rewarded with more prevarications and delay, not signed agreements. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still playing the optimist card in their attempts to beat back critics of their effort to craft a new era of détente with Iran. That was evident in their response to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who spiced up a week of negotiations by giving a televised speech that abused both the U.S. and France but reserved, as usual, his main vitriol for Israel, which he described as “an illegitimate regime,” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.” While the French responded angrily to this provocation, the U.S. was unruffled and answered with the mildest of reproofs:

A senior Obama administration official was more circumspect Wednesday night in responding to the ayatollah’s speech, which also assailed the United States and France. “I don’t ever like it when people use rhetoric that in any way talks about the U.S. in ways that I find very uncomfortable and not warranted whatsoever,” said the senior administration official, who cannot be identified under the diplomatic protocol for briefing reporters.

“There are decades of mistrust between the United States and Iran, and we certainly have had many people in our society say difficult things about Iran and Iranians,” the official added. “So I would hope that neither in the U.S. nor in Iran would leaders use rhetoric that may work well in a domestic constituency, but add to the decades of mistrust on both sides.”

To term such a response to hate speech by a world leader seeking nuclear weapons as spineless would be an understatement, especially when the same administration is so fearful that actions by Congress could spook the Iranians away from the talks. But the main problem here isn’t so much the obsequious manner with which President Obama and Kerry are breathlessly pursuing a deal with Iran. It is that the deal they are seeking to entice the Iranians into signing would ensure that Tehran would have the chance to get the weapons the U.S. is seeking to deny them.

That conclusion flies in the face of the spin emanating from the administration and its defenders who continue to claim that their proposed deal with Iran will make this scenario less likely. But as Reuters pointed out in an analysis of the current situation, the best Kerry and company can claim is that they will “reduce” the threat of an Iranian nuclear breakout, not eliminate it.

What this means is that the deal Kerry is advocating as saving the world from Iranian nukes will preserve Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allows them to hold onto all of their centrifuges and the rest of the nuclear infrastructure they have created during a decade of stalling futile talks with the West. That means that they will still possess enough nuclear fuel to build bombs and the capacity to “break out” and, within a relatively short period of time, take their non-weapons grade uranium and bring it up to the level needed for military use.

Supporters of the deal are unfazed by this possibility because they assume the West will always have time to react to an Iranian breakout. But this is a convenient fallacy for those whose main object appears to be to end the dispute with Iran rather than actually ending the threat of an Iranian bomb. Once an accord is signed and the U.S. can transition away from focusing on Iran and sanctions are lifted, the chances are that any shift to cheat by Iran will be dismissed by Western leaders who will not wish to be drawn back into a confrontation. Nor will there be any appetite to re-impose sanctions that neither President Obama nor Europeans desperate for Iranian oil and business wanted to enforce in the first place. Like the North Koreans who laughed at the West as they violated signed agreements to create their own nuclear breakout, Iran will have little trouble deceiving the West and will not worry much about a response from an administration that is more concerned about the Israelis than the ayatollahs.

Any nuclear deal with Iran that stopped short of a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, as President Obama promised during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney last year, is a guarantee of future trouble. But an interim accord that started loosening sanctions even before Iran gave up any of their nuclear toys will make it all but certain that the peril will have not been averted.

While Washington is hoping to celebrate their détente with Khamenei, it’s hard to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for railing at this seeming betrayal. Responding to Khamenei’s speech, he had this to say:

“This reminds us of the dark regimes of the past that plotted against us first, and then against all of humanity,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a meeting with Russian Jewish leaders during a visit to Moscow. “The public responded to him with calls of ‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’  ” Mr. Netanyahu noted. “Doesn’t this sound familiar to you? This is the real Iran! We are not confused. They must not have nuclear weapons.”

Unfortunately, President Obama and Secretary Kerry are confused. Whether Iran signs this week or makes them wait some more while continuing the drive to achieve their nuclear ambition, they are the big winners in a diplomatic process that is now set up to fail to achieve its supposed goal.

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Rubio on American Foreign Policy: Strategy, Not Slogans

Yesterday, Marco Rubio gave a wide-ranging speech about American foreign policy that aimed to move past the simplistic labels he feels dominate too much public discussion of the subject. The reaction to his speech illustrated the need to deliver those remarks in the first place. Over at the Daily Beast, Josh Rogin interviewed Rubio to ask some follow-up questions about his new foreign-policy vision, and the resulting article is a good example of the mindset Rubio is trying to get the press out of.

Rogin writes:

The Rubio approach, a balanced foreign policy based on various tools, matches closely with what Hillary Clinton set forth as secretary of state in her vision of “smart power,” which was based on the idea that defense, diplomacy, and development should be equal pillars of U.S foreign policy. Rubio acknowledged the similarities but said he would be able to succeed where Clinton and the rest of the Obama team failed to follow through.

Yet as Rubio pointed out to Rogin, that’s not at all what animated Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. Clinton had a policy based on photo-ops and frequent-flyer miles. The State Department under her direction was a mess, diplomacy faltered, and America’s standing in the world receded. In one case, in Libya, Clinton’s mismanagement and issue-superficiality proved to be a sign of dangerous incompetence.

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Yesterday, Marco Rubio gave a wide-ranging speech about American foreign policy that aimed to move past the simplistic labels he feels dominate too much public discussion of the subject. The reaction to his speech illustrated the need to deliver those remarks in the first place. Over at the Daily Beast, Josh Rogin interviewed Rubio to ask some follow-up questions about his new foreign-policy vision, and the resulting article is a good example of the mindset Rubio is trying to get the press out of.

Rogin writes:

The Rubio approach, a balanced foreign policy based on various tools, matches closely with what Hillary Clinton set forth as secretary of state in her vision of “smart power,” which was based on the idea that defense, diplomacy, and development should be equal pillars of U.S foreign policy. Rubio acknowledged the similarities but said he would be able to succeed where Clinton and the rest of the Obama team failed to follow through.

Yet as Rubio pointed out to Rogin, that’s not at all what animated Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. Clinton had a policy based on photo-ops and frequent-flyer miles. The State Department under her direction was a mess, diplomacy faltered, and America’s standing in the world receded. In one case, in Libya, Clinton’s mismanagement and issue-superficiality proved to be a sign of dangerous incompetence.

Aware that she might want to run for president and thus didn’t want to take any chances, she was the perfect secretary of state for an administration yearning to be a bystander on the world stage. Any credible application of “smart power” would be, almost by definition, a departure from Clinton’s policy. (The line of questioning hints at the confusion Clinton was able to sow simply by spouting slogans that sounded good.) Rubio sought to correct this characterization:

“Maybe tactically Hillary gave lip service to that. In terms of how she executed foreign policy, that’s certainly not the case,” Rubio told The Daily Beast. “Tactically speaking, we’re talking about smart power engagement. But what is our strategy at the end of the day? Our strategic aims are the security and well-being of the American people and beyond that the spread of liberty, prosperity, and human rights around the world.”

This may seem like a bit of a diversion, but only if seen through the lens of a senator challenging the policies of a former secretary of state. In reality, it’s one prospective 2016 presidential candidate contrasting himself with the other party’s likely nominee. And that’s one reason Rubio is being watched so carefully: in a speech like this, he is expected to separate himself from the pack–of both parties.

Rand Paul has emerged as a the candidate to espouse caution on intervention. Chris Christie has boisterously declared himself standing athwart Paul’s more libertarian approach, and Scott Walker has done so more quietly but remains closer to Christie. If Paul Ryan runs, he appears to be on the Christie side of the divide as well.

So as the two sides call each other hawks and doves, isolationists and warmongers, Rubio seeks to do two things simultaneously: find a middle ground that will differentiate himself from the candidates who have already jumped headlong into the foreign-policy-in-2016 debate, and also bring the party together into some coherent blend that will emphasize the common aims and purposes, not the distinctions.

The latter is important because if Clinton is the nominee, the GOP will have to decide where the contrast is–a task made more difficult by the fact that, as the Daily Beast interview shows, reporters just spit back clichéd slogans spouted by Clinton as if merely by declaring something she has done it.

Rubio has an advantage, however. During his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has been widely praised by his peers on both sides of the aisle for his diligence, patience, hard work, and refusal to grandstand. It paradoxically works against him when reporters on deadline show the need for headline-friendly slogans instead of nuanced analysis. But in the long term, Rubio’s fluency on the issues is likely to serve him well with a public that elected a president who had nothing but slogans, after which voters might be looking for someone with a bit more interest in world affairs than the current occupant of the White House.

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