Commentary Magazine


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Why COMMENTARY Needs Your Help Right Now

This is our first pledge drive of 2015. COMMENTARY, a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization, relies not only on subscribers but on the generosity of visionary donors to get the word out about the threats to the United States and the West—from Iran, from an increasingly chaotic world, from an administration  that seems intent on stoking the chaos, and from aggressively wrong-headed efforts to increase the interference of the state in the affairs of ordinary people and in the workings of the economy.

So I am asking for your help. If you believe that COMMENTARY’s ideas need to prevail so that we can stop the continued meltdown of American influence and the rising influence of an Iran on the threshold of a nuclear weapon our own president’s policies may be hastening, please give.

If you believe that the rising tide of anti-Semitism abroad and at home (in the form of the evil BDS movement) must be challenged with the best arguments and the most persuasive rhetoric, please give.

If you believe that America remains the greatest nation on earth and is not a cesspool of racism and white privilege and is not the home of a growing “rape culture,” please give so that we will have the resources to fight against these lies. You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

This is our first pledge drive of 2015. COMMENTARY, a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization, relies not only on subscribers but on the generosity of visionary donors to get the word out about the threats to the United States and the West—from Iran, from an increasingly chaotic world, from an administration  that seems intent on stoking the chaos, and from aggressively wrong-headed efforts to increase the interference of the state in the affairs of ordinary people and in the workings of the economy.

So I am asking for your help. If you believe that COMMENTARY’s ideas need to prevail so that we can stop the continued meltdown of American influence and the rising influence of an Iran on the threshold of a nuclear weapon our own president’s policies may be hastening, please give.

If you believe that the rising tide of anti-Semitism abroad and at home (in the form of the evil BDS movement) must be challenged with the best arguments and the most persuasive rhetoric, please give.

If you believe that America remains the greatest nation on earth and is not a cesspool of racism and white privilege and is not the home of a growing “rape culture,” please give so that we will have the resources to fight against these lies. You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

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David Brooks: COMMENTARY Is an Unmissable Intellectual Landmark

COMMENTARY has long been an unmissable landmark on the American intellectual landscape. These days it shapes debate, propels argument, and explains society with renewed vigor and force. It is one of the small group of essential reads for anybody engaged in politics, Judaism, foreign policy, national manners, and morals. Please click below to give.

Pledge-Drive

COMMENTARY has long been an unmissable landmark on the American intellectual landscape. These days it shapes debate, propels argument, and explains society with renewed vigor and force. It is one of the small group of essential reads for anybody engaged in politics, Judaism, foreign policy, national manners, and morals. Please click below to give.

Pledge-Drive

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Kerry Should Go to Somaliland

With his unannounced trip today, Secretary of State John Kerry has become the first secretary of state to travel to Mogadishu, Somalia. Kerry’s visit will highlight the improvements that Somalia has witnessed in recent years, improvements which are largely the result of the African Union’s military mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Rather than leave a vacuum—which seems to be the Obama administration’s policy of choice in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and perhaps soon Afghanistan—AMISOM has worked to fill it. It hasn’t been easy: Al-Shabaab terrorists—radicals who have since sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda—have targeted AMISOM soldiers in Somalia and launched terrorist attacks in contributing nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi.

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With his unannounced trip today, Secretary of State John Kerry has become the first secretary of state to travel to Mogadishu, Somalia. Kerry’s visit will highlight the improvements that Somalia has witnessed in recent years, improvements which are largely the result of the African Union’s military mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Rather than leave a vacuum—which seems to be the Obama administration’s policy of choice in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and perhaps soon Afghanistan—AMISOM has worked to fill it. It hasn’t been easy: Al-Shabaab terrorists—radicals who have since sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda—have targeted AMISOM soldiers in Somalia and launched terrorist attacks in contributing nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi.

Let us hope that Kerry’s trip to Somalia actually serves a purpose—highlighting greater American strategic investment in that country, for example—and is not simply motivated by a desire to rack up as many flight miles as possible, the metric unfortunately embraced by most recent secretaries of state in lieu of focused, strategic thought.

But, if Kerry really wants to do some good, he should go to Somaliland. Somalia hugs the horn of Africa. Loosely speaking, it sits like an upside down ‘L’ hugging the horn. The northern segment which sits astride the Gulf of Aden long maintained a separate identity. During the colonial era, the northern part congealed as British Somaliland, a British protectorate—while the Italians occupied the southern, longer segment alongside the Indian Ocean. It was only upon Somalia’s 1960 independence that the two portions united. (Somalia has long been clan-based, and so historians would be hard-pressed to suggest that Somalia was unified before the British and Italian interludes; the best resource to understand how Somalia and its clans work is the Naval Postgraduate School’s Anna Simons).

Even in the darkest days of Somalia’s civil war and its descent into state failure, Somaliland maintained its own identity and coherence. It never collapsed the way the rest of Somalia did. Indeed, Somaliland thrived as the rest of Somalia went through hell. Somaliland authorities built a functioning state, with security, functioning schools, transport, currency, industry, and communications. It has held a credible presidential election. Hargeisa, its capital, is thriving. In many ways, Somaliland has become the Kurdistan of the region—an oasis of relative moderation and success—largely ignored by the outside world, including the United States. Indeed, while U.S. diplomats have visited Somaliland (and the International Republican Institute has long done work in the region), those diplomats have faced reprimand if they so much as get their passports stamped.

Even if the old notion that Africa’s colonial borders are sacrosanct has broken down—the independence of South Sudan, for example—Somaliland independence would be consistent with respect for colonial boundaries, since a separate Somaliland historically has been more rule than exception. Eritrea, too, fell into the same category. And while Eritrea has become an authoritarian regime and largely failed as anything more than a giant prison camp for its citizens, Somaliland’s institutions are considerably stronger.

The idea is not to bless independence for the sake of being able to say “I did that,” even if the ego of statesmen and diplomats does play too often into the decisions of senior policymakers. In the case of Somaliland, however, it is simply a wise move. Somalia could still go either way, but Somaliland has become a bastion of stability and security. It denies space to Al Qaeda or Islamic State-affiliated groups. It seeks a pro-Western orientation and should not be shunned. With the failure of Yemen, putting all strategic eggs into the Djiboutian basket is not wise. There are emotional and historical cases for Somaliland’s independence, but there is also a national security case to be made. Somaliland’s citizens can make the former; let us hope this U.S. administration or next will do the latter. Mr. Kerry, you’ve already become the first secretary of state to visit Somalia. Why not cement your legacy by becoming the first secretary to visit Somaliland as well?

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And If the Shooters Were Not From ISIS?

Does it make a difference whether ISIS is directly responsible for Sunday night’s attack in Garland, Texas or whether jihadists who swore allegiance to the group from afar carried out the shooting instead? In terms of managing domestic counterterrorism, yes, it makes a huge difference. Doing battle with organized cells trained and supplied by the Islamic State is a very different matter from playing whack-a-mole with those Joe Biden calls “knock-off jihadists.” But in terms of the larger, long-term threat posed by ISIS, it doesn’t matter as much as we seem to think. As long as ISIS thrives in Syria and Iraq, putting out high-production snuff films, garnering recruits, and claiming victory before the world, the greater its pull on the lost souls of the West. We can look forward to more knock-off jihadists. And no matter who is behind Sunday’s shooting, there will be more attacks.

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Does it make a difference whether ISIS is directly responsible for Sunday night’s attack in Garland, Texas or whether jihadists who swore allegiance to the group from afar carried out the shooting instead? In terms of managing domestic counterterrorism, yes, it makes a huge difference. Doing battle with organized cells trained and supplied by the Islamic State is a very different matter from playing whack-a-mole with those Joe Biden calls “knock-off jihadists.” But in terms of the larger, long-term threat posed by ISIS, it doesn’t matter as much as we seem to think. As long as ISIS thrives in Syria and Iraq, putting out high-production snuff films, garnering recruits, and claiming victory before the world, the greater its pull on the lost souls of the West. We can look forward to more knock-off jihadists. And no matter who is behind Sunday’s shooting, there will be more attacks.

ISIS isn’t only a direct threat to peace because of its actions. Its self-celebrated existence is an engine for radicalization worldwide. ISIS-inspired jihadists are still jihadists. They’re not waiting on a blue Twitter verification check before they try to kill Americans. As ISIS raises its profile “over there,” more admirers will be inspired to attack us over here. That’s why what happens “over there” is our business after all.

Global interconnectedness is a pet theme of the left, but liberals rarely have the clarity to act on its ramifications. At the end of the day, they lament our foreign adventures, rattle off some statistics about America’s failing schools, and call for “nation building at home.” They only seem to see the big global picture when someone abroad has a problem with American power. Blowback for American action is a grave threat to our safety, but lawlessness resulting from American retrenchment is none of our business. Barack Obama talks a lot about shared destinies in the 21st century. We’re no longer divided by east and west, north and south, and so on. Yet he crafts foreign policy precisely as if he thinks we can’t be touched by troubles in faraway lands. So he left Iraq to spiral into jihadist carnage. Similarly he believed the United States had no business intervening in Bashar al-Assad’s rule of Syria and that country too was left to combust. With ISIS running rampant in both places, Obama’s barely authorized enough American force to inconvenience the sworn enemies of the West. Now, we’re left wondering just how much influence ISIS had on a shooting attack in Texas.

Biden’s dismissive term “knock-off jihadists” captures the poverty of thinking here. A better term for ISIS-inspired American terrorists might be “entrepreneurial jihadists.” Entrepreneurship thrives in the United States. With the right people willing to take the right risks, it can be contagious and grow like mad. It’s at least conceivable that entrepreneurial jihadists could become a more potent threat to the American homeland than “official” ISIS terrorists. They’re not as well trained as their heroes, but they have certain other advantages. For starters, they’re already here. They don’t have to face the hurdles of connecting with hiding parties in the Middle East, managing secret overseas travel, and so on. They can use the Internet to obtain weapons and a modicum of training. That’s precisely why al Qaeda and ISIS publish guides and magazines online. They have no problem seeing the benefits of unofficial franchising. If the Texas shooters weren’t directly tied to ISIS, the group is still justified in taking some credit. And we shouldn’t necessarily take the news that these were “knock-off jihadists” as a relief. It’s just a different kind of problem, for which we’re ill prepared.

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Why Does the Press Rally Around Rezaian?

Make no mistake, the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian is a hostage and the Washington Post is absolutely correct to advocate for his freedom. Iran’s intention is to humiliate the United States, and President Obama is responding like an abused spouse, ignoring aggression and provocation and making excuses for the aggressor.

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Make no mistake, the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian is a hostage and the Washington Post is absolutely correct to advocate for his freedom. Iran’s intention is to humiliate the United States, and President Obama is responding like an abused spouse, ignoring aggression and provocation and making excuses for the aggressor.

But, it seems strange that the media would reserve its opprobrium for Rezaian. After all, he isn’t the longest-held hostage in Iran. That dubious honor goes to Robert Levinson who disappeared more than eight years ago on Kish Island, a so-called visa-free, free trade zone.

Nor is he the longest-held Iranian American. That honor goes to Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. He has faced the same charges that Rezaian does now, and is now on hunger strike. And then there is the case of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American pastor whom Iranian authorities detained almost three years ago. His case is about religious freedom, plain and simple. That religious tolerance which Rezaian’s New York Times’ counterpart described? Perhaps the spirit of Walter Duranty lives on.

The United States should not ransom its hostages. The Bowe Bergdahl case was shameful from start to finish. To pay ransom only incentivizes rogue behavior.

Back to Rezaian. Should he be released? Absolutely. But there is something untoward to the suggestion—even if not voiced directly and only apparent based on print space—that Rezaian’s imprisonment is more unjust than that of the former FBI agent, former soldier, or pastor. Journalists are not a privileged class, even if many media companies’ desire to transform journalists into celebrities suggests that they believe they stand apart. Indeed, within Washington, the camaraderie combined with the celebrity-worship that the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has come to symbolize had become increasingly distasteful to some purists. During the Iraq war, some journalists would insert themselves in a firefight, and their colleagues would react with outrage if they were wounded or killed. No one took gratuitous potshots at a journalist, but in the fog of battle, a shoulder-launched missile and a camera can look the same to a soldier who must make a split-second life-or-death decision. Bullets don’t stop when a journalist crosses the street.

Simply put, the continued holding by Iran of any American is shameful regardless of his profession. Alas, this shame is compounded only by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s apparent willingness to leave innocent Americans behind.

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ISIS Connection to Garland Attack Debunks 9/10 Mindset

For much of the last few years, Americans seemed to be shedding their post 9/11 concerns about security and terrorism. The Patriot Act became a piñata for those disillusioned and wearied by the long war against Islamist terror as well as for those concerned about possible civil liberties violations. This mindset brought Senator Rand Paul to the forefront of the 2016 presidential conversation as well as leading to the ending of surveillance programs operated by cities like New York seeking to head off homegrown Islamist terror. That isolationist moment seemed to pass last year, as the threat from ISIS was made clear to Americans horrified by their beheadings of Western hostages. The realization that President Obama’s re-election campaign boasts about having ended the war on terror and decimating al-Qaeda weren’t true also changed minds. But the news that there appears to be an ISIS connection to the failed terror attack on a free speech conference in Garland, Texas Sunday night should further disabuse those who think the U.S. can afford some complacence about the Islamist threat. What nearly happened in Garland should remind us that this is no time for America to stop playing hardball on anti-terror intelligence efforts.

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For much of the last few years, Americans seemed to be shedding their post 9/11 concerns about security and terrorism. The Patriot Act became a piñata for those disillusioned and wearied by the long war against Islamist terror as well as for those concerned about possible civil liberties violations. This mindset brought Senator Rand Paul to the forefront of the 2016 presidential conversation as well as leading to the ending of surveillance programs operated by cities like New York seeking to head off homegrown Islamist terror. That isolationist moment seemed to pass last year, as the threat from ISIS was made clear to Americans horrified by their beheadings of Western hostages. The realization that President Obama’s re-election campaign boasts about having ended the war on terror and decimating al-Qaeda weren’t true also changed minds. But the news that there appears to be an ISIS connection to the failed terror attack on a free speech conference in Garland, Texas Sunday night should further disabuse those who think the U.S. can afford some complacence about the Islamist threat. What nearly happened in Garland should remind us that this is no time for America to stop playing hardball on anti-terror intelligence efforts.

The reported links between ISIS and the slain terrorists in Garland are deeply troubling. The ISIS claim of responsibility for the attempt might be dismissed. But the fact that some of their social media accounts alerted followers to the crime as it was happening shows that the shooter’s claims of a connection to the Islamist terror group may well have been accurate.

The alleged link between ISIS and this incident may mean that this was the first documented instance of the group’s involvement in an American terror attack. That is frightening and not just because of what might have happened if police hadn’t foiled the would-be killers of “infidels.” What is truly upsetting is the prospect that there are more than a couple of potential jihadist murderers lurking on the margins of American society waiting for their opportunity to prove their worth to their foreign role models.

In the days after 9/11, most Americans took it for granted that another major attack loomed ahead of us. That it never occurred had much to do with luck but also the willingness of the Bush administration to take the fight to the enemy and its willingness to do what was necessary to get good intelligence about possible jihadist connections.

Though we have seen lone wolf Islamist terrorists carry out both failed attacks and successful ones (such as the one at the Boston Marathon), America has been spared the catastrophe that most of us thought was inevitable. But the notion that we can simply assume that ISIS will continue to fail as al-Qaeda did while simultaneously standing down tough intelligence procedures is wishful thinking

So far the debate about intelligence has centered more on what are entirely legitimate concerns about overreach on the part of the government that has been fueled by the Edward Snowden leaks. But the jokes about the CIA reading everyone’s emails and text messages — which are gross exaggerations of even the most far reaching measures that might be considered — wouldn’t sound as funny in the wake of a successful mass terror attack or even a small-scale one should it subsequently be revealed that the killers were already on the radar of the intelligence community.

Nor should we be diverted — as some would have it — by the attempt to change the subject about Garland from Islamist terror to a debate about whether those at the conference had it coming to them because they were deliberately provoking Muslim extremists. The contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad might have been the excuse for this attempt but the Islamist ideology that drove the terrorists and those who hoped they would succeed don’t need a logical rationale to kill Americans. Their goal is not merely to intimidate those who “blaspheme” against their faith into silence. It is to kill regardless of any other consideration.

What happened in Garland should be a spur to greater support for a concerted intelligence effort aimed at potential terrorists that is undeterred by groundless worries about American tyranny or government overreach. A return to a 9/10 mindset that would have the police and the FBI fearing to use surveillance on Islamist mosques or those with other connections to supporters of terror is a luxury that America can’t afford if it wants to stay safe as well as free.

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Iran Predicts 2015 to be Year of Collapse for U.S. Allies

A common theme of Iran’s influence operation campaign is that states in the region may like the United States better, but that the United States does not have staying power and Iran will always be their neighbor. No U.S. president has done more to affirm the Iranian narrative than Barack Obama who has undercut U.S. allies across the region.

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A common theme of Iran’s influence operation campaign is that states in the region may like the United States better, but that the United States does not have staying power and Iran will always be their neighbor. No U.S. president has done more to affirm the Iranian narrative than Barack Obama who has undercut U.S. allies across the region.

Siyasat-e Rooz (Politics Today), a hard line Iranian newspaper, provides perhaps the best recent example of this in a column entitled “Sal-e Saqut” or “Year of Collapse.” (I have excerpted a fuller Open Source Center translation). It reads:

Who are the leaders and countries that are currently meddling in the region and threatening the security of West Asia? Has Iran taken any such action? The interference of Al-Saud forces in Bahrain and the mobilization of that regime’s military forces to that country in order to repress its people, military attack on Yemen’s soil, violation of the sanctity of a country and the slaughter of thousands of the innocent people of Yemen, financial and military support of terrorist-takfiri forces in regional countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Middle Asia and the Caucuses that are all being carried out through the support of America and the Zionist regime, have forced the Persian Gulf and West Asia regions to face widespread insecurity… The anger and hate of the Muslim people of the region, especially the countries that have experienced instability and war as a result of the meddling of Al-Saud, America, and the Zionist regime, is increasing significantly and even the people of reactionary Arab countries have become aware and have awakened from the heavy sleep imposed on them by their respective countries’ absolute dictatorial systems and this awareness is in the process of speeding up the process of the collapse of the leaders of reactionary countries. Al-Saud is at the head of these developments and even the meeting between the heads of Persian Gulf littoral countries with US President Obama in Camp David cannot save them from collapse or lead to Islamic Iran being controlled. 2015 is the year of the collapse; collapse for many of the dependent and reactionary Arab leaders of the region, including Al-Saud.

So, in short, the Iranian government is predicting not only will Yemenis, Syrians, and Iraqis ‘turn to’ Iran, but so too will Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Afghanistan and, by allusion, perhaps Azerbaijan as well.

Iranian predictions about geopolitics are sort of like an arsonist’s prediction about where the next forest fire will break out; it pays to take heed. What is clear is that Iran is, quite literally, on the warpath. The notion that Iran hasn’t invades any country in 200 years so often voiced by apologists for the Islamic Republic’s behavior not only discounts facts (for example, Iran’s 1856 invasion of Afghanistan) but, more importantly, its asymmetric way of war. Not every act of aggressions against another states requires columns of tanks, airplanes bombing, or ships shelling enemy targets. Sponsoring insurgency and war by proxy can be just as devastating and just as aggressive. Regional countries should be on alert. Far from moderating, Iran senses itself on the cusp of revolutionary victory throughout the region.

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Will Americans Elect a President They Don’t Think is Honest?

The prevailing assumption about the 2016 race is that Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem is that she hasn’t a fraction of the political skills that her husband possesses. But it appears that some of that conventional wisdom may be wrong. Not the part about Hillary’s poor political skills. But rather the belief that Bill Clinton is still the master politician. The former president’s NBC interview in which he claimed that he took $500,000 speaking honorariums because he “had to pay the bills” and that he deserves sympathy because he had to “work a couple of hours a day” preparing for them illustrated that his political skills are as rusty as his wife’s. As we learned in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Hillary’s numbers, especially those concerning “honesty,” are starting to plummet in the wake of the Clinton Cash and email scandals. But the question facing Democrats, whose loyalty to the pair seems unshaken, is whether they are hitching their fortunes to a political brand that is becoming seriously tarnished.

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The prevailing assumption about the 2016 race is that Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem is that she hasn’t a fraction of the political skills that her husband possesses. But it appears that some of that conventional wisdom may be wrong. Not the part about Hillary’s poor political skills. But rather the belief that Bill Clinton is still the master politician. The former president’s NBC interview in which he claimed that he took $500,000 speaking honorariums because he “had to pay the bills” and that he deserves sympathy because he had to “work a couple of hours a day” preparing for them illustrated that his political skills are as rusty as his wife’s. As we learned in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Hillary’s numbers, especially those concerning “honesty,” are starting to plummet in the wake of the Clinton Cash and email scandals. But the question facing Democrats, whose loyalty to the pair seems unshaken, is whether they are hitching their fortunes to a political brand that is becoming seriously tarnished.

Only a man of legendary charm and appeal could have risen to the presidency in 1992 the way Bill Clinton despite the less than savory that he dragged along with him to the White House. Nor could a person with lesser political skills have survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal, let alone emerge from his presidency with enormous popularity. The 42nd president parlayed that good will into the creation of a powerful foundation that supported him and his family handsomely while also helping to bolster his wife’s political ambitions. But along the way he seems to have lost his perfect political pitch and replaced it with the same sense of arrogant entitlement that characterizes the public personas of many of the wealthy celebrities that have hooked on to the Clinton Foundation as a way to be seen as philanthropists while also profiting from the Clinton’s political influence.

The former president’s rationalization of the egregious payoffs he’s been getting from foreign donors and others seeking to gain from an association with him and his wife was reminiscent of Hillary’s bogus claim that they were “broke” when they left the White House in 2001. But while Americans love celebrities and probably don’t begrudge the former First Family their current “lifestyles of the rich and famous” existence, they are understandably finding it difficult to trust them.

That’s the upshot of the new WSJ/NBC poll that, among other things, shows that Americans do not regard Hillary as “honest and straightforward” by a 50-25 percent margin. A recent AP poll was even worse as it showed that 61 percent of those surveyed believed the word ‘honest” applied to Hillary only slightly or not at all. Unlike the Journal poll that showed Democrats still trusted Clinton, the AP poll showed that only 40 percent of members of her party considered her honest.

Is it possible to be elected president with those kinds of poll numbers? Maybe. Overall, Clinton’s net favorability — the number of those who view her positively and those negatively — was even. That’s not good but it could be worse. And she still leads all of the leading Republican presidential contenders in head-to-head matchups though not by the same margins that were recorded not that long ago. So perhaps it’s possible to imagine that the usual Clinton response to scandals will work again. That means an avalanche of smears aimed at anyone who dares to question their probity and a steadfast refusal to own up to any problems enabled by destruction of evidence.

But whereas Bill’s charm has always enabled him to survive these kinds of problems while keeping the money thrown at him by wealthy people who wish to profit from the association, Hillary may not be as lucky. The problem goes deeper than one or two polls or even the immediate fallout from the Clinton Cash revelations. It’s the sense on the part of many Americans that we’ve seen this movie before. The Clintons tin-eared utterances betraying their sense of entitlement about the riches thrown their way, whether uttered by Hillary or her equally maladroit husband makes it harder to think of them as unstoppable. So, too, does their arrogant refusal to acknowledge the obvious conflicts of interest involved in running a mega charity dependent on foreign donations while one of the pair serves as secretary of state and prepares a run for the presidency.

The outcome in November 2016 will depend a lot on the matchup with the GOP nominee and the issues that will dominate the news cycle at that time, both factors that are unknown to us now. But anyone who thinks Americans will elect Hillary to the White House if they think she isn’t honest doesn’t know much about American politics. And she isn’t going to be rescued by a husband that is mired in this scandal and not politically adroit enough to avoid fueling it with foolish remarks about profiting from their influence peddling. Though the strength and the viciousness of the Clintons should never be underestimated, neither should we discount the depth of the hole into which their avarice has placed them. That’s especially true as long as they keep making it bigger.

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Bret Stephens: COMMENTARY Lights the Way

COMMENTARY is America’s most important monthly journal of ideas, period. For nearly seven decades it has published the best and most exciting writing from the most important thinkers: Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling; Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; Paul Johnson and Ruth Wisse; Cynthia Ozick and–of course–Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. Is there anything remotely like it? No. It is the lamp by which America, and Israel, and the Jewish people, may find their way to safety. I’m proud to be published in its pages. Please click below to donate.

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COMMENTARY is America’s most important monthly journal of ideas, period. For nearly seven decades it has published the best and most exciting writing from the most important thinkers: Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling; Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; Paul Johnson and Ruth Wisse; Cynthia Ozick and–of course–Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. Is there anything remotely like it? No. It is the lamp by which America, and Israel, and the Jewish people, may find their way to safety. I’m proud to be published in its pages. Please click below to donate.

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Who’s Ignoring Evidence Now, Mr. Biden?

George H.W. Bush may only have served one term as president, but his foreign policy legacy is solid. He is remembered not only for overseeing the end of the Cold War but also for his stewardship of the coalition and war that liberated Kuwait after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of that country. Bush was riding high in the polls after Operation Desert Storm and so, on October 2, 1992, a month before his quest for re-election, then-Senator Joseph Biden took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to castigate former President George H.W. Bush for ignoring a mountain of evidence about Saddam Hussein’s true intention. Biden’s apparent point was that rather than celebrate Bush’s leadership, Americans should condemn it because both Ronald Reagan and Bush not only missed the warning signs about Saddam Hussein’s true intentions, but actually enabled him. Actually, there’s something to that narrative: The Reagan-era efforts to rehabilitate Saddam and see in him a bastion of moderation who could stand firm against Iran’s revolutionary ambition was naïve.

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George H.W. Bush may only have served one term as president, but his foreign policy legacy is solid. He is remembered not only for overseeing the end of the Cold War but also for his stewardship of the coalition and war that liberated Kuwait after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of that country. Bush was riding high in the polls after Operation Desert Storm and so, on October 2, 1992, a month before his quest for re-election, then-Senator Joseph Biden took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to castigate former President George H.W. Bush for ignoring a mountain of evidence about Saddam Hussein’s true intention. Biden’s apparent point was that rather than celebrate Bush’s leadership, Americans should condemn it because both Ronald Reagan and Bush not only missed the warning signs about Saddam Hussein’s true intentions, but actually enabled him. Actually, there’s something to that narrative: The Reagan-era efforts to rehabilitate Saddam and see in him a bastion of moderation who could stand firm against Iran’s revolutionary ambition was naïve.

At any rate, here is Biden, circa 1992:

Things came to a head in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Subsequently, after the Gulf War pushed back against Saddam Hussein, Senator Joe Biden castigated successive administrations for long ignoring evidence that the Iraqi dictator had not changed. The White House, he said, acknowledged reality only after . . . disregarding a mountain of incriminating evidence that Saddam was using American aid to buy arms; only after ignoring Saddam Hussein’s genocidal slaughter of his own Kurdish citizens; only after fostering high technology exports to Iraq even as Saddam Hussein provided safe haven for the world’s most infamous terrorists; only after overlooking his manifest quest for nuclear and chemical weapons; only after supplying Saddam Hussein with military intelligence almost until the eve of the invasion.

Fast forward 22.5 years, and Vice President Biden is now part and parcel of the charge to normalize relations with Iran, a country about which he has seemingly long had a soft spot. The problem is that the degree to which President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Biden himself refuse to recognize that the Supreme Leader (and, indeed, President Hassan Rouhani himself) have not changed, are prepared to disregard “a mountain of incriminating evidence” with regard to Iran’s efforts to procure and develop illegal technology, are prepared to simply ignore Iran’s commitment to terrorism, let alone its incitement to genocide is simply astounding. Obama may either be naïve or simply hostile to American power and security, but Biden believes himself to be a student and master of foreign policy. And, to be blunt, Biden was right that the the Reagan-Bush team should have recognized the danger posed by Saddam earlier. But with his cheerleading for Iran against all evidence, Biden is simply doing what he once condemned. Given its size, its power, and the fact that ideological rather than territorial ambitions motivates it, the danger Iran poses will ultimately be much greater. How sad, it is then, that Biden has proven himself more an intellectual hypocrite than a statesman.

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The Iran Investment Floodgates Open

Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman described how Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman who once defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary before losing in the general election, had become a strong advocate for investing in Iran. Lamont’s quotes in Goodman’s article, alas, reflect a man cocooned in a bubble well crafted by his Iranian handlers.

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Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman described how Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman who once defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary before losing in the general election, had become a strong advocate for investing in Iran. Lamont’s quotes in Goodman’s article, alas, reflect a man cocooned in a bubble well crafted by his Iranian handlers.

According to the Iranian press, however, the situation is about to get worse. From the Mehr News Agency:

A delegation of oil dealers and investors from the US are scheduled to have a business tour of Iranian oil industry and meet with Iranian authorities in this week. Authorities, commissioners, and executives of oil companies are in the meeting agenda of the Americans. Deputy petroleum minister of Iran, Abbas Sheri-Moghaddam confirmed the news and predicted more cooperation with US big companies and refineries on Iran’s oil and gas projects after the removal of sanctions.

He also announced that some European-American companies have stepped forward for participation in new petrochemical projects in Iran and added that Iran is now bargaining with companies from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands who are willing to invest in petrochemical projects of Iran. In response to a question about legal restrictions for American companies in Iran Sheri-Moghaddam explained that to invest in Iran, companies are required to register an Iranian company and as a result there is no boundary for foreigners to invest in Iran.

The State Department issued a weak denial:

“It’s hard to verify whether these reports are accurate at all,” he said, “but also we’ve been quite clear that we don’t consider Iran to be open for business yet, and that if there is any sanctionable activity happening, then we will take action.”

In other words, the State Department is basing its denial on the notion that businesses are going to tell the State Department what they are doing and that they also are not going to try to bypass a sanctions regime which is actively unraveling. Heck, the Iranian government openly brags about how sanctions have collapsed, and Jonathan Tobin here shows how unrealistic the notion of snap-back sanctions are. In addition, when President Obama talks about his ability to unilaterally wave sanctions, he is absolutely right. The most biting sanctions against Iran were imposed by executive order during the Clinton administration and targeted the oil industry—first American companies doing business in Iran and then European subsidiaries and partners.

Some analysts argue that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) benefits from sanctions because they control the black market. That may be true to some extent, but it does not hold that the opposite—lifting sanctions undercuts the IRGC—is true, as that organization’s civilian wing monopolizes import-export and most large industries, including the energy sector. This is one of the reasons why Iran is a country of mom-and-pop stores because anyone who might seek to grow beyond that ends up victim to the IRGC mafia. In some ways, it’s analogous to the mob in 1930s Chicago. This raises a second problem, of course, one that Obama willfully ignores: Any money invested in Iran is going to privilege the hard line elements at the expense of more moderate factions. Even if Obama and the true believers in his nuclear drive believe they are witnessing some Deng Xiaoping moment, the reality is that the policy they have embraced is guaranteed to sink it.

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Snap Back Iran Sanctions? Don’t Bet on It.

Last week as part of the administration’s latest feeble attempt at a Jewish charm offensive, Vice President Biden gave a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he told the audience not to worry about the nuclear deal President Obama had struck with Iran. Biden’s bombastic reassurances lacked credibility. But just as important was a private talk given by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he sought to allay fears about the way the president planned on lifting economic sanctions on Iran once the deal is finalized. Lew promised that if Iran was found to be cheating on its nuclear promises, those sanctions could easily be snapped back into place. But as Josh Rogin reports at BloombergView today, it appears Lew’s promises are not much more reliable than those made by Tehran. As it turns out the process by which sanctions could be reimposed will be anything but a snap. Nor is the administration prepared to treat the vast industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as tied to that group’s record of terrorism.

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Last week as part of the administration’s latest feeble attempt at a Jewish charm offensive, Vice President Biden gave a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he told the audience not to worry about the nuclear deal President Obama had struck with Iran. Biden’s bombastic reassurances lacked credibility. But just as important was a private talk given by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he sought to allay fears about the way the president planned on lifting economic sanctions on Iran once the deal is finalized. Lew promised that if Iran was found to be cheating on its nuclear promises, those sanctions could easily be snapped back into place. But as Josh Rogin reports at BloombergView today, it appears Lew’s promises are not much more reliable than those made by Tehran. As it turns out the process by which sanctions could be reimposed will be anything but a snap. Nor is the administration prepared to treat the vast industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as tied to that group’s record of terrorism.

As Rogin reports, Lew left out a lot of details when he claimed last week that sanctions could be snapped back.

The first problem is that despite the administration’s claims, the Iranians have vowed not to sign anything that would not lift all sanctions immediately and permanently. President Obama’s track record on negotiations with Iran has been a steady series of concessions while Tehran stands its ground. That makes it difficult to imagine that Washington’s version of what the final draft will look like will be closer to reality than that of Tehran. But even if we assume that the final deal will conform to Lew’s promises about sanctions, there are clear problems with the way any such deal will be implemented.

The first is that although Lew says the president won’t ask Congress to lift the sanctions until Iran has proved its compliance that places the entire responsibility for that decision in the hands of an administration. Given that the president’s foreign policy legacy is involved, there is little doubt that its investment in preserving the agreement at all costs makes unlikely that the president will ever give up on Iran or declare it in violation of its promises.

More to the point, the process by which such a decision will be made will be the subject of a lengthy debate and subject to dissent from nations that will be even less inclined than the president to declare Iran in violation of the accord.

Just as important, the administration is drawing a broad distinction between branches of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the regime’s terror sponsor as well as an economic powerhouse. Lew promised that the U.S. would rightly hold the IRGC’s Quds Force responsible for its terrorist actions and keep sanctions in place on them. But the rest of the IRGC’s vast infrastructure will be exempt from sanctions after the deal is implemented. Such a distinction will enable Tehran to go on funding terrorism through the IRGC’s vast holdings that amount to a third of the Iranian economy. Money, like terrorism is fungible but if you’re determined to turn a blind eye to how the Iranian regime operates, anything is possible.

Rogin also points out that Biden and Lew’s assertions that Iran hasn’t cheated on the interim agreement are, at best, debatable. And until Iran agrees to intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities with no advance notice, confidence that the administration can actually detect cheating at any point, let alone in time to stop them in time, is highly unlikely.

The Iran deal is bad enough in that it can be easily violated and gives the Islamist retime two ways to get a bomb: one by cheating and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire while it legally continues to develop its nuclear options.

But the point here is not just that the deal the U.S. has accepted is weak, it’s that there is no mechanism in place that would actually provide any real accountability. Once sanctions are lifted, Western businesses will flock to Iran to take advantage of the opening. The economic and political incentives for returning to sanctions will be few for Western governments and Iran will take advantage. Once they are unraveled by a diplomatic stroke that Washington will never wish to disavow, they are not coming back short of an Iranian declaration that it has a bomb. Even then there will be those who will argue that a return to sanctions will be pointless.

Other than the president’s word — and that of his subordinates — there’s little reason to believe the sanctions will not vanish forever once the deal is signed. All of which means the West’s leverage over Iran hangs by a thread that is about to snap.

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Sorry, Media, but Hillary is Incompetent

A recent article in The Economist, in stating that Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite to win the 2016 presidential election, posed the question: What does she stand for? To which the author answered:

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A recent article in The Economist, in stating that Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite to win the 2016 presidential election, posed the question: What does she stand for? To which the author answered:

Competence and experience, say her supporters. As secretary of state, she flew nearly a million miles and visited 112 countries. If a foreign crisis occurs on her watch, there is a good chance she will already have been there, read the briefing book and had tea with the local power brokers. No other candidate of either party can boast as much.

Chris Cillizza, in his column published earlier today in the Washington Post, wrote this:

There is little doubt among the electorate — with the exception of conservative Republicans who will never vote for Clinton under any circumstances — that her life experiences and résumé have prepared her to do the job. First lady, senator from New York, secretary of state — no one in the field (on either side) can match those credentials.

Clinton is universally known and, generally, regarded as hyper-competent. That’s her as her best asset.

That judgment, like the one in The Economist, strikes me as baseless. Not only is Mrs. Clinton not “hyper-competent,” she is not even minimally competent.

What exactly are her brilliant achievements? Is it HillaryCare, a substantive disaster that led to a political disaster (the Republican sweep in the 1994 mid-term election)? The multiple ethical problems she’s encountered during her years in politics? Here fierce opposition to the Petraeus-led surge in Iraq long after it was obvious it was succeeding? Perhaps the Russian reset? Referring to Bashar Assad, the genocidal dictator of Syria, as a “reformer“? Or maybe her masterful handling of the Iranian Green Revolution, relations with Egypt, Libya, Israel, the attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Poland, the Czech Republic, the “pivot” to Asia and countless other failures during the first Obama term?

What exactly are her achievements – her concrete, tangible, exceptional achievements – as First Lady, senator, and secretary of state? They don’t exist. In fact, the things she has her fingerprints on have, much more often than not, turned into disasters. The case that her supporters put forward on her behalf — she has flown nearly a million miles, visited more than 100 countries, read briefing books (!) and had tea with local power brokers (!!) – highlights just how pathetic her achievements are.

The media meme that Mrs. Clinton is “competent” – nay, “hyper-competent” – is silly. During the quarter-century she’s been on the national stage, she has proved herself to be an individual of extraordinary ambition, a conspiracy theorist, ethically challenged, and a key figure in a brutal political machine. She is also, pace The Economist and Chris Cillizza, unusually inept. This judgment is not an opinion; it is based on a reasonable assessment of her actual record. Including her briefing book reading habits and tea times.

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Hamas Atrocities and the Rules of War

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

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Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

The UN report gave Israel credit for the fact that incidents in which the Israel Defense Forces’ fire was deemed to be unjustified or wrongful due to the impact on civilians resulted in investigations and/or prosecutions of those involved. But it what failed to grasp was that two factors undermined most of the criticisms of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. One is that widespread infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas personnel who use UN facilities as storage depots. The other is the fact that the Hamas government of Gaza systematically exploits civilian buildings that are treated as off limits to Israeli fire for military purposes.

As Gantz detailed, it was well known, even during the war, that the Hamas leaders who were directing the rocket attacks on Israel were doing from the safety of hospital buildings. It was also clear throughout the campaign that Hamas was firing the thousands of rockets that were shot at Israeli cities from the immediate environs of shelters, schools and hospitals.

The IDF did its best to avoid hitting civilian targets and though there were casualties, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey later noted that the conduct of the Israelis was exemplary, undermining much of the unfair criticisms of the war put forward by both the Obama White House and the State Department. But while the Israelis were subjected to a double standard not applied to any other modern combatant, it’s worth asking whether we need to think again about a code of military conduct that says a sovereign nation is obligated to let terrorists shoot at children so long as they are around a building that is designated as off-limits.

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture these terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name knows that operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA — which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use them as props in the war against Israel — to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews.

Gantz doesn’t seem to have any ready answers as to how rules of engagement for the military or those of war can be adjusted to account for Hamas. Ethicists can debate the obligation to avoid causing deaths to civilians against the one that declares that governments must defend their citizens. But the problem here goes deeper than a mere moral dilemma. So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians that were made homeless or wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Gantz is probably right when he says the inevitable next round of fighting with Hamas will be worse than the last one. So, too will the condemnations of Israeli self-defense. Each incident will probably be used to justify economic warfare via the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against the Jewish state. You can count on Israel continuing to uphold high standards of conduct in which every effort will be made to spare innocent lives. But so long as terrorists are using UN buildings as launching pads for attacks on Jewish children, the IDF will have no choice but to shoot back. If that generates more UN reports and unfair criticism, so be it. No rule that gives a terrorist impunity to shoot at children should be treated as sacrosanct.

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Arthur Herman: COMMENTARY Is the Point of the Conservative Spear

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online. Please click below to give.
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In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online. Please click below to give.
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Debates, Not Money Will Winnow GOP Field

This is the week when an already crowded Republican presidential field really starts to fill up. One by Mike Huckabee will soon follow today’s announcements by Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Before long they will be joined by Governor Scott Walker and eventually as many as 20 candidates will be running for the GOP nomination. Not all of them are likely to be serious possibilities and the members of this week’s trio are all assumed to be long shots. But the cavalry charge of candidates heading to Iowa and New Hampshire creates a situation that renders moot much of the commentary we’ve been hearing about the race in the last six months. It’s no good talking about Jeb Bush or even Walker as frontrunners in a contest in which no one can boast of even 20 percent of the support of Republican voters and which most of those jumping in can raise enough money to stay in until the early states vote. For all of the necessary focus on who is doing the best at raising funds, it will be the debates and not the affections of big donors that will winnow this group down to the real contenders that will battle for the nomination next spring.

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This is the week when an already crowded Republican presidential field really starts to fill up. One by Mike Huckabee will soon follow today’s announcements by Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Before long they will be joined by Governor Scott Walker and eventually as many as 20 candidates will be running for the GOP nomination. Not all of them are likely to be serious possibilities and the members of this week’s trio are all assumed to be long shots. But the cavalry charge of candidates heading to Iowa and New Hampshire creates a situation that renders moot much of the commentary we’ve been hearing about the race in the last six months. It’s no good talking about Jeb Bush or even Walker as frontrunners in a contest in which no one can boast of even 20 percent of the support of Republican voters and which most of those jumping in can raise enough money to stay in until the early states vote. For all of the necessary focus on who is doing the best at raising funds, it will be the debates and not the affections of big donors that will winnow this group down to the real contenders that will battle for the nomination next spring.

With no votes to count and polls being of little use in gauging interest in a plethora of candidates who are not yet household names, it’s understandable that most of the reporting on the GOP contest has centered on the question of who is raising the most money. That was the whole point of Jeb Bush’s decision to jump in early last December when he embarked on a “shock and awe” campaign intended to make it clear to possible challengers that they wouldn’t have a chance to compete with him in fundraising. Bush’s effort was largely successful. In fact, it played a significant role in convincing Mitt Romney not to try again in spite of what appeared to be a clear inclination on his part to make a third attempt at the presidency. But while Bush did lock up the lion’s share of big Republican donors, he soon discovered that the universe of contributors to GOP presidential candidates is bigger than he thought. After Bush’s initial push, there were still more than enough such givers to fund Walker as well as others such as Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Nor, despite mainstream media coverage that makes it appear that the Koch Brothers and/or Sheldon Adelson will be Republican kingmakers, will the ultimate destination of the money currently in their pockets decide things.

That is where the similarities and the differences between the 2012 and 2016 races come into play.

There were also a lot of possible candidates thinking about the GOP nomination this time four years ago. But the reason why Mitt Romney ultimately cruised to victory is that most where neither serious nor able to raise enough money to make it to the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, let alone beyond that point. That is not the case this year both in terms of the level of the candidates as well as their ability to attract donors. This time, even the potential outliers like Carson or Huckabee seem to have a lot more on the ball and will probably survive until next winter when the voting starts.

And that is why the debates — the factor that was most important in helping to shape the 2012 race — may again be decisive. As Bush learned, money may be necessary to run a credible enough but in such a crowded field, it simply isn’t possible to raise enough to dominate and or knock off so many varied opponents. In a contest with no true frontrunner, it will be the debates that will define the candidates for the voting public.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election cycle, Republicans agreed that there were too many debates in the fall/winter of 2011-12. Indeed, the debates began to resemble a reality show more than Lincoln and Douglas. But even with the trimmed down schedule now planned, there will be no way for any of the contenders to make a splash without doing well on the debate stage. Just as important, the debates will be the crucible during which gaffes and unpreparedness will sink candidates faster than the displeasure of a large donor.

That’s why all talk of framing the race must be predicated on the notion that it won’t really begin until August 15 when the first such debate takes place in Cleveland and is broadcast by Fox News. Until then, the field will grow no matter how much or how little any of the would-be frontrunners take in from wealthy friends.

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The U.S. Still Has Options on Syria

Last week I had a discussion with Khaled Khoja, a physician who is currently president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces—i.e., the government in exile. He tried hard, as you might expect to draw some hope out of a bleak situation in which more than 225,000 of his countrymen have been killed and millions more displaced from their homes. He suggested, correctly I think, that the present strength of the Al Nusra Front (an Al Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS among the rebel forces is not a sign that most Syrians want to be ruled by extreme jihadists. Rather it has come about because those groups have more funding and arms than their moderate rebels. As a result, he argued, many relatively moderate fighters have migrated to the Al Nusra Front, in particular, but that if the extremists were to lose strength and the moderates to gain it, many fighters would opportunistically switch to the stronger, more pro-Western side.

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Last week I had a discussion with Khaled Khoja, a physician who is currently president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces—i.e., the government in exile. He tried hard, as you might expect to draw some hope out of a bleak situation in which more than 225,000 of his countrymen have been killed and millions more displaced from their homes. He suggested, correctly I think, that the present strength of the Al Nusra Front (an Al Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS among the rebel forces is not a sign that most Syrians want to be ruled by extreme jihadists. Rather it has come about because those groups have more funding and arms than their moderate rebels. As a result, he argued, many relatively moderate fighters have migrated to the Al Nusra Front, in particular, but that if the extremists were to lose strength and the moderates to gain it, many fighters would opportunistically switch to the stronger, more pro-Western side.

What would it take to lessen the appeal of the extremists? He argued that it is imperative for the U.S. and its allies to back the establishment of “safe zones” where the National Coalition could establish a functioning government on Syrian soil free from the threat of air attacks from Bashar Assad’s murderous regime. He argued, too, for the West to do more to train and arm the Free Syrian Army and especially to provide it with anti-aircraft weapons.

Khoja is right and he should be listened to, now more than ever. The Assad regime has failed to retake Aleppo and it has lost Idlib. There are signs of dissension at the top. As the Washington Post’s astute editorialists note: “The shift of momentum could create an opportunity for the United States and its allies to leverage the change of rulers in Syria that President Obama first endorsed nearly four years ago. But it could also lead to disaster, if the crumbling regime is replaced by the jihadist forces of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, as already occurred in eastern Syria.”

To seize the opportunity and avert another catastrophe, the Post advocates “a U.S.-backed safe zone, along with an expanded military training program,” in short pretty much the same things Khoja is advocating. It would have been far better if the administration had done this years ago but even now it’s not too late. Even these modest steps are hardly sufficient to ensure that a Syria free of Assad does not continue to be a haven for extremists; that would require a far more ambitious commitment to an international peacekeeping force that is unlikely under the present circumstances. But even the more modest proposals for safe zones and enhanced training can help to shrink the extremists’ zone of control. It would also be the first step toward creating a coherent U.S. policy toward Syria, something that, as the Post notes, does not now exist.

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After Garland, Don’t Change the Subject to Islamophobia

Almost immediately after the news of last night’s shooting in Garland, Texas broke many in the chattering class started to blame the intended victims of the attack. The group that had sponsored a contest to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad and two of the controversial speakers at the event were quickly depicted as having invited violence by their willingness to offend Muslims. But whether or not you agree with Dutch politician Geert Wilders or American activist Pam Geller, the failed attempt to slaughter them or those who chose to hear their words illustrated one of their main contentions. You can offend any other religion with impunity but dare to speak rudely or even truthfully about Islamist intolerance and you’d better pay for heavy security and/or hope the police are doing their job (as, thank Heaven, they were in Texas). That, and not whether or not Wilders or Geller are right about some things or even anything, remains the only question to discuss when it comes to talk about Islamophobia.

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Almost immediately after the news of last night’s shooting in Garland, Texas broke many in the chattering class started to blame the intended victims of the attack. The group that had sponsored a contest to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad and two of the controversial speakers at the event were quickly depicted as having invited violence by their willingness to offend Muslims. But whether or not you agree with Dutch politician Geert Wilders or American activist Pam Geller, the failed attempt to slaughter them or those who chose to hear their words illustrated one of their main contentions. You can offend any other religion with impunity but dare to speak rudely or even truthfully about Islamist intolerance and you’d better pay for heavy security and/or hope the police are doing their job (as, thank Heaven, they were in Texas). That, and not whether or not Wilders or Geller are right about some things or even anything, remains the only question to discuss when it comes to talk about Islamophobia.

Let’s specify that not all Muslims, especially here in the United States, are violent or intolerant. Most are hard working, decent people and deserve the same respect as any other American.

But there is a reason why humorists fear to skewer Islam or its holy book the same way they do Catholics or Mormons. You can mock Christian symbols, call it art and then expect cultural elites to lionize you and denounce those who are offended as fascists. You can stage an opera rationalizing Palestinian terrorism and the murder of Jews and be lionized as a courageous defender of artistic freedom and call those who denounce your bad taste Philistines. Write a play wittily trashing the Mormon faith and you can become immensely rich. None of those activities are particularly commendable but they are safe. But speak ill of Islam and you take your life into your hands.

Talk about Islamophobia in the United States is misleading since there is little or no evidence that the years that followed 9/11 or even now after the rise of ISIS that Muslims have suffered discrimination or violence. To the contrary, anti-Semitic attacks have always far outnumbered those despicable incidents in which Muslims were targeted. But the attempt to distract us from Muslim intolerance also misses the point.

You may say it is bad that some people are drawing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad specifically to offend Muslims who believe such drawings are forbidden. But the problem is that unlike other faiths that have learned to express outrage about those who show them disrespect without violence, a great many Muslims throughout the world still take it as a given that they are entitled to kill those who commit what they call blasphemy. The attacks on the Danish newspaper that first thought to publish Muhammad cartoons and then Charlie Hebdo illustrated this distorted principle.

The editors of Charlie Hebdo, Wilders and Geller need to be defended not because they are right about everything they say, write or draw. They aren’t right about everything as is inevitable with anyone who ignores nuances and seeks to inflame rather than analyze and illuminate. But, contrary to many of the talking heads on television today, they aren’t the problem. The problem is that a variant of Islam that commands the loyalty of hundreds of millions around the globe thinks it is okay to kill those who blaspheme against Islam. It is that faith that leads terrorists to cut off the heads of non-believers and to wage a war of conquest across the Middle East that threatens the security of the region and the United States. Nor is it a coincidence that this same not insignificant splinter of Islam is also promoting vicious anti-Semitism and helped fuel a rising tide of Jew hatred across Europe.

So, just as it is offensive to speak of the slain editors of Charlie Hebdo as being unworthy of our defense because of their harsh views, it is just as inadmissible for today’s discussion to center on whether or not Wilders or Geller are too provocative or show bad taste in their attacks on Islam. That may be hard for some in the Muslim world to accept. It may also be equally hard for many on the left, both here and in Europe, who have wrongly come to accept the idea that Islam may not be offended because it is a victim of imperialism and the West or the Jews who must always be seen as the villain. But the struggle against intolerant Islamism is one that hinges on the right and even the necessity to make it clear to the world that Muslims must learn to tolerate other views of their faith. Free speech can’t be sacrificed to Islamist sensibilities. Until it is safe for Wilders and Geller to speak without massive security measures, let us hear no more about the evils of Islamophobia.

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Matthew Continetti: Why COMMENTARY Matters

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

If you would like proof of just how intellectually bankrupt the American left is today, I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  It is about “inequality” and the rising separation between the incomes of the very, very rich and the incomes of the middle class and the poor.

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If you would like proof of just how intellectually bankrupt the American left is today, I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  It is about “inequality” and the rising separation between the incomes of the very, very rich and the incomes of the middle class and the poor.

It starts off with a scare “statistic” that the total Wall Street bonus pool last year was roughly twice the size of “the total annual earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage.” But as his link shows, this is a farrago of statistical assumptions and incomplete data. But it advances the agenda and so he uses it.

Then he plunges into anecdote:

I overheard one billionaire — who had gotten his start in life by inheriting a fortune — discuss with another the problem of lazy Americans who were trying to free ride on the rest,” [Joseph] Stiglitz  [a Nobel-Prize winning economist] writes. “Soon thereafter, they seamlessly transitioned into a discussion of tax shelters.

Well, I’ve heard many liberals seamlessly transition from lecturing me on my Scrooge-like indifference to the fate of the poor and downtrodden to deciding which $100-a-cover restaurant to have lunch at.

He then, inevitably, lays the blames at the feet of the country as a whole:

We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but about free rides by the impoverished.

No, it was the political class, sucking up to the rich in exchange for campaign donations that chose to prioritize private jets over kids. Kids don’t make political contributions. Private jet owners get their phone calls to members of Congress returned within the hour.

Then he begs the question of the origin in the recent rise in income inequality. (To a large extent, it’s the extraordinary result of the digital revolution of the last forty years and the enormous number of capital-disintensive economic niches that have been opened by the microprocessor. When Twitter went public in November 2013, it created thousands of instant millionaires. That same year, an Australian 18-year-old sold an app he had created to Yahoo—for $30 million.) And he begs the question of inequality’s pernicious effects. (Is there really something terrible about the rich getting much richer, as long as the less rich are not getting any poorer, and indeed are seeing their standards of living rising over the long term, thanks to such things as Walmart, Amazon, iPhones, GPS, etc.?)

Finally he comes up with a list of possible ways to correct what might very well not need correcting, but would definitely put more money into the hands of the political class that Kristof represents (to be used, of course, strictly for the good of the poor and the downtrodden). Among these are: More government vigilance regarding monopolies and competition, strong trade unions, public-sector jobs at the minimum wage for such things as elderly care (has he checked with the unions for their opinion on this?), restrain pay at the highest levels (i.e. maximum-wage legislation), and a personal income tax that tops out at 65 percent.

Is there a single idea in there that post dates FDR, who died 70 years ago in a completely different economic universe? Indeed, most of them antedate the 20th century. Steeply progressive income taxes are straight out of the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

So here’s my list of ideas to lower the income inequality between rich and poor. They would actually help everyone except the political class:

Break up government monopolies, such as Medicare, the Veterans Administration, and, most important public school systems. Introducing competition into these areas of the economy is vital to improving them, because competition, and competition alone, produces hard work and innovation. Monopolies—private and governmental—are always fat, dumb, lazy, and devoted to maintaining the monopoly. The shortest route to prosperity for the poor and downtrodden is a good education and the inculcation of good work habits. They don’t get that today and liberals don’t give a damn. (One of the first things President Obama tried to do as president was end the school voucher program in Washington, D.C., as a thank you to the teachers unions, while sending his two daughters to a very expensive, and very good, private school: welcome to modern-day liberalism).

Introduce a flat tax, so that the private jet owners of the world can’t finagle special deals with their congressional pals.

Abolish the corporate income tax. I wrote about the extraordinary benefits of doing this in the Wall Street Journal a few months ago.  At least 90 percent of the tax fiddles and crony-capitalism government favors are hidden in the corporate income tax. Get rid of it and 60,000 lobbyists in Washington would need to go out and get wealth-creating jobs. Do you think private jet owners own their private jets personally? Of course not, their corporations own them and get a slew of deductions thereby.

Modern-day liberalism is about talking about helping the poor and downtrodden, while espousing policies that will only help the narrow and ever-more privileged elite of which liberals are the most vocal supporters.

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Here’s Why Vigilant Policing Is Necessary

Brian Moore, a 25-year-old New York City police officer, is in a medically induced coma in Jamaica Hospital. He was  allegedly shot in the head by Demetrius Blackwell in Queens on Saturday night. What spurred the shooting? Here’s the New York Post: “Blackwell had been fiddling with his waistband, a source said. The officers [Moore and his partner] pulled up behind him, and Blackwell realized they were cops.” In other words, the cops were so good at their job that their suspicions were raised by the sight of a man adjusting his pants in a particular way that indicated he might have had a gun—and he did.

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Brian Moore, a 25-year-old New York City police officer, is in a medically induced coma in Jamaica Hospital. He was  allegedly shot in the head by Demetrius Blackwell in Queens on Saturday night. What spurred the shooting? Here’s the New York Post: “Blackwell had been fiddling with his waistband, a source said. The officers [Moore and his partner] pulled up behind him, and Blackwell realized they were cops.” In other words, the cops were so good at their job that their suspicions were raised by the sight of a man adjusting his pants in a particular way that indicated he might have had a gun—and he did.

That’s what good vigilant police work is. It’s picking out what’s subtly wrong on the street and getting to the bottom of it. It’s also what, under other circumstances, would wrongly be called racist harassment. Blackwell is black, and if it turned out he didn’t have a gun and if the situation escalated in such a way that that he ended up in critical condition, we can well imagine the outrage that would follow: First black people are told to pull up their pants. Then, when they do, they get shot. The point is the overwhelming majority of cops—good, smart, brave cops—don’t harass black people for sport. They don’t harass, period. They act on hunches and experience and put their lives on the line over the slightest irregularity to prevent civilian deaths, both black and white. In this case, one shooter is now off the streets; Blackwell is in custody. But one cop is in a coma. He saw a thug adjust his pants and understood that his vow to protect the community overrides any fear of being called a racist. It’s the very definition of both physical and moral bravery. Pray for Brian Moore.

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