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The Next Time Hamas Must Be Destroyed

One year ago, Hamas terrorists launched a war against Israel that lasted 50 days. When the dust settled, both sides were forced to accept a return to the status quo that had prevailed before the fighting began. But as both sides to the conflict continue to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable next round, Israeli leaders must consider whether the change in tactics by Hamas last time requires them to adjust their own strategy. If, as Mitch Ginsburg writes in the Times of Israel, Hamas’s approach is no longer purely defensive but rather predicated on a belief that carrying the fight into Israel will bring them victory, that may lead Jerusalem to start thinking the heretofore unthinkable about a Gaza war plan that could hinge on decapitating the Hamas leadership and/or ending its rule.

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One year ago, Hamas terrorists launched a war against Israel that lasted 50 days. When the dust settled, both sides were forced to accept a return to the status quo that had prevailed before the fighting began. But as both sides to the conflict continue to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable next round, Israeli leaders must consider whether the change in tactics by Hamas last time requires them to adjust their own strategy. If, as Mitch Ginsburg writes in the Times of Israel, Hamas’s approach is no longer purely defensive but rather predicated on a belief that carrying the fight into Israel will bring them victory, that may lead Jerusalem to start thinking the heretofore unthinkable about a Gaza war plan that could hinge on decapitating the Hamas leadership and/or ending its rule.

Last year’s war was a summer-long nightmare for Israelis who spent much of it scurrying into shelters during air raids. But after thousands of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities and the use of terror tunnels not much had changed other than the loss of more than 2,000 Palestinians (including several hundred civilians) dead and the fact that much of the strip was left in ruins. Hamas paid no political price for its cynical decision to go to war or its continued use of civilians as human shields. To the contrary, Israel was battered by unfair criticisms of its tactics, including some from an Obama administration that failed to listen to the statement from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that said its actions were a model for U.S. forces.

Hamas has signaled at times during the past months that it would like to extend the cease-fire with Israel that went back into effect after the shooting stopped. But a combination of factors may lead it to change course and launch another terror offensive. The increased pressure on its rule from Egypt that rightly sees it as an ally of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists that seek to overthrow the Sisi government and the revived support from Iran could lead the Hamas leadership to think that another war would further undermine support for the Fatah rivals that rule the West Bank. They also may think the hostile attitude of the Obama administration toward the Netanyahu government is a green light to action that might further divide the two allies.

If so, the Israel Defense Forces is prepared. As Ginsburg writes, the IDF is seeking to learn the lessons of the last war and is working hard to be ready to counter terror tunnels into Israel as well as what appeared to be a shift in Hamas tactics that prioritized offensive actions aimed at taking the fight into the Jewish state rather than sitting back and waiting for their foes to exhaust themselves in Gaza.

But there may be more to their calculations than new tactics designed to thwart tunnels, more special forces operations or the latest technology to knock down rockets intended to kill random civilians. Part of Israel’s deterrence is the way the Israeli population united in the face of the assault from Hamas and carried on with normal life despite weeks of rocket attacks. So, too, is the Jewish state’s willingness to keep fighting what may be a generations-long war against Islamist terror that can yield no clear outcome. But the debate about the endgame with Gaza that was resolved in favor of avoiding a counter-offensive that would have ended Hamas rule may be decided differently this time.

Given Prime Minister Netanyahu’s innate caution when it comes to the use of force as well as the high casualties that would be inevitable should Israel seek to take out Hamas that seems unlikely. But if Gaza forces Israel’s hand again, the only answer may be, as Ginsburg quotes some military analysts saying, an effort to insert IDF troops deep inside Gaza at the start of the next war rather than the long wait the preceded the limited ground offensive last year.

More to the point, the presence of ISIS in Gaza and the very real possibility that Hamas is cooperating with them against Egypt in the Sinai may create an opportunity for the two countries to cooperate in an effort to end a threat to both of them of a deadly threat. Hamas must take into consideration the chance that the next war won’t be a limited one in which it can rely on international pressure and fear of casualties to force Israel to accept its continued control of Gaza. But the only way to stop what many see as an inevitable rematch in Gaza will be to convince Hamas that the next war will be its last. That may be a course of action that the Obama administration will oppose as it seeks to revive a peace process that has no chance of succeeding after the Iran nuclear deal has been signed and ratified by Congress. But it is exactly what U.S. Middle East policy ought to be if it was being conducted in a manner that prioritized peace rather than the president’s fantasies about bringing peace to the world.

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Can Iranian Nuclear Deal Compliance Ever be Verified?

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of the Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of the Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

The parties missed another deadline this morning, and talks are now expected to go through the end of the week. Mogherini told reporters this morning: “I am not talking about extension. I am talking about taking the hours we need to try to complete our work.”  The overwhelming consensus from press and analysts here in Vienna nonetheless hasn’t changed: The parties will indeed announce some kind of agreement before they leave, though it will almost certainly have details that will need to be sorted out in future negotiations. How that aligns with the administration’s legal obligation to provide Congress with all final details the deal is anyone’s guess at this point.

Meanwhile the Obama administration and its allies are laying the groundwork for another U.S. collapse, this time on inspections. Couple of indicators:

(1) They’re giving up on promising the most robust inspection/verification regime in history: Here’s President Obama during his April 2 speech about the Lausanne announcement: “Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.” Here’s White House spokesman Josh Earnest at the beginning of May echoing the boast: “what President Obama has indicated must be part of any nuclear agreement… is the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.”

But now here’s White House validator Daryl Kimball talking to Politico a couple days ago: “this particular agreement will establish the most extensive, multilayered system of nuclear monitoring and verification for any country not defeated in a war.”

Catch the caveat about wartime defeat? The talking point had already been floated at the beginning of the Vienna talks by RAND’s Alireza Nader talking the JTA: “If the goal is ‘anytime, anywhere’ access and unlimited inspections, it’s not realistic asking a sovereign country not defeated in war.”

Yesterday Jofi Joseph, a former nonproliferation official in the Obama White House, told the Los Angeles Times that the Iranians can’t be expected to submit to anytime/anywhere inspections for the same reason: “What is forgotten is that Iraq was militarily defeated in a humiliating rout and had little choice but to accept [anytime/anywhere inspections].”

For 20 months, the administration promised Congress that Iran had been sufficiently coerced by sanctions that Tehran would accept anytime/anywhere inspections. Many in Congress disagreed and urged the administration to boost American leverage by working with the Hill to pass time-triggered sanctions. The administration responded with two different media wars that included accusations – including some by the president – describing lawmakers as warmongers beholden to “donor” money. Congress was right and the administration was wrong. Why would lawmakers now accept a weaker inspection regime than what the administration said it could secure, and what administration officials smeared lawmakers for doubting?

(2) A new talking point is that the IAEA’s technology makes up for the P5+1 collapsing on inspections – This appeared in two articles yesterday (the New York Times and the Daily Beast). The two stories are fantastically geeky reads about the IAEA’s toys, but that’s not what the administration officials and validators wanted to focus on. Instead you had Energy Secretary Moniz telling the NYT that the technology “lowers the requirement for human inspectors going in” and Kimball telling the Daily Beast that the technology meant that the IAEA would be able to “detect [nuclear activities] without going directly into certain areas.”

This argument is terrible and scientists should be embarrassed they’re making it. In its story the NYT quoted Olli Heinonen – a 27-year veteran of the IAEA who sat atop the agency’s verification shop – all but rolling his eyes.

Mr. Heinonen, the onetime inspection chief, sounded a note of caution, saying it would be naïve to expect that the wave of technology could ensure Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. In the past, he said, Tehran has often promised much but delivered little. “Iran is not going to accept it easily,” he said, referring to the advanced surveillance. “We tried it for 10 years.” Even if Tehran agrees to high-tech sleuthing, Mr. Heinonen added, that step will be “important but minor” compared with the intense monitoring that Western intelligence agencies must mount to see if Iran is racing ahead in covert facilities to build an atomic bomb.

The most fundamental problem is that IAEA procedures require physical environmental samples to confirm violations. They can use futuristic lasers and satellites to *detect* that Iran is cheating. But to *confirm* the cheating they need environmental samples, and usually multiple rounds of samples. Without that level of proof – which requires access – the agency simply wouldn’t tell the international community that it was certain Iran is violation. If you need a paragraph on the procedure click on this link and ctrl-f to “Yet if Iran tries to conceal what it is doing…”  If inspectors can’t get into a facility, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be comfortable declaring that Iran was violating its obligations.

That’s before even beginning the discussion about why technology can’t make up for access to people, facilities, and documents – without which the IAEA won’t even know where to point its lasers and satellites.

But is what the administration has left: the Iranians can’t be expected to grant anytime/anywhere access but that’s OK because the IAEA has cool toys.

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Scott Walker’s Flip-Flop Problem

During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker’s decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker’s office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker’s willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

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During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker’s decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker’s office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker’s willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

This isn’t the first time Walker has been accused of flipping on immigration. Back in March, I noted that the Wall Street Journal reported that the governor had told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans that he favored amnesty for illegals. That was consistent with his past stands on the issue prior to his entering the presidential contest. As late as 2013, he backed a path to citizenship for those here without documentation. But, as they did with Moore, Walker’s staff denounced the Journal article even though the paper had three witnesses to back up their account.

Walker understands that, while he appears to have held onto his spot in the first tier of Republican candidates, his path to the nomination depends on winning Iowa. To do that, he has calculated that he must position himself firmly on the right. His hope is to crush challenges from the likes of Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and, now, Donald Trump before emerging to take on the winner of the titanic struggle between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in Florida and/or a surprise moderate winner in New Hampshire in what will ultimately be the finals of the GOP contest over the course of the rest of the campaign.

But in order to do that, he needs to allow no room on his right flank on the issue of immigration. While he is as potentially vulnerable on immigration to criticism from the right as Marco Rubio (who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he has subsequently backed away from), Walker has tried to compensate in the past few months by assuming a stance of strident opposition to amnesty proposals. But his discomfort with this pose seems to come out every now and then such as the speech in New Hampshire or his talk with Moore where he tries to assure more moderate Republicans that he is “not going nativist.”

In this latest case, no doubt Walker’s camp will accuse the New York Times of playing “gotcha” journalism in an effort to embarrass him. But while the bias of the Times against Republicans is real, in this case the material they’re working with is the product of Walker’s own penchant for hedging privately in a way that makes his public statements sound hypocritical or false.

As I also noted back in February, when Walker adjusted his views on ethanol subsidies in Iowa in the same manner, a pattern of behavior is emerging. Instead of sticking to his past positions on these issues, Walker has shown a disturbing willingness to chuck them aside in order to gain votes among Iowa farmers and conservatives. While such behavior is not exactly unusual in politicians, it is in marked contrast to the sort of exemplary conduct that first brought him to national attention.

Walker is still a dynamic speaker and has a lot of the elements that ought to make a perfect candidate for the Republican nomination. His everyman persona, strong record as a governor, and mix of mainstream and conservative positions puts him in a sweet spot where he should be able to command support from Tea Partiers and mainstream establishment Republicans, who want a fiscal conservative, and evangelical Christians who seem him as one of their own. But a tendency to waffle on a key issue like immigration is a bad sign both for his campaign and his ability to govern effectively on the national stage.

With the first GOP debate only a month away, it is no longer possible to excuse Walker’s missteps as the inevitable mistakes of a rookie on the national stage. Walker needs to make up his mind about immigration and stick to it. Walker’s flip flop problem is real. If he continues to need his staff to pressure people to walk back accounts of his flip-flopping, he’s going to find himself outflanked by conviction conservatives on the right who need no such help as well as other Republicans who are prepared to stick to their guns in the same manner that Walker demonstrated back in 2011 when he was besieged by the unions.

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Bernie Sanders Exposes the Media’s Enraging Double Standards

If you were looking to substantiate the inescapable impression that the political press is vastly more sympathetic toward Democrats than Republicans, look no further than the eccentric collectivist senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders and his quixotic presidential campaign. Sanders brings all the baggage and more to the table that former Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin lugged with them into the 2012 election cycle, and yet the nation’s political reporters cannot identify a single thing that the surging socialist says about his party as a whole. The press’s collective refusal to identify “the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders problem” says all that you need to know about that increasingly activist enterprise.  Read More

If you were looking to substantiate the inescapable impression that the political press is vastly more sympathetic toward Democrats than Republicans, look no further than the eccentric collectivist senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders and his quixotic presidential campaign. Sanders brings all the baggage and more to the table that former Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin lugged with them into the 2012 election cycle, and yet the nation’s political reporters cannot identify a single thing that the surging socialist says about his party as a whole. The press’s collective refusal to identify “the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders problem” says all that you need to know about that increasingly activist enterprise. 

Political reporters find themselves newly enthralled by Bernie Sanders’ effort to create a contrast with Hillary Clinton’s low-key style of campaigning by organizing massive rallies in stadium-sized venues situated in left-of-center cities like Portland, Maine, and Madison, Wisconsin. Crowd sizes, while not even remotely indicative of future electoral performance, are captivating symbols. Few in the press have, however, remarked on the decidedly monochromatic nature of those packing stadium seats to see the Democratic presidential candidate – these being virtually all-white crowds in predominantly white cities. Fewer still have speculated about how these crowds, uniform in both ideology and skin tone, reflect on the Democratic Party’s ascendant progressive wing.

“He’s been to Portland, Maine, he’s been to Portland, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and he’s consolidated that white progressive vote,” Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd remarked on Tuesday. “This is what Bill Bradley did. Gary Hart did it. Paul Tsongas did it.” He noted that the Clinton campaign can take this development in stride so long as Sanders’ crowds fail to become more “diverse,” but he demurely declined to speculate about what the Vermont senator’s predominantly white progressive support says about him, his campaign, or the Democratic Party’s activist base voters. This was charitably coy on Todd’s part, but it is safe to assume that the same courtesy would not have been extended to a phenomenon candidate on the right enjoying a similar surging in the polls.

That is not the only bit of deference by the political press from which Sanders has benefited. The avowed socialist politician’s economic views are objectively anachronistic, but they have not generated the same scorn as have those of the famously libertarian, hard money advocate, Ron Paul. “Paul apparently thinks that the best approach to a 21st century globalized economy is a return to banking practices of the 19th century,” The USA Today editorial board scolded in January of 2012. No word from USA Today on the century in which Marxist-Leninism’s economic prescriptions belong.

For all the contrived efforts on the part of Democrats and their allies in the press to make Todd Akin the face of the GOP in 2012, despite his narrow ascension to the party’s senatorial nomination in the Show Me State, few in the press have noted that Sanders once held similarly antediluvian views on women’s health and sexuality that could harm his party’s standing. This week, the New York Times revealed that, in the late 1960s, Sanders wrote in the revolutionary left-wing Vermont paper, the Freeman, that cervical cancer was an unfortunate side effect of ungratifying sex.

“[H]e cited studies claiming that cancer could be caused by psychological factors such as unresolved hostility toward one’s mother, a tendency to bury aggression beneath a “facade of pleasantness” and having too few orgasms,” the Times reported. “‘Sexual adjustment seemed to be very poor in those with cancer of the cervix,’ [Sanders] wrote, quoting a study in a journal called Psychosomatic Medicine.”

One only has oneself to blame after being led astray by a medical journal that calls itself “psychosomatic,” but Sanders lapse would be excusable if it were only one instance. A Mother Jones investigation revealed that Sanders also penned a thought piece for the Freeman investigating the nature of gender roles in which he indulged in a series of almost graphic rape fantasies.

“A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.

“A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.

“Have you ever looked at the Stag, Man, Hero, Tough magazines on the shelf of your local bookstore? Do you know why the newspaper with the articles like ‘Girl 12 raped by 14 men’ sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?”

Had a Republican candidate for the presidency (or the U.S. Senate, for that matter) indulged in this manner of self-gratifying sexual assault fantasy – literary exercise or no – they would be made to account for it if only to tar the party with which they identified as unfriendly toward women. But Sanders, being a nominal Democrat, has his politically incorrect short story “explained” by the likes of National Public Radio.

“One way to read the essay is that Sanders was doing (in a supremely ham-handed way) what journalists do every day: draw the reader in with an attention-getting lede, then get to the meat of the article in the middle,” NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben soothingly averred.

“Nobody honestly believes that Bernie Sanders is a sexual pervert or that he is a misogynist or that he intends to do women any harm,” National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke wrote, admirably advising conservatives to take the high road in regards to the revelations about Sanders’ youthful essays. “Nobody suspects that he harbors a secret desire to pass intrusive legislation or to cut gang rapists a break. Really, there is only one reason that anyone would make hay of this story, and that is to damage the man politically.”

Correct. That is precisely why Democrat-aligned media figures did what they did with regards to Akin’s rape comments, compelling every politician with an “R” after their name to condemn his remarks or be implicitly associated with them. Commentators like Cooke can, and probably should, avoid the naked narrative setting in which the media indulged in 2012. That doesn’t mean the double standards the press sets for their own conduct should be summarily dismissed.

Democrats do not have a “Bernie Sanders problem” any more than the GOP had a “Todd Akin problem,” but the fact that the political media embraced one narrative but has apparently rejected the other outright exposes quite a bit about the ailing state of that industry.

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The Cost of College

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, Senator Lamar Alexander argues that college is not too expensive for students to afford, what with Pell Grants, student loans, college tuition assistance of various kinds, etc. That’s true to some extent, but the fact remains that college is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. Read More

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, Senator Lamar Alexander argues that college is not too expensive for students to afford, what with Pell Grants, student loans, college tuition assistance of various kinds, etc. That’s true to some extent, but the fact remains that college is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be.

When I graduated from Vanderbilt in 1966, tuition was $1,100 a semester, or $2,200 a year. Using the CPI to convert to 2015 dollars, which would be a little over $16,000 in today’s money. But Senator Alexander reports that tuition at Vanderbilt today is $43,000, more than two-and-one-half times as much (and much that used to be included in tuition is now charged as separate fees, much like now having to pay to check luggage on airlines). That is true pretty much across the country.

It is economics 101 that when a commodity — in this case, a college education — increases in price over and above inflation for decades when there is no constriction on supply, then a cartel is in operation. With colleges, the accreditation organizations serve as the cartel enforcement mechanism.

To be sure, there is more than a combination in restraint of trade going on here. The federal government, using the power that giving federal funds to colleges (which is almost all of them) gives it, has inundated colleges with rules, directions, and “guidance.” I submit the following from Senator Alexander’s op-d as the horrifying statistic of the week:

The Boston Consulting Group found that in one year Vanderbilt University spent a startling $150 million complying with federal rules and regulations governing higher education, adding more than $11,000 to the cost of each Vanderbilt student’s $43,000 in tuition. America’s more than 6,000 colleges receive on average one new rule, regulation or guidance letter each workday from the Education Department.

Alexander has several sensible suggestions to cut college costs, but the bureaucratic compulsion to micromanage what is none of their business is inherent. The only solution to that problem is to get rid of the bureaucrats.

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Iran and the Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

As the Iran nuclear talks head down the home stretch, it is increasingly obvious that Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments about walking away from the negotiations if a “good agreement” isn’t obtained are not credible. A deal or, as Omri Ceren predicts, a “non-agreement agreement” is inevitable even as the deadline was extended to the end of the week. That means the focus will soon change from the standoff in Vienna to Washington where a Congressional debate on the deal that comes out of this process will soon begin. The result of a vote on the deal is by no means certain but most observers believe that although there will be majorities in both Houses that will vote against it, opponents will fall well short of the two thirds they need to override President Obama’s expected veto. Such an outcome will be made possible by the decision of a critical mass of Democrats in the Senate and especially the House to back the president’s deal even though it will not satisfy the administration’s own stated goal of preventing the Islamist regime from getting a weapon. If so, that will be explained by partisan loyalty and the hold the president still has over much of his party. But there’s no escaping an answer that is just as obvious that was highlighted in a new poll conducted by Frank Luntz that was reported today in the Times of Israel that sees Israel losing Democrats across the board.

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As the Iran nuclear talks head down the home stretch, it is increasingly obvious that Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments about walking away from the negotiations if a “good agreement” isn’t obtained are not credible. A deal or, as Omri Ceren predicts, a “non-agreement agreement” is inevitable even as the deadline was extended to the end of the week. That means the focus will soon change from the standoff in Vienna to Washington where a Congressional debate on the deal that comes out of this process will soon begin. The result of a vote on the deal is by no means certain but most observers believe that although there will be majorities in both Houses that will vote against it, opponents will fall well short of the two thirds they need to override President Obama’s expected veto. Such an outcome will be made possible by the decision of a critical mass of Democrats in the Senate and especially the House to back the president’s deal even though it will not satisfy the administration’s own stated goal of preventing the Islamist regime from getting a weapon. If so, that will be explained by partisan loyalty and the hold the president still has over much of his party. But there’s no escaping an answer that is just as obvious that was highlighted in a new poll conducted by Frank Luntz that was reported today in the Times of Israel that sees Israel losing Democrats across the board.

It should not be forgotten that the issue of the nuclear threat from Iran transcends that of support for Israel. A nuclear Iran or even one that has attained the status of a threshold nuclear power with Western approval — which the president’s deal will assure — presents a clear and present danger to the Arab world, including U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia as much as it does to Israel. The boost such an outcome would give terrorist groups allied with Iran, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen as well as the Assad regime in Syria would undermine the regional balance of power and help Tehran in its quest for regional hegemony. Moreover, Iranian nukes are also a threat to the United States and Europe, especially if Iran’s ballistic missile program is not halted; an aspect of the problem that the agreement is as unlikely to address as the regime’s state sponsorship of terror.

But there is no ignoring the fact that it will be the pull of the alliance with Israel that will determine more votes in Congress than general qualms about regional or even U.S. security. The existential threat to Israel from an Iranian weapon is obvious, a point brought home again today by the published comments of former Iranian President Rafsanjani who repeated what many others in power — including the country’s Supreme Leader — have already said: that Israel “will be erased soon.”

If Democrats are going to buck Obama, it will be because their instinctual support for Israel makes it impossible for them to vote to approve a weak nuclear deal that, as this one does, provides Iran with two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded rules and one by patiently waiting for it to expire in ten years.

But if, as Luntz points out, a growing number of Democrats are ready to abandon Israel, it will be that much easier for the White House to rally the president’s party behind a détente with Iran that he considers integral to his foreign policy legacy.

Luntz’s poll, which was sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, is consistent with other surveys that have showed a growing gap between Republicans and Democrats about Israel. But the highlights he provided still ought to shock pro-Israel Democrats:

* 76 percent of Democrats but only 20 percent of Republicans say Israel “has too much influence” on U.S. foreign policy.

* Asked whether Israel was a “racist country,” 47 percent of Democrats agreed, 32 percent disagreed and 21 percent either didn’t know or were neutral. By contrast, 76 percent of Republicans disagreed while only 13 percent agreed and 12 percent didn’t know or were neutral about this canard.

* When queried as to whether Israel wanted peace, only 48 percent of Democrats agreed while 31 disagreed and 21 percent didn’t know or were neutral. By contrast, 88 percent of Republicans agreed while only five percent thought it didn’t and seven percent didn’t know or were neutral.

* 88 percent of Republicans also termed themselves “pro-Israel,” a label that only 46 percent applied that label to themselves.

* Most important for those looking to handicap a vote on a deal with Iran were those questions relating to support for politicians who are perceived as friendly or hostile to Israel. Only 18 percent of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote for a politician who defended Israel’s right to self-defense while 76 percent of Republicans said they would. 32 percent of Democrats and only seven percent of Republicans said they would be less likely to back such a politician. On the other hand, 45 percent of Democrats and only 6 percent of Republicans said they would be more likely to vote for a politician who criticized Israel. 75 percent of Republicans and only 23 percent of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for such a politician.

* For those looking for a link to anti-Semitism, while a majority of both parties saw anti-Semitism as a problem in the United States, fully 50 percent of Democrats but only 18 percent of Republicans agreed with the proposition that, “Jewish people are too hyper-sensitive and too often label legitimate criticisms of Israel as an anti-Semitic attack.”

This data confirms what has already become obvious. While clear majorities of both parties in Congress are part of a strong pro-Israel coalition, support for that consensus among rank and file Democrats is weak and growing weaker all that time. That means Democrats inclined to choose partisan loyalty to Obama over support for Israel’s survival face fewer critics within their party. Where a Republican inclined to throw Israel under the bus would face a wall of opposition from his party, Democrats may have no such fears.

Though the agreement the president will present to Congress will almost certainly fall short of the same criteria that the administration presented before the negotiations began, the soft support for Israel among Democrats will be Obama’s trump card as he twists arms and hands out favors in search of Democratic votes to sustain a veto of the Iran deal. This means the debate on Iran will not be so much one about policy as a battle for the soul of a Democratic Party that has lost its way on Israel.

Some will blame this state of affairs on the Israeli government or even Republicans for “politicizing” support for the Jewish state. But such arguments are entirely disingenuous. The fault here lies entirely with Obama and the left-wing of the Democrats who have embraced positions attacking Israel and, in the case of Iran, prioritized détente with the Islamist regime over support for America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

It is true, as I wrote earlier this year, that both Republicans and Democrats failed when they passed the lamentable Corker-Cardin bill that created an approval procedure for the Iran deal that turned the treaty confirmation process on its head. The president should have been forced to present the agreement as a treaty that requires two thirds of the Senate to vote yes for it to be ratified. Instead, distracted by Obama’s disingenuous designation of the deal and bullied by the president’s rhetoric, they voted for a bill that allows it to become law with only the one-third plus one of one of the two Houses of Congress to sustain a veto.

But any chance to vote on the most important foreign treaty in a generation should have caused both the Republican and Democratic caucuses to stand firm on an issue on which there has always been a clear consensus. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened despite obvious evidence that the president has decided any Iran deal, even an indefensible one, is better than none at all. If Obama succeeds in getting his Iran deal, and the odds favor it, blame Democrats for abandoning their pro-Israel principles, not Republicans or the Israelis.

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Why Hillary Clinton Is Revising Expectations Downward

“I’m baaaack!” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced as she took the stage in Iowa at former Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry event in September of last year. Presidential campaigns are replete with bizarre moments, but perhaps none were as curious as Clinton implicitly comparing herself to the poltergeist that torments little Carol Anne in the classic flick of the same name. For a campaign that is itself haunted by the ghosts of failure, it would have been in the best interests of the inevitable Democratic nominee to make the case for candidacy beyond her own prohibitive stature within her Party. If that pillar were to collapse, Clinton’s viability as Barack Obama’s successor would soon follow. Today, as the specter of a modestly competitive Democratic primary looms, Clinton’s campaign is at work setting back expectations for how well she will perform in the early primary states and, in doing so, is chipping away at the central pillar holding her candidacy aloft. Read More

“I’m baaaack!” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced as she took the stage in Iowa at former Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry event in September of last year. Presidential campaigns are replete with bizarre moments, but perhaps none were as curious as Clinton implicitly comparing herself to the poltergeist that torments little Carol Anne in the classic flick of the same name. For a campaign that is itself haunted by the ghosts of failure, it would have been in the best interests of the inevitable Democratic nominee to make the case for candidacy beyond her own prohibitive stature within her Party. If that pillar were to collapse, Clinton’s viability as Barack Obama’s successor would soon follow. Today, as the specter of a modestly competitive Democratic primary looms, Clinton’s campaign is at work setting back expectations for how well she will perform in the early primary states and, in doing so, is chipping away at the central pillar holding her candidacy aloft.

In an appearance on MSNBC on Monday, Clinton campaign communications director and former White House communications official Jennifer Palmieri conceded that the former secretary’s campaign had become formally “worried” about the insurgent challenge to her inevitability mounted by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “He will be a serious force for the campaign, and I don’t think that will diminish,” Palmieri confessed.

When the New York Times investigated the thinking inside the Clinton campaign, reporters discovered that there was emerging consensus that the coronation had been abruptly called off. “I think we underestimated that Sanders would quickly attract so many Democrats in Iowa who weren’t likely to support Hillary,” an unnamed advisor told the Times. Apparently, that fear was confirmed by other similarly well-placed sources. Ultimately, the Times report suggested what former Democratic advisor Joe Trippi contended outright: “She could lose Iowa.”

Clinton’s support has ebbed in recent weeks, particularly in Iowa among likely Democratic caucus-goers. The most recent Quinnipiac survey of Democrats in the Hawkeye State showed Sanders support had more than doubled since May to 33 percent while Clinton’s had ebbed some from 60 to 53 percent. In a caucus state, in which energy and enthusiasm are the central elements of victory, the candidate with the most animated supporters can engineer an upset – as Clinton, who came in third in Iowa in 2008 behind Barack Obama and John Edwards, would attest.

And if Clinton’s support is ebbing, she only has herself to blame. Clinton’s campaign has not substantially adapted to changing political circumstances in almost a year. “[H]er remarks were neither exceptional in what she said nor particularly passionate in how she delivered them,” Washington Post columnist Dan Balz wrote after digesting Clinton’s steak fry performance. “They were safe and largely predictable, a kind of Democratic Message 101 heading into the most important stretch of the fall campaign.”

But the midterm campaign came and went and Clinton’s tactics failed to evolve. Her campaign remains safe and predictable; she projects the air of a candidate who is allergic to unscripted events and substantial contact with unscreened voters. Clinton’s aversion to exposing herself to press scrutiny neared cartoonish levels when she was photographed perambulating down a New Hampshire street amid a Fourth of July parade with the media gaggle almost literally in tow, straining at the ropes that held them at a safe distance from the lofty figure in their midst.

So why would Clinton’s campaign want to shed her formerly cultivated air of inevitability? Even Trippi concedes that Clinton would merely shrug off an unthinkable loss in Iowa and go on to win the nomination anyway. Why would the campaign that has spent so much energy and capital to stave off a reprise of what she described in her memoirs as an “excruciating” defeat in the Hawkeye State embrace the prospect that history might repeat itself? Perhaps because Sanders is the best challenger that Clinton could have hoped for.

A fringe politician with a small but fanatical following who once held radical and deeply impolitic social views poses about as much challenge to Clinton as former Texas Rep. Ron Paul posed to Mitt Romney. Clinton is in no danger of losing her party’s nomination to Sanders in the same way she would, say, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But if Clinton appears soft in a primary and, ultimately, beatable in a general, those beads of sweat dotting the brows of Democratic Party elders will soon grow into a cascading torrent. Draft efforts that failed to draw Warren, or any other credible Democrat, into the race will be resurrected. Democratic careerists who dared not challenge their party’s anointed heir will think twice about whether they made the right move, and a late entry into the race might spark a stampede among skittish and unenthusiastic grassroots Clinton supporters. It is in Clinton’s interests to cast Sanders as the best that the anti-Clinton elements in her party can do.

Is Hillary Clinton truly vulnerable in Iowa? Perhaps. A narrow loss is easy to envision. Might Sanders rob her of her party’s nomination? That’s far harder to imagine; at least, harder than it would be to see another credible Democrat with broader appeal and proper left-wing bona fides pulling off a successful coup. That’s probably the true nightmare scenario that Clinton hopes to stave off by feigning injury.

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A Showdown in Europe

What’s “chutzpah” in Greek?

It’s hard to think of a better word to characterize the actions of Greek voters who overwhelmingly rejected the terms of a European Union bailout this past weekend, but who still expects the EU to come to the rescue with billions of euros needed to keep the Greek economy from collapsing. Yet Greece has some defenders among economists who contend that Europe in general, and Germany, in particular, is being hypocritical in demanding that Greece take painful austerity measures — including cutting back its fabulously generous welfare state — in return for yet another bailout. Read More

What’s “chutzpah” in Greek?

It’s hard to think of a better word to characterize the actions of Greek voters who overwhelmingly rejected the terms of a European Union bailout this past weekend, but who still expects the EU to come to the rescue with billions of euros needed to keep the Greek economy from collapsing. Yet Greece has some defenders among economists who contend that Europe in general, and Germany, in particular, is being hypocritical in demanding that Greece take painful austerity measures — including cutting back its fabulously generous welfare state — in return for yet another bailout.

Thomas Piketty, the best-selling French economist, argues that Greece should be allowed to renounce its debt as freely as Germany did in the past. “When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: What a huge joke!” Piketty said an interview. “Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.”

The wonderfully named political scientist Kindred Winecoff, writing at the Duck of Minerva blog, shows that Piketty is ignoring major differences between Germany in 1953, when it was offered debt forgiveness by the London conference, and Greece today.

In the first place, most of the debts that Germany renounced were a result either of the reparations from the Treaty of Versailles or of Nazi rearmament. Neither obligation was seen as morally binding on a postwar democratic German government. The case of Greece, which is in the red because successive governments have provided social welfare payments to the voters that they could not afford, is rather different.

Second, and more importantly, “Germany had spent the preceding eight years under military occupation that enforced top-to-bottom political and institutional reforms.”

This process may be compared to the kind of reorganization that a bankruptcy court imposes on a company under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. It is precisely this sort of reorganization to which the Greeks are not submitting.

Greece is, of course, free to do what it wants; it’s a sovereign country, after all, in a world in which the use of military force to collect debts is no longer considered acceptable (as it was in the days of gunboat diplomacy in the 19th century). But it should not expect that its choices will be cost-free. Sooner or later, whether as part of the Eurozone or not, in the EU or out, Greece will have to make some hard choices to bring its governmental spending (high) in line with its economic productivity (low).

That will require the kind of cutbacks in benefits that will be a bitter pill to swallow, but that is part of the long-term cure for what ails the Greek economy. The Greek government also needs to trim back regulatory burdens and lower taxes to boost incentives for growth while doing more to collect taxes that are owed, even if part of this advice (cutting taxes) runs counter to the green eyeshade orthodoxy being pushed by the EU. Standing pat isn’t an option, not when the economy is on the brink of collapse.

The EU will be making a fateful mistake if it caves under the pressure of the leftist Greek government and its populist cheerleaders and offers more money without meaningful preconditions. That, in fact, is more likely to lead to the collapse of the euro than hanging tough with Greece, because knuckling under to Greek demands will only lead to similar expectations from other financially strapped states such as Portugal and Italy which are being crushed by unsustainable levels of public debt.

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Has the Sanders Factor Flushed Out Hillary?

After running a stealth campaign that largely insulated her from annoying questions from the national press, Hillary Clinton is finally breaking her silence today with an interview on CNN. While her apologists are presenting this as a carefully calculated slow roll out of her presidential effort, Clinton’s decision to surface at this moment betrays a hint of something that might be described as concern, if not yet panic. With Senator Bernie Sanders exciting the Democratic base, attracting large crowds and polls demonstrating that he might be able to compete in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Clinton coronation may not be as certain as everybody assumed. If nothing else, the Sanders surge is drawing Clinton out into the open. The Sanders factor may create the kind of pressure that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to avoid taking stands on controversial issues. Though her camp is counting on the former secretary of state being able to handle this challenge, if she does prove unable to answer questions without flubbing or fibbing as she has so frequently in the past two years, the former first lady may be in more trouble than she or even her sternest critics believed.

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After running a stealth campaign that largely insulated her from annoying questions from the national press, Hillary Clinton is finally breaking her silence today with an interview on CNN. While her apologists are presenting this as a carefully calculated slow roll out of her presidential effort, Clinton’s decision to surface at this moment betrays a hint of something that might be described as concern, if not yet panic. With Senator Bernie Sanders exciting the Democratic base, attracting large crowds and polls demonstrating that he might be able to compete in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Clinton coronation may not be as certain as everybody assumed. If nothing else, the Sanders surge is drawing Clinton out into the open. The Sanders factor may create the kind of pressure that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to avoid taking stands on controversial issues. Though her camp is counting on the former secretary of state being able to handle this challenge, if she does prove unable to answer questions without flubbing or fibbing as she has so frequently in the past two years, the former first lady may be in more trouble than she or even her sternest critics believed.

The assumption in the Clinton camp is that their candidate is their best asset. Love her or hate her, Clinton is a smart woman with decades of experience in politics as well as a deft command of the issues after having spent so much time at the center of power in Washington. But the instinct to play it safe that dictated her refusal to take a side in the debate over a trade bill that she championed while secretary of state hasn’t been as smart a play as she thought. It exposed her to abuse from Sanders and other Democratic challengers and has caused even some of her supporters to wince as her designated surrogates on cable news shows dodged and weaved in a vain effort to convince Americans that Clinton wasn’t a flip-flopping Washington politician determined to say only what she thought people wanted to hear.

The net effect of her freezing out the press in which she not only refused to answer questions but literally roped them off from access to Clinton did nothing to instill confidence in her ability to avoid gaffes. On the plus side, after bombing on her 2014 book tour and then doing equally poorly in her attempt to silence questions about her email and Clinton Foundation scandals, expectations are so low for Clinton that anything short of an on-camera meltdown will be interpreted as a victory by her supporters. But the problem here goes deeper than whether or not she makes a fool of herself with new versions of gaffes like her claim that she was broke when she left the White House or claims that corporations don’t create jobs.

Once Hillary is in the crosshairs of serious journalists, she will be forced to come up with answers about her lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, email hijinks, Benghazi and the family charity that operates as a thinly-veiled political slush fund. Just as important, Clinton is going to have to do something more than prevaricate when asked about trade or even the deplorable Iran nuclear, especially as she seeks to portray herself as a better friend to Israel than President Obama.

There are opportunities here for her campaign but her camp’s reluctance to allow the press anywhere near her demonstrates that they know that every time she opens her mouth during the coming year, there is a chance something deeply embarrassing may come out of it. Even worse, if she wanders away from the left-wing talking points she’s been trotting out in an effort to show her party’s base that she is as liberal as Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren, there is a chance that the Sanders boomlet will become a genuine threat to her being nominated rather than just an annoyance.

With a huge financial advantage and most Democratic officeholders and party officials rightly fearful of the wrath of the Clinton attack machine, the odds are still overwhelmingly in her favor against Sanders or any other Democrat. But just as Clinton’s problems and her lack of authenticity helped create the Sanders campaign as a viable entity, so, too, does the possibility of further gaffes promise to make the coming months just as miserable for Hillary. In the last few months, all Sanders and other Democratic rivals wanted was to get her out in the open. That is now about to happen. The jury is still out as to whether that will be just a bump in the road for Hillary or just the start of another presidential nightmare for her.

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Communists Don’t Like Him? NY Times Gives Rubio Candidacy More Help

Do the publishers of the New York Times secretly want Marco Rubio to be elected president? The answer to that question is, of course not. The left-wing and partisan Democratic slant of the Grey Lady’s news coverage (not to mention its equally biased and partisan editorial page) in recent years places Rubio squarely in the category of a candidate the paper wishes to stop at all costs. Hence, the series of background stories about Cruz that bore the unmistakable trademarks of hit pieces intended to chip away at his image. But unfortunately for the Times, their previous stories on Rubio— which focused on the speeding tickets he and his wife had received or the fishing boat that was wrongly labeled a “luxury speed boat” — generated an unintended reaction. It wasn’t just that the tickets reinforced his youthful image. The focus on trivial charges was viewed as biased journalism that generated sympathy for the Rubio candidacy among Republicans and seemed to validate his status as a candidate liberals feared. But whatever the ultimate intentions of those who make decisions at the Times, their latest installment in the category of Rubio hit pieces is likely to produce the same result. By publishing a piece that focused on the reactions to Rubio’s candidacy in Cuba from the communist government’s functionaries or ordinary people whose only knowledge of the senator is from Castro regime propaganda, the Times has once again given him an unwitting boost.

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Do the publishers of the New York Times secretly want Marco Rubio to be elected president? The answer to that question is, of course not. The left-wing and partisan Democratic slant of the Grey Lady’s news coverage (not to mention its equally biased and partisan editorial page) in recent years places Rubio squarely in the category of a candidate the paper wishes to stop at all costs. Hence, the series of background stories about Cruz that bore the unmistakable trademarks of hit pieces intended to chip away at his image. But unfortunately for the Times, their previous stories on Rubio— which focused on the speeding tickets he and his wife had received or the fishing boat that was wrongly labeled a “luxury speed boat” — generated an unintended reaction. It wasn’t just that the tickets reinforced his youthful image. The focus on trivial charges was viewed as biased journalism that generated sympathy for the Rubio candidacy among Republicans and seemed to validate his status as a candidate liberals feared. But whatever the ultimate intentions of those who make decisions at the Times, their latest installment in the category of Rubio hit pieces is likely to produce the same result. By publishing a piece that focused on the reactions to Rubio’s candidacy in Cuba from the communist government’s functionaries or ordinary people whose only knowledge of the senator is from Castro regime propaganda, the Times has once again given him an unwitting boost.

As I wrote last month about the previous Rubio stories in the Times, anyone who runs for president should and ought to expect intense scrutiny. Given the mindset of the liberal mainstream media, that sort of attention is going to be disproportionate if you’re a Republican rather than, say, someone whose last name is Clinton. But the more the Times attacks Rubio, the more likely it is that the Republican voters he needs in order to win the nomination will view him as someone they trust. The Cuba article only reinforces that point.

The conceit of the piece was to probe the reaction of Cubans to the possibility that the son of a couple that fled the island for a better life in the 1950s might be elected president. The responses were entirely predictable. While the Obama administration has decided to re-open a U.S. embassy in Havana as part of a historic rapprochement, the repressive nature of the Castro regime is unchanged. As I wrote last week, though President Obama think U.S.-Cuba policy should not be “imprisoned by the past,” the Communist rulers of the nation have no compunction about jailing dissidents, including prominent artists who speak out for human rights and democracy. Thus, the idea that either ordinary Cubans or government officials speaking on the record would do anything but echo the Communist party line about Rubio is absurd. A Cuban-American like Rubio who has spent his career advocating for Cuban freedom rather than détente with tyrants is always going to be denounced by any resident of the island nation who wants to stay out of jail.

Thus, the predictable denunciations of Rubio by those interviewed by the Times as an “enemy” of the Cuban people “who wants to kill us” ought to be taken with a truckload of salt. But as, Rubio indicated both in his comments to the Times as well as on Twitter after the piece ran, he’s proud that the regime views him as a threat to its continued rule. He rightly pointed out that the rote recitations of regime talking points the Times recorded and dutifully published merely reflects the truth of what he has been asserting about the unchanged nature of life in Cuba. Despite President Obama’s confidence that his engagement with the Castros will open up a new chapter of history, the only thing we can be sure of is that the regime and its supporters will profit from the move and the Cuban people will remain silenced. Moreover, does anyone at the Times think such barbs thrown at Rubio from regime operatives harms his chances of the presidency or diminishes his popularity among Cuban-Americans who largely share his views on the subject? Do they think it helps mobilize more support for President Obama’s proposal to end the embargo on Cuba?

But, as with the other hit pieces on Rubio, there is another unintended benefit to Rubio. Even as Times reporter Jason Horowitz collected attack quotes on the senator wherever he went, he also crafted a narrative that shows just how humble Rubio’s origins truly are. The notion that the son and grandson of working class Cubans could be president of the United States is a “storybook” scenario that awes even those who have been instructed to denounce Rubio. Just as the Times’s focus on Rubio’s supposed flaws (a youthful love of fast cars and a desire to get ahead) makes him more appealing, so, too, do stories that validate his “only in America” life story. Though Rubio tweeted about the Times story with the ironic hashtag #nicetry, he really ought to be encouraging them to do more of these. A few more such “negative” stories is exactly what he needs as he seeks to maintain his standing as a first tier Republican candidate with fierce competition.

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The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Troubling Silence

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking. Read More

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking.

The IRGC role in the military aspect or military ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program must be taken seriously. After IRGC General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam perished in a 2011 mishap at an IRGC missile base, the Iranian press reported that his last will and testament requested that his epitaph read “The man who enabled Israel’s destruction.” Much of the concern with regard to Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program centers on work done on various IRGC bases (see the Annex starting on page 11 of this IAEA document). And while Zarif has promised access by some drawn out process, the Iranian officials who control the gates to the military bases are not in the foreign ministry, but in the IRGC or Defense Ministry which have made clear what they think of access to their sites.

I noted last week the disturbing parallels between the Iran and North Korea deals, especially when it came to diplomats’ willingness to dismiss evidence of cheating. The irony is greater because State Department official Wendy Sherman was involved in both processes. The Clinton-era negotiations with Yasser Arafat should also provide lessons: At the Camp David II Summit, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached a deal. Arafat flew in and not only refused to accept what his negotiators had agreed to, but he also refused to make any counteroffer. It seems that in their quest to get a signature on paper, the Obama team is replicating the mistake of not identifying whose signature they need to get on the paper.

If the IRGC is really going to abide by this nuclear deal, it’s essential to get Jafari’s explicit agreement. Absent that, start the stopwatch on the unraveling of what Obama and Kerry would like to see as a historic moment.

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The GOP’s Snake Oil Salesmen

Amid a truly devastating period for conservative culture warriors, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed last week that those who consider themselves allies of the social conservative movement so often do it a disservice. “Politicians who stand with them on policy mislead them on politics,” he observed. The events that occurred following this remark proved Douthat prescient.  Read More

Amid a truly devastating period for conservative culture warriors, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed last week that those who consider themselves allies of the social conservative movement so often do it a disservice. “Politicians who stand with them on policy mislead them on politics,” he observed. The events that occurred following this remark proved Douthat prescient. 

Prisoners as they are of the news cycle, Republicans in the political consulting class have taken to rending garments over the reality television star Donald Trump’s alleged entry into the presidential race (a complete financial disclosure must be filed in 10 days in order to participate in the first debate) and the negative impact he will have on the GOP brand. I have written that I believe they are overestimating the impact Trump will have on the electorate and his fellow candidates. But what these consultants fear most, and what they say freely and honestly, is that Trump will tap into a strain of ascendant populism within conservatism that will infect the party’s grassroots. They fear that a sizable minority of aggressive, xenophobic self-described Republicans will rise up and happily express their impolitic attitudes for the media’s cameras.

Trump’s supposed popularity within the GOP presidential field is wildly overstated. It is no great feat for a figure with near universal name recognition to secure the support of roughly 10 percent of barely tuned-in voters. That performance is only estimable relative to the rest of the crowded presidential field, and Trump’s star is likely to fade as the race’s frontrunners break away from the pack. Still, Republican Party officials are consumed with fear over what Trump represents, and the damage he can do in the interim between his announcement and the inevitable suspension of his campaign.

When conservatives are asked why they think Trump’s candidacy is resonating with the right, they most commonly reply, “He is saying things that people want to hear.” This says less about the electorate than it does about the candidate capturing so many disaffected imaginations. When voters are faced with unpleasant realities, there will always be a market for comforting fictions; just ask the Greeks. A legitimate problem for the GOP is, however, that too many believe that Trump is disseminating hard truths when the opposite is the case.

Republican voters love to hear Trump contend that a new Great Wall across the Mexican border, inexplicably paid for by the Mexican government, will permanently curtail illegal immigration. They love to hear the claim that America is getting a raw deal when it engages in exchanges with its second-largest trading partner, the People’s Republic of China. They love the notion that a more steely-eyed negotiator would pacify Russia without the commitment of substantial treasure and the requirement of sacrifice on the part of the West. Everyone loves a salesman when he’s pitching the deal of the century.

What’s more, those on the right who fairly resent illegal immigration and who oppose the incentives this administration has created for border crossers appreciate hearing Trump express the most acerbic condemnations of illegal immigrants. “If you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything, coming in illegally to the country, they’re mind-boggling,” Trump recently insisted. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Conservatives who instinctually nodded their heads along should have the intellectual consistency to resent the fact that the only person misleading them in this case was Trump.

“Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course,” observed University of Massachusetts Sociology Professor Bianca Bersani in a study published in Justice Quarterly. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted, the Pew Research Center helped quantify Bersani’s work and discovered that native-born Americans are most likely to have committed one crime in the last 12 months followed closely by second generation Americans. “Since undocumented immigrants are more than a quarter of the immigrant population, it’s nearly impossible that the overall-immigrant crime rate could be so much lower if the undocumented-immigrant crime rate were significantly higher,” Bump observed.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a subset of bright, honest, demoralized conservatives to reject this data in favor of the bias-confirming fiction weaved by Trump; particularly because he has attracted at least one prominent enabler: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

While the rest of the field of GOP presidential candidates was condemning Trump and the rhetoric he used to mislead his supporters, Cruz saluted him. This is not a surprising move for the former Texas attorney who is cursed with being acutely aware of his own considerable intellectual faculties. Too often, the junior Texas senator succumbs to the instinct to manipulate his supporters in a transparent manner that is, at times, too clever by half.

Take, for example, Cruz’s decision to stoke the flames of revanchism among aggrieved cultural conservatives in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. “Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it,” said the former Texas Solicitor General in an interview in which he advised states to, likely illegally, ignore the Court’s mandate which compels states to recognize gay unions in order to comport with the Fourteenth Amendment. Ted Cruz knows that course of action is ill advised, but he apparently finds this manner of misinformation useful in his quest to cast himself as a Washington outsider nobly confronting establishment Republicans who have sold out their enervated base.

Cruz’s contention that he would support a constitutional amendment that would subject Supreme Court justices to retention elections also exemplifies his apparent intention to deceive his way to the top of the GOP heap. In the modern era, calls for a constitutional amendment is simple buck-passing; the modern equivalent of a defeated army sending its remaining partisans into the hills to ignite a quixotic guerilla rebellion. If a GOP-dominated congress couldn’t pass a marriage amendment supported by a Republican president in 2004, it’s not happening today. Similarly, the fact that a Democrat-led Senate could barely secure the votes required to debate an amendment that would limit the First Amendment freedoms loathed by the likes of Bernie Sanders was a concession that their cause was an obscure one. For true believers, however, the amendment process remains a viable option, and those who oppose it simply lack the passion. Again, Cruz misled his supporters for temporary personal gain.

Even if such an amendment could pass, its effects on the constitutional order would be disastrous – a reality of which Cruz is likely aware. As the columnist George Will observed, Cruz’s retributive amendment is as “progressive” as anything Hillary Clinton has proposed. “[Teddy Roosevelt] embraced the core progressive belief that the ideal of limited government, and hence the reality of the separation of powers, are anachronisms,” he wrote. “Imagine campaigns conducted by justices. What would remain of the court’s prestige and hence its power to stand athwart rampant executives and overbearing congressional majorities?”

Cruz has calculated that, like Trump, the fleeting value gained by embracing these maximalist positions is worth the damage his reputation will endure. For some on the activist right, however, Cruz and Trump will suffer no consequences advancing a series of comforting fictions. There is no reward for honesty when that forthrightness dashes cherished hope. The conservative movement would, however, do well to ask itself whether it is best served by the charlatans in their midst who are more concerned with selling their product than preserving the integrity of their party or addressing the problems facing the republic.

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Voice of America Shuns Professionalism, Embraces Deal

Well, this piece by Voice of America (VOA) entitled, “As Potential Deal Draws Near, Iran Talks Critics Out in Force,” just crossed my desk: Read More

Well, this piece by Voice of America (VOA) entitled, “As Potential Deal Draws Near, Iran Talks Critics Out in Force,” just crossed my desk:

While talks continue in Vienna critics are out on the Internet in force, accusing American and Iranian diplomats of making a deals with the enemy. “They are saying the same thing, whether you are in Tehran or in Washington,” noted Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.  “They are all saying that ‘the negotiation team is selling their country short. They are agreeing to everything.  They are giving too many concessions.  This will be a disaster.  This is the worst thing that ever happened.” Some of the critique, he says, may come from supporters of Iran’s rivals who fear the country will grow stronger. But analysts say some hardliners are also subscribing to an out-of-date view of international relations, according to Yan Saint Pierre, who heads Berlin-based security firm MOSECON in an interview on Skype. “Their point is based on their impression of Iran and the United States out of the 1980s and the 1990s of both sides being ideologically opposed,” Saint Pierre said.   This mindset is not constructive and is not adaptive to the context of 2015.”

The whole piece is worth reading; it really is astounding. The VOA — an organ which seeks credibility through balance — reports that the “critics [are] out in force,” and yet fails to quote a single critic. Instead, it gives voice to two outspoken proponents of the deal — one of whom once declared that everything he does, he does for Iran and neither of whom are actually American citizens (Parsi is Iranian-Swedish) — and allows them to make straw man arguments that make light of the very real arguments against the nuclear deal as it appears to be shaping up. There are the inconsistencies between what Obama administration officials said the deal would achieve, for example, and what it actually may achieve. There is the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry has crafted the deal to be unenforceable by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international body charged with monitoring any deal. Nor does Saint Pierre’s point make much sense unless he means to suggest that, in 2015, the United States is aligned with groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and other Iranian proxies. This isn’t just an issue with one journalist, but rather broader considering the editorial process through which any article goes.

Now, some might suggest that the VOA is meant to be just that—the voice of American policy. I am certainly sympathetic to that view, after more than a decade of frustration with the tendency of some at VOA to seek to build credibility through self-flagellation or promote the arguments of those loyal to the Islamic Republic over those seeking its downfall. But American policy is not the personification of President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. The United States is not a dictatorship and they do not define acceptable discourse by fiat, no matter what State Department spokesman Marie Harf might suggest. There is seldom unanimity in Congress, but the overwhelming majority of senators and representatives have expressed unease at the concessions offered to Tehran and the normalization of Iran’s nuclear program under current terms. Perhaps VOA meant to suggest that the Congress’s “mindset is not constructive”?

Now, there’s little that can be done of course unless Congress calls VOA directors to account and use the power of the purse to create a cost for such a lack of professionalism. When VOA actually publishes a piece on the deal’s critics and then apparently fails to speak to any, it certainly raises questions about the value of the taxpayer support. After all, can’t private media like MSNBC or CNN do the same thing?

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Bernie’s Greek Crisis Stance Points to America’s Entitlement Crisis

Americans have the luxury of viewing the drama surrounding the Greek vote to reject a European Union bailout of their bankrupt economy with some detachment. If Greece goes bankrupt, few American financial institutions are directly affected in even a minor way. The consequences for European unity and the future of the Euro currency are not unimportant to the global economy but, again, that is not something that will have immediate consequences for the United States. But the Greek crisis does teach us a lesson and we have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank for a reminder yesterday as to why Americans should not only care about what is going in Greece but should take a lesson from their folly. By endorsing the decision of a large majority of Greek voters to, in essence, keep spending without being compelled to pay their debts, the increasingly popular left-wing challenger to Hillary Clinton highlighted a basic difference between Democrats and Republicans about our own looming entitlement spending crisis heading into 2016.

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Americans have the luxury of viewing the drama surrounding the Greek vote to reject a European Union bailout of their bankrupt economy with some detachment. If Greece goes bankrupt, few American financial institutions are directly affected in even a minor way. The consequences for European unity and the future of the Euro currency are not unimportant to the global economy but, again, that is not something that will have immediate consequences for the United States. But the Greek crisis does teach us a lesson and we have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank for a reminder yesterday as to why Americans should not only care about what is going in Greece but should take a lesson from their folly. By endorsing the decision of a large majority of Greek voters to, in essence, keep spending without being compelled to pay their debts, the increasingly popular left-wing challenger to Hillary Clinton highlighted a basic difference between Democrats and Republicans about our own looming entitlement spending crisis heading into 2016.

Let’s specify that Greece’s situation is not directly comparable to the ongoing debate as to how to stop adding to the national debt that has grown exponentially on President Obama’s watch, adding to the admittedly dismal records of most of his recent Republican and Democratic predecessors. Though some politicians, like Rep. Paul Ryan, have sought to highlight the impending fiscal catastrophe unless entitlement spending is reined in, common sense on this issue has been hard to find. Out-of-control spending is a bipartisan affliction, but Democrats have consistently sought to derail debates about how to cap entitlements into partisan rumbles in which Republicans are depicted as wishing to throw wheelchair-bound grandmothers over the cliff. The result is that we continue to spend money that we don’t have (or rather have borrowed from China) but to add to the problem by creating new entitlements such as ObamaCare subsidies that may have a noble purpose but have also massively expanded the scope of government spending and power.

Americans are by nature an optimistic people, and many of us continue to think that we can grow or tax our way out of any problem we create. Growth is essential to the country’s future. But taxes that will depress an economy that continues to struggle despite an anemic recovery (while strengthening government) are not a sensible solution. While we can debate the right answers to the problem, what should not be in dispute is that Americans cannot afford to walk blindly into the future compiling debts that our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay. Nor can we continue to increase the burden of entitlement spending which ultimately compels the nation to sink further into debt.

That is why the Greek fiasco is so instructive for America’s own political debates. As our John Steele Gordon explained here last week, in essence, Greek voters have decided that they want to have their cake and eat it too. Having compiled debts via massive spending on entitlements of various kinds that they couldn’t pay for, the Greeks demanded that the rest of Europe bail them out. However, when presented with a bill for this assistance in the form of economic reforms that compelled them to live within their means, they cried foul. In the Greek context, a much-needed austerity program is viewed not as a necessary corrective to irresponsible spending, but as a form of oppression being imposed on them by wicked Germans. Though it is 70 years since the end of the Second World War, the Greek people, like many others, have a right to view the Germans with skepticism. But this dispute has nothing to do with the crimes of a previous generation and everything do with the question of whether some Europeans will be forced to pay for the profligacy for others without the irresponsible parties having to change their ways.

While our immediate situation isn’t quite so dire as that of Greece, Americans, too, continue to pile up debt while expecting others to pay. That happens in cities and states across the country where public employee contracts threaten to send municipalities into bankruptcy. And it is happening on the federal level as we continue to spend on a growing list of entitlements that cannot possibly be sustained in the future except with ruinous taxes that will cripple the economy.

The response to this problem from liberal Democrats like Bernie Sanders is very much like that of the Greek voters who don’t think they should balance their national checkbook or to stop spending other people’s money to give themselves what they want. The left says keep spending, break up financial institutions, and tax the businesses and investors who provide the engine for growth in order to pay for an ever-expanding government.

Though Sanders won’t be elected president next year, he is clearly in position to make a decent showing in some of the Democratic primaries. Consequently, he is pushing Hillary Clinton farther and farther to the left as she tries to compete with Sanders for the votes of Democrats who would probably prefer to nominate Senator Elizabeth Warren. That puts Clinton and other Democrats in a position where they will continue to be an impassible obstacle to the kind of entitlement reform the United States desperately needs no matter who wins the 2016 elections.

Rather than merely observing the agony of Europe and Greece with bemused indifference, Americans should think seriously about our own future. We’re a long way from being Greece, but the principle remains the same. The shift to the left among Democrats is an ominous sign that the notion of fiscal accountability is one that is equally applicable to American politics as it is that of Greece. We ignore the willingness of Sanders and other liberals to demagoguery about Europe at our peril.

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When Political Correctness Blinds Iran Reporting

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor has a short piece at the newspaper’s “WorldViews” blog about “How Not to Write about Iran.” In short, he chides Western writers for bias and argues that they err when ascribing any culturally specific or different mindset to Iran that they would to other countries or adversaries. Read More

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor has a short piece at the newspaper’s “WorldViews” blog about “How Not to Write about Iran.” In short, he chides Western writers for bias and argues that they err when ascribing any culturally specific or different mindset to Iran that they would to other countries or adversaries.

He begins, for example:

In the Western imagination, Iran has long been a kind of bogeyman. It’s the land of hostage crises and headscarves. It was part of the Axis of Evil (whatever that was). Its leaders grouse about defeating Israel, an American ally. Its mullahs, say Iran’s critics, plot terror and continental hegemony.

Put aside the fallacy of this straw man. The reality is that more people understand Iran in senior levels of the U.S. government, thanks to the legacy of the Peace Corps and the children of American businessmen who grew up in Iran as well as the vibrant role Iranian Americans play in American society, than comparatively understand opaque countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, but it’s a useful straw man so long as a journalist need not produce proof.

Tharoor then complains about the tendency to see Iran “as the other” dating back to the ancient Persian Empires. “As Europe’s empires gained in power,” he continued, “the Orientalist clichés hardened and served to bolster the West’s own sense of racial and moral superiority. Even in the present day, many of the old tropes have been trotted out during the nuclear talks,” citing a number of analogies to how Iranians bargain as if in the bazaar. He concludes by citing a couple authors who complain how unfair it is overemphasize a country’s history in its culture and attitudes:

“Iran is an ancient civilization with a rich culture that definitely has roots in its old history,” Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi tells WorldViews. “But to stereotype modern Iran and Iranians based on what happened thousands of years ago is wrong.” Mortazavi argues that you would never see such simplistic, overreaching appraisals of American allies: “Do we view today’s Europe through the affairs of the Vikings? No. Do we look at Saudi Arabia through the lens of its old Islamic Empire when it was taking over the world? No.” Arash Karami, the Iran editor of the Middle East news site Al-Monitor, dismisses the idea “that Iran has imperial ambitions in the Middle East simply because of its history.” He adds that “most Iranians only have a vague understanding” of the long-gone Achaemenid dynasty or the medieval Safavids.

Tharoor, alas, is allowing political correctness to trump accuracy. Multiculturalism is not simply about appreciating each other’s holidays or cuisine, but rather recognizing that different peoples can think in very different ways. Rather than acknowledge differences and history, he engages in projection: assuming that everyone shares our values. Firstly, it is no secret that Iranians take pride in their historical legacy; it is what sets Iran apart from so many other countries and peoples in the region, and the reason why so many non-Persians among Iran’s neighbors suggest that Iranians are condescending toward their neighbors.

History does matter. Most Iranians are nationalist. Iranians have a term, Iranzamin, to describe the notion of a greater Iran based on areas historically under Persian control. That doesn’t mean that Iranians physically want to reclaim lost territory (although in 2007, Ali Shariatmadari, the Supreme Leader’s appointee to edit the official daily Kayhan, suggested just that in the case of Bahrain), but Iranians do have a concept of “near abroad” not unlike that which Russian President Vladimir Putin and many Russians embrace with regard to the states of the former Soviet Union and perhaps Eastern Europe as well. In 1996, while attending a language institute in Tehran affiliated with the University of Tehran, our Iranian teacher assigned every student in our class to prepare an oral report on an Iranian province which he had taken from a second or third grade textbook. I got Daghestan; it has not been part of Iran since 1828, and yet it remains in the curriculum. Back to Vladimir Putin: Would Tharoor suggest that history does not matter in the Russian case as well? Or the Balkan warlords and their constituents apply the same rational to diplomatic engagement that other European powers might?

Tharoor peppers his essay with various references to Orientalist literature or extreme examples. There is a link to James Morier’s Hajji Baba of Ispahan, published in 1824 by a British diplomat pretending to be a Persian author. It’s a delightful, satirical book, often translated into Persian, and long embraced by Iranians. Here’s a sort article about the novel, its background and significance from Encyclopaedia Iranica, for example. That Tharoor appears more sensitive to satires about the Iranian character than Iranians themselves is unfortunate. Perhaps the original sin was that Morier pretended to be a Persian. If so, then what about Iraj Pezeshkzad’s “My Uncle Napoleon,” a hugely funny book that also made fun of Iranian culture and character and, serialized on television before the revolution, to this day remains the Iran’s most popular television comedy.

Then, of course, there’s the usual assumption that Orientalism—sometimes-exaggerated depictions of ‘the other’—is one way. That may be the way the late literary critic and polemicist Edward Said depicted it, but his book was faulty in terms of both fact and logic. Iranians often characterized ‘the other’ in their own writings. During the Safavid era, for example, there were numerous Persian geographies depicting lands and peoples near and far, seldom in complementary terms. But, for the more recent, Tharoor might want to consider Nineteenth Century ruler Nasir al-Din Shah’s diary with regard to his trip to Europe or, if he wishes a more academic treatment, he could consider the work of the late British diplomat and Iranophile, Sir Denis Wright (in whose private library I conducted a portion of my dissertation research). And while Tharoor picks out opponents of the nuclear deal for the pillory because of their supposed racism, he ignores even more famous examples from those supportive of diplomacy. Take, for example, the famous “How to Negotiate with Iranians,” transmitted from Tehran to Washington in August 1979 by Bruce Laingen, at the time the senior diplomat in Tehran.

The simple fact is this: civilizations as old as Iran develop a literature, culture, and philosophy that builds on itself over generations. Just as Western strategy and concepts of diplomacy have evolved from the days of Machiavelli and been influenced by Judeo-Christian values and history, Iranians might trace the evolution of their diplomacy from the works of Nizam al-Mulk and other examples of “princely literature” and they might also recognize the influence of Zoroastrianism and Islam on their philosophy. As for bazaar bargaining, there is a reason why Americans and Europeans going to purchase goods in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, in Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square, or Kabul’s Chicken Street get fleeced if they are not accustomed to haggling. Haggling is part of some cultures, but try to bargain at the cash register at a Walmart and it’s likely a quick ticket to a police report. Culture matters. Tharoor might have wanted to project sophisticated sensitivity and chide other journalists and writers for getting Iran wrong. What he succeeded in accomplishing, however, was quite the opposite: His essay illuminates the dangers of parachute journalism and superficiality even at America’s top tier papers.

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1967: Who Censored the Voices?

In January, the New York Times ran an article by its Jerusalem correspondent, Judi Rudoren, about a new documentary film entitled Censored Voices. The film is based on the original recordings of Israeli soldiers’ testimony from the 1967 Six-Day War—conversations that provided the basis for a 1968 bestseller entitled Siah Lohamim (Soldiers’ Talk) in Hebrew and published in the United States under the title The Seventh Day. The film includes material that wasn’t in the book, consisting of allegations of Israeli brutality and actions tantamount to war crimes. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in Utah, but it’s been shown since then mostly at European festivals and it’s been running for over a month in Israeli theaters. It’s slated for American theatrical release in the fall.

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In January, the New York Times ran an article by its Jerusalem correspondent, Judi Rudoren, about a new documentary film entitled Censored Voices. The film is based on the original recordings of Israeli soldiers’ testimony from the 1967 Six-Day War—conversations that provided the basis for a 1968 bestseller entitled Siah Lohamim (Soldiers’ Talk) in Hebrew and published in the United States under the title The Seventh Day. The film includes material that wasn’t in the book, consisting of allegations of Israeli brutality and actions tantamount to war crimes. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in Utah, but it’s been shown since then mostly at European festivals and it’s been running for over a month in Israeli theaters. It’s slated for American theatrical release in the fall.

Here at COMMENTARY, Jonathan Tobin did a quick dissection of the documentary as reported by Rudoren. The message of the film is, since the “occupation” of the West Bank is a sin, it must have arisen from an original sin, and that original sin was the very conduct of the Six-Day War. Even without seeing the documentary, Jonathan pretty much had it pegged.

But one aspect of the film’s back story especially intrigued me: The claim that the original transcripts of the tapes had been massively censored in 1967 by the Israeli military censor, so that most of the soldiers’ voices had been excluded from Soldiers’ Talk. In various interviews and in the film’s promotional material, the director Mor Loushy even put a figure on the extent of the official censorship: 70 percent of the original material had been axed. Not only had Israel committed crimes; it had silenced voices that dared to speak them. Censored Voices now gives us those voices.

Something about this tidy narrative seemed to me utterly contrived. Of course, Israel had (and has) military censorship. But the “silencing” trope has become so fashionable on the Israeli left that I wondered whether the 70-percent story might be an exaggeration or fiction, deliberately quantified so as to lodge itself in the minds of audiences. So I looked deeper into the editorial history of Soldiers’ Talk.

Read the results of my investigation over at Mosaic Magazine. It turns out that there was massive censorship of Soldiers’ Talk back in 1967. But the official censor didn’t do it. The man who did do it is, in fact, the hero of Censored Voices, and he’s facilitated and promoted the film. It’s one of the stranger stories out of Israel you’ll read this year. In the course of it, I also ask whether the stories chosen for Censored Voices, especially those alleging expulsions of Palestinians and killings of prisoners, are either reliable or meaningful to our understanding of the Six-Day War.

The fall theatrical run of Censored Voices will be designed to qualify it for a possible Oscar nomination in the documentary feature category. That means it will have to play in Manhattan and Los Angeles theaters, and be reviewed in the prestige press. Hopefully, my piece will lead viewers and reviewers to ask some hard questions that the makers of Censored Voices so far have managed to avoid.

“Who Censored the Six-Day War?” by Martin Kramer, here.

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Will Russia Revoke Recognition of Baltic Independence?

On July 3, Max Boot wrote here asking whether Russian aggression could trigger the next great war; he is right, of course. Russia is increasingly aggressive. Vladimir Putin is feeding off President Obama’s weakness. And Boot is right to frame the question as “What’s the best way to avoid the risk of war with Russia?” He suggests three options. First, kick the Baltics out of NATO, essentially condemning them and perhaps other states in Eastern Europe to Russian dominance. Second is a policy of ambiguity, but given the widespread beliefs that Obama’s red lines are meaningless, adversaries don’t see much ambiguous in what the White House might see as strategic ambiguity. The third option, should Russian forces move into the Baltics is war with Russia. Deterrence, after all, is a military and not simply a rhetorical strategy.

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On July 3, Max Boot wrote here asking whether Russian aggression could trigger the next great war; he is right, of course. Russia is increasingly aggressive. Vladimir Putin is feeding off President Obama’s weakness. And Boot is right to frame the question as “What’s the best way to avoid the risk of war with Russia?” He suggests three options. First, kick the Baltics out of NATO, essentially condemning them and perhaps other states in Eastern Europe to Russian dominance. Second is a policy of ambiguity, but given the widespread beliefs that Obama’s red lines are meaningless, adversaries don’t see much ambiguous in what the White House might see as strategic ambiguity. The third option, should Russian forces move into the Baltics is war with Russia. Deterrence, after all, is a military and not simply a rhetorical strategy.

The problem the West will face is that the moment Russia launches its campaign against the Baltics will never be clear-cut. To invade the Crimea, the Kremlin initially used spetsnaz soldiers wearing no insignia to provide enough plausible doubt to those unwilling to believe that Russia would invade another country in the 21st century. By the time those in denial recognized what had happened, it was too late.

The Russian annexation of the Crimea violated the Budapest Memorandum, the 1994 agreement in which Moscow, Washington, and London agreed that Ukraine would forfeit its inherited nuclear program in exchange for full recognition of its borders by all parties. The United States gave Ukraine security guarantees which the Obama administration ignored and, so, today, the Crimea is effectively Russian territory.

The problem with allowing the violation of red lines is that it seldom ameliorates conflict; rather, it catalyzes it. Obama’s willingness to cast aside American security commitments has convinced Putin that he loses nothing by challenging other international agreements.

The Open Source Center has just published new analysis describing how the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office is considering the validity of the 1991 Soviet recognition of the Baltic countries. It was the same office that previously had determined that the 1954 Soviet transfer of Crimea to the Ukraine was illegal.

Russian officials on 1 July minimized the significance of news reports that the Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating the legality of the Soviet Union’s 1991 recognition of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The reporting followed an earlier determination by the Prosecutor General’s Office that the Soviet Union’s 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine was illegal. Dmitriy Peskkov, the presidential press secretary, has like a true press flak, denied direct knowledge of the investigation. This is not credible, however, given that it was Putin’s United Russia party that initiated the legal query.

Baltic leaders are right to be furious with the Russian provocation. But if they believe that the United States has their back, they are naïve. Over the past six years, security commitments and alliances have ceased to have any meaning in Washington. Sophisticated diplomats now rationalize provocation rather than confront it. The danger is not war while Obama is in office. Putin may be weak, but Obama is weaker. Rather, the true danger is how adversaries will test the next president should he or she ever seek to restore American credibility.

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Europe’s Horrible Choice

It’s high noon in Europe. In Greece, the far-left Syriza had long promised the Greek people auspicious outcomes that they could never deliver. When the government in Athens failed to muscle their way out of a debtor’s obligations through sheer force of personality and overwrought rhetoric, they sought a plebiscite that would allow them to evade making the tough choices a government often confronts. Unsurprisingly, when asked if they would prefer the harsh reality imposed on them by the nation’s creditors to a fantasy, the Greeks resoundingly voted “No.” The standoff the Greeks inaugurated appears set to resolve itself in the worst of ways. They have presented Europeans with a horrible choice: Follow up on their threats and invite the conditions that could lead to Greece’s exit from the Eurozone, or fold in the face of threats and sow the seeds of political chaos that could tear the continent apart.

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It’s high noon in Europe. In Greece, the far-left Syriza had long promised the Greek people auspicious outcomes that they could never deliver. When the government in Athens failed to muscle their way out of a debtor’s obligations through sheer force of personality and overwrought rhetoric, they sought a plebiscite that would allow them to evade making the tough choices a government often confronts. Unsurprisingly, when asked if they would prefer the harsh reality imposed on them by the nation’s creditors to a fantasy, the Greeks resoundingly voted “No.” The standoff the Greeks inaugurated appears set to resolve itself in the worst of ways. They have presented Europeans with a horrible choice: Follow up on their threats and invite the conditions that could lead to Greece’s exit from the Eurozone, or fold in the face of threats and sow the seeds of political chaos that could tear the continent apart.

According to Syriza’s preferred whimsy, the “No” vote would demonstrate that democracy would always triumph over the cruel burdens imposed upon the Greek people from far-flung creditors in Northern European capitals. The referendum would compel Greece’s benefactors to forgive some or all of their debt to preserve the integrity of the Eurozone, and would forestall reforms in the form of pension benefits cuts and tax increases. The wide-eyed academic-turned-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis promised his country that, in the wake of the referendum, not 48 hours would pass before a new and more favorable deal with the country’s creditors would be inked. Less than 24 hours after all the ballots had been counted, Varoufakis resigned.

For weeks, Europe’s leaders had been issuing stinging condemnations of Greek profligacy and threatening that a “No” vote would likely lead to Greece’s forced expulsion from the European Union’s common currency. Today, that scenario is no longer a troubling prospect but a terrifying reality. Writing in the New York Times, Neil Irwin identified the horrible choice Europe now faces: Let Greece go and endure the destabilizing effects that will follow, or retreat from their position and usher in an era of ultimatums and extremism in the E.U.’s debtor nations.

As Irwin observed, the Greek crisis is no longer a matter of monetary policy. The debate over whether the European Central Bank’s terms can be altered to a point at which they are mutually agreeable, or Athens can secure a bailout, debt relaxation, and favorable new loans is irrelevant. “The fact is that the time for those debates is over for now,” he wrote. “[W]e’re in the realm of power politics, not substantive economic policy debates.”

Already, European leaders are growing visibly uncomfortable about the prospect of essentially forcing Greece out of the Union. If the Eurocrats acquiesce to Greece’s ultimatum, they will invite similar tactics in countries like Portugal, Spain, and Italy; nations that have substantial debt burdens and have embraced the politically costly financial reforms imposed on them by their creditors. “Parties of the left in Italy, Portugal and Spain will have a new argument to make against the reforms that have begun to show some progress: Vote to reject the reforms that creditors demand, and the creditors will reward you anyway,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board fretted. “This could doom the center-right Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy as it goes to the polls later this year.”

The response to Greece’s “No” vote has been hailed as a welcome development by an unlikely union of far-left and fringe right political leaders. No doubt, a capitulation to the Greeks’ unreasonable demands will only facilitate the rise of extremist political elements on the continent.

The alternative to this course is to stand strong, cut off funds, force the Greek banking system into collapse, and compel the country to reinstitute a currency that they can value as they see fit to attract new investors and tourists from abroad. The easy part of this lamentable state of affairs would be the reprinting and reintroduction of the Drachma – and that will be a substantial challenge. A financial hardship of a kind unknown in a developed nation for generations will soon descend across the archipelago. A Greece that is suddenly untethered to Europe for the first time in nearly 70 years will present an inviting target for revanchist powers intent on overturning the present geopolitical order.

Near the open of America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, he relates an anecdote that serves as an illustration for how the Pax Americana began. Shortly after the end of World War II, as Greece and Turkey were descending into a crisis that many feared would lead both nations to tip into the Soviet sphere of influence, the British informed members of the Truman administration that they could no longer maintain their traditional role as guarantors of financial and military stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. The urgency of the crisis led to the development and practice of what became known as the Truman Doctrine, which held that the United States would support any nation threatened by Soviet communism in service to Kennan’s policy of containment. Just as a crisis in Greece heralded the beginning of America’s embrace of its global hegemonic status, a new crisis in Greece could signal the start of a new geopolitical epoch.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, an irredentist who is acutely vexed by the lost Soviet empire, is surely aware of all that Greece represents. He has spent political and hard capital reintegrating the “near abroad” into Moscow’s orbit by any means necessary and is busily doing the same for those nations that were once Soviet vassals. Moscow recently cajoled Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, chafing from what he perceives to be the rejection of Cairo’s allies in Washington, to request military aid from the Kremlin and to join Russia’s competing free economic zone, the Eurasian Economic Union. The EEU, a single market of nearly 200 million people with a GDP of over $4 trillion, is going to appear an attractive alternative to the European Union if Athens is suddenly cast adrift.

While Scandinavian countries openly flirt with the prospect of NATO membership in response to Russian threats – a possibility they did not seriously indulge even at the height of the Cold War – the Kremlin has to view demonstrating the fragility of at least one European alliance as a chief foreign policy priority. For their part, the Greeks may willingly aid Moscow in this pursuit. Given Syriza’s friendliness toward Russia and the Greek cultural affinity for its Orthodox brethren, the choice between East and West might not be all that difficult.

The choice facing Europe is a terrible one. There is no good option before them; do they invite the disintegration of their Union from within or allow it to be newly and uniquely assailed from without? In either case, dark days are ahead for the continent.

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CNN Claims Jerusalem’s Old City Endangered But Has No Room for Palmyra

The rise of ISIS has been a tragedy for historical sites in the Middle East. Just as the Taliban destroyed monumental historical artworks in Afghanistan in the 1990s now the new Islamic “caliphate” has taken to undertaking the same sort of vandalism in Iraq and Syria in areas that have fallen under their control. The latest example came in the Syrian city of Palmyra — a UNESCO World Heritage site that is thousands of years old where the Islamists have begun pounding precious artifacts to dust this past week only days after ancient tombs were similarly destroyed. So, as media watchdog Honest Reporting notes, it was not inappropriate for CNN to publish a list of “the world’s most endangered structures on the verge of extinction” on its website. But astonishingly, ancient Palmyra, which according to its own reporting is under direct threat at this moment, didn’t make the CNN list. Not surprising, though disappointing, is the fact that the first item on the list was “the Old City of Jerusalem,” whose preservation, it said, was being prevented by “political tension” that exists “between Israel and UNESCO. This is an outrageous libel against the state of Israel, backed up by not a shred of proof (either on the CNN or the UNESCO websites) and perpetuates the most vicious myths propagated by Palestinian groups intent on whipping up anti-Semitic sentiments among Muslims.

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The rise of ISIS has been a tragedy for historical sites in the Middle East. Just as the Taliban destroyed monumental historical artworks in Afghanistan in the 1990s now the new Islamic “caliphate” has taken to undertaking the same sort of vandalism in Iraq and Syria in areas that have fallen under their control. The latest example came in the Syrian city of Palmyra — a UNESCO World Heritage site that is thousands of years old where the Islamists have begun pounding precious artifacts to dust this past week only days after ancient tombs were similarly destroyed. So, as media watchdog Honest Reporting notes, it was not inappropriate for CNN to publish a list of “the world’s most endangered structures on the verge of extinction” on its website. But astonishingly, ancient Palmyra, which according to its own reporting is under direct threat at this moment, didn’t make the CNN list. Not surprising, though disappointing, is the fact that the first item on the list was “the Old City of Jerusalem,” whose preservation, it said, was being prevented by “political tension” that exists “between Israel and UNESCO. This is an outrageous libel against the state of Israel, backed up by not a shred of proof (either on the CNN or the UNESCO websites) and perpetuates the most vicious myths propagated by Palestinian groups intent on whipping up anti-Semitic sentiments among Muslims.

In terms of the omission of Palmyra from the list, it’s difficult to imagine the thought processes of those involved in creating this article. Though the piece is the work of CNN’s Style section rather than its main news division, surely even the people working there ought to be aware that sometimes the news must influence even travel features. Indeed, the hyped language of its opening would seem to betray the notion that those responsible actually watch the news:

Go see them now, before it’s too late: threatened by neglect, the elements, changing architectural trends or ruthless developers, these outstanding buildings are all fighting a hard battle for survival.

Many of the structures that are listed after the Old City are of historical significance, but some are of questionable importance. Two from Britain, the Preston Bus Station and the Robin Hood Gardens of East London, date only back to the last half century and are examples of “brutalism” and are rather ugly structures that were not designed by UNESCO as worth saving for good reasons. Most are also not endangered by architecture critics or have outlived their original purposes like those two structures but are simply falling down due to neglect.

Including Palmyra on such a list, indeed listing it at the very top, would have made the article both newsworthy as well as accurate. Palmyra is a unique ancient city filled with amazing artifacts that would be worth visiting if it were not located in a country that has gone from a brutal dictatorship to a strife-torn battleground much of which now is in the thrall of fanatical Islamists determined to destroy any vestige of history that predates the Muslim conquest.

Which leads us to the obvious question as to why Jerusalem’s Old City should be included on a list of places that are about to disappear. The Old City is in the middle of an ongoing dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. However, it is not about to collapse. Even more important, to say that its preservation is being prevented by Israel is a flat out lie.

To the contrary, the city’s reunification under Israeli sovereignty in 1967 marked the beginning of efforts to preserve and protect it for both its citizens and the world. The walls of the Old City were preserved, their grounds beautified through the efforts of the Jerusalem Foundation created by the city’s late mayor, Teddy Kollek, and turned into a beloved tourist attraction. The Jewish Quarter of the city, which lay in ruins before June 1967, was rescued from 19 years of vandalism at the hands of Jordanian authorities (Jordan illegally occupied the city from 1949-1967). Its homes have been preserved and its ancient historic synagogues (which were destroyed by the Jordanians) have been rebuilt. The Western Wall, which was used as a dump by the Jordanians was similarly honored by preservation of the ancient tunnels (an act protested by the Palestinians) and an archeological park and was created ensuring that this ancient and precious site will never again be treated in this manner.

It is true, as CNN says, that the Old City has been on a UNESCO list of endangered sites longer than any other. However, its placement there at the request of Jordan had nothing to do with any actual threat to the place. Rather, it was simply a political ploy by the Arab world that considers Jewish control over any part of Israel’s ancient capital to be illegitimate. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel allowed the Jordanians to be given a say over the Temple Mount and its mosques. But the mention of the mosques and the Muslim Wakf that controls them independent of any intervention by the Israelis should lead us to a discussion of what is really threatening Jerusalem and its Old City.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site of Judaism as well as the place where Muslims can worship at mosques that were placed there on the site of the ancient Jewish temple by Islamic conquerors. For the last century, Palestinian leaders have sought to convince their people that that returning Jews wished to destroy the mosques. Such canards were used to foment bloody riots and pogroms against Jews in 1921, 1929, and 1936. Even in the last year, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has tried to whip up similar sentiments to justify terrorism simply because some Israelis — opposed by the Netanyahu government — think Jews should be given the right to pray on the Temple Mount, the one vestige of the Jordanian practice of denying Jews access to their holy places.

More to the point, free from any interference from Israeli authorities seeking to preserve the Temple Mount, the Muslim Wakf has been undertaking construction on the site where antiquities dating back to the past — particularly the era when the Temples stood on the site — are being thrown out like garbage. But neither UNESCO nor CNN has anything to say about that.

So long as Israel maintains control over the Old City, the free access to its holy sites for all that only began in 1967 will be preserved along with its precious treasures and archeological excavations such as those being undertaken just outside the walls at the historic City of David. The only possible threat to its existence would be if the Old City were to fall into the hands of the Palestinian Authority, which has a history of allowing Jewish sites under its control to be destroyed, such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and an ancient synagogue in Jericho. Those who treat a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that would mandate Jerusalem’s partition must understand that such demands are tantamount to ensuring the destruction of World Heritage sites. But in the meantime, ignorant or malevolent media cheerleaders for Palestinian propagandists, such as those at CNN, will continue to spread libels about Israel rather than focusing on the real threat to ancient Jerusalem and completely ignoring the depredations of Islamist vandals.

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Cementing the Bad Deal

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

Happy Monday from Vienna. The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini arrived yesterday and told reporters: “As you know I have decided to reconvene the ministers. They will be arriving tonight and tomorrow. It is the third time in exactly one week. That’s the end, the last part of this long marathon.” Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif already held an impromptu meeting this morning. The overarching consensus – which is almost certainly correct – is that whatever gets announced will be announced no later than tomorrow afternoon. It might very well happen tonight.

As to what that announcement might be, there are a few options. In order of increasing probability:

0% chance: Kerry might make good on the comments that he made yesterday to reporters, and walks away from a bad deal.

Very low probability: the parties might come to a full-blown agreement ready to be implemented immediately. This scenario was never likely by June 30, and became functionally impossible after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set out a range of new red lines a few weeks ago. Also, the Iranians gave a background briefing earlier today in Vienna where they provided their interpretation of an emerging final deal. Among other things they have some interesting views on what military-related restrictions will be lifted, which are in tension with how the Americans have been describing the deal. Those differences will have to be overcome, and they won’t be in the next few days.

Low-probability: the gaps might still be too significant to even colorfully announce a deal, and the parties would extend the interim agreement all the way through the summer. The option would be more attractive to the Obama administration than taking another 2 or 3 weeks. If the administration sends Congress a deal after July 9 then the Corker clock – how long a deal sits in front of Congress – goes from 30 days to 60 days. But if they get all the way through the summer, it goes back down to 30 days. The administration has obvious reasons to prefer that.

Most likely: there will be a non-agreement agreement. The parties will announce they’ve resolved all outstanding issues but they still have to fill in some details. Then the P5+1 and Iran would move in parallel to implement various commitments, and the Iranians would in particular have to work with the IAEA on its unresolved concerns regarding Iran’s weapons program (PMDs). In the winter the IAEA would provide a face-saving way for the parties to declare Iran is cooperating – IAEA head Amano said earlier this week that the agency could wrap up by the end of the year if Iran cooperates – and then a deal would officially begin. The option is attractive to the administration because it puts off granting Iran all of its anticipated sanctions relief until the IAEA makes some noises about the Iranians cooperating. The alternative would be poison on the Hill. This way the administration can tell Congress that of course PMDs will be resolved before any sanctions relief is granted; and after Congress votes, if the Iranians jam up the IAEA but demand relief anyway, lawmakers will have no leverage to stop the administration from caving.

The focus will then shift to Congress, where the debate on approving or disapproving of the deal will take place over the next month. Some of the questions will get technical and tangled – the breakout time debate is going to be mind-numbing – but lawmakers will also use a very simple metric: Is the deal the same one the President promised he’d bring home twenty months ago? Back then the administration was very clear about what constituted a good deal and emphatic that U.S. negotiators had sufficient leverage to secure those terms. The U.S. subsequently collapsed on almost all of those conditions, and lawmakers will want to know how the deal can still count as a good one.

In line with those questions, here is a roundup from the Foreign Policy Initiative on where the administration started and how dramatically it has moved backwards. From the overview of the analysis:

Over the past three years, the Obama administration has delineated the criteria that any final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran must meet. In speeches, congressional testimony, press conferences, and media interviews, administration officials have also articulated their expectations from Tehran with repeated declarations: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” This FPI Analysis… compiles many of the administration’s own statements on nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past three years, and compares them with current U.S. positions. It also examines U.S. statements on a range of other issues related to U.S. policy toward Tehran, and assesses whether subsequent events have validated them.

The web version has embedded links for each of the statements, so if you need them just click through on the url at the top. You might just want to do that anyway, because the web version is more readable.

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