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Who’s Funding Pro-Palestinian Israeli ‘Human Rights’ Groups?

Granted, everyone is (justly) preoccupied with the Iran deal right now, and, granted, the original scoop was in Hebrew. But I still can’t believe this news has gotten so little attention: During last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza, two Israeli “human rights” organizations – B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence – requested and received special grants from Palestinian middle men in order to finance reports accusing Israel of war crimes. Read More

Granted, everyone is (justly) preoccupied with the Iran deal right now, and, granted, the original scoop was in Hebrew. But I still can’t believe this news has gotten so little attention: During last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza, two Israeli “human rights” organizations – B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence – requested and received special grants from Palestinian middle men in order to finance reports accusing Israel of war crimes.

Under most circumstances, taking money from the enemy in wartime to produce propaganda against your own side would be considered treason. In this case, legally speaking, it definitely isn’t. But morally speaking, it’s not merely skirting close to the edge; it’s well over the line.

The news was first reported by Gidon Dokow on the Hebrew-language news site NRG. But you needn’t take Dokow’s word for it; he helpfully included a link to the funding organization’s English-language annual report.

The organization goes by the unwieldy name of the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat. According to its annual report, it is “a project implemented by NIRAS NATURA AB – Sweden, and the Institute of Law, Birzeit University, Birzeit, Palestine, with generous support from the governments of Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland.”

In other words, the money itself is European. But the ones who decide what to do with it are Niras Natura – which describes itself as an international consultancy firm in the field of sustainable development – and the faculty of Birzeit. And since the Birzeit people are the ones actually on the ground, they presumably have considerable influence over how the money is spent.

The Secretariat’s main job appears to be funneling money to other organizations. According to the annual report, it had 24 “core grantees” and 19 “project grantees” last year. Nine of the former and two of the latter are Israeli; the rest are Palestinian.

When the war broke out in July 2014, the Secretariat put out a call to its core grantees soliciting emergency funding requests. “The emergency funding call focused on activities related to monitoring and documentation of IHL [international humanitarian law] and human rights violations in the Gaza Strip, arising from the then ongoing war,” the report said. Requests were received from 11 organizations, including three Israeli ones, and the Secretariat decided to fund nine of them, including two Israeli groups – B’Tselem and BTS.

But the money was intended for “monitoring and documentation” of alleged violations by one side only – Israel. That’s crystal clear from the report’s summary of its emergency grantees’ “achievements”: Not one of the nine says a word about the massive Palestinian violations of international humanitarian law.

The section on Breaking the Silence is particularly blatant. The Secretariat would have considered its money well spent, the report declared, had BTS managed to scrounge up even a single anti-Israel testimony from Israeli soldiers:

Breaking the Silence (BTS) presented a unique proposal for emergency funding whereby BTS attempted to interview (collect testimonies) from Israeli soldiers who were engaged in the war. BTS were very cautious about how effective their work would be at the peak of the conflict. At first, they were not even sure they would be able to interview soldiers or even feel safe to issue testimonies. The Secretariat was ready to accept even one testimony.

Of course, had the alleged violations been real, one could argue that B’Tselem and BTS were doing holy work. But most of what they produced was a calculated smear campaign.

Here, for instance, is a particularly blatant example from the BTS report, courtesy of the Elder of Ziyon blog: A soldier testified about an apparently mentally disturbed girl who kept getting close to his company. The soldiers feared Hamas had wired her with explosives, having encountered an old man earlier that day – “70 or 80 years old” – who “turned out to be booby-trapped from head to toe.” Consequently, they fired at the ground near her in an attempt to drive her away. The soldier testified that at one point, when she kept refusing to leave, he really wanted to shoot her. But none of the soldiers actually did.

The headline of the testimony, however, was, “I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees” – which would leave any casual reader thinking the immoral Israeli had in fact done so. And thus BTS warped a story of self-restraint in the face of Hamas’s gruesome tactics (the same soldier also later encountered booby-trapped sheep) into an anti-Israel smear.

As noted earlier, B’Tselem and BTS probably weren’t breaking any laws. Beyond the fact that the checks were presumably actually cut by the Europeans, Israel doesn’t recognize the popular international fiction whereby the West Bank and Gaza constitute a single Palestinian state or state-to-be; it distinguishes between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Birzeit is located in the former, and Israel was only fighting the latter.

But the Palestinians themselves claim the West Bank and Gaza constitute a single Palestinian entity, which means that in their own understanding, the Birzeit faculty who decided to award those grants to B’Tselem and BTS were on Hamas’s side in this war. Effectively, therefore, these two groups solicited and received money from an enemy during wartime in order to produce propaganda against their own country.

It might be legal, but morally, it stinks. And it ought to put both B’Tselem and BTS permanently beyond the pale.

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When Society Isn’t to Blame

Disturbed and struggling with an overwhelming sense of paranoia, a gunman obsessed with the sense that he was a victim of racial discrimination took two innocent lives on Wednesday. His stated intention was to terrorize not merely his victims and their families, but the demographic group to which they belonged. We’ve been here before. The country’s reaction to the horrible violence in Charleston in June was, however, dramatically different from the nation’s response to Wednesday’s atrocity in Virginia. The disparate reaction to these two shootings with similar motives but racially divergent killers is instructive. Read More

Disturbed and struggling with an overwhelming sense of paranoia, a gunman obsessed with the sense that he was a victim of racial discrimination took two innocent lives on Wednesday. His stated intention was to terrorize not merely his victims and their families, but the demographic group to which they belonged. We’ve been here before. The country’s reaction to the horrible violence in Charleston in June was, however, dramatically different from the nation’s response to Wednesday’s atrocity in Virginia. The disparate reaction to these two shootings with similar motives but racially divergent killers is instructive.

It was only a handful of weeks ago that the country was boldly confronting and condemning the sickness that compelled Dylann Roof to attack black parishioners in Charleston. His was a proudly anachronistic worldview, violent, racist, and condemnable. And it was soundly condemned from every corner of respectable American society. But Roof’s brand of virulent white nationalism was so easily denounced because it has largely been defanged. There are still racists, some of them influential, but white racism is no longer an ascendant ideology with a stranglehold over the levers of American government and civil society.

This reality was reflected in our collective response to Roof’s barbarism. The furling of the Confederate battle flag over public lands in the South was an unalloyed good, and it was met with little resistance. But our efforts to cope with the atrocity soon grew directionless. The syndication network TV Land canceled reruns of the sitcom Dukes of Hazard because it prominently featured the forbidden flag. A movement to tear down statues and to rename schools, roads, and bridges designated in honor of Confederate officers sprung up. Anything bearing the name “General Lee,” from bronze monuments to the prop Dodge Charger, was to be defaced. Democratic organizations renamed decades-old celebrations that had once honored the party’s founders, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, because both held slaves.

No one truly believed any of this would prevent the next racist assault by a white nationalist on African-Americans. That wasn’t the point. It was a mass catharsis; a display of defiance in the face of abject helplessness; a desperate groping by the powerless for some renewed sense of agency.

While the efficacy of the public response to Roof’s violence was dubious, targeting the symbols of the hateful ideology that inspired him was righteous. It would thus be dishonest and logically inconsistent to ignore the stated motives of the man who shot and killed 24-year-old Alison Parker and 27-year-old Adam Ward. Vester Lee Flanagan, an African-American, was as bigoted as Roof. In fact, he was allegedly obsessed with racial issues. He sued a prior employer, claiming that he was repeatedly attacked with racially derogatory slurs – an accusation that never made it to litigation. At his next job, he alleged that his colleagues repeatedly hurled racially insensitive remarks toward him — allegations that could not be confirmed. In a rambling manifesto sent to news outlets before his murderous acts, Flanagan indicated that he wanted revenge for the attacks in Charleston and seemed eager to ignite a “race war.”

He was also, like Roof, clearly mentally disturbed. In his unfocused tome, he claimed Jehovah had spoken to him. Flanagan was fired from WDBJ7, the ultimate target of his murderous revenge, for exhibiting “threatening” behavior and repeatedly using profanity in the workplace. When he was let go, his floor was cleared, and security was required to escort him out of the building. But before Flanagan was fired he was counseled to seek professional help, and his colleagues offered to put him in touch with a mental health treatment provider. He was never formally diagnosed with mental health issues, but neither was Roof.  The Charleston killer’s associates described him as disturbed in the days leading up to the massacre; increasingly agitated, drawn to extreme ideologies, self-medicating with unprescribed painkillers. There is a common thread here.

And yet, soon after the Charleston attacks, a coordinated effort to downplay Roof’s mental state as the primary factor behind his rampage took shape. It could not be mental illness, the grievance-peddling bloggers at The New Republic, Salon, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, averred. Roof was animated entirely by sheer white nationalism, and he is only partly to blame for his actions. An ill-defined league of racists who continue to exercise prodigious yet unseen influence over American political life must share the majority of the liability. The same has not been said of Flanagan by the professionally aggrieved. There is no vast conspiracy betrayed by his actions, no forthcoming campaign of violence of which he was merely the spearhead. His actions were his alone. And we should probably re-engage in the tired and self-gratifying debate over stricter gun laws, despite that it is unlikely anything would have prevented Flanagan from passing a background check and purchasing his murder weapon legally.

The nation’s incongruent reaction to these two great crimes is informative. Flanagan was a monster who likely struggled more with the demons in his head than the ghosts of Jim Crow. There is no greater racial lesson to be gleaned out of the atrocity in Virginia. No therapeutic racial dialogue could heal the wounds he opened. Indeed, most responsible media outlets have noted that to pretend that there is some legitimate racial grievance that inspired this event is to provide a deranged killer precisely with the outcome he wanted.

We cannot curse some vague and unidentifiable social disease for Flanagan’s actions. It would be so much easier if we could. There are no constitutional gun laws that would have saved the lives of the two young journalists taken from us. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this event, if there is one at all, is that personal responsibility is the most reliable means of preventing this episode from being repeated. In hindsight, there were warning signs. There are always warning signs. They must be heeded, and the stigma associated with both recommending and pursuing mental help alleviated. Addressing these issues will be difficult, and success will not be easily measured or soon realized. But what is certain today is that the silence of the nation’s class of professional agitators speaks volumes. Hopefully, their stunned quiet will last a little while longer.

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Can the Iran Deal Be Strengthened to Deal With Its Aftermath?

Over the course of the last week, the number of Democrats endorsing the Iran nuclear deal has grown to the point where its survival is no longer in question. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, it is now just as likely that Democrats will have enough support to prevent a vote on a resolution of disapproval in the Senate, thus sparing the president the trouble of vetoing such a bill. The reasons being given by those making such announcements don’t exactly constitute a ringing endorsement of President Obama’s diplomacy since almost all have pronounced it flawed and expressed worries about the future. But pressure from Obama, the pull of partisanship and the administration’s false arguments about it being the only alternative to war have prevailed. But that has not prevented from some Democrats from expressing worries about what happens after the deal expires with some putting forward ideas about strengthening the agreement to prevent Iran from racing to a bomb as soon as it comes to an end. These are serious ideas, but the problem is that the dynamic of the process that the president is forcing down the throat of a reluctant Congress and American people won’t allow for changes even if they are aimed at securing an uncertain future. Much as they would like to ensure that it doesn’t actually facilitate an Iranian bomb rather than merely postpone it that is exactly what Senate Democrats are voting for when they announce their support for the deal.

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Over the course of the last week, the number of Democrats endorsing the Iran nuclear deal has grown to the point where its survival is no longer in question. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, it is now just as likely that Democrats will have enough support to prevent a vote on a resolution of disapproval in the Senate, thus sparing the president the trouble of vetoing such a bill. The reasons being given by those making such announcements don’t exactly constitute a ringing endorsement of President Obama’s diplomacy since almost all have pronounced it flawed and expressed worries about the future. But pressure from Obama, the pull of partisanship and the administration’s false arguments about it being the only alternative to war have prevailed. But that has not prevented from some Democrats from expressing worries about what happens after the deal expires with some putting forward ideas about strengthening the agreement to prevent Iran from racing to a bomb as soon as it comes to an end. These are serious ideas, but the problem is that the dynamic of the process that the president is forcing down the throat of a reluctant Congress and American people won’t allow for changes even if they are aimed at securing an uncertain future. Much as they would like to ensure that it doesn’t actually facilitate an Iranian bomb rather than merely postpone it that is exactly what Senate Democrats are voting for when they announce their support for the deal.

At this point, further debate about the merits of the deal is almost moot. Though the letter signed by 200 retired generals and admirals opposing the agreement (far more than the scant 36 who could be rounded up to endorse it in a competing letter) ought to impress wavering Democrats, they appear far more worried about getting on the wrong side of the president and the party’s left-wing base whose antipathy for Israel is no secret. But as the New York Times reported last weekend, the same Democrats are already aware of the serious concerns about the post-deal world.

Once the specious arguments about war being the only alternative to the deal are discarded along with the equally misleading talking points about it stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the short term are put aside, observers must confront the reality of the new world the agreement brings into existence. As the Times story admits, the lack of accountability about Iran’s past nuclear research (self-inspections of Parchin), less than stringent inspection process (24-day warning period) and the lack of any firm grasp on how long Iran’s “breakout” period will be in the future, render the president’s promises worthless.

More important is the fact that, once the deal is implemented and sanctions are lifted, the West’s leverage over Iran will evaporate. Since the deal gives Western approval to Iran’s retention of its most advanced nuclear infrastructure, uranium enrichment, and its research program, even if it doesn’t cheat its way to a bomb during the course of the agreement (which the West would be slow to detect and be unable to decide on a course of action in time to do anything about), Iran’s ability to build a bomb within weeks at the end of the agreement is not really in question.

In response to these concerns, all the president has to say about the Iran deal aftermath is that he intends to beef up the defense capabilities of Israel and the Arab nations in the region that are every bit as scared about Iran as the Jewish state. But this is nothing more than an empty gesture intended to stifle dissent against the deal. The same can be said for Secretary of State Kerry’s assurances that restrictions will continue in the future when he knows very well that this is not true.

More reasonable are the proposals mooted by figures such as Dennis Ross, a former Obama administration staffer who has voiced concerns about the deal but ultimately lacked the guts to openly oppose it. Ross told the Times that:

The United States should put Iran on notice that its production of highly enriched uranium after the main provisions of the accord expire would be taken by American officials as an indication that Iran has decided to pursue nuclear weapons — and could trigger an American military strike.

That makes some sense, but it won’t happen, or at least not under the Obama administration or one run by a Democratic successor.

The whole point of the deal isn’t really the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program. As even most Democrats concede in moments of candor that has already failed. Having embarked on negotiations whose purpose was to end Iran’s nuclear program, Obama’s envoys returned with a pact that makes the Islamist state a threshold nuclear power almost immediately and a member of the nuclear bomb club as soon as it expires. What motivated the president wasn’t the nuclear question as it was a desire to help Iran “get right with the world.” Nothing about the agreement makes sense outside of a belief that what will ensue is a new détente between Tehran and the West.

But as even the Times’ analysis noted, Iran will become stronger and more powerful as a result of the deal making it less likely to respond to the kind of pressure and threats that Ross proposes. The deal doesn’t make American military pressure less likely so much as it ensures that it will be impossible to make such threats stick in the future. Or at least impossible so long as the U.S. is committed to the fiction of an entente with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with dreams of regional hegemony.

The president doesn’t worry much about what will happen in ten or 15 years because he actually believes that Iran will evolve into a moderate and friendly partner for the West during this period. But more sober observers understand that will ensue is merely the strengthening of a fanatical theocratic tyranny that is bent on Israel’s destruction and war, on the West as well as on moderate Arabs.

That’s why if any Democrats are really worried about the post-deal future it is futile to talk of strengthening the deal. Obama has already made the nightmare scenario of a nuclear Iran a virtual certainty in the not-so-distant future. The only way to avoid it must start with a rejection of the deal and a return to a tough policy aimed at forcing Iran to accept restrictions that will not expire or let them cheat. That won’t be easy, but it has a much better chance of succeeding than a path that begins with the deal’s ratification and futile efforts to strengthen it.

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The GOP Needs Fiorina in the Next Debate

One of the top stories not involving Donald Trump that came out of the Republican presidential was the extraordinary performance of Carly Fiorina. Relegated to the preliminary “losers” forum, Fiorina put on a strong showing that made her seem the clear winner. Indeed, she even managed to intrude onto the main event when Fox News played a clip of her answer on the Iran nuclear deal as the lead-in to a question posed to the top tier candidates. That led to speculation that her standings in the polls would go up in the following weeks. That is exactly what happened, and Fiorina rose from barely registering in surveys to today placing seventh place out of the 17 candidates with a not unhealthy 6.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That puts her ahead of Rand Paul, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, all of whom were in the top ten on August 6th and were, therefore, eligible for the Fox debate. If the same standard were applied today, Christie at 3.3 percent would be the one consigned to the “children’s table” of GOP candidates. But unless something extraordinary happens, the roster of participants at the next Republican debate on September 16 to be broadcast on CNN won’t reflect the new reality. According to the rules CNN is using, the polls they will take into account to determine the top ten will mostly come from before August rather than the most recent. Fiorina is crying foul about this and rightfully so. If the Republican National Committee permits this mistake to go uncorrected, it will be another self-inflicted wound for a party that has had more than enough of those in the last year.

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One of the top stories not involving Donald Trump that came out of the Republican presidential was the extraordinary performance of Carly Fiorina. Relegated to the preliminary “losers” forum, Fiorina put on a strong showing that made her seem the clear winner. Indeed, she even managed to intrude onto the main event when Fox News played a clip of her answer on the Iran nuclear deal as the lead-in to a question posed to the top tier candidates. That led to speculation that her standings in the polls would go up in the following weeks. That is exactly what happened, and Fiorina rose from barely registering in surveys to today placing seventh place out of the 17 candidates with a not unhealthy 6.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That puts her ahead of Rand Paul, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, all of whom were in the top ten on August 6th and were, therefore, eligible for the Fox debate. If the same standard were applied today, Christie at 3.3 percent would be the one consigned to the “children’s table” of GOP candidates. But unless something extraordinary happens, the roster of participants at the next Republican debate on September 16 to be broadcast on CNN won’t reflect the new reality. According to the rules CNN is using, the polls they will take into account to determine the top ten will mostly come from before August rather than the most recent. Fiorina is crying foul about this and rightfully so. If the Republican National Committee permits this mistake to go uncorrected, it will be another self-inflicted wound for a party that has had more than enough of those in the last year.

As Politico reports, the debate formula CNN is using to determine the GOP top ten next month consists of an average of ten national polls. But with no new survey scheduled to come out before their event, eight of the polls they’re using were taken before the August 6 debate. The RNC claims that, since these rules were previously announced, they can’t be changed now. Even more, they say their role is to ensure merely that the rules are enforced fairly and can’t intervene.

Maybe so, but this result is nuts. What is the point of having formulas designed to winnow the field to a top tier in the initial and possibly most influential debates if they are not designed to actually put the ten most popular candidates on the main stage together?

The situation could be rectified if CNN and the RNC were to agree to alter the rules to weight the polls with the most recent ones given more weight. Another possible idea would be to use polls in the early voting states and/or crucial battleground states alongside the national polls. But the RNC seems allergic to doing anything that might be construed as putting a thumb on the scale and influencing the outcome. That’s understandable but slightly hypocritical. By sanctioning formulas that hurt less establish candidates by keeping them out of the debates, they’re already playing a role in determining the outcome.

The entire conceit of the rules that RNC chairman Reince Priebus designed for the debates and the caucus/primary schedule was geared to produce a top tier of serious candidates and an early decisive outcome of the contest. But, as almost inevitably happens when you design rules based on the last election, their plan is already obsolete. Though it is still only August of the year before the election, Donald Trump’s surge to a commanding lead in the race renders all the RNC’s calculations moot. Instead of a contest geared to produce a mainstream electable candidate, the GOP is proceeding along a course that could, barring the culling of the race before Iowa and New Hampshire, produce a nominee that has little chance of winning the general election. Trump’s fans insist that he can win but, while his popularity represents a genuine expression of voter dissatisfaction with the political class, he is not built to withstand the long haul of general election politics. At some point, as they always do, most voters will want a credible commander-in-chief rather than someone who vents their anger. That will allow the Democrats to win an election they might otherwise lose against a better GOP nominee.

Fiorina isn’t likely to emerge as the leading non-Trump candidate, though, based on her consistently strong performances in media appearances and the debate, it’s probably a mistake to underestimate her. But she might be one of the few, if not the only one on the podium who could stand up to a media wizard like Trump and emerge the clear victor. With some of their best candidates thinking the best thing to do is to ignore Trump, Republicans need her on the stage on September 16 not just to show how diverse their field is but also to include someone who won’t be afraid to mess up the Donald’s hair.

Priebus’ dilemma is not an easy one since if he does do the right thing and intervene he will be accused of failing to be impartial. Most particularly, he fears that Trump will view any rules change as somehow aimed at himself. Trump has warned the GOP that he will run as an independent next year if he is not treated “fairly.” Since his definition of fairness is likely to be any outcome other than his being the nominee, this is not a threat to be treated lightly. But at this point with Trump soaring above the other candidates, that’s not really a consideration.

The RNC should stop worrying about perceptions and about Trump and do the right thing. For starters that will mean including Fiorina on September 16. If they don’t, it may be a decision they will live to regret as Trump hijacks the process and the party as he prepares to steer it straight over the cliff.

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Bad ISIS Intelligence? Military Told Obama What He Wanted to Hear

The news that the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating charges that members of the military have compiled skewed intelligence assessments of U.S. actions against ISIS is a disturbing development in the war against the terrorist movement. But it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to those who have watched the desultory effort to make good on the pledge that President Obama made nearly a year ago that the U.S. would “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Though no one in the White House is implicated in what is being treated as a military rather than a political problem, the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend that it is the victim here. If military intelligence has been feeding the president misleading analyses about the impact of American bombing on ISIS targets, it is probably more the result of officers wishing to tell the president what he wants to hear rather than pure incompetence. Just as the Bush administration was blamed for the bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that gave officials the conclusions they wished to draw, if the U.S. Central Command has been producing material that allowed Obama to act as if his efforts are succeeding, it’s likely because they have been given the clear impression that this is what the top echelon wants.

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The news that the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating charges that members of the military have compiled skewed intelligence assessments of U.S. actions against ISIS is a disturbing development in the war against the terrorist movement. But it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to those who have watched the desultory effort to make good on the pledge that President Obama made nearly a year ago that the U.S. would “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Though no one in the White House is implicated in what is being treated as a military rather than a political problem, the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend that it is the victim here. If military intelligence has been feeding the president misleading analyses about the impact of American bombing on ISIS targets, it is probably more the result of officers wishing to tell the president what he wants to hear rather than pure incompetence. Just as the Bush administration was blamed for the bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that gave officials the conclusions they wished to draw, if the U.S. Central Command has been producing material that allowed Obama to act as if his efforts are succeeding, it’s likely because they have been given the clear impression that this is what the top echelon wants.

If the charges are true, then this is, as our Noah Rothman noted earlier, a scandal that shows a “criminal disregard for American national security.” But as much as the Central Command deserves to be scrutinized for what appear to have been serious mistakes, the eagerness with which senior officials have snapped up the most optimistic assessments about the U.S. effort against ISIS puts any errors made by junior or mid-level analysts in perspective.

The administration has never ceased patting itself on the back for every perceived success in the conflict while always minimizing setbacks. Just this past summer, as the Times notes, retired General John Allen, the president’s coordinator of the international effort to fight ISIS, claimed that it had been “checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically. ISIS is losing.” Even a more sober figure such as Ashton Carton, Obama’s new secretary of defense has asserted that though the war was “difficult,” the U.S. was pursuing the “right strategy.”

Those are themes that have been repeated endlessly by White House and Pentagon spokespersons as well as by the president.

Yet we know that far from “losing,” ISIS is still in possession of a large percentage of Iraq and Syria. Though it has not won every battle, it remains in possession of major cities like Mosul and Ramadi. It massacres innocents, destroys historical treasures and even conducts a booming sex slave trade in the territory it controls. Nor is there any expectation that anything the administration or its allies is likely to do will end these horrors in the foreseeable future.

The U.S. has conducted bombing missions and special forces operations that have chipped away at ISIS’s leadership and made their operations a bit more difficult. No one is questioning the skill or the heroism of those Americans involved in these efforts. But after one year of a war in which the president has pledged ISIS’s defeat, the greatest military power in the world has shown itself utterly incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to change this situation. While it may seem unfair to judge American efforts in an asymmetrical war with a force like ISIS, the problem isn’t that the bombers are missing their targets but that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to this conflict.

Obama was only dragged reluctantly into the fight with ISIS. It was he, after all, who dubbed them the “junior varsity” of terrorists and dismissed their growth as insignificant. That was understandable since the so-called “caliphate’s” rise was only made possible by the president’s precipitate withdrawal from Iraq. While he may continue to blame George W. Bush for getting the U.S. involved in Iraq, Obama inherited a war that had been won by the surge of 2007 and turned it into the disastrous defeat that we are now experiencing. It was only after videos of ISIS beheadings and other executions of hostages outraged the American public that the president made his “degrade and destroy” pledge. But he’s done little to make good on that promise, only using the requisite force to minimize ISIS’s victories, more or less conceding that they are to be allowed to stay where they are.

So can anyone be surprised that military officials, sensitive to the needs of their masters at the Pentagon and the White House, have been willing to tell them that the low cost strategy that Obama has employed is working even when it is obvious to the entire world that it is not?

While anyone who deliberately falsified intelligence should be punished, what is more likely to have occurred is that the military did what militaries always tend to do in democracies: please their bosses. Doing the contrary would be heroic and praiseworthy but going along to get along is something that often works as well in the military as it does in Congress.

Blaming the military for bad intel is par for the course in any failed war, and this one is no different from the rest. But scapegoating intelligence officers won’t fix what’s wrong with the U.S. effort against ISIS. It will not be degraded, let alone destroyed, until the commander-in-chief starts to treat that goal as not merely a priority but as an imperative. But that is something that must await the selection of a new president. Until then, the Pentagon can investigate itself for bad ISIS intelligence while the terrorists go on beheading people, enslaving women, destroying artifacts and ruling a territory that is bigger than the majority of United Nations member states.

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Donald Trump’s Assault on Reason

To highlight just one of the concerns I have with Donald Trump, I thought it might be helpful to focus on the issue that he supposedly knows the most about, that he has some mastery on: immigration.

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To highlight just one of the concerns I have with Donald Trump, I thought it might be helpful to focus on the issue that he supposedly knows the most about, that he has some mastery on: immigration.

On Sunday Mr. Trump was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week” and was pressed by host George Stephanopoulos on the details of his intention to deport more than 11 million illegal immigrants. (Do yourself a favor and read this column by George Will, which eviscerates Trump and his plan.)

As you can see for yourself, Mr. Trump was clueless — clueless about the cost, clueless about how it would work, clueless about its effect on the labor force and GDP.

When asked exactly how the massive deportation would come together and play out, Trump response was, “It’s called management.” This “management,” you see, would somehow figure out how, after having deported “the really good ones,” we’ll get them back in, legally, in an expedited fashion. (He doesn’t say why he doesn’t figure out who the really good ones are before sending in SWAT teams, loading them on buses, and dumping them on the other side of the Rio Grande, a point made by Charles Krauthammer.) “My specifics are very simple,” Trump said. “I’m going to get great people who know what they’re doing.” When asked if he expects neighbors to begin turning in neighbors, Trump confessed, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.” He then said, “We have to do it that way… There’s no choice. We have no choice.”

Mr. Trump added, “I get the best people and we will do it properly, we will do it humanely (!), and get the good ones back in!”

Of course we will. It’s all so very simple.

Mr. Trump’s comments on immigration are notable because they are so typical. Yet his supporters are wholly untroubled by his nescience. What is remarkable to watch is how the cult of personality created by Trump has affected people. (Fred Barnes, having just spent time with Trump supporters, says their ties to him are “almost mystical” and they view him as a kind of “political savior.”)

It’s clear that some number of Trump supporters, in listening to their defense of him, have put off to the side any obvious interest in empirical data, rigorous arguments, and intellectual standards. They believe in Trump, and that is enough. He is the Rider on the White Horse. So they give him a pass on pretty much everything – his inconsistencies, his unworkable plans, his erratic and unstable temperament. Mr. Trump’s inanities are treated like Socratic utterances. His crude statements about war heroes and female reporters are viewed as refreshing candor. His liberal stands, past and present, are ignored or forgiven. Mr. Trump, you see, is a “doer.” What he does and how he does it doesn’t really matter. What counts, pollsters tell us, is his persona, not his policies. He “kicks ass and takes names.”

The problem is that when reason and considered judgments are so readily and completely cast aside in politics – when a form of emotivism carries the day; when a politician’s flip-flops and crude statements actually increase people’s devotion to him  – a great deal is lost and a great deal is threatened.

I’m not a hyper-rationalist; I recognize that for all of us, politics is a mixture of reason and emotion, of the rational and the sub-rational, of analysis and intuition. The great conservative reformer Edmund Burke used the word prejudice, by which he meant “the ‘untaught feelings’ and ‘mass of predispositions’ supplied by the collective wisdom of a people.” Pascal put it this way: “We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

Yet in the case of Trump supporters – some of them, anyway – the head is being entirely cast aside for the heart. And while I understand the heart being won over be certain things – love, beauty, excellence, God – I find the heart being captivated by Donald Trump rather harder to fathom.

A friend of mine says that Mr. Trump is making a classic demagogic appeal, which often works in a democracy but rarely works in the American republic. “In this pre-primary stage our politics can seem awfully democratic,” he says. “Once the system gets going, I suspect Trump won’t last long.”

My friend is wise; I hope he’s right. Because if he’s not, there will be a terrible price to pay.

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A Scandal-Plagued Administration

It was particularly revealing when David Axelrod explained that, of all his accomplishments in Barack Obama’s White House, he was proudest of the fact that “there hasn’t been a major scandal.” The qualifier “major” lays the burden on shoulders of the press to define what constitutes a serious scandal, and political media had thus far reliably covered the administration’s ethical lapses as merely the peculiar obsessions of addlebrained conservatives. Surely, much of the political establishment in Washington nodded along with Axelrod as he patted himself on the back. A mere seven months later, though, and it is clear now that the former advisor to the president will have to find pride in something else. This administration is many things, but scandal-free is not one of them.  Read More

It was particularly revealing when David Axelrod explained that, of all his accomplishments in Barack Obama’s White House, he was proudest of the fact that “there hasn’t been a major scandal.” The qualifier “major” lays the burden on shoulders of the press to define what constitutes a serious scandal, and political media had thus far reliably covered the administration’s ethical lapses as merely the peculiar obsessions of addlebrained conservatives. Surely, much of the political establishment in Washington nodded along with Axelrod as he patted himself on the back. A mere seven months later, though, and it is clear now that the former advisor to the president will have to find pride in something else. This administration is many things, but scandal-free is not one of them. 

Axelrod made these spectacularly naïve comments at a time when the administration was, in fact, mired in scandal. Despite repeated and unconvincing assertions to the contrary, none of the controversies with which the White House was wrestling at the time of Axelrod’s remarks this past February were proven to be of the “phony” variety.

The deadly attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead including the ambassador to Libya, was never the result of a YouTube video. The emails exposed by the House Select Committee’s investigation into that attack revealed that the State Department was aware of the unspontaneous terroristic nature of that assault on two U.S. intelligence outposts even while it was ongoing. That the White House and its appointees continued to blame that attack on an inflammatory video for almost a week was nothing short of a deliberate deception.

The notion that Obama’s IRS was targeting conservative groups in order to limit their ability to participate in politics remains unresolved. This week, it was revealed that former IRS executive Lois Lerner, who oversaw the awarding of tax-exempt status and who was prepared to prosecute tea party groups in order to compel their silence, also went by the name “Toby Miles.” No, that’s not her burlesque stage name – it would be less controversial if it were. That was allegedly the name Lerner used while conducting IRS business on a personal email account, according to testimony provided to a court by IRS lawyer Geoffrey Klimas. The Lerner emails that investigators were able to recover have uncovered her personal hatred for conservatives that knows few bounds. Lerner went so far as to denounce Abraham Lincoln for redrawing Texas back into the Union. “Citizens United is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to this country,” Lerner wrote. “We are witnessing the end of ‘America.’” We have established both means and motive. What else might they find if all of Lerner’s emails were ever recovered?

Only those who are possessed of the evangelist’s zeal in the pursuit of the elusive “green economy” could fail to see a scandal in this administration’s decision to award millions in federal loans to well-connected clean energy firms. Firms like Sapphire Energy, Abound Solar, and Beacon Power have all at one point or another graced the front pages after bilking taxpayers out of tens of millions and delivering nothing in return (save for lining the pockets of consultants). This week, the Department of Energy’s Inspector General revealed that the most famous of these failures, Solyndra, should never have received a $535 million loan guarantee. The IG found that the Energy Department failed to perform due diligence into the company that was misleading the government about its fundamentals and structuring. The DOE’s Inspector General did not investigate but could not rule out that political pressure from above contributed to the department’s lapse in judgment.

Today, there are a variety of new scandals to add to this mix that should compel Axelrod to revisit his proudest moment. Only days after the former senior White House advisor made his initial remarks, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton had exclusively used a personal “homebrew” email server to conduct national diplomatic affairs. The breadth of the coverage of that scandal and the flagrancy of Clinton’s violation of both State Department and White House guidelines alone renders it “major” by any objective standard. In the effort to whitewash her flagrant disregard for information retention laws, Clinton lied about receiving classified material, about which emails were personal and summarily deleted, about handing over the entirety of her work-related communications to State for review, and about whether she knowingly violated guidelines. Her conduct has been so overtly contemptuous toward the public interest that it may cost her the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

And just Tuesday night, a bombshell report in the New York Times indicated that the Pentagon Inspector General’s office had begun an investigation whether intelligence reports were intentionally distorted so as to present an inaccurately rosy picture of the war against ISIS. “The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command – the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State – were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama,” the Times report read. An intentional effort to mislead U.S. officials, and ultimately the public, about the state of affairs in a theater of war is not only the height of irresponsibility; it is a display of criminal disregard for American national security.

If any other administration had presided over these and other scandalous affairs, the press would accurately describe it as “scandal-plagued.” It is true that the president is not personally responsible for much of this conduct. If the Fourth Estate were inclined to treat Obama as they would a Republican, however, the nation would be forced to endure debate over whether the president had fostered an “atmosphere of corruption” that prompted his subordinates to act in such an unruly manner. Barack Obama’s administration may never be labeled an abnormally scandalous one, but the public is watching. They’ll have a chance to vent their frustrations with this administration at the ballot box in 15 months.

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An Iran Deal Filibuster Will Be Corker’s Folly

With the number of Democrats announcing their support for the Iran nuclear deal growing in recent days, the White House is no longer worried much about the need to secure enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact that was expected to be passed by Congress. Now, with their efforts to pressure Democrats into voting for the deal out of loyalty to President Obama and their party, it appears they have a chance to stop such a resolution from even being voted on. With only two Senate Democrats announcing their opposition (Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez), there now appears to be a chance that the White House will be able to orchestrate a filibuster of the bill if at least three more Democrats join a unanimous Republican caucus. That will make a mockery of the approval process that Congress has been going through. If it does, the blame will belong to a president who has not hesitated to use inflammatory rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics to stop Congress from interfering with a policy of appeasement of Iran. But Obama didn’t do it alone. He could never have succeeded had he not had the unwitting help of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Without Corker’s foolish belief in working with the White House and pusillanimous unwillingness to push for an approval process in line with the Constitution’s provisions about foreign treaties, the administration might never have been able to get away with sneaking through the most important foreign policy decision in a generation.

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With the number of Democrats announcing their support for the Iran nuclear deal growing in recent days, the White House is no longer worried much about the need to secure enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact that was expected to be passed by Congress. Now, with their efforts to pressure Democrats into voting for the deal out of loyalty to President Obama and their party, it appears they have a chance to stop such a resolution from even being voted on. With only two Senate Democrats announcing their opposition (Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez), there now appears to be a chance that the White House will be able to orchestrate a filibuster of the bill if at least three more Democrats join a unanimous Republican caucus. That will make a mockery of the approval process that Congress has been going through. If it does, the blame will belong to a president who has not hesitated to use inflammatory rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics to stop Congress from interfering with a policy of appeasement of Iran. But Obama didn’t do it alone. He could never have succeeded had he not had the unwitting help of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Without Corker’s foolish belief in working with the White House and pusillanimous unwillingness to push for an approval process in line with the Constitution’s provisions about foreign treaties, the administration might never have been able to get away with sneaking through the most important foreign policy decision in a generation.

How did this happen?

When the Republicans won control of the Senate in last November’s midterm elections, the one concern that some conservatives had about this stunning victory was the man who was slated to become the new chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Corker’s elevation to chairman was the cause of some concern, especially for those who hoped the committee would take a leadership role in the fight to prevent the Obama administration from pushing through what was expected to be a weak nuclear deal with Iran in the event the negotiations succeeded in reaching an agreement. Unlike his Democratic predecessor Senator Robert Menendez, who had been a tough adversary of the administration run his own party, Corker talked a lot about working with the White House on the issue.

The Tennessee Republican didn’t get much cooperation from the administration. However, he did listen to a lot of his Democratic colleagues who were unhappy about confronting Obama but wanted to preserve some sort of Congressional oversight on the Iran negotiations. Thus, hoping to maintain the bipartisan consensus on Iran, Corker shifted the emphasis in the Senate away from a bill that would toughen sanctions against Iran that had been proposed by Menendez and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. Instead, Corker’s attention was focused on something else: something that would compel the administration to present any deal with Iran for a Congressional vote.

Thus was born the Corker-Menendez bill that would be renamed Corker-Cardin after Menendez was forced out as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee and replaced by Senator Ben Cardin. Considering that the administration had openly said that it did feel compelled to present any agreement with Iran for Congressional approval, some sort of response was required. But the only thing Corker could get Corker and other Democrats to sign on to was a bill on an Iran nuclear deal that would provide for a simple up and down vote in both the House and the Senate.

What was wrong with that? The Constitution explicitly states that foreign treaties must be presented to the Senate where they must get a two-thirds vote to be approved. The impetus for this high bar was the thought that treaties ought to be a matter of national consensus since they involve the security of the nation and their impact will be felt beyond the current Congress or the incumbent president.

Corker’s bill turned that approval process upside down. Instead of 67 votes to pass a deal that would give Iran Western approval for becoming a nuclear threshold state and a nuclear power once the deal expired in 10 to 15 years, all Obama would now need was 34 votes in the Senate or one-third plus one vote in the House.

It can be argued that Democrats would never have gone along with a bill that would have designated the Iran deal as a treaty as it should have been. The administration knows that there is no legal argument for not designating the deal as a treaty. As Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the only reason they didn’t present it as a treaty is because it is too hard to pass a treaty.

As I wrote at the time that Corker-Cardin was passed, it could be argued that a bill that required a vote of any kind was better than Congress merely standing by and watching as Obama negotiated and implemented a treaty with Iran without doing a thing to stop him. But as bad as that would have been, at least Congress would not then be complicit in the farce of a nuclear deal that failed to achieve the administration’s own objective of ending Iran’s nuclear program.

Though its passage was seemingly a defeat for the administration, the president was laughing up his sleeve as he “reluctantly” signed it into law. The odds of overriding a veto of a resolution of disapproval were always low but by whipping most Democrats in line and forcing Schumer to vow not to try and persuade other Senators to follow him into opposition, the White House has done better than get 34 votes. If they get 41 of the 45 senators that caucus with the Democrats to oppose cloture, there will not even be a vote on the measure.

Corker is flummoxed by this prospect, telling the New York Times that he cannot imagine that a Senate will do it.

“Ninety-eight senators voted to give themselves the right to vote on this,” he said. “Surely they are not going to deny themselves a final vote on the deal.” …

“To block a vote on the deal would be a fascinating turn of events at a minimum,” Mr. Corker said.

Fascinating isn’t quite the word I’d use for such a turn of events. A better description of what is happening is that a tough-minded administration has run rings around an inept Corker. Did he really trust liberal Democrats who promised that they wanted a vote? If so, he is clearly not smart enough to be left in the position of influence he has been given. Far from his accommodating attitude rebuilding the consensus on Iran that Obama has been busy destroying, Corker’s willingness to bend over backwards has facilitated Obama’s disastrous policy.

A filibuster will enable the president to say that Congress never defeated his Iran deal. That’s something that he would have been denied if he had been forced to veto the bill. Even a complete end run by the administration around congress where no vote at all would have been held would have been preferable to a successful Iran deal filibuster. Then opponents would have been able to point to the extra-legal way the president was sneaking his treaty with Iran through. A failed effort to designate the deal as a treaty would also at least have set the record straight about Obama’s disregard for the Constitution. But now Obama can say the deal was reviewed and in a sense passed. This will strengthen his efforts to undermine existing sanctions and make it harder for the deal to overturn it in the future once he leaves office.

For that he can thank Corker. No wonder most of the public, and especially the conservative voters whose efforts made Corker a committee chair, are disgusted with Congress. If that’s the best the Republicans can do, it’s not surprising that many of their adherents want to throw all of the bums out of Washington, theirs as well as the Democrats.

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How Does Donald Trump’s War on the Press End?

Donald Trump’s relationship with the political press is similar to that of a shark’s with its cadre of pilot fish: symbiotic. In the same way that the little entrepreneurial fish clears the predator of parasites, the press provides Trump with the lifeblood of publicity and attention without which he would wither away. In turn, media is afforded the essential sustenance of viewers, listeners, readers, and clicks. The news environment in August is about as barren as is the open water, and both the press and the pilot fish have adapted to it so as to eke out a subsistence living. Trump’s rapport with the press differs, however, in one substantial way from that of these two famously mutualist sea creatures. If it were a perfect comparison, every so often the shark would lean over and mercilessly consume one of its passengers. There is risk in this strategy. The mutually beneficial compact is not a suicide pact. When faced with sufficiently adverse conditions for long enough, even the pilot fish would be forced to adapt. Similar, there are a handful of signs that suggest the media’s love affair with the celebrity Republican candidate is headed for a rocky patch.  Read More

Donald Trump’s relationship with the political press is similar to that of a shark’s with its cadre of pilot fish: symbiotic. In the same way that the little entrepreneurial fish clears the predator of parasites, the press provides Trump with the lifeblood of publicity and attention without which he would wither away. In turn, media is afforded the essential sustenance of viewers, listeners, readers, and clicks. The news environment in August is about as barren as is the open water, and both the press and the pilot fish have adapted to it so as to eke out a subsistence living. Trump’s rapport with the press differs, however, in one substantial way from that of these two famously mutualist sea creatures. If it were a perfect comparison, every so often the shark would lean over and mercilessly consume one of its passengers. There is risk in this strategy. The mutually beneficial compact is not a suicide pact. When faced with sufficiently adverse conditions for long enough, even the pilot fish would be forced to adapt. Similar, there are a handful of signs that suggest the media’s love affair with the celebrity Republican candidate is headed for a rocky patch. 

As has become predictable, Donald Trump dominated the news cycle on Tuesday. The political media displayed extraordinary deference to the Republican presidential candidate when all three cable networks carried one of his typically rambling press conferences. Most of them then went on to cover the campaign stop speech he delivered in the following hour – CNN broadcast it in its entirety. It was a spectacle — they always are — and it’s perhaps understandable that these displays are covered with zeal by the press. They are, if nothing else, quite entertaining.

During that press conference, Trump reacted controversially when he was bombarded by activist hectoring masquerading as a line of questions from the famously partial Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. Rather than endure the badgering from this overtly biased reporter, a condition that comes with the job of running for high office, one of Trump’s security guards emerged from the crowd and ushered Ramos out of the room. “Go back to Univision,” Trump was heard saying as Ramos was shown the door.

Conservatives cheered at the treatment of a reporter they rightly regard as an unreasonable adversary, but they should not have. Ramos is spectacularly influential among the Hispanic community. A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2013 found that Hispanics name Ramos as one of their community’s most influential figures, alongside individuals like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor and Pope Francis. Even though he was eventually allowed back into the room to ask his questions with a level of decorum Trump believed was his due, Ramos’ summary deportation from the press conference “back to Univision” was a perfect metaphor for Trump’s approach to the immigration debate. It surely won’t help his favorability rating with Hispanics, which Gallup recently found was a staggering 51 points underwater.

Of course, journalists also overreacted to this event. On Twitter, political reporters bristled over the offense to their colleague and waxed grandiose about the sullied sanctity of their profession. This same effrontery was not taken when Barack Obama feigned great personal insult after CBS reporter Major Garrett asked the president if he was “content” with the terms of the Iran nuclear deal that left four Americans prisoners of the regime in Tehran. Members of Garrett’s own profession scolded him for having crossed a line. And when The Daily Caller’s Neil Munro aggressively probes Democratic politicians, he is never the beneficiary of the doubt from his fellow reporters. When Munro barked questions at the president at a Rose Garden event in 2012 in a manner virtually identical to Ramos, he was scolded by the White House Correspondents Association president who called the reporter’s behavior “discourteous.” The organization did, however, decline petitions to bar The Daily Caller from the White House pool rotation. How magnanimous.

Univision isn’t the only network that has found itself on Trump’s ample bad side in recent days. The premiere cable news outlet, Fox News Channel, also finds its relationship with Trump increasingly strained.

Donald Trump spent a conspicuous amount of time after the Fox-hosted first GOP debate complaining about his treatment at the hands of prime time host and journalist Megyn Kelly. The reality show host and presidential candidate eventually took to rival CNN to litigate his grievance (where he obliquely accused Kelly of pursuing her probing line of questioning because she was struggling with the physical effects of menstruation).

“I assured him that we will continue to cover this campaign with fairness and balance,” Fox News chief Roger Ailes said revealing a conciliatory call he made to the candidate. “We had a blunt but cordial conversation and the air has been cleared.” That truce was illusory. With no warning, Donald Trump took to his Twitter account on Monday night to resume his vicious and personal attacks on Megyn Kelly. He snapped at her, attacked her competence, suggested she should be replaced, and retweeted a fan that called her a “bimbo.”

This unprovoked escalation of hostilities was apparently too much for Fox News. “Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should,” Ales added, noting that the candidate’s “unprovoked attack” on one of their journalists was “as unacceptable as it is disturbing.”

For a candidate who is so reluctant to admit fault that he even boasted about his refusal to ask even God for forgiveness, it was always unlikely that Trump would issue an apology to Megyn Kelly or anyone else. True to form, Trump refused to back down. “I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist,” he wrote in a statement. “I think her questioning of me, despite all of the polls saying I won the debate, was very unfair.” He echoed his criticisms of the network at Tuesday’s press conference following the ejection of Ramos. “I think Fox treats me terribly. A lot of the people that like me think they treat me terribly,” he said. “When people treat me badly, I don’t let them forget it.” All the aspiring generalissimo was lacking was shoulder epaulettes and a peaked cap.

How do these confrontations end? Fox News is in a difficult position; the network can hardly afford to bar Trump and cede the associated ratings to its competitors. Univision may soon find itself in the position of the Des Moines Register: without credentials or access to the candidate. Trump might believe that he can black out whatever media outlets he believe have offended him. Our shark is keenly aware of how necessary he has become to the survival of his cadre of pilot fish. At a certain point, however, the broadcast networks have a responsibility to the society they purport to serve. How much national comity must be sacrificed in the name of entertainment? Precisely what level of coarseness in the country’s dialogue must we endure in service to Nielsen ratings? Fox took the first step in a noble direction. Univision will follow suit out of necessity. The sooner Trump is isolated and made to adopt some common standards of decency, the better. Only those he depends on can impose this behavior change, and Trump depends on no one — save the press.

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Are Trump Supporters Blind to His Vices or Drawn to Them?

I’ll have more to say about Donald Trump later, but for now I  wanted to add a brief addendum to the excellent post by Jonathan. What the rise of Mr. Trump says about our political culture is a deep and important question. The answer will hinge in part on how Mr. Trump does when votes are actually counted. But the fact that he’s done this well in the polls for this long — even with the qualification that it’s the summer before the year of the election — is certainly disquieting.

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I’ll have more to say about Donald Trump later, but for now I  wanted to add a brief addendum to the excellent post by Jonathan. What the rise of Mr. Trump says about our political culture is a deep and important question. The answer will hinge in part on how Mr. Trump does when votes are actually counted. But the fact that he’s done this well in the polls for this long — even with the qualification that it’s the summer before the year of the election — is certainly disquieting.

For now, I want to say a word about Trump’s trolling of Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly. It is of a piece with what Trump has done before — to Ms. Kelly and to countless others — so in a sense it’s no surprise. What it does is reinforce the fact that we are dealing with a man who is obsessive, vulgar, narcissistic and not quite stable. He shouldn’t be allowed near a twitter account, let alone nuclear weapons.

We’re now at the point where one has to ask whether Trump’s supporters are simply and inexplicably blind to this reality; or whether, as some have argued, it explains his appeal to them. The latter explanation is worse than the former, but neither is good.

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The Battle of the Dynasties Won’t Happen

As the presidential campaign began earlier this year, the fear among some political observers was that the American people would be faced next year with a grim choice between two political dynasties: the Clintons and the Bushes. Theoretically a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may still take place in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton still leads the national polls among Democrats and Jeb Bush has raised the most money of all the Republicans, so long as you don’t count Donald Trump’s checks that are written to himself. But as the summer comes to an end, the assumptions that were the foundation of the inevitable Clinton-Bush matchup are now exploded. Hillary’s email scandal, lackluster campaign and defensive encounters with the press encouraged a remarkable left-wing insurgency led by Bernie Sanders. They’ve also made it all but certain that Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race against her, perhaps with the tacit or open backing of President Obama. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush continued to lag far behind Trump and seems outmatched in exchanges with his populist foe. Yet as different as their problems may be, they may more in common than they or most of us ever thought. Both are starting to realize that the last thing many voters on both sides of the aisle want is a battle between two fading political dynasties.

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As the presidential campaign began earlier this year, the fear among some political observers was that the American people would be faced next year with a grim choice between two political dynasties: the Clintons and the Bushes. Theoretically a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may still take place in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton still leads the national polls among Democrats and Jeb Bush has raised the most money of all the Republicans, so long as you don’t count Donald Trump’s checks that are written to himself. But as the summer comes to an end, the assumptions that were the foundation of the inevitable Clinton-Bush matchup are now exploded. Hillary’s email scandal, lackluster campaign and defensive encounters with the press encouraged a remarkable left-wing insurgency led by Bernie Sanders. They’ve also made it all but certain that Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race against her, perhaps with the tacit or open backing of President Obama. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush continued to lag far behind Trump and seems outmatched in exchanges with his populist foe. Yet as different as their problems may be, they may more in common than they or most of us ever thought. Both are starting to realize that the last thing many voters on both sides of the aisle want is a battle between two fading political dynasties.

Let’s concede that Bush is in far worse shape than Clinton. His problem isn’t just that his standing in the polls, both national and in the early voting states, is an utter disaster. Bush got into the race early to intimidate would-be rivals like Mitt Romney into dropping out. But he is not only trailing far behind Trump, he also now faces the real possibility of being eclipsed as the moderate non-Trump by John Kasich while others have tapped into other constituencies that Bush seems incapable of addressing. Yet as bad as that news may be, even worse is the realization that his performance as a candidate has been abysmal. Bush could have shrugged off a low-energy performance at the first debate had it been out of character. Yet it was very much in character with his poor showing on the campaign trail. Monday’s disaster at the border with Mexico in which he tried to get right with Hispanics only to offend Asians with his talk about their anchor babies is just the latest example of his poor choice of words. Like his various and often ill-considered answers to questions about his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, this incident was typical Jeb. He was, at one and the same time, wonkish, long winded, and off message. Not surprisingly that has led to reports that his formidable fundraising machine is starting to lose steam.

Nobody with $100 million in the bank, a famous name, as well as a good record should be written off in August, but at the moment it’s hard to see how he digs himself out of this hole. That’s especially true when you consider that he has been the consistent loser in exchanges with Trump even if he’s almost always in the right and the Donald in the wrong on the issues. If there’s going to be an establishment non-Trump who emerges from the scrum of GOP candidates to knock off the current frontrunner, his name isn’t likely to be Bush. Indeed, barring a complete turnaround on his part, he’s set up to go into history alongside Phil Gramm (1996) and John Connally (1980) as the best-funded busts in the history of presidential elections.

Hillary’s problems are not so dire at the moment. She still seems to be laboring under the delusion that her email problems are an annoyance concocted by her old bugaboo, the “vast right wing conspiracy” and will soon fade away. Nor does she seem particularly worried about Sanders leading her in New Hampshire and drawing big crowds around the country. But if she isn’t worried at the thought of Biden getting into the race with what is increasingly sounding like the imprimatur of the White House, she’s not thinking straight.

It’s true that the good feelings about Biden among Democratic voters may decline once the Clinton machine starts to attack. But though he is a gaffe-machine whose two previous attempts at presidential runs were utterly disastrous, his authenticity and happy warrior personality provides a tremendous contrast with Clinton. If Democrats perceive that he is running for a third Obama term as opposed to another one for the Clintons, Hillary will be in the fight of her life. And if the real idol of the left — Elizabeth Warren — is seen as also backing Biden, Hillary’s “inevitable” coronation in 2016 may prove to be as illusory as her similar can’t-lose candidacy in 2008.

The problem for both Bush and Clinton is not just that a lot of Americans are tired of their names or the problems associated with them — Iraq for the Bushes and scandals for the Clintons. To the great surprise of the establishments of both major parties, this time voters want something genuinely new to get excited about. Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much, but they all hanker after someone who can channel their anger and frustration. Right now, that means Trump and Sanders. But any candidate, even a quintessential Washington veteran like Biden who can tap into their need for a touch of populist rhetoric, is going to do better than the tired and tepid approaches offered by Bush and Clinton.

The problems the supposed inevitable nominees are dealing with are more than two cases of bad timing and unexpected opponents. Bush and Clinton are failing more because of their lousy performances than the genius of their opponents. That gives both hope that they can turn things around once the obvious rust that both are showing on the campaign trail wears off. It’s still possible that even Bush can pick himself up from the floor and emerge as the most realistic alternative to Trump. But don’t bet on it. Whatever else may happen in an already wacky and unpredictable presidential campaign, it’s already clear that America doesn’t want another Bush-Clinton election.

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Natalie Portman is Partially Right About the Holocaust

Should we care when a Jewish actress tells us that we are placing too much emphasis on Holocaust education? Hollywood interviews aren’t the place to find serious commentary on such issues, but when Natalie Portman told Britain’s Independent that it is “subverted to fear-mongering” and making Jews “paranoid” it was more than just a celebrity gaffe. Born in Jerusalem and the product of Jewish day schools, she is someone who has long been identified with support for Israel and Jewish causes. Throw in the fact that she once played Anne Frank on Broadway and is now in the middle of promoting a film she has produced, directed, written and acted in an adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, that gives the Oscar-winner a certain standing to speak on Jewish issues. Portman’s comments seem to reflect her liberal political beliefs and especially her much-publicized antipathy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support for President Obama. Indeed, it is hard not to see them as being a function of the debate over the Iran nuclear deal more than an in-depth analysis of the role of the Holocaust in history. But Portman’s comments shouldn’t be entirely dismissed because she’s half right.

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Should we care when a Jewish actress tells us that we are placing too much emphasis on Holocaust education? Hollywood interviews aren’t the place to find serious commentary on such issues, but when Natalie Portman told Britain’s Independent that it is “subverted to fear-mongering” and making Jews “paranoid” it was more than just a celebrity gaffe. Born in Jerusalem and the product of Jewish day schools, she is someone who has long been identified with support for Israel and Jewish causes. Throw in the fact that she once played Anne Frank on Broadway and is now in the middle of promoting a film she has produced, directed, written and acted in an adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, that gives the Oscar-winner a certain standing to speak on Jewish issues. Portman’s comments seem to reflect her liberal political beliefs and especially her much-publicized antipathy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support for President Obama. Indeed, it is hard not to see them as being a function of the debate over the Iran nuclear deal more than an in-depth analysis of the role of the Holocaust in history. But Portman’s comments shouldn’t be entirely dismissed because she’s half right.

Portman’s comments came in the context of an interview with the British paper as part of her promotion tour for A Tale of Love and Darkness. The film is an adaptation of a memoir of Oz’s early life in Jerusalem and on Kibbutz Hulda, and most particularly the suicide of his mother, whom Portman portrays in the film. But the interview gives us more than a behind-the-scenes look at her work on the movie.

After detailing her Jewish background and education, the Independent article pivots away from the film to politics:

Yet she now thinks that she was slightly hoodwinked into not questioning the actions of the Israeli state. As the government has become more right-wing, she has started to be a critical voice. She sees some of her previous opinions as being the result of her education, which she believes put too exclusive an emphasis on the Holocaust.

“I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education. Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things… We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”

She continues: “Sometimes it can be subverted to fear-mongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen’. We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, anti-Semitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I don’t mean to make false equivalences, we need it to serve as something that makes us empathetic to people rather than paranoid.”

Portman publicly opposed the re-election of Netanyahu and his “right-wing” government, so it isn’t difficult to connect the dots between this statement and her equally public support for President Obama. Since Netanyahu and other critics of the president’s Iran nuclear deal have invoked the genocidal threats made by Iran against Israel’s existence, apparently any mention of the Holocaust these days must be accompanied by a disclaimer of some sorts if a public figure wishes to retain their status as a liberal in good standing.

However, her assumption that Holocaust education is prompting Jews to not care about the suffering of others or to overhype threats to themselves is deeply troubling. Later in the article, Portman claims to have been surprised to learn that genocide was going on in Rwanda at the same time she was studying the Holocaust as a youngster. It’s hard to believe an intelligent person, let alone a Harvard grad was unaware of a news event that was portrayed in graphic detail on the front pages of American newspapers at the time it was happening. It’s especially hard to believe since the vast majority of American Jewish schools, especially the non-Orthodox ones such as those Portman attended, tend to emphasize efforts to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust. If anything, most of the American Jewish world long ago took her advice about emphasizing empathy to heart a long time ago. Indeed, go to any community Holocaust commemoration in the United States in the last decade and the odds are you’d have been more likely to hear concerns about Rwanda or Darfur than a call to arms about the Iranian nuclear threat.

Perhaps some readers will be inclined to give her a pass on concern about Iran because of President Obama’s assurances that it’s anti-Semitic Supreme Leader who vows to eliminate Israel is “just a politician.” But it is particularly egregious for Portman to pooh-pooh threats to Jewish life at a time when a rising tide of anti-Semitism is growing in Europe. A better question to pose to her is that if she thinks Jews are “fear-mongering” about Jew hatred, is she willing to have her son Aleph walk around Paris, where she lives with her husband and child, wearing jewelry or a kipah that would openly identify him as a Jew? Or are the rules for celebrities different from those for other Jews who fear to do so in the City of Light?

Love him or hate him, Netanyahu’s responsibility is to protect the citizens of a Jewish state that remain under threat not only from the intentions of Iran but of its terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah. I don’t know where Portman spent her summer last year, but most Israelis spent much of it in bomb shelters as Hamas rockets rained down on their cities and terrorists sought to use tunnels to kidnap and murder Jews. It isn’t 1938, and Israel is a strong nation whose leaders won’t let their people be pushed into the ovens by enemies or those claiming to be its friends. Holocaust analogies are often inappropriate. But the fact remains that the one Jewish state remains the one nation in the world that is targeted for elimination by most of its neighbors with many in the supposedly enlightened West ready to cheer such a result. This is not a product of criticism of Netanyahu but anti-Semitism.

But even as we take her to task for mixing up the Holocaust with her antipathy for Netanyahu and sympathy for Obama, a discussion about the emphasis on Holocaust education in the U.S. is probably a good thing.

For the post-World War Two generation in this country, Jewish identity centered on support for Israel and the memory of the Holocaust. That helped produce the generation of activists that created the Soviet Jewry movement as well as the people who helped build the U.S.-Israel alliance. But historical memory and political activism are no substitutes for either faith or a sense of peoplehood. Those values are good in and of themselves, but they are not necessarily transmissible. And for those, like Portman, who were born long after the events of the 1940s, the memory of the Holocaust or of a world without a State of Israel is as remote as that of the Roman Empire. While she, the daughter of an Israeli and an active American Jew, has not lost her connection with Jewish life, many in her generation have.

The results of the 2013 Pew Survey on Jewish Americans painted a portrait of a community that had little sense of the richness of Jewish civilization that transcends the Holocaust or even cheerleading for Israeli survival. Jewish identity cannot be built on sorrow over the past or living vicariously through the achievements of Israel as so many postwar Jews tended to do. The toll of assimilation that has created the distressing statistics that herald the demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry should have taught us that if nothing else.

A Holocaust-centric education cheats Jews of the richness of their history, their faith and contemporary Jewish life including Israel. So Portman isn’t entirely wrong to question how the subject can distort the perception of Jewish existence.

But in 2015, with anti-Semitism emerging from the shadows in the Europe where she lives and with Jew-haters hiding behind the thin veil of the boycott Israel movement elsewhere, this isn’t the moment to accuse Jews of paranoia. Even more to the point, with an Iranian regime committed to the destruction of her homeland about to become, with the help of the president she supports, a nuclear threshold state, it is unacceptable for her to be claiming that Jews are fear-mongering.

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Has the DOJ Silenced Bob Menendez on the Iran Deal?

On Monday night, the Department of Justice brought the hammer down on Senator Bob Menendez. Read More

On Monday night, the Department of Justice brought the hammer down on Senator Bob Menendez.

Reportedly in response to the senator’s frequent dismissals of the indictment against him as being based on flimsy evidence and FBI’s systematic efforts to mislead a New Jersey grand jury, the DOJ submitted a blistering filing that could – and quite possibly should — imperil the Garden State senator’s career.

Prosecutors alleged that Menendez both solicited and accepted a “stream of bribes” from Florida-based eye doctor Salomon Melgen. The DOJ indicated that Menendez offered and provided quid pro quo in exchange for these favors, which included trips to Paris and the Dominican Republic. But most damningly, the FBI allegedly found “substantial evidence” to indicate that both Melgen and Menendez were “involved in prostitution.” The DOJ indicated that it had “corroborating evidence” that Senator Menendez traveled to the Caribbean “during time frames in which one unidentified alleged minor victim specifically claimed to have had sex with him.”

In 2013, Menendez called the allegations that he had anything to do with an underage prostitution ring “smears” propagated by “anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals” when they appeared in The Daily Caller. Earlier this year, when Menendez was indicted for alleged corruption, he resigned his seat as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Given the gravity of the charges against him, Menendez may face even more substantial pressure to give up his seat entirely in the coming weeks.

It is also, however, hard to ignore the Justice Department’s conspicuously timed releases in relation to Menendez’s corruption case. Menendez spent the month of March, a crunch period that the P5+1 negotiators spent conceding to Iranian demands in order to emerge from talks in Europe with a framework nuclear deal, telling pro-Israel groups that he would oppose the proposed accord. Along with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Menendez sponsored legislation that provided Congress with a period in which they could review and eventually vote on the nuclear accord. On Wednesday, April 1, the DOJ disclosed to the public the indictment against Menendez. On April 2, the administration revealed that it had finally established the framework outlines of a nuclear deal.

But Menendez vowed that he would be vindicated and continued to rail against the deal. He has done so in a way that has been thoroughly damaging to the president’s case, and one that might even convince liberals that Menendez occupies the moral high ground. “Unlike President Obama’s characterization of those who have raised serious questions about the agreement, or who have opposed it, I did not vote for the war in Iraq, I opposed it, unlike the Vice President and the Secretary of State, who both supported it,” Menendez said in a brutal speech last Tuesday taking aim not only at the president but John Kerry and Joe Biden, too. One week later, the other shoe dropped.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and there is nothing concrete to support the claim that the DOJ is timing the release of information about Menendez’s case in order to blunt the efficacy of his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Coincidence is not evidence, but it is compelling.

But even if Menendez retains his current role, so long as these charges loom ominously over his political career, it will be difficult for his colleagues to work with him on the Iran issue. “Has any GOP candidate thanked Menendez for his patriotism & said he looks forward to working with him on a bipartisan basis in 2017?” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol recently asked. The answer was no, and the reasoning is obvious in hindsight; the negative political spots write themselves. Republicans might support Menendez’s position, but they dare not be identified with him.

And what about the other side of the aisle? Even if Menendez continues to speak out bluntly and passionately against the Iran deal, who among his Democratic colleagues will join him? Though Senator Chuck Schumer admirably expressed opposition toward the deal, he has declined to speak out against it with the same fervor his colleague from New Jersey has. Despite the deal’s glaring flaws, Democrats like Harry Reid and Debbie Stabenow came out in favor of it just this week. Meanwhile, President Obama is still aggressively promoting the deal, only yesterday calling those who oppose the accord “crazies.” It seems unlikely that any Democrats will bristle at the president’s abrasive characterization.

Even if the charges against Menendez are resolved in a way that leaves the senator’s career intact – a big “if” — it seems unlikely that his opposition to the Iran deal will retain the force of principle it had just last week.

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America Has a Stake in Kurdish Statehood

The continuing unrest in Iraq has claimed another casualty: the deal reached between the Kurds and Baghdad last December, which led the Kurdish Regional Government to suspend unilateral oil sales. The Financial Times reports that “the federal government withheld payments to Erbil soon after the deal began due to its own budget crisis while accusing the Kurds of not transferring the agreed volumes.” Read More

The continuing unrest in Iraq has claimed another casualty: the deal reached between the Kurds and Baghdad last December, which led the Kurdish Regional Government to suspend unilateral oil sales. The Financial Times reports that “the federal government withheld payments to Erbil soon after the deal began due to its own budget crisis while accusing the Kurds of not transferring the agreed volumes.”

As a result, the KRG has once again started selling its oil abroad without going through Baghdad’s State Oil Marketing Organization. “Since May,” the FT reports, “the Kurds have sold almost 40m barrels of oil to traders via the Turkish port of Ceyhan.” (Interestingly, much of the crude seems to be winding up in Israel, which is now said to be getting as much as three-quarters of its oil from the pro-Israeli Kurds.)

Meanwhile in northern Syria, the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish terrorist group — has been making inroads into ISIS control. In fact, with some 35,000 fighters under arms, it is the only armed group that has had any success in rolling back ISIS gains, doing so with the aid of American airpower. Its gains, coming at the same time as the PPK has stepped up attacks inside Turkey, have so alarmed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he has ordered Turkish aircraft to bomb targets in northern Syria. His ostensible target is ISIS, but the Turks seem to be saving most of their firepower for the PKK and its affiliates.

What’s happening, notwithstanding violent Turkish resistance, is of great significance. You can almost hear the tectonic plates of the region shifting. The Kurds, long the largest ethnic group without their own state (they are thought to number over 30 million people), appear to be on the verge of realizing their long-held ambitions for autonomy if not independence.

Already the KRG is virtually a sovereign state inside the empty shell that is Iraq. Now, the YPG is carving out another Kurdish statelet in Syria. It would not take too much more effort to join the two Kurdish enclaves and thus create a de facto Kurdish state sprawling across northern Iraq and Syria.

Of course, major obstacles remain in the way — not only the Turks and Iranians (who have their own substantial Kurdish minority) but also the Arabs of both Syria and Iraq. They are not going to support Kurdish statehood. But the Syrian and Iraqi states have virtually ceased to function, thereby making their opposition less relevant than ever.

Neither Iraq nor Syria is likely to be reconstituted in their old form, which in any case dates back only to the post-World War I settlement created by Britain and France. Who is to say that a future realignment of Mesopotamia and the Levant might not result in the creation of a Kurdish state?

And, notwithstanding habitual American support for existing borders around the world, it is hard to see why we should stand in the way of such a development, should it occur. The Kurds are more secular and more pro-Western than any other group in the region other than the Christians of Lebanon and (of course) the Jews of Israel. They are far from perfect — the PKK, in particular, is a terrorist group with a Marxist ideology — but at the moment the Kurds look a damn sight preferable to the other alternatives on offer, which are competing brands of Sunni and Shiite jihadism. This is not to say that the U.S. should make the realization of Kurdish statehood a primary objective, but it is to say that we need to rethink our reflexive opposition to that prospect.

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It’s Not Too Early to Think About a Stop Trump Movement

Anyone who doubted that we are in a new era of presidential politics needed to be monitoring Donald Trump’s Twitter feed last night. Instead of using down time to prepare for upcoming appearances, studying up on the issues, or even raising money from other rich people to fund his campaign, Trump was on Twitter last night providing running commentary on what was being said on Fox News. Still holding a grudge from being grilled on his misogynist comments during the presidential debate earlier this month, the Donald sniped at Fox’s Megyn Kelly even retweeting comments from his fans calling her a “bimbo.” If that wasn’t enough, he also retweeted other comments attacking Jeb Bush for having a wife that spoke “Mexican.” As late as the turn of the 20th century, Americans still expected presidential candidates to stay at home and avoid anything as undignified as campaigning for themselves. Now we must contemplate the possibility that one of our two major parties is on track to select someone who likes to play the role of a Twitter troll — a person who seeks to provoke others to make outrageous comments by their own vile utterances — as a presidential nominee.

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Anyone who doubted that we are in a new era of presidential politics needed to be monitoring Donald Trump’s Twitter feed last night. Instead of using down time to prepare for upcoming appearances, studying up on the issues, or even raising money from other rich people to fund his campaign, Trump was on Twitter last night providing running commentary on what was being said on Fox News. Still holding a grudge from being grilled on his misogynist comments during the presidential debate earlier this month, the Donald sniped at Fox’s Megyn Kelly even retweeting comments from his fans calling her a “bimbo.” If that wasn’t enough, he also retweeted other comments attacking Jeb Bush for having a wife that spoke “Mexican.” As late as the turn of the 20th century, Americans still expected presidential candidates to stay at home and avoid anything as undignified as campaigning for themselves. Now we must contemplate the possibility that one of our two major parties is on track to select someone who likes to play the role of a Twitter troll — a person who seeks to provoke others to make outrageous comments by their own vile utterances — as a presidential nominee.

Of course, anyone who thinks this will cause his supporters to abandon Trump hasn’t been paying attention to the presidential campaign. Trump is riding high in the polls because this sort of behavior is not only not a disqualifying factor but a reflection of a degree of authenticity that a lot of people want. That means the question for Republicans today is no longer when Trump will fade as so many of us expected but rather whether we are really living in a country where a candidate that calls a journalist a bimbo can win 270 electoral votes.

As our Noah Rothman wrote yesterday, the market crash we are experiencing is not unconnected to the populist moment we are experiencing in presidential politics. At a time when so many Americans feel aggrieved about the failures of our political class, it is almost understandable that so many would be attracted to a personality like Trump. His answers to the nation’s problems are simplistic and often contradictory. But he has perfectly captured the sense of frustration that many on the right feel about the state of a nation that can’t control its borders or have an economy that grows rather than contracts. As I wrote earlier this month, the anger that is carrying Trump along is a conservative manifestation is morally equivalent to the same spirit on the left that is fueling Bernie Sanders’ boomlet as well as protest movements like Black Lives Matter. If so, then it is time to stop judging Trump’s electability by traditional measures of appropriate behavior or cogent policy solutions and to start measuring it by a completely different metric that we have yet to fully understand.

Asking whether Trump’s poll numbers are a reflection with the media’s obsession with covering him or the other way around is as productive as a dissertation on whether the chicken or the egg came first. Love him or hate him, Trump fascinates people and he is master of manipulating coverage as well as intimidating opponents. The shots at Kelly are vulgar and stupid as well as a reflection of his pettiness and thin skin. They ought to be beneath the dignity of anyone in public life, let alone a presidential candidate. But they serve a purpose in reminding the media, his opponents, and the public that the Donald plays for keeps and that he will always do his best to destroy anyone who challenges him. That we are living in a moment when such a quality attracts voters to a candidate rather than repelling them should tell us all we need to know about the crisis in our political culture.

But even if we stop deluding ourselves that Trump is certain to fade, that is not quite the same as conceding him the presidency.

As things stand now, his lead over the pack of seemingly more electable presidential candidates is so great that it is by no means difficult to imagine him sweeping through the presidential primary season to the Republican nomination. That could change once the race is clarified as the field is winnowed down from an unmanageable 17 contenders to a smaller group from which a credible non-Trump could emerge. But the history of modern American politics teaches us that movements designed to stop a frontrunner always fail. In an era of brokered conventions when political machines controlled the nomination process such a thing might have been possible. But the conceit of our current system is designed to produce a winner early in the nomination process. It is not too early to realize that if Trump sweeps the early primaries and holds his own in the SEC southern mega-primary on March 1, he will likely be the nominee and at that point there will be nothing that Republicans will be able to do about it even if they form a belated “stop Trump” movement. The GOP field may have to be culled before Iowa and New Hampshire rather than after it if Trump is to be stopped.

What makes it even worse for Republicans is that while it is entirely possible that Trump can score the 25 to 30 percent in both polls and primaries to win in a crowded field, it is by no means certain that a populist Twitter troll — even one named Trump — can win a general election. I’m willing to concede that I may have been wrong to predict that Trump would fade before the votes started to be counted in Iowa and New Hampshire. But I have yet to see proof that the basic moderation of the American people and their political system has been completely destroyed by the populist surge. Trump may become the GOP nominee but against a credible Democrat, even a wounded Hillary Clinton or a gaffe-prone Joe Biden, he is not likely to be as successful. Until proven otherwise, I still think it is a given that a Republican Party that allows itself to be transformed into an outlet for white identity politics and populist rage is one that is setting itself up for an epic disaster in November 2016.

That’s a nightmare scenario for many if not most Republicans who prefer any of the other candidates to Trump. But it’s one that must be confronted now rather than next February or March when it will be too late.

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Voting Down the Iran Deal Is No Empty Gesture

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond made a high-profile trip to Iran to reopen the British Embassy, which had been closed in 2011 after it was attacked by a regime-authorized mob whose “Death to Britain” graffiti is still visible on the walls. Once in Tehran, Hammond felt obligated to utter the kind of foolish platitudes that are doomed to be disappointed — all about how Britain can now engage with Iran on “the very many issues” where they have “shared interests.” Read More

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond made a high-profile trip to Iran to reopen the British Embassy, which had been closed in 2011 after it was attacked by a regime-authorized mob whose “Death to Britain” graffiti is still visible on the walls. Once in Tehran, Hammond felt obligated to utter the kind of foolish platitudes that are doomed to be disappointed — all about how Britain can now engage with Iran on “the very many issues” where they have “shared interests.”

Does Britain have a “shared interest” with Iran in destroying the state of Israel? In prolonging Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanon? In propping up Bashar Assad’s murderous rule in Syria? In furthering takeovers by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Yemen? In destabilizing the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf?

Thought not. As the British would say, Hammond’s talking points were “bollocks” or, to put it more politely, “a load of rubbish.”

But his visit was nevertheless interesting and instructive for what it revealed about the rush that Western companies are making — or not — to secure entry into the soon-to-be-open Iranian market. Iranian officials say they want $185 billion in oil and gas investment by 2020. Quite a bonanza, no? But, in fact, fewer than ten British executives accompanied Hammond on his trip — far smaller than the delegations of French and Italian businessmen that have visited Iran.

One notable no-show was the oil giant BP. Despite BP’s long history of doing business in Iran (it was originally known as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company), it stayed away because its executives fear the impact of unilateral U.S. sanctions. The Financial Times writes that there is still considerable uncertainty “about how U.S. regulators will enforce the sanctions they retain,” even after multilateral sanctions are lifting.

This suggests that congressional rejection of the Iran deal — however unlikely — would not be as empty a gesture as many had thought. Even now, with every indication that the deal will be approved and sanctions will come off, major oil-industry players like BP are wary of entering the Iranian market because they fear a backlash from America. Imagine what would happen if Congress were to reject the deal and insist on maintaining the current level of sanctions: that would definitely put a damper on Iranian plans to cash in on an economic bonanza. A substantial vote against the deal, even if it falls short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, could still send a signal to international markets to be wary of doing business in Iran — and that, in turn, could still enforce a measure of informal sanctions even if formal limits are lifted.

It’s not as good as the current sanctions, even in the diluted form they have taken since nuclear talks began in 2013. But it’s better than simply lifting all limits on Iran’s ability to expand economically and strategically.

 

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The Future Does Not Belong to China

At least since the rise of Marxism in the 19th century, enthusiasm for “managed” economies has been a peculiar enthusiasm of intellectuals worldwide. From the 1920s to the 1960s, if not later, Fabian socialists were telling us that the Soviet Union, China, and other Communist countries had found a superior model to foster industrialization.  Read More

At least since the rise of Marxism in the 19th century, enthusiasm for “managed” economies has been a peculiar enthusiasm of intellectuals worldwide. From the 1920s to the 1960s, if not later, Fabian socialists were telling us that the Soviet Union, China, and other Communist countries had found a superior model to foster industrialization. 

Then in the 1980s, by which time it was obvious that the future was not to be found in Moscow, we started hearing about a more capitalist version of the “managed” economy — the kind practiced by Japan and its imitators in East Asia. Their “tiger” economies, we were told, would soon not only defeat the United States in economic competition but literally own us, lock, stock, and barrel.

That prediction hasn’t looked so hot ever since the Japanese economy went into a long swan dive starting in the early 1990s after the bursting of a real estate bubble. Yet enthusiasm for Asian alternatives to the “liberal” model practiced in the United States has not waned. It has merely transferred the object of its affections from Tokyo to Beijing.

For the last decade, China has been heralded as the economy and indeed the superpower of the future. Yet the events of recent days — with the Chinese stock market doing a pratfall that is dragging down the rest of the world’s markets with it — suggest that the path to the “Chinese century” is no more assured than was the path to Soviet or Japanese dominance in decades past.

Indeed, as Greg Ip and Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal point out, the very opacity of the Chinese system is turning out to be a crucial defect. “For sheer clout, China’s economy outweighs every country in the world save the U.S.,” they write. “But on transparency, it remains distinctly an emerging market, with murky politics, unreliable data and opaque decision making.” As an example, they cite outside estimates that China’s real GDP growth in the last quarter — officially reported at 7 percent — may really be as low as 3.7 percent.

The Journal quotes a former Treasury official: “With my G-7 and many G-20 counterparts there were frank, honest conversations, you were on the phone pretty frequently, often weekly. With China, you don’t know who to call. It’s hard to know where decision making occurs or who’s calling the shots.”

It is not just lack of transparency that plagues China. The corruption of the Chinese system is legion. President Xi Jinping has mounted a purge of other Communist Party officials on grounds of corruption but many suspect that this is little more than a ruse to remove rivals while leaving his family and supporters — who are as corrupt as any other party princelings — in firm control of the economy’s commanding heights.

Thus, it is hard not only to know who is calling the shots but why they are doing so. Are they trying to benefit the Chinese people as a whole, or are they self-dealing in a way designed to benefit themselves and their family at the expense of the country as a whole?

Although the Journal does not draw the connection, these defects are endemic to most authoritarian regimes. A partial exception may be found in Singapore, which is hardly a model of democracy but has done a first-rate job of fighting corruption and instilling high standards of professionalism among its bureaucrats. But Singapore is a tiny city-state that had the benefit of Lee Kuan Yew’s genius. China is the most populous country in the word, and it is entirely at the mercy of its kleptocratic class of Communist mandarins.

It turns out that China has not found a magical formula for managing its economy in ways that will allow it to effortlessly overtake more open and liberal economies such as that of the United States. For all of America’s defects, I’d say our model is still the one to bet on for the future. Until China liberalizes, it’s hard to imagine its economic growth continuing at the breakneck pace of recent decades.

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Never Fall in Love

As is often the case at this stage of the presidential election cycle, energized and enthusiastic partisans find themselves falling for their preferred candidate. He or she can do no wrong, and those who dare to question or vet them thoroughly are immediately dismissed as insufficiently committed to the cause, at best (saboteurs, at worst). Of course, the voter who falls hard for their candidate of choice will eventually suffer a broken heart. Politics is the art of compromise, and compromise invariably disappoints the infatuated activist. Rarely, however, do you see the activist primary voter professing similar affections for the party with which they identify. This is a wholly good and uniquely American phenomenon. Despite the longevity of both of America’s two dominant political parties, they are about as unloved by voters as the founders, who disparagingly referred to them as “factions,” would have it. The activist partisan is admonished to “never fall in love,” though the warning is rarely heeded. The elite party elder is equally deserving of this reproach, although it applies less to individual candidates and more to the political party that has earned their adoration.

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As is often the case at this stage of the presidential election cycle, energized and enthusiastic partisans find themselves falling for their preferred candidate. He or she can do no wrong, and those who dare to question or vet them thoroughly are immediately dismissed as insufficiently committed to the cause, at best (saboteurs, at worst). Of course, the voter who falls hard for their candidate of choice will eventually suffer a broken heart. Politics is the art of compromise, and compromise invariably disappoints the infatuated activist. Rarely, however, do you see the activist primary voter professing similar affections for the party with which they identify. This is a wholly good and uniquely American phenomenon. Despite the longevity of both of America’s two dominant political parties, they are about as unloved by voters as the founders, who disparagingly referred to them as “factions,” would have it. The activist partisan is admonished to “never fall in love,” though the warning is rarely heeded. The elite party elder is equally deserving of this reproach, although it applies less to individual candidates and more to the political party that has earned their adoration.

A political party is not a church. It is not a union into which the average member pays dues. A political party is a conduit through which a commonly shared set of principles is converted into political power and action. They are not permanent fixtures worthy of veneration, but vehicles that serve a utilitarian purpose. When their usefulness is spent, it is because it has ceased to be broadly representative. The coalition that the imperiled political party represents has grown too narrow to be self-sustaining. Eventually, the spent force that has become of the dying political party faces external pressure from one or more competing organizations.

This is the existential crisis that Britain’s venerated Labour Party may soon face. Max Boot astutely identified the crucible into which Britain’s opposition party may soon consign itself. As Labour’s voters gravitated leftward, that ideological shift was reflected in the party’s leadership. “Red Ed” Miliband oversaw the conservative landslide election in recent memory during his time as Labour leader. For the first time since 1992, British Prime Minister David Cameron now heads a majority Tory government. “Seems like there might be some political lessons for the U.S. out of the U.K. election — with Miliband’s Warren style, anti-business, anti-bank rhetoric clearly falling flat with the general public even as the press ate it up,” Politico’s Ben White observed following the left’s rout.

White was not alone in noting that there are lessons in that stunning victory – one not foretold in the public polls – for American lawmakers and pundits. “One is the Miliband lesson,” said economist and former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin. “The U.S. has now seen that people in the U.K. don’t really like this focus on inequality and redistribution. It’s not where people are.” This lesson has gone utterly unheeded by both Labour and its cheerleaders in the overtly biased British press. With the revered party of the working Briton preparing to elevate the far-left radical Jeremy Corbyn to succeed Miliband, Labour appears committed to the political equivalent of dousing itself in gasoline and lighting a match.

“Labour has struggled for years to fill the center-left niche, something that it did reliably in recent years only when Tony Blair was prime minister,” Boot wrote. “Yet now Blair is reviled within his own party; the heart of Labour activists has been captured by Corbyn.” Boot noted that Labour is less interested in winning general elections today than in self-defeating petulant protests. But the party’s more pragmatic liberals are not doomed to political homelessness. There is an alternative, albeit one that has lost much of its appeal in recent years: the Liberal Democrats. Formerly the Liberal Party, the Lib Dems were once the leading center-left party in Britain before the early 1920s. It may be Labour’s turn to fade into the background if the Lib Dems again become the responsible center-left alternative to conservative governance in the United Kingdom.

How much does Labour’s conundrum have to do with American politics? Not much, for now. But that may not forever be the case. Donald Trump took a substantial amount of heat from Republican pundits and loyal party members when he refused to pledge his support for the eventual GOP nominee, whomever that may be, at the first Republican Presidential debate. To the extent that he is seeking that party’s nomination, it was a bit improper. But Donald Trump is a Republican out of convenience. Since Ronald Reagan, he has supported every president of both parties when they were popular, and he has turned on them when they fell out of public favor toward the end of their terms in office. It makes sense that Trump would eschew fealty to a party with which he is only marginally affiliated. Moreover, it isn’t surprising that Trumps’ supporters, many of whom are voters with even less attachment to the GOP or are outright hostile toward the Republican Party, should fail to see this as a flaw in the candidate’s character.

Rejecting absolute fidelity is a condition that goes both ways. Should Trump emerge the party’s standard-bearer, it would signal a rejection of almost every principle for which conservatism stands. Surely, Trump’s surge has had an impact on conservatives’ priorities, but his single most unifying issue – immigration – simply failed to register with most Republican primary voters as recently as May. According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey of self-described Republicans conducted that month, immigration ranked behind even values issues as the chief matter they’d like to see the federal government address. According to a January Pew Research Center survey from January, “dealing with global trade issues” — another thematic element of Trump’s presidential bid — was listed by only 29 percent of Republicans as their preferred priority for the federal government in 2015.

It’s not at all clear that Trump could represent the Grand Old Party in any comprehensive sense. “Trump proposes seizing money that illegal immigrants from Mexico try to send home. This might involve sacrificing mail privacy, but desperate times require desperate measures,” the columnist George Will wrote. “He would vastly enlarge the federal government’s enforcement apparatus, but he who praises single-payer health-care systems and favors vast eminent domain powers has never made a fetish of small government.”

“Mr. Trump has supported massive tax increases on the wealthy, a Canadian-style single-payer health care system and is a fierce protectionist.” COMMENTARY’s Peter Wehner observed. “He once declared himself “strongly pro-choice” and favored drug legalization. Earlier this year he accused Republicans who want to reform entitlement programs – the essential task for those who favor limited government — of ‘attacking’ Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Barack Obama couldn’t have stated it better.”

The fact that the front-running Trump is by far the most liberal of the 17 Republican presidential candidates does not, however, give the GOP’s leaders license to destroy the Republican Party in order to save it. Justifiably distressed by the prospect that the celebrity candidate’s abrasive brand of anti-immigrant rhetoric will turn off the voters the party needs in order to win back the White House, state-level GOP chairs in North Carolina and Virginia have reportedly contemplated requiring a fealty oath for candidates seeking the presidential nomination if they want to obtain access to the primary ballot. This would be a mistake. It would provide Trump with all the righteous impetus he needs to launch a third-party bid for the White House and enhance the already acute sense of alienation perceived by his supporters. But it would also be a philosophical betrayal. Political parties should not demand loyalty; they should earn it.

If Trump is the party’s nominee – still an unlikely prospect given how many self-identified Republicans describe him as the candidate for whom they could never vote – his candidacy would indicate that the GOP has, to coin a term, pulled a Labour. It would have elevated a candidate for whom conservatism is anathema and who appeals only to an exceedingly narrow band of voters that have only a passing acquaintance with conservatism and are more inclined toward populism. At that stage, it would be clear that the Grand Old Party could no longer meet the needs of its former constituents.

Bedeviled by internal tensions among anti-slavery Democrats, Free Soilers, and Know-Nothings, the American Whig Party had come to stand for little more than anti-Jacksonian elitism by the middle of the 1850s. Prior to its eclipse by the rising Republican Party, it was an intellectually vibrant institution that gave rise to many a statesman. The historian Joel Silbey described Abraham Lincoln as “a partisan Whig ideologist and spokesman for his party’s cause in campaign and legislative debate.” When he became the first Republican President of the United States, Lincoln revived much of the Whig Party’s political and cultural agenda while simultaneously casting off the air of ineffectuality and pretentiousness that had come to characterize Whiggery. The country was better for it. The principles that defined the movement to which Lincoln associated hadn’t changed, but the outlet thorough which he translated those principles into political action had. As such, the outlet had to go.

Never fall in love.

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Why Isn’t Gaza Being Rebuilt?

It’s been a year since the last summer’s war in Gaza ended and those who lost their homes during the fighting are still waiting for them to be rebuilt? To listen to Palestinian propagandists, this is the fault of Israel. That’s the conceit of an op-ed published Monday in the New York Times by author Mohammed Omer. According to Omer, Gaza is a “Gulag on the Mediterranean” still suffering under Israel “occupation” even though the Jewish state withdrew every last soldier, settler and settlement ten years ago. All the strip’s problems can, he writes, be attributed to an Israeli siege that imprisons and stifles the Palestinians living there. But, oddly enough, a slightly more realistic evaluation of their problems was to be found in a news article published by the Times the day before. The reason why not a single one of the 18,000 homes destroyed or damaged in the war has not been made habitable isn’t because the Israelis are preventing it from happening.

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It’s been a year since the last summer’s war in Gaza ended and those who lost their homes during the fighting are still waiting for them to be rebuilt? To listen to Palestinian propagandists, this is the fault of Israel. That’s the conceit of an op-ed published Monday in the New York Times by author Mohammed Omer. According to Omer, Gaza is a “Gulag on the Mediterranean” still suffering under Israel “occupation” even though the Jewish state withdrew every last soldier, settler and settlement ten years ago. All the strip’s problems can, he writes, be attributed to an Israeli siege that imprisons and stifles the Palestinians living there. But, oddly enough, a slightly more realistic evaluation of their problems was to be found in a news article published by the Times the day before. The reason why not a single one of the 18,000 homes destroyed or damaged in the war has not been made habitable isn’t because the Israelis are preventing it from happening.

Even Hamas government officials concede that the Israelis haven’t stopped the shipment of cement and other building materials designated for civilian reconstruction from entering Gaza. Some of the problem lies in a cumbersome process needed to approve such shipments. The failure of international donors, especially from the Arab world, to make good on their pledges to help Gaza is also huge. But the main problem is that although homes aren’t being rebuilt, there is a lot of construction going on in Gaza. Unfortunately, the work is concentrated on the building of terror tunnels and other military infrastructure that will enable Hamas to launch another war on Israel if it suits their political needs or the whims of their Iranian allies.

Omer’s argument is a familiar one. Israel ought not to be allowed to prevent free entry in and out of Gaza for people or goods. The siege — in which Egypt plays as much a role as Israel though Omer barely mentions that point — reduces the Hamas government to a “municipal authority.” But this is nonsense. The reason why the international community has no problem with the loose blockade of Gaza is that it is run by a terrorist organization.

Gaza is an independent Palestinian state in all but name, and its government believes its main purpose is to wage a war on Israel to end the “occupation.” But by occupation, it doesn’t refer to an effort to get the Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank or even Jerusalem. Rather, as Hamas tells us over and over again in the public statements made by their leaders and its charter, occupation refers to all of Israel. Their war is not a limited one but an existential conflict whose only goal is to end Israel’s existence. It maintains its tyrannical control over the strip by trying to focus public anger at the Israelis and their Fatah rivals in the West Bank.

The reconstruction problem is terrible for the people of Gaza, but it also points out how the propaganda about Israel creating a humanitarian crisis there is a myth. Every day truck convoys of food, medicine and construction material approved by the joint commission run by United Nations, the PA and the Israelis arrives. But somehow that has not resulted in the rebuilding of homes since, as the Times reports, homeowners who are able to purchase the needed material resell it on the black market. That ensures it winds up being used, alone with Iranian aid smuggled into Gaza, to build more tunnels along the border with Israel or other military projects. Everyone knows that the joint monitoring system has failed to stop the use of international aid for Hamas terror projects.

Meanwhile, as the Times notes, 37,000 tons of cement allowed in by Israel sits unused in warehouses. This is largely due to Hamas incompetence and the fact that the Arab world is dubious of sending money to Gaza that won’t be used to help people.

This is a tragedy, but sympathy for suffering Palestinians and criticism of Israel won’t make anything better for them. Had the Palestinians used the Israeli withdrawal to build a free society and their economy, it might have thrived. Instead, the bloody Hamas coup enabled the terror group to transform the strip. But instead of a prison, it is a terror fortress.

Last summer, Israeli fire destroyed many Palestinian homes. But that happened because Gaza’s government fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns and used their tunnels to launch terror raids while turning down cease-fire offers until their appetite for creating misery was sated. Instead of defending Palestinians, Hamas used the people and homes of Gaza were to shield terrorists. There were plenty of shelters there, but they are still for Hamas’s bombs, not the people. There is plenty of excavation going on, but it is not for the purpose of digging foundations for new homes but for tunnels that will be used to facilitate kidnapping and murder of Israelis. If demands by so-called human rights groups for granting Gaza an open border, it would result in the strip becoming even more of a military menace both to Israel and Egypt, not freedom for its people.

As the Times reports in a separate article, across the border in the Israeli towns and agricultural villages that faced constant terror attacks, there is a determination not to let Hamas win. Instead of fleeing a clearly dangerous place, Israelis are moving in and building homes demonstrating their determination to survive. Meanwhile, Israel continues to pour more money into efforts that will shield their people from harm in the form of terror rockets instead of staking them out as human shields as Hamas does.

The problems of Gaza will only be solved when it is run by leaders that value the lives and the property of their people as much as the Israelis do. With Iran looking to invest some of the vast wealth that will come to it under the nuclear deal in aiding Hamas, there is little doubt there will be more bunkers and tunnels built in Gaza but few homes. Instead of blaming Israel for what is happening in lands they’ve already given up in the hope of peace, it’s time for the international community to focus on the real problem. When they are no longer under the thumb of a group that is obsessed with an ideology of hate that prompts them to fight for Israel’s destruction, the Palestinians will rebuild Gaza and there will be no more danger of another war.

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Ploughshares: The Money Behind the Iran Deal

President Barack Obama has complained multiple times about nefarious lobbies lined up against the Iran deal. Alongside the president, many proponents of the Iran deal negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry argue that there can be no honest reason for the unease and outright opposition to the deal among some politicians other than nefarious money from lobbyists who want war or, at the very least, want to maintain the tense status quo between Tehran and Washington.

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President Barack Obama has complained multiple times about nefarious lobbies lined up against the Iran deal. Alongside the president, many proponents of the Iran deal negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry argue that there can be no honest reason for the unease and outright opposition to the deal among some politicians other than nefarious money from lobbyists who want war or, at the very least, want to maintain the tense status quo between Tehran and Washington.

It is a theme supporters of the Iran deal have picked up. Trita Parsi, an Iranian-Swede who leads the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and once declared that everything he does, he does for Iran, marked Senator Harry Reid’s endorsement of the deal by declaring it a defeat for big money, a silly statement given Reid’s own partisanship and acceptance of myriad campaign contributions from lobbying groups. “The Iran Project,” likewise reported, “In efforts to sway Iran debate, big-money donors are heard.” The news media has played along. “Big Money and Ads Clash Over Iran Nuclear Deal,” USA Today reported.

The irony, however, is that many of the staunchest proponents of the Iran nuclear deal feed from the same trough of cash supplied by the Ploughshares Fund, a multimillion-dollar group which defines itself as a foundation seeking nuclear disarmament but which has, for several years, taken a consistently apologetic line toward Iran. Now, too often analysts throw around discussion of funding to cast aspersions on those who disagree with them in the policy debate. Often, this is nonsense. Few analysts on either the left or the right are blank slates that simply follow the money. Those staffing NIAC, for example, have always sought an end to sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many had worked for Atieh Bahar, a Tehran-based consultancy close to former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They are not chameleons, changing their stripes to match their funders. When NIAC policy director Reza Marashi, an Atieh Bahar alum, worked for the State Department during the George W. Bush years, he was not pro-democracy agenda, but was understood to be sympathetic to an embrace rather than isolation of Iran. Indeed, his persistent questions about the recipients of U.S. aid inside Iran raised security concerns. Likewise, when NIAC received a couple hundred thousand dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy, Trita channeled it to organizations close to the Iranian government.

Not everyone is so ideologically consistent, however, or honest when it comes to the issues about which they profess objectivity. This has certainly been the case-in-point when it comes to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by Secretary John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. Usually, an indicator of a flawed agreement is its failure to win bipartisan support. The opposition party, in such cases, is usually not to blame; rather, partisan votes on international agreements usually historically suggest an attempt to leverage party loyalty over national security. In the case of the JCPOA, to reach agreement, Kerry shredded at least a dozen redlines. The idea that the JCPOA represents the best possible agreement and the toughest peacetime verification regimen is demonstrably false: After all, both South Africa and Libya subjected themselves to far greater and intrusive mechanisms. Then why is it that groups like the Arms Control Association seem to swear by the agreement and have even attested to the thoroughness of the agreement before its details were even negotiated? Here, the 2014 Ploughshares Fund report may provide a clue. The Ploughshares Fund describes itself as “support[ing] the smartest minds and most effective organizations to reduce nuclear stockpiles, prevent new nuclear states, and increase global security.” What it has done in recent years, however, is to organize and fund a broad-based lobby to exculpate the world’s worst violators of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in pursuit of a new progressive agenda. Most recently, its money has come to play in cobbling together ostensibly independent support for the Iran deal.

For example, Ploughshares gave the Arms Control Association $210,000 for “influencing…US policy toward Iran,” and then another $25,000 for an expert workshop and press briefings. It gave the Atlantic Council, a think tank that has garnered a reputation as Washington’s most mercantile, pay-to-play academic institution, $80,000 to support the Iran Task Force and another $130,000 for the South Asian Program. In effect, Ploughshares pays the salary of the Atlantic Council’s chief Iran hand that has consistently amplified Tehran’s own policy positions in her analysis and programming. It funded the Center for New American Security to give “boot camps” to Congressional staffers “on the nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” in other words, to lobby them. It underwrote the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s efforts “to support an integrated lobbying strategy to build support for pragmatic approaches to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.” It gave the left-wing group J Street $100,000 to “educate” on behalf of an Iran deal. The National Iranian American Council? Over $150,000 for its advocacy on behalf of the Iran deal, and that doesn’t include money given individually to its staff. National Security Network? $75,000 to “educate media and policymakers about policy options to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” The National Security Network’s home page proclaims its dedication to “progressive” policy solutions, so the notion that this is anything other than a political reward seems a bit rich. Recently, blogger Jeffrey Lewis has criticized and downplayed the Associated Press’ revelation about a side deal between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would essentially gut verification by allowing Iran to test itself. What Lewis did not acknowledge was the $75,000 his home institution received from Ploughshares, according to the Fund’s 2014 report. The Aspen Institute also received Ploughshares money to education Congressmen and senior staffers about Iran policy options, again, effectively to lobby them. In addition, the Fund gave $75,000 to Gulf-2000, a listserv run by former Carter Iran hand and “October Surprise” conspiracy theorist Gary Sick. While ostensibly non-partisan, in recent years Gulf-2000 has become a “Journolist”-style clearing house to feed pro-Iran talking points to journalists. Sick promotes one line and often uses his prerogative as moderator to censor and exclude arguments and information that may contradict his increasingly radical beliefs.

Nor is all this lobbying for a policy favorable to the Islamic Republic new. In 2010, Ploughshares gave National Public Radio $150,000 in what appeared to be a pay-to-play scheme to get Cirincione and his grantees on air, an arrangement that only ended after its public exposure (UPDATE: Plougshare’s 2013 Annual Report lists an additional $100,000 for National Public Radio). When Chuck Hagel — long a proponent of at-any-cost rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran — sat on the board of Ploughshares prior to his stint Defense Secretary, a tenure that even his ideological allies would like to forget, he channeled more than $2 million to support groups, many of which were led by former staffers, which sought to downplay Iran’s nuclear work and normalize ties with Tehran. More recently, Ploughshares has sponsored conference calls to rally support for the Obama administration and ensure a joint strategy among its grantees that, unfortunately, has turned on targeting the Jewish community.

So, in short, Ploughshares spread millions of dollars around to pro-administration groups to support whatever Iran deal came out of Vienna. To criticize the Iran deal would be to risk a significant source of funding — double digits percentages of their total budget in most cases — of these various groups. Seldom did these groups acknowledge the support provided by Ploughshares. The Ploughshares Fund’s strategy has amplified its success by cultivating both the non-partisan label of groups like the Arms Control Association, National Iranian American Council, or Atlantic Council, while using them to amplify each other’s similar messages. Hence, various organizations hosted one-sided panels in the wake of the Iran deal announcement with multiple Ploughshares grantees without acknowledging their funding from the same pot. For example, on March 26, the Arms Control Association sponsored an event featuring the National Iranian American Council. J Street, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation are all Ploughshares grantees.

President Obama is absolutely correct. Big money is seeking to sway the debate about the Iran deal. I personally have very little contact with AIPAC — I spoke twice at their conference on issues relating to the Arab world, never on Iran — in my 16 years in Washington, far less than, for example, than left-of-center pundit Peter Beinart. But, at least when AIPAC seeks to make its case, it does so openly; it does not pretend to be something it is not. What Ploughshares has done (and very successfully as well) is to fund myriad proxies who will push similar lines in concert with each other and Ploughshares, seeking credibility from their supposed objectivity, when the reality suggests they are anything but. When Obama warns of dark money and nefarious lobbies, it seems increasingly he is projecting.

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