Commentary Magazine


Defending Israel and the Wounded Feelings of the Jewish Left

Can American Jews talk about Israel any longer? A lot of people don’t think so anymore. Left-wing writer Peter Beinart even proposed last week in a Haaretz column that they should stop trying to rebuild an imaginary position of unity and instead concentrate on building relationships with each other by talking about Torah, since religion is the one thing they have left that might bring them together. While more such study is, by definition, a good thing, that call is a more of a measure of his frustration about his failure to persuade more Americans to join his crusade to overturn the verdict of Israeli democracy since the left-wing positions he advocates on the peace process have been conclusively rejected again by the Jewish state’s voters than anything else. But it also is a reflection of a general conviction on the left that the so-called Jewish establishment has been trying to shut them up and stifle debate on Israel. While Israel has always and will continue to generate heated and sometimes intemperate discussions, the notion that the Jewish left is being silenced is a joke. More to the point, as Israel commemorates its annual Memorial and Independence Days this week, the effort by some to accelerate the process by which Americans are distancing themselves from Israel is not helping the Jewish state or American Jews.

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Can American Jews talk about Israel any longer? A lot of people don’t think so anymore. Left-wing writer Peter Beinart even proposed last week in a Haaretz column that they should stop trying to rebuild an imaginary position of unity and instead concentrate on building relationships with each other by talking about Torah, since religion is the one thing they have left that might bring them together. While more such study is, by definition, a good thing, that call is a more of a measure of his frustration about his failure to persuade more Americans to join his crusade to overturn the verdict of Israeli democracy since the left-wing positions he advocates on the peace process have been conclusively rejected again by the Jewish state’s voters than anything else. But it also is a reflection of a general conviction on the left that the so-called Jewish establishment has been trying to shut them up and stifle debate on Israel. While Israel has always and will continue to generate heated and sometimes intemperate discussions, the notion that the Jewish left is being silenced is a joke. More to the point, as Israel commemorates its annual Memorial and Independence Days this week, the effort by some to accelerate the process by which Americans are distancing themselves from Israel is not helping the Jewish state or American Jews.

At a time when Israel is increasingly under attack and a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the globe is making it harder for Jews to speak up in its defense, the notion that we should stop talking about it is an indefensible, if not risible notion. Jews are now being singled out on college campuses and pro-Israel students are finding it increasingly difficult and unpopular to speak out in opposition to a culture of intolerance for Zionism. Elsewhere, an Obama administration determined to downgrade the alliance and create distance between the two allies is seeking to appeal to the partisan instincts of many Jews to cause them to choose loyalty to President Obama and the Democrats over their pro-Israel instincts on issues like the nuclear threat from Iran and the Middle East peace process. Yet for many liberals, the real problem facing the Jewish community is the fact that some on the left are nursing hurt feelings from being told off by their opponents for their hubris in thinking they can save Israel from itself.

Debates about Israel should be conducted with respect and ad hominem attacks do nothing to persuade people or advance the cause of Israel. But let’s put these complaints in perspective. Leftist Jews can count on the sympathy of the Obama administration and the mainstream liberal press where attacks on Israel are always guaranteed a respectful hearing while defenses of it are seldom heard. And despite the myths about a monolithic Jewish establishment that is sympathetic to the right, liberals still dominate most Jewish organizations and their organs. At a moment in time when much of liberal popular culture libelously treats the defense of Israel as support for an apartheid state and an oppressor, it is the friends of Israel who require courage to speak up, not its detractors and its foes.

Equally risible is the notion increasingly voiced by mainstream Jewish thinkers that the problem with the discussion on Israel is that anti-Zionists and advocates of economic boycotts of Israel should be welcomed into community forums. Those who decry the use of Jewish institutions to promote anti-Israel agendas and economic warfare on the Jewish state are branded as censors and suppressors of the views of young Jews that must be heard.

While pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement advocates have a right to be heard in a free country, they are not entitled to do so on the Jewish community’s dime. To claim that they should is to fetishize the concept of inclusion to the point of parody. A community that prioritizes inclusion even of those who seek to undermine its basic values such as support for Israel is one that stands for nothing. Indeed, such a community will render itself incapable of taking a pro-Israel stand on even the most anodyne terms.

Such debates do little to broaden the Jewish community since anti-Israel advocates (and by that I mean those opposed to a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn and Israel’s right of self-defense, not merely critics of the current government) are not interested in building a Jewish community or a pro-Israel consensus. They wish to destroy it.

The focus on inclusion of pro-BDS groups like Jewish Voice for Peace is a function of the obsession with the old left-right debates about Israel over territory and settlements that have been rendered obsolete by events on the ground. Repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers have made it clear that such arguments are irrelevant to the current situation since Israel’s foes reject its existence under any circumstances.

So it’s little wonder that those who are most obsessed with the notion that peace can be obtained by more Israeli concessions despite the fact that all such attempts have led to a trade of land for terror, not peace, are asking us to talk about something else. But those who care about the fate of the Jewish people can’t afford to opt out of the conversation about Israel. Nor can they engage in fantasies about the real problem being the bruised feelings of those who have worked hard to undermine Israel’s political and diplomatic position.

As much as many of us prefer to avoid the subject, Israel still is living under the daily threat of terrorism from Hamas and Hezbollah and their ally Iran. And, as Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly said yesterday at the start of the country’s Memorial Day ceremonies, in such a dangerous and hostile world, the Jews have no future without Israel. We may have differing views about its politics and its policies, but the main argument today isn’t about settlements, it’s about whether the efforts of Israel’s foes and their anti-Semitic allies will succeed in destroying the one Jewish state.

At 67, Israel is not weak. Indeed, it is a great source of strength to an American Jewish community that, as the Pew Survey published in 2013 illustrated, is on the brink of a demographic catastrophe. But with a BDS movement that is dropping its veil and becoming more open about its anti-Semitism gaining traction, and defense of Israel’s security increasingly being abandoned by liberals, a vibrant conversation about Israel is more necessary than ever. But it must be one premised on the notion that singling out the one Jewish state for biased treatment and delegitimization not accorded any other country must be correctly labeled as hate speech even if it is being uttered by Jews. Efforts to divert us from this crucial question are part of the problem for the pro-Israel community, not the solution.

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Newt’s Wrong: The NIH Needs Reform, Not a Blank Check

If you want to see various weird ways the government wastes your money in the name of science–and engage in the nanny state version of gallows humor–you can search the term “NIH” at the Washington Free Beacon’s website. That would be the National Institutes of Health, of course, the government-funded medical network that does a lot of vital work and was also at the center of the management of last year’s Ebola crisis. But those two aspects of its work–fighting deadly disease while also spending millions on developing video games where you have to strategically eat your way out of a fat city called Diab–are connected, and they help explain why Newt Gingrich’s call in the New York Times to double the NIH’s budget misses the mark.

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If you want to see various weird ways the government wastes your money in the name of science–and engage in the nanny state version of gallows humor–you can search the term “NIH” at the Washington Free Beacon’s website. That would be the National Institutes of Health, of course, the government-funded medical network that does a lot of vital work and was also at the center of the management of last year’s Ebola crisis. But those two aspects of its work–fighting deadly disease while also spending millions on developing video games where you have to strategically eat your way out of a fat city called Diab–are connected, and they help explain why Newt Gingrich’s call in the New York Times to double the NIH’s budget misses the mark.

Two things should be conceded right off the bat. First, the NIH’s good works far outdistance its colossal money-flushers. Second, the NIH is one of those government agencies where more money could conceivably make a world of difference to ordinary Americans. But even the NIH’s response to the Ebola outbreak does not mean it deserves a blank check. In fact, the agency that spent half a million bucks text messaging alcoholics needs a form of rehab itself.

Here’s the crux of Gingrich’s argument:

Even as we’ve let financing for basic scientific and medical research stagnate, government spending on health care has grown significantly. That should trouble every fiscal conservative. As a conservative myself, I’m often skeptical of government “investments.” But when it comes to breakthroughs that could cure — not just treat — the most expensive diseases, government is unique. It alone can bring the necessary resources to bear. (The federal government funds roughly a third of all medical research in the United States.) And it is ultimately on the hook for the costs of illness. It’s irresponsible and shortsighted, not prudent, to let financing for basic research dwindle.

For example, the total cost of care for Alzheimer’s and other dementia is expected to exceed $20 trillion over the next four decades — including a 420 percent increase in costs to Medicare and a 330 percent increase in costs to Medicaid. Even without a cure, the premium on breakthrough research is high: Delaying the average onset of the disease by just five years would reduce the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s in 2050 by 42 percent, and cut costs by a third. And that’s not even counting the human toll on both patients and caregivers (often family members), whose own health may deteriorate because of stress and depression.

Yet the N.I.H. is spending just $1.3 billion a year on Alzheimer’s and dementia research — or roughly 0.8 percent of the $154 billion these conditions will cost Medicare and Medicaid this year, more than all federal education spending.

I get it, I really do. And I’m sympathetic. I, too, support such research. But as far as reforms are concerned, all we get is Gingrich’s aside near the end of the piece where he says the “increase should be accompanied by reforms to make the N.I.H. less bureaucratic, to give the director more flexibility to focus resources on the most common and expensive health problems, and to place a stronger emphasis on truly breakthrough research.”

That, it should go without saying, is not nearly enough. And honestly, the need for far better management from the NIH was made apparent even while winning generally positive reviews for its role in containing Ebola.

In October, I noted a comment by NIH Director Francis Collins that blamed lack of taxpayer funding for the fact that the NIH has thus far failed to end the disease. “NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,’” Collins told the Huffington Post at the time. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

Sometime in the last decade, we would have had a vaccine for Ebola and so many lives might have been saved if the NIH just had a certain amount of additional money. But here’s the thing: the NIH had the money. Collins was openly admitting to a corollary of his outrageous attempt at public extortion: if the NIH had directed the money it already had to better use we would’ve had an Ebola vaccine and all those lives could have been saved.

Pointing out all the silly ways the NIH spends your money can seem like a cheap shot. But why? It’s public money, after all.

The answer is because the administrative state relies, like all such bureaucracies, on the perpetuation of a declared crisis state in order to avoid oversight and to defend its decisions with a false choice: either you want to give them more of your money, or you want to deprive lifesaving efforts of that cash.

In fact, the NIH could have more money for its important projects without reaching into your pocket when you’re not looking. It’s a win-win. All that has to happen is the NIH has to be managed with seriousness of purpose and setting the right priorities. A blank check never teaches anyone fiscal responsibility, and it won’t start now.

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Walker’s Problematic Solution to His Immigration Problem

Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

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Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

Walker’s previous positions in support of President George W. Bush’s push for immigration reform—including the 2006 bill favoring a path to citizenship co-sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy—and providing in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants are not as well known as Rubio’s advocacy for the bipartisan comprehensive bill that passed the Senate in 2013. Rubio eventually backed away from the bill in favor of a position that prioritized border security. That position was seen as both the result of political calculation as well as part of the country’s reassessment of the situation after the surge of illegals at the Texas border last summer. To hardliners on the issue, that’s a flip-flop they won’t let him get away with. But the Wisconsin governor, who was flying far under the national radar on this issue until recently, is now facing the kind of scrutiny that goes with running for president. If conservatives are holding Rubio accountable for his positions, it stands to reason the same radio talkers and pundits flaying Rubio will do the same to Walker.

Walker’s plan to avoid getting sunk by the base is to do more than changing his mind on amnesty. He’s taken the most strident anti-immigration position of any Republican candidate. By stating his willingness to enact restrictions on legal immigration along some as-yet-unstated formula that would supposedly protect American workers from foreign competition, Walker is banking on the idea that this will not only distract conservatives from his past apostasy but allow him to own the issue as one that will endear him to the party base. Just as importantly, it enables him to connect the issue to his basic economic and social message which seeks to shift the Republican focus from aiding the cause of business to that of support for working and middle-class Americans who are getting the short end of the stick in President Obama’s anemic economic recovery. That bolsters his attempt to portray himself as an ordinary American running against Republican and Democratic millionaires, i.e. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

That sounds like smart politics, and in a crowded Republican field anything that allows a candidate with a lot of mainstream appeal like that of Walker to also get a potential grip on the portion of the party base that cares deeply about immigration makes sense. President Obama’s extralegal efforts to create amnesty for millions of illegals by executive orders has also made comprehensive reform toxic for many Americans who care about the rule of law. But there is a big difference between taking a stand against amnesty for illegals and seeking to restrict future legal immigration into the country.

It is one thing to say that reform of our broken immigration system must be preceded by efforts to ensure that a solution for the plight of the 11 million illegals already here is not followed by a new surge across the borders by those seeking the same good deal. It is quite another to start pandering to those who view any sort of immigration with distaste. It is a myth to assert that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers since it’s not as if those already here are being denied opportunities to pick fruit, clean hotel rooms, or bus restaurant tables.

So long as they are talking about illegals alone, Republicans can defend their stands as pro-rule of law and not anti-Hispanic. But if Walker is going to favor new restrictions even on those attempting to play by the rules, it will be hard to argue that the point of such a position is not based on a broader effort to prevent immigration. That’s a stand that some opponents of immigration reform have flirted with before but it’s not one that Republicans should be playing with. It’s all well and good for Walker to try and stay in the party mainstream on the issue but he needs to remember that stands that can be easily confused with prejudicial attitudes toward immigrants will haunt a candidate in a general election. Walker, who has shown progress in getting up to speed on foreign policy, is a candidate that Democrats rightly fear. But as much as he should avoid making the same mistake as Jeb Bush and run against the base, right now it looks as if he’s forgetting that he will need more than the base if he wants to be elected president.

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Are Asia’s Nations Losing Their Fear of China?

One of the great enablers of China’s rise in Asia has been the fear of smaller nations to oppose its increasingly coercive behavior. Facing the sheer size of China, the worry that trade relations could be affected, and growing power of its military, most Asian nations have tried to avoid antagonizing Beijing over disputed territory in the region. This has been most noticeable in the South China Sea, where China’s largely successful attempts to wrestle territory away from the Philippines and Vietnam has now been complemented by a land reclamation policy that literally creates islands out of coral reefs.

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One of the great enablers of China’s rise in Asia has been the fear of smaller nations to oppose its increasingly coercive behavior. Facing the sheer size of China, the worry that trade relations could be affected, and growing power of its military, most Asian nations have tried to avoid antagonizing Beijing over disputed territory in the region. This has been most noticeable in the South China Sea, where China’s largely successful attempts to wrestle territory away from the Philippines and Vietnam has now been complemented by a land reclamation policy that literally creates islands out of coral reefs.

Yet there are signs that Asia’s nations have had enough, or at least are no longer willing to mute their opposition and anger at Beijing’s high-handed actions. This story, about a recent confrontation between Chinese maritime patrol vessels and Philippine fishing boats in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, contains all the elements of Asia’s geopolitical tussle. China’s coercive actions, including using water cannons and cutting the smaller boats’ mooring ropes, mimics previous incidents with Vietnam and other nations.

Yet now official condemnation of China is becoming more common. The Philippines’ presidential palace criticized China for the recent acts, one of just a number of Asian states that seem less willing to back down, at least diplomatically. While few of these nations have the military capability to effectively protect their claims, and none will be able to replicate Beijing’s feat of creating new islands on which to place airstrips and bases, they seem to have turned a corner in their willingness to denounce China’s actions.

Some of this is due to the realization that silence bought them little respite from China’s creeping control over the waters of Southeast Asia. Yet some more may be due to the fact that Japan has increased its diplomatic and security cooperation with Southeast Asian nations, providing patrol vessels and talking about enhanced relations. As Tokyo has deepened ties with both India and Australia, it is beginning to form a least a loose community of nations working more closely together in building up their defensive capabilities. Perhaps this, too, is changing the calculus of Asian states that have felt isolated until now.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will visit Washington next week, for what may turn out to be an important summit with Barack Obama. Abe is eager to deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance, and it looks like a new set of guidelines for defense cooperation will be released. But where it counts today is on the waters of the South China Sea. The U.S. just concluded its largest military exercises with the Philippines in over a decade, a sign that Washington understands the sensitivities at play.

Yet whether President Obama will embrace Japan’s bid to link together those nations that feel threatened by China is yet unknown. Throwing his weight behind Abe’s initiatives would be a sure sign to Beijing that its rise is not without cost, and that it must temper its actions in order to ensure continued peace in Asia. With less than two years left in his administration, this is President Obama’s last, best chance to help reduce risk in Asia and potentially reshape its regional relations.

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Is the GOP Really the Party of Free Trade? Not Exactly.

Yesterday Chris Christie raised some eyebrows when he told the Conference on the Americas, “I do think that we need to take another look at NAFTA,” referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement. That agreement was a signature achievement of the Clinton administration and the Gingrich Congress. Christie’s rhetoric is empty: there’s no way he, if he somehow became president, would undo a two-decade-old signature free-trade agreement. But in saying he’d even take another look at it, Christie was exposing the divide between rank-and-file Republicans and their elected leaders on the value of free trade.

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Yesterday Chris Christie raised some eyebrows when he told the Conference on the Americas, “I do think that we need to take another look at NAFTA,” referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement. That agreement was a signature achievement of the Clinton administration and the Gingrich Congress. Christie’s rhetoric is empty: there’s no way he, if he somehow became president, would undo a two-decade-old signature free-trade agreement. But in saying he’d even take another look at it, Christie was exposing the divide between rank-and-file Republicans and their elected leaders on the value of free trade.

Republicans are often thought of as reflexively supportive of free trade, in large part because the GOP’s congressional caucus is pro-trade and currently trying to get a deal through Congress that would give President Obama broad authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But is the GOP really the party of free trade?

According to Gallup, 61 percent of Democrats see trade more as an opportunity for economic growth than as a threat to the domestic economy from imports. For Republicans, that number is 51–barely a majority. Independents are at 61 percent with the Democrats.

Is this a function of partisanship, and a sign that Republicans just don’t trust Barack Obama to negotiate a trade agreement that would be good for the economy as much as they might trust a Republican president? To a degree, possibly. But what jumps out about the historical trend since 2001 is the relative stability of the Republican stance on trade. Here’s Gallup’s chart:

freetradegallup

As you can see, Republicans started the George W. Bush administration at 55 percent on the pro-trade side. They’re only down four percent now in Obama’s second term.

Of course there were fluctuations. Discounting election years (I’ll come back to that), Republicans hit a high of 57 during the Bush years and a low of 45 in Obama’s first year. Democrats hit a high of 66 in 2013 and a (non-election year) low of 38 during the Bush years. It would appear that partisanship plays a role here, but Democrats seem far more partisan in their views on trade than Republicans.

The economy is also a likely factor in the waxing and waning of support for free trade. So are election years, and the populist rhetoric that comes with them. In 2008, Democratic support for trade dropped to 36 percent, amid both the economic downturn and their party’s candidate, Barack Obama, threatening to renegotiate NAFTA (see a pattern?). Obama’s staff apparently told concerned Canadians that Obama wasn’t telling the public the truth, but he felt he had to play to the economic anxieties and overall economic ignorance of his party’s base.

Republicans haven’t dropped as low as Democrats did in 2008, but they hit a low in 2012, a presidential election year when their own candidate, Mitt Romney, was threatening trade sanctions against China. That’s when Republicans dropped to their low of 41 percent. Romney’s rhetoric was silly, but quickly forgotten: Republican support for free trade jumped ten points after Obama’s reelection, and hasn’t dropped below 51 since.

The election-year aspect to this, however, raises an important issue. The rhetoric politicians use can drive public opinion on trade, especially among their own party. And yet the consensus among economists has long been in favor of trade. (Where are those “consensus”-loving Democrats when you need them?) “For more than two centuries economists have steadfastly promoted free trade among nations as the best trade policy,” as Alan Blinder notes. “Despite this intellectual barrage, many ‘practical’ men and women continue to view the case for free trade skeptically, as an abstract argument made by ivory tower economists with, at most, one foot on terra firma.”

In a 2011 paper for the Cato Institute, Daniel J. Ikenson and Scott Lincicome made the case that poor public persuasion was partly to blame. They write:

Most Americans enjoy the fruits of international trade and globalization every day: driving to work in vehicles containing at least some foreign content, relying on smart phones assembled abroad from parts made in multiple countries (including the United States), having more to save or spend because retailers pass on cost savings made possible by their access to thousands of foreign producers, designing and selling products that would never have been commercially viable without access to the cost efficiencies afforded by transnational production and supply chains, enjoying fresh imported produce that was once unavailable out of season, depositing bigger paychecks on account of their employers’ growing sales to customers abroad, and enjoying salaries and benefits provided by employers that happen to be foreign-owned companies.

Nevertheless, public opinion polls routinely find tepid support among Americans for free trade.

The presidential campaign trail is a playground for protectionists. This could be something of a chicken-and-egg problem: what came first, the protectionist sentiment among voters to which politicians feel the need to pander, or the protectionist rhetoric that inspired trade skepticism among the public?

Either way, presidential campaign protectionism is often treated with surprise when voiced by Republican candidates. It shouldn’t be: there is no overwhelming consensus in either party in favor of free trade. The Republicans’ congressional free traders are right on the merits and perhaps they can help turn the tide of public opinion toward the economic consensus. But as long as presidential candidates play on the anti-trade instincts of so many voters, that’s unlikely to happen.

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Help Yemen? For Obama, Iran Détente Always Wins

When Americans heard on Monday that the United States had diverted two capital ships from their stations in the Persian Gulf to new positions off of Yemen, it sounded as if the Obama administration was finally displaying signs of getting tough with Iran. The movement of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the Normandy, a missile cruiser, was, the Pentagon said, an effort to enforce a blockade of the coast of that war-torn country so as to prevent Iran from delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels. The move seemed to indicate that American policy was torn between two goals: engagement with Iran via concessions on their nuclear program versus the need to stop the Islamist regime’s terrorist auxiliaries from toppling governments as part of Tehran’s effort to achieve regional hegemony. But yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf poured a bucket of cold water on any hopes that the administration was wising up when she said the U.S. ships were only in the area, “to ensure the shipping lanes remain safe” and not to intercept an Iranian arms convoy heading to the Houthis. So much for getting tough with Iran.

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When Americans heard on Monday that the United States had diverted two capital ships from their stations in the Persian Gulf to new positions off of Yemen, it sounded as if the Obama administration was finally displaying signs of getting tough with Iran. The movement of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the Normandy, a missile cruiser, was, the Pentagon said, an effort to enforce a blockade of the coast of that war-torn country so as to prevent Iran from delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels. The move seemed to indicate that American policy was torn between two goals: engagement with Iran via concessions on their nuclear program versus the need to stop the Islamist regime’s terrorist auxiliaries from toppling governments as part of Tehran’s effort to achieve regional hegemony. But yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf poured a bucket of cold water on any hopes that the administration was wising up when she said the U.S. ships were only in the area, “to ensure the shipping lanes remain safe” and not to intercept an Iranian arms convoy heading to the Houthis. So much for getting tough with Iran.

What’s going on here? Not for the first time during the Obama presidency, the State Department and the Pentagon seem to be sending conflicting messages.

The Pentagon told reporters that the ships sent to the waters off Yemen were conducting “manned reconnaissance” of the Iranian arms convoy, which would seem to indicate that the Navy was prepared to halt the effort to resupply the Houthis in their effort to fend off the Saudi and Egyptian-backed effort to stop their takeover of Yemen. But the State Department was sending the opposite message with their talk of defending freedom of the seas.

Any mystery about which of the two departments was correct was resolved by White House spokesman Josh Earnest who backed State’s interpretation of events by using the same language about protecting commerce.

Let’s be clear here. U.S. ships have been in the region for decades to protect the freedom of the seas primarily from Iranian threats to interfere with shipping in the Persian Gulf. But the presence of Iranian vessels off Yemen is about something else. The only point to sending American warships there is to put a halt to Iran’s efforts to replace Yemen’s government with one beholden to Tehran. If the Roosevelt and the Normandy aren’t going to stop the Iranian arms convoy then the move was nothing more than a transparent bluff and one that is unlikely to impress the ayatollahs as they push the envelope seeking to test American resolve.

While Earnest said that the U.S. was interested in tracking arms shipments to the Houthis, the problem for the coalition fighting these Iranian allies isn’t so much intelligence about Tehran’s efforts as it is the need to actually stop them. Perhaps the administration hoped the mere presence of a powerful U.S. flotilla in the area would cause the Iranians to turn back. But by making it clear that U.S. forces won’t directly interfere with them, why should we expect that to happen?

Yemen is where two U.S. strategies came into direct conflict with each other. Washington doesn’t want Iran’s friends to take over Yemen. But it also is desperate to do nothing that would upset the Iranians and cause them to walk away from a weak nuclear deal that President Obama believes will be a legacy-making achievement. With the apparent order to U.S. ships off Yemen to stand down from any effort to halt the Iranian convoy, the president is indicating that the nuclear deal takes precedence over any other American goal.

This is just one more indication that the primary goal of the nuclear negotiations is not so much to stop Iran from getting a bomb as it is to create a new era of détente with the Islamist regime. By making concession after concession to Iran on its right to enrich uranium and to keep its nuclear infrastructure without intrusive inspections, the president has jettisoned the West’s economic and political leverage over Tehran in favor of a belief that good relations with it is the primary objective of U.S. policy in the region. He is not about to waste years of ardent pursuit of the Iranians at the price of every position he pledged to defend on the nuclear issue merely in order to stabilize Yemen. Nor is he inclined to order military action in the waters off of Yemen merely to placate the Saudis and Egyptians who view the Iranian-backed Houthis as a threat to regional security.

This episode also ought to inform our expectations about the final phase of negotiations with Iran as the nuclear deal is finalized in the next two months. Though the U.S. opposes Iran’s intervention in Yemen, the victory of the State Department over the Pentagon on the use of the Navy illustrates that nothing will be allowed to derail the new entente with Iran that Obama so values. This will give the Iranians all the confidence they need to stand firm on every outstanding issue, including inspections, transparency about their military research, and the disposition of their stockpile of nuclear fuel.

This is good news for the Islamist regime and very bad news for America’s allies in the region that hoped that President Obama wouldn’t abandon them even as he sought a nuclear deal.

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Why the Angry Left Needs Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

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Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

Clinton starts the campaign as not just an ally of the Wall Streeters her party has been demonizing for years, but also as someone whose family foundation has served as a kind of super-PAC allowing foreign governments to pitch in to her campaign-in-waiting. (The campaign is no longer “in waiting,” yet the Clintons are still accepting donations from foreign governments.) So she needed to try to strike a populist tone, and did so.

Yet that necessitated stories gauging Wall Street’s reaction to her populist pose. Politico talked to her Wall Street supporters and found that they fully understood she was playing the Warren Wing of her party like a fiddle, and didn’t mean a word of it. “Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street backers: We get it,” proclaimed the headline.

Of course such stories, paired with the continuing revelations about all of Clinton’s money and privilege, meant she’d have to swing wildly back portside. So she did, with today’s story in the New York Times portraying her as the original Elizabeth Warren. But Clinton only knows extremes, and so her allies offered the following anecdote to boost her populist bona fides:

Mrs. Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a “toppling” of the wealthiest 1 percent, according to several people who were briefed on Mrs. Clinton’s policy discussions but could not discuss private conversations for attribution.

Still, Mrs. Clinton will pitch that “toppling” with a very different style than Ms. Warren, a bankruptcy expert whose populist message has been laser-focused on holding Wall Street accountable. Mrs. Clinton will present proposals for changes in the tax code as a way of also investing in education, infrastructure and communities.

I highly doubt Hillary herself ever used the word “toppling” when discussing what to do about the top one percent’s accumulation of wealth. And if she did use the word, it’s explained in the next paragraph that she was already hedging on whether she really intended to burn America’s financial center to the ground. She was jumping so far to the left she had an almost instinctual spring back to the center in one rhetorical flourish.

As the old Yiddish saying goes, you can’t dance at two weddings with one tuches. Which is why Hillary is further cementing her reputation as someone who believes nothing and so will say anything.

But the more interesting question than whether Hillary really intends to “expropriate the expropriators” is why she says the crazy things she says. Why she has to, in other words, at least pretend to keep her inner Leninist within reach and speak to her party as if it’s a gathering of the mob.

One reason is that the left wing is no longer really so much of a wing, but rather integrated into the body of the Democratic Party: the extremists are mainstream. Another is that the left has totally lost its bearings, and actually sees Hillary’s weaknesses as strengths when set to the right unhinged purposes.

To see what I mean, take this chilling, infuriating story by David French in National Review. It’s a long essay on the way liberal Wisconsin prosecutors launched a secretive assault on supporters of Scott Walker, replete with pre-dawn police raids and the violation of numerous constitutional rights, not to mention the damage to innocent Wisconsinites’ reputations. The whole story in all its horrifying details must be read to be believed, but the reason it was made possible was because the Democratic district attorney abusing his powers was doing so under the rubric of a “John Doe” investigation. French writes:

John Doe investigations alter typical criminal procedure in two important ways: First, they remove grand juries from the investigative process, replacing the ordinary citizens of a grand jury with a supervising judge. Second, they can include strict secrecy requirements not just on the prosecution but also on the targets of the investigation. In practice, this means that, while the prosecution cannot make public comments about the investigation, it can take public actions indicating criminal suspicion (such as raiding businesses and homes in full view of the community) while preventing the targets of the raids from defending against or even discussing the prosecution’s claims.

The left has come completely unglued. And it’s the ends, not the means, that they most care about. This is hinted at in the closing quote of the Times piece on Hillary:

Mrs. Clinton “wakes up asking how she can accomplish real things for families, not who she can attack,” said Gene B. Sperling, an economic adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He added, “When she shows that fighting populist edge, it is for a purpose.”

Government coercion for a good cause. It doesn’t get much more dangerous than that in a democracy, but it also doesn’t get much more suited to the Clintons’ skill set. And Hillary’s above-the-law posture is clearly an asset in this quest. Liberals who want to replicate nationwide what they’ve done in Wisconsin might not like all of the Clintons’ politics but they must be giddy at the thought of having the Clintons back in power–as long as they have a seat at the table.

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Justice and Influence in Egypt and Iran

There are many ways to judge a nation’s standing and influence abroad. One of the most telling is to judge how other nations treat one’s citizens. By that standard, it should surprise no one to learn, America’s standing is perilously low from one end of the Middle East to the other.

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There are many ways to judge a nation’s standing and influence abroad. One of the most telling is to judge how other nations treat one’s citizens. By that standard, it should surprise no one to learn, America’s standing is perilously low from one end of the Middle East to the other.

The Egyptian government, which has just been favored with a decision by the Obama administration to continue $1.3 billion a year in military aid, has responded by sentencing an American citizen, Mohamed Soltan, to life in prison on trumped-up charges of subversion. Soltan’s real crime was criticizing the military coup which ousted Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government. Even though Soltan was not a Brotherhood member himself, or even a sympathizer, he was rounded up in the same dragnet which has caught up many of the Brothers while working as a volunteer translator for foreign reporters. He has been on a hunger strike for the past year to protest his unlawful detention. It is a sign of America’s impotence that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi felt free to ignore President Obama’s pleas to release Soltan (whose father was sentenced to death in the same case) even while Obama was considering whether or not to resume military aid.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Middle East, Iran is proceeding with a trial on trumped-up espionage charges against Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran. He was arrested last summer and imprisoned in the notorious Evin Prison where political detainees are held. Only now has he been allowed to consult with a lawyer. Now he is being charged with such offenses as “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment.”

Naturally the mullahs have ignored Secretary of State Kerry’s pleas to release Rezaian along with two other U.S. citizens currently held in Iranian prisons. Yup, this is the same Iranian government that is being wooed with offers of $50 billion in released funds as soon as it agrees to a sign a deal with the U.S. that would allow it to become a nuclear power in waiting. So little leverage does the U.S. have with Tehran—and so little respect does Tehran have for American demands—that it feels free to proceed with the persecution of Jason Rezaian even as it negotiates with the U.S. in the hopes of getting sanctions lifted.

President Obama might want to read up on the Don Pacifico Affair, the famous case in 1850 when Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary, sent the Royal Navy to Athens to make sure that Greece fully paid claims owed to David Pacifico, a Jewish merchant whose house had been ransacked by an anti-Semitic mob. Pacifico, you see, had been born in Gibraltar and was therefore a British subject. When Palmerston’s actions were attacked in the House of Commons, he replied with a famous five-hour oration concluding, “As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Romanus sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong.”

The United States is a lot more powerful, in both absolute and relative terms, than the British Empire was in its heyday—but not powerful enough, it seems, to protect our citizens from “injustice and wrong” at the hands of our allies and negotiating partners. “I am an American citizen” is, today, too often an invitation to abuse—not a protection against abuse.

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What’s Fueling Europe’s Migrant Crisis?

There have been an increasing number of distressing stories about migrants drowning in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach the coastline of southern Europe. Liberal critics have pounced on these headlines and insisted that the tragedy is being caused by European countries pursuing an intentional policy of scaling back their search-and-rescue operations. But the real reason more people are drowning is that more people are attempting to make the hazardous journey and European countries are taking no real measures to deter them from doing so.

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There have been an increasing number of distressing stories about migrants drowning in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach the coastline of southern Europe. Liberal critics have pounced on these headlines and insisted that the tragedy is being caused by European countries pursuing an intentional policy of scaling back their search-and-rescue operations. But the real reason more people are drowning is that more people are attempting to make the hazardous journey and European countries are taking no real measures to deter them from doing so.

Most of those attempting to enter Europe illegally are coming from across Africa, others from the Middle East. Setting sail from lawless Libya they are attempting to reach mainland Europe where they rightly anticipate that they will be able to take advantage of the European Union’s internal open-border arrangements to travel freely across the continent. Once in Europe they can seek out a country that has a liberal enough asylum and immigration policy to house them and provide them with welfare assistance until they can find work. Sweden and Germany are two particularly popular destinations in this regard.

With economic prospects in much of Europe still forlorn, and given the social tensions that failed policies of multiculturalism have inflicted on many of Europe’s cities, there is already considerable opposition to further immigration. Naturally, the left has scolded the public for this allegedly uncharitable attitude, while presenting everyone attempting to enter Europe illegally as victims and legitimate refugees. Indeed, there is a refusal on the part of rights groups to recognize that very many of these people are simply motivated by a perfectly understandable sense of economic self-interest. In which case there is no real reason why those currently breaking the law and forcing their way through have any more right to come to Europe than anyone else in the world who might be attracted to that prospect.

The people of Europe are, however, entitled to ask some basic questions about who exactly it is that is coming. Out of the many horrific stories of people drowning in their efforts to cross the Mediterranean, one stood out as particularly appalling, and far more alarming than the others. Last week twelve Christian migrants were drowned—not when their boat sank, but rather when their Muslim fellow passengers threw them overboard for not praying to Allah.

This story is important, not simply because of how it challenges the way in which Europe’s liberals want the migrants to be viewed, but also because of the serious questions that it raises about the kind of people these are. After all, if this is what the Muslims on board that boat were prepared to do to their fellow Christian migrants, then what are we to assume these people’s attitude toward the nominally Christian societies they are coming to will be?

Europe already has a serious problem with those sections of the Muslim immigrant community that have failed to integrate. Are Europeans really expected to welcome in yet more people with an intolerant hostility for the host culture? Yes, some of these people do come from very troubled and volatile parts of the world, but it helps no one if they simply bring their conflict with them. Those lobbying on behalf of the migrants seem to expect European citizens to embrace a suicidal compassion and ask no questions about the ramifications this mass migration might have for their own communities.

Inevitably, anyone who expresses a sense of disquiet about the growing wave of illegal migration is framed by the left as being in favor of leaving the migrants to drown. But whether the rights groups accept it or not, European governments had their reasons for reconsidering the way in which search-and-rescue operations were being conducted. For one thing, the traffickers had realized that they could simply abandon people just off shore and the Italian coastguards would come and collect them. In some instances traffickers were even sending off boats with fuel tanks half empty, only to then radio the coastguards to come to the rescue. Gradually European authorities were being drawn into doing half the trafficking for them. And all the while the incentive to risk everything and to try and reach Europe was being increased.

Since abandoning the migrants to their fate is not acceptable to anyone, the only other option is for European governments to actually deport those who break the law in attempting to reach Europe illegally. This will actually save lives because right now people are willing to risk the treacherous waters for the chance of a new life in Europe. Far fewer would undertake the journey if they knew that all that awaited them was a few weeks in a detention center and a prompt return to the shores from which they came. But failing that, Europe may as well abandon all pretense of immigration limits and border controls, for it will in effect have adopted open borders. But then perhaps that is what the liberal rights groups really want.

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Hillary Clinton’s Tangle of Corruption

Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

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Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

I’m speaking in this instance of the donations by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. As Jonathan made note of yesterday, a New York Times story on the forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash, asserts that “foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.”

When the secretary of state has a policy of pay-to-play, that is bad enough. It reinforces the impression that Mrs. Clinton is a tangle of corruption, dishonest and untrustworthy, and playing by rules that apply to her and her husband but not to others. That has happened time and again with the Clintons; it’s the pattern and habits of a lifetime. And there’s no indication it will change. The portrait of Mrs. Clinton is that of a hardened, brittle, unreflective, and self-justifying individual. Whatever problems she faces are always the result of others, often the “right-wing conspiracy” she has invented in her over-active imagination.

But that’s not the only complicating factor for Mrs. Clinton. The other is that she has badly damaged her ability to wage a culture war/”war on women” campaign against Republicans. Because whatever outlandish charge she makes against Republicans, they will sound positively enlightened compared to the repression of women and gays that occurs in nations (like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, et cetera) that have given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. It looks for all the world as if those nations gave money to buy the silence of the Clintons–and their investment paid off.

One can only imagine the political firestorm if the tables were turned and nations that brutally oppress women and gays had funneled money to a foundation of a Republican running for president in order to gain favor while he served as America’s chief diplomat–not to mention the deletion of 30,000 emails on a secret (and inappropriate) server. The coverage would be intense and unremittingly negative.

On top of all that, the Schweizer book says that even as Hillary Clinton is portraying herself as a “champion for everyday Americans,” from 2001 to 2012 the Clintons’ income was (at least!) $136.5 million. Not bad after claiming she and her husband were “dead broke” after they left the White House. During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, Schweizer writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.” (“Of the 13 [Bill] Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more,” Schweizer writes, “only two occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”)

Unlike her husband, Mrs. Clinton is not a naturally likable public figure. Her ethical transgressions make her less so. Which means Republicans are likely to face a person with thoroughly average political skills running with a considerable amount of ethical baggage but also a mountain of cash (estimates are that her campaign will raise up to $2.5 billion). Beating her in 2016 won’t be easy, but it’s certainly doable.

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Will Rubio Be Sunk By Immigration?

Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

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Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

Rubio, who won a Senate seat as a Tea Party insurgent challenging establishment Republican (turned independent and then Democrat) Charlie Crist, saw his stock fall badly among movement conservatives when he embraced a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 that promised illegals a path to citizenship. The bill died in the House, and Rubio took such a drubbing among GOP activists that it appeared that his once promising 2016 hopes were at an end. But Rubio ultimately walked away from the bill declaring, as did many of his House colleagues, that a necessary reform of the immigration system would have to wait until the border was secured. The 2014 surge of illegals at the Texas border vindicated that opinion and Rubio seemed to have subsequently put himself in line with the views of much of the party base.

But though Rubio now says a comprehensive approach to immigration is neither politically possible nor good policy, he’s not willing to disavow the concept of ultimately allowing some illegals a way to come in out of the shadows. That’s what he said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation even as he admitted that it could only happen after a “long process” that wouldn’t involve “a massive piece of legislation” that reform advocates, including President Obama, demand. However, that disclaimer may not be enough to persuade many Republicans that he hasn’t disqualified himself from presidential consideration.

That’s the gist of the abuse being flung at Rubio by radio talkers like Laura Ingraham and pundit Anne Coulter, all of which seem aimed at labeling Rubio as a Hispanic version of moderate Lindsey Graham. They won’t forgive Rubio for his past advocacy of the Senate bill. As far as they are concerned anything that smacks of amnesty for illegals, either by President Obama’s extralegal executive orders or constitutional legislation, is equally suspect. Bush, who is counting on establishment support, already knows that the party base won’t back him. Indeed, at times, Bush has seemed to be willing to run against the base in the hope that this would facilitate his general-election campaign if he wins the nomination.

But Rubio is neither foolish enough to run against the base nor possessed of sufficient establishment backing that he can afford to ignore taunting from radio talkers that can fire up people against him.

In a race in which foreign policy plays a major role, Rubio, the most articulate of the likely contenders on security and defense issues, can expect to shine. His launch also reminded the country about why so many Republicans thought he was the perfect candidate to help them break the mold of the last two elections in which the GOP seemed to be doomed to permanent minority status. The bump he received recently in the polls is an indication that he has a higher ceiling than many of those Republicans planning on jumping into the fray. But it remains to be seen whether any candidate who needs, as Rubio does, to get some share of the conservative vote can survive the pasting he’s going to continue to get from elements of the activist core that consider any leniency on immigration to be the third rail of politics.

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Naming the Accomplices of the Holocaust

Last week, FBI director James B. Comey wrote an opinion piece about the importance of Holocaust education published in the Washington Post. But this seemingly anodyne exercise on Yom HaShoah has landed Comey in the middle of a diplomatic incident as well as earning himself a scolding from the Post’s Anne Applebaum for seeming to inaccurately describe the government of Poland as an accomplice of the Nazis during the Holocaust. However, Applebaum’s defense of Poland goes a little too far. Though she’s right to draw a bright line between the complicity of Germany and that of other nations, especially Poland, in mass murder, she too somewhat distorts the issue by seeming to downplay the role anti-Semitism throughout Eastern Europe played in facilitating the destruction of European Jewry. But the main lesson we should draw from this brouhaha is that by engaging in arguments that seek to whitewash some of those who behaved atrociously during the 1940s, we are distracting ourselves from the real threats facing Jews, Poles, and Europeans in 2015.

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Last week, FBI director James B. Comey wrote an opinion piece about the importance of Holocaust education published in the Washington Post. But this seemingly anodyne exercise on Yom HaShoah has landed Comey in the middle of a diplomatic incident as well as earning himself a scolding from the Post’s Anne Applebaum for seeming to inaccurately describe the government of Poland as an accomplice of the Nazis during the Holocaust. However, Applebaum’s defense of Poland goes a little too far. Though she’s right to draw a bright line between the complicity of Germany and that of other nations, especially Poland, in mass murder, she too somewhat distorts the issue by seeming to downplay the role anti-Semitism throughout Eastern Europe played in facilitating the destruction of European Jewry. But the main lesson we should draw from this brouhaha is that by engaging in arguments that seek to whitewash some of those who behaved atrociously during the 1940s, we are distracting ourselves from the real threats facing Jews, Poles, and Europeans in 2015.

Comey is in trouble because of the following passage in his Post piece:

In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.

That first sentence enraged Poles, who rightly pointed that either through bad punctuation or ignorance, Comey was lumping Poland in with Nazi Germany. That’s profoundly wrong as there was, as Applebaum rightly points out, no Polish collaborationist government as there was in France, Norway, and some other occupied nations. Moreover, unlike other ethnicities that were treated badly by the Germans but not treated as subhumans Poles were also singled out for atrocities by the Nazis and suffered mass slaughter. Polish Jews suffered far more than their non-Jewish compatriots and were targeted for extinction while most Poles were not. But Poles still are right to take umbrage at any notion that they were, as a people, direct accomplices in the way that many in the Baltic States and Ukraine, to take just two examples, were.

Applebaum is also right to note that the murder of Hungarian Jewry didn’t begin until that Axis ally collapsed as Germany assumed direct rule over Hungary.

But Applebaum goes too far when she claims that the sole fault for the Holocaust rests on “German state terror” or that participation in the mass murder on the part of Germans or their non-German accomplices was prompted primarily by fear and that those who did so “knew they were terribly, terribly wrong.” That interpretation of history serves some purpose for the people of contemporary Europe because it allows them to claim that those of their forebears who were part of the apparatus of death or cheered it were in some ways also victims. But such an assertion ignores the role that anti-Semitism played in Europe, especially in those countries of Eastern Europe where the most grievous mass slaughters of Jews took place.

Let’s specify that in a narrow sense Applebaum is right that Germany must always accept the lion’s share of the blame for everything that happened during the Holocaust. But it is disingenuous to claim that their task of singling out the Jews and then murdering them was not eased by the willingness of even the most poorly treated subject populations in Eastern Europe to treat Jews as worthy objects of persecution.

Nor can it be asserted with any credibility that the mass slaughters, especially those in areas that had been seized from the Soviets, were not materially aided by large numbers of non-Jewish local collaborators. While these populations had good reason to despise their Soviet overlords, nothing excuses their assistance of mass killings or the willingness of so many of their men to serve in volunteer units fighting beside the Nazis.

If they did so, it was not just because they feared the Nazis but because they, like so many Germans, believed the Jews deserved to be expropriated, deported, and or killed in cold blood. This “eliminationist” mentality, as historian Daniel Goldhagen described it, wasn’t so much the product of fear as it was of 2,000 years of anti-Semitism that rendered the Nazis’ ideology palatable to many who might otherwise have found it impossible to make common cause with what was a fundamentally revolutionary and socialist concept. Killers of Jews did not seem much troubled by their consciences, including those Poles that engaged in pogroms against the remnant of Jewish survivors that attempted to return to their homes after the war. The Nazis may have ruled by fear but they don’t seem to have needed it to convince so many people to either take part in their war against the Jews or to be quiet about it.

Applebaum, who is married to a prominent Polish politician, is understandably devoted to defending the good name of Poland, which, for all of the problems of its past, does not deserve to be lumped in with the Nazis as Comey seemed to do. But when Poles or other Eastern Europeans waste their time trying to parse this history so as to deny even minor complicity for the anti-Semitism that facilitated the Holocaust, they are wasting their time and ours.

Contemporary Poland is not responsible for the malevolent culture of Jew hatred that dominated its society in the 1930s and even during the war in which that country was also subjected to atrocities. Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, including countries whose populations did collaborate en masse with the Germans, now lives under the threat of Russian aggression. Thus, Poles have better things to worry about than whether some in the West are able to recall the role played by non-German Jew-haters in the Holocaust.

By the same token, Jews, who face a rising tide of global anti-Semitism fueled by an Islamist variant of the same eliminationist spirit that animated the Nazis, need not re-fight the battles of the past.

Comey should correct his punctuation but let’s not try and revise history to soothe contemporary national egos. Nor should we hold onto illusions about evil acts only being motivated by fear. As we face a new generation of aggressors like Russia and potential mass-murderers in ISIS and Iran, it’s a mistake to forget that evil is every bit as persuasive as fear.

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Are You Poor Enough to Be President?

If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

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If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

Clinton’s insistence she was broke post-presidency was obviously ridiculous, which is probably why McAuliffe rushed out to defend it:

“I cannot tell you the distress in that family at that time, with all the issues and all the legal fees, banks refusing to even give them a mortgage. So listen, people go through tough financial times,” he said.

McAuliffe’s comments came when asked about remarks from Clinton quoted in his book depicting the former first lady saying “we own nothing” and “it was really horrible” when leaving the White House.

“They had nothing compared to a lot of rich friends,” host Chuck Todd pressed.

But it was the next part of the interview that was more interesting:

McAuliffe pointed to Clinton’s upbringing in an attempt to cast the presumed Democratic presidential frontrunner as someone who knows hardship, noting her “middle-class roots” and that her mother was abandoned.

This is the 2016 presidential election in a nutshell, and Hillary is far from the sole offender. Her Republican rivals are, if anything, even more desperate to project the false populism of poverty.

It recalls a classic McDonald’s commercial in which older diners are engaged in an uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways competition over childhood hardships. If memory serves (I can’t find the clip online), it ends with one elderly diner talking about walking barefoot when the diner behind him snaps “Feet? You had feet?”

The major difference between that commercial and the 2016 campaign is that the candidates are competing for most recent poverty, with the trump card being somehow still poor even today and running for president. At this rate we’ll be lucky if a future nominee doesn’t win the primaries on the strength of a biography that consists of still living with his parents. (On the other hand, being a grown adult who isn’t very good with money does seem to be a presidential prerequisite these days.)

This afternoon, CNN posted an article whose headline asked the following question: “Can a Jos. A Bank suit win the White House?” I bet now you wish we could go back to talking about Chipotle.

The story is about Scott Walker:

Presidential hopeful and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boasted in New Hampshire last weekend that he shops for suits at Jos. A Bank. It’s famous for its huge discount deals. “All suits — Buy 1 get 3 FREE” reads the site’s current promotions.

Walker is using his everyman wardrobe to resonate with middle class voters.

“The shirt is from Kohl’s. The suit is from Jos. A Bank,” Walker, a Republican, told a crowd in New Hampshire over the weekend.

Walker has actually made his shopping at Kohl’s a regular feature of the campaign. In his defense, there is a point: in a January speech he explained how his wife had to teach him how to shop there properly, by waiting for deals, clipping coupons, and using reward points. Lesson learned, Walker finally returned to Kohl’s to buy a shirt and “the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!” (I’m sure former Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, whose family started the chain more than a half-century ago, was just delighted to hear it.)

Should we care which candidates shop at Kohl’s? No, we should not. Which is what made encountering the following note in the CNN story a pleasant surprise:

So what suits do other presidential hopefuls wear? Does the suit say anything about them or their policy? We don’t know.

Spokespersons for Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz did not respond for comment. Senator Rand Paul’s spokesperson declined to comment.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that this election is an outlier in this regard. In fact, it’s long been a tradition in American politics to lay claim to the famous American up-from-your-bootstraps work ethic and economic mobility.

And the candidates have perfectly valid reasons to partake in this tradition. Hillary Clinton is doing so because she is very, very rich, a situation made possible partly because the regular rules that apply to “everyday Americans” don’t apply to the Clintons. Hillary would like to shed the image of her as an out-of-touch crony capitalist extraordinaire. The problem is that the image is accurate.

Republicans are doing so both to contrast themselves with the rich and privileged Clintons as well as to continue exorcising the ghost of 2012, specifically Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. Conservatives hope to banish the image of the country club Republican, and are going out of their way to push back on the perennial media narrative of uncaring right-wingers. If the current string of Clinton scandal revelations continues at this clip, however, they won’t have to do much at all to look more relatable than the Democratic royal family they’re running against.

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Americans Eager to Sell Iran the Rope to Hang Them

Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

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Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

Like the Times’s own disgraceful journalistic tourists to Iran, such as Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof, the group featured in today’s article gushed over the welcome they received and the wonders of Iran’s ancient culture, friendly people, and market potential. The delegation of venture capitalists and business executives organized by a group called the Young President’s Organization got a red carpet tour as well as constant assurances that they and their money will be safe in Iran. When they had the temerity to ask about billboards across the country that proclaimed the regime’s trademark “Death to America” slogan, they were told that this was the product of a bygone era and that a “new Iran” was emerging. That seemed to comfort them, as did the likely inference that the presence of American cash would speed along the transformation of Iran.

But it’s likely that along with tourist sites and meetings with Iranians that said the right thing about wanting to re-engage with the West, these young entrepreneurs and executives didn’t find out much about the way the theocracy oppresses dissidents and religious minorities. Nor is likely that they learned much about the way the regime and its various military arms operate businesses that finance international terrorism as well as an arms buildup that threatens the region. It’s likely they also heard the same tripe about Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy (in a nation overflowing with massive oil reserves).

What businesspeople who want to invest in Iran should understand is that their efforts to open up this market for American commerce serves to strengthen a brutal and anti-Semitic Islamist government that is a driving force behind regional violence. Dollars that go to Iran will help finance Iran’s terrorism as well as a nuclear program that will eventually, even if Tehran abides by a pact with the West, lead to a weapon that could destabilize the Middle East and threaten Israel with destruction. Just as important, it will make it harder, not easier for those who want change in the country to make their voices heard, let alone have an impact on events. Though Americans always tell themselves fairy tales about increased trade being a force for freedom, all they will be doing is putting cash in the coffers of an otherwise tottering government that will make it even more resistant to reform, let alone willing to expand freedom.

But what’s that compared to the chance of making money by doing business with the ayatollahs? To those who participate in such junkets, the answer is obviously not much. Rather than Americans exporting their values, all the effort to promote trade with Iran will do is to compromise their own principles and to legitimize a regime that those who cherish freedom should never seek to support. This story illustrates that the cost of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran cannot be measured solely by the terms of a nuclear deal that will abandon sanctions and grant the regime a path to a bomb. “Death to America” doesn’t mean just death to Americans critical of Iran but all Americans as well as Western freedom. Just as Lenin once boasted that capitalists would sell Communists the rope by which they would be hanged, a new generation of fools appears intent on gifting Iran with the money that will pay for the terrorists that will kill us.

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‘Clinton Cash’ and an Unprecedented Question

Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

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Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

On its face, the reports about Schweitzer’s book appear to indicate that what he has done is merely to collate a vast array of material about the Clintons, their charity, and U.S. foreign policy, and to attempt to connect the dots between subjects that Bill and Hillary would like very much for us to keep separate. In response, the Clinton machine is trotting out the gang of usual suspects to put it down as politicized reporting that unfairly attempts to stigmatize the work of a noble charity as well as to besmirch Hillary’s record at the State Department.

Yet however much they huff and puff about the effrontery of those who dare to question the Clintons’ behavior, they can’t entirely squelch concerns about the way the couple has pushed the conventional boundaries of ethical political behavior in ways that are completely unprecedented in American political history. Though this is being viewed as a purely political question, there’s more here than just an opportunity for conservatives and Republicans to throw dirt at the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. Even if you admired the previous Clinton presidency and think Hillary would make an admirable successor to Barack Obama, the facts about the Clinton charity and the way it has solicited donations give even liberals a queasy feeling about the manner in which has operated. More than that, there is simply no previous example of a former president and his family creating such an entity that is dependent in part on foreign riches while one of its principals has been actively conducting American foreign policy and preparing for a future presidential run.

It must be conceded that just because there has never been anything like the Clinton power couple before doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. But in an era when conflicts of interest involving public officials are often justifications for lengthy and costly investigations–and possible prosecution if authorities think they can substantiate a link, however circumstantial, between official behavior and actions from donors that benefit an official and/or his or her family–the most favorable way of characterizing the Clintons’ behavior is to say that it is very fishy. Yet we should probably take it as a given that the Clintons and their lawyers are likely so savvy about how to push the envelope on ethics that they have been careful to avoid breaking any laws or at least that they have done so in ways that will make it difficult, if not impossible for them to be prosecuted.

It is also true that former President Clinton’s conduct seems very much in line with the kind of activity that nowadays we treat as normal from former members of the House and Senate who routinely cash out on their political careers after retirement or defeat at the polls by becoming lobbyists, consultants, or otherwise profiting from their status as former power brokers. Past presidents have often been involved in charity work, though never on the scale of the Clinton Global Initiative before. But even if other former chief executives have made money speaking, those paying them exorbitant honorariums were never before doing so while a presidential spouse was in power or planning to get it, raising issues of quid pro quo transactions that have never before been lodged before against one of our former presidents and their families.

Are the American people are really comfortable with the idea of a former president profiting from the largesse lavished upon him and the charity he runs from foreign sources while his wife presides over the State Department while biding her time before running for president? Clinton’s defenders are anxious that we think it no big deal while their antagonists seem to think that merely pointing out what is already on the record about their behavior is enough to disqualify Hillary from consideration in 2016. But what we don’t know is which of these two possible responses characterizes the thinking of the electorate.

It is possible that just as Bill Clinton broke new ground in violating norms about personal behavior in the White House without forfeiting the support of many, if not most Americans, so, too, the tale of the “Clinton Cash” will similarly be forgiven, if not altogether ignored by enough Americans to ensure their return to the White House. But just as there is no precedent for their behavior and the questions they have raised about the intersection of policy, charity, and speeches for profit, there is also none that can give us an answer to this question about how such hijinks influence presidential elections. All we know is that the Clinton way of doing charity work for profit and power has raised questions about Hillary’s candidacy and her party in ways that not even the sagest pundits can be sure about the people’s response to this mess.

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A Plea for Sanity in the Battle over Bibi

Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

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Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

One question in the poll found, as paraphrased by a Bloomberg reporter, that Republicans were “more sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than to their own president, 67 percent to 16 percent, while Democrats are more sympathetic to President Barack Obama than to Israel’s prime minister, 76 percent to 9 percent.” The reporter’s choice of phrasing “than to their own president” (my italics) is telling, and was reflected in some of the more extreme responses to the poll.

But the question that confused people was as follows:

When it comes to relations between the U.S. and Israel, which of the following do you agree with more?

(Read options. Rotate.)

45            Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge

47            Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them

8            Not sure

Republicans were more likely to give the first answer, Democrats the second.

The problematic nature of the wording becomes clear as soon as you read the actual poll question. But reporting on the poll may have taken the form of a game of “telephone.” Bloomberg’s own report on its poll muddied the waters immediately, suggesting that the poll said that Republicans opted for supporting Israel in a zero-sum faceoff when our interests diverged with those of the Israelis. But that’s not what the question says. It’s not an either/or question.

For example: a few years ago then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave an interview to the Washington Post. During the course of the interview, Barak was asked about the Syrian civil war. He responded that the Assads should be removed from power if possible but only their innermost circle; stability should be prioritized over total revolution. Barak was clearly nervous about Syria being a repeat of Egypt, where a stability-minded dictator was removed and replaced (temporarily) with a president from the Muslim Brotherhood who intended to shift Egypt’s allegiances toward Israel’s (and the West’s) enemies in the region.

But that was not American policy at the time, at least on paper. Washington was leaning toward a wholesale power shift, with the caveat that it be brought about by negotiations.

According to the common interpretation of the Bloomberg poll, that meant that support for Israel should at that point disappear until the two were back on the same page. A similar conflict even arose over Ukraine. Should the disagreement over Ukraine have imperiled the alliance?

Of course not. Sometimes our interests diverge. Those times are the exceptions, not the rule. And it would be silly to suggest that “support” for Israel should be untenable at that time. Sometimes we disagree, it’s really as simple as that.

Additionally, not all conflicts can be weighed equally. For example: let’s say you believe it’s in America’s interest to have an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that removes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, ignores Israeli security needs in the West Bank, and includes a deal on refugees that would put Israel’s demographic future in question. The majority of Israelis would oppose those terms. Should Americans support it? Is it enough that it’s in America’s interest, in your opinion, or should Israeli sovereignty and self-determination predominate? Barack Obama thought it was in America’s interest to interfere in Israel’s election. Is it wrong for an American to disagree and to hold that Israel’s democratic process should be respected?

You get the point. Moreover, the American sympathy for Israel is based not only on mutual strategic interests but also on history, religion, politics–the works. What poll respondents are saying is that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong enough to withstand the occasional argument.

But if you were looking to misread the poll, it would be easy to do so. Slate’s William Saletan wrote a bizarre column using the poll to attack Republicans as disloyal. What Republicans revealed when they invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress “against the will of a Democratic president” (His Majesty will not be pleased) and again by the Republicans surveyed in the Bloomberg poll is that “They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader.” Here’s Saletan’s conclusion:

That split points to a more fundamental challenge. Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests? When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?

So are Republicans permanent traitors taking orders from the Israeli government, or will they one day love their country again? Stay tuned!

The heated rhetoric around Netanyahu has lost all proportion. And it isn’t limited to the anti-Bibi guns on the left. Just before the Israeli elections, NRO’s Quin Hillyer wrote a column headlined “Israelis Should Send Obama a Message of Defiance.” The column had high praise for Netanyahu, and also included this strange concern:

Americans who love Israel will, of course, continue to love it regardless. But we fear that, without Netanyahu’s leadership, there will be less of Israel left to love.

If he was speaking figuratively, that plainly makes no sense. If he was speaking literally–as in, the other side would throw a fire sale on Israeli land–it ignores the reality on the ground as well as the more hawkish tendencies of Labor leader Isaac Herzog, to say nothing of the fact that Bibi himself presided over a two-track negotiating process with the Palestinians that he let one of his main political rivals lead.

Look, Netanyahu’s an eloquent spokesman for Western ideals and values, and it’s easy to see why English-speaking conservatives enjoy his leadership. But even while winning a convincing victory, his party still only won less than a quarter of the vote. Israel is a diverse country with diverse politics. Bibi is a product of Israel; Israel is not a product of Bibi.

Both sides should keep this in mind, but the left obviously needs this reminder more than the right. Because even at its most adulatory, American admiration for Netanyahu is not treasonous. And the simple fact that it’s being treated as if it were should serve as a much-needed wake-up call for American liberals.

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The Problem With ‘Creative Negotiations’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Innocent Abroad: Obama’s Iran Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Money Moderate Iran?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ineffective Campaign in Yemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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