Commentary Magazine


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The Myth of the Progressive Movement

When the last of the GOP’s viable conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney had been dispatched, a sense of fatalism briefly consumed the right’s ideological stalwarts. They knew that, eventually, they would be compelled to pull the lever for the technocratic father of socialized health care in America. Those who did not engage in a process of self-delusion designed to assuage their own guilt over this condition raged futilely against the prevailing winds.

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When the last of the GOP’s viable conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney had been dispatched, a sense of fatalism briefly consumed the right’s ideological stalwarts. They knew that, eventually, they would be compelled to pull the lever for the technocratic father of socialized health care in America. Those who did not engage in a process of self-delusion designed to assuage their own guilt over this condition raged futilely against the prevailing winds.

Reason’s A. Barton Hinkle scoffed that it would not be “easy” for conservatives to justify supporting Romney. “And it’s especially hard because it requires them to do the one thing they most revile Romney for: change positions for the sake of political expedience,” he wrote.

The conservative movement that had appeared ascendant amid the tea party wave of 2010 had run out of steam just 18 months later. Some wondered whether the conservative insurgency was a mere figment in the first place.

Similarly, the political commentariat is forever touting the progressive populist movement that they claim is today only just dawning. Though the voices in print and on television that foresee a great progressive tide on the horizon are also surely cheering on its arrival, they are not without evidence to support this contention. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s popularity and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s progressive manifesto, compiled with the support of luminaries like Susan Sarandon and Van Jones, validate the notion that the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left is a broad-based phenomenon.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spent an inordinate amount of time appealing to the supposedly ascendant left wing of her party, even despite the absence of a viable presidential primary challenger. But just as the Republican Party’s base was not convinced by Romney’s unctuous claim to have governed “extremely conservative” as the Bay State’s chief executive, the progressive wing is justifiably skeptical of Clinton’s liberal bona fides.

In opposition to a proposed free trade agreement with a variety of Asian nations, Senate Democrats demonstrated just how lame of a duck President Barack Obama had become when they denied him trade promotional authority earlier this month. In response to progressives’ suspicions of this proposed trade deal, Clinton has adopted a cagey stance on the matter. Though she has taken $2.5 million in speaking fees from pro-trade groups and has called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of free trade agreements, she would have her left flank believe that she is now deeply conflicted about the potentially negative effects free trade will have on American labor.

On what the progressive wing now regards as the defining civil rights issue of our time, the legal right of gay and lesbian couples to wed, Clinton was suspiciously slow to embrace the consensus position. She came out in favor of same-sex marriage only after President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden did the same. When probed by NPR’s Terry Gross about her evolution on the issue, Clinton lashed out defensively. It was an understandable fit of pique on her part; Clinton’s husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act and a travel ban for individuals infected with HIV into law, both of which the gay community has long regarded as betrayals from the last Democratic president.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Hillary Clinton’s close aides at the State Department attempted to withhold politically sensitive documents from being revealed to the public as a result of successful FOIA requests. This Machiavellian approach to governance is hardly surprising from Clinton’s team, but the documents they were attempting to suppress should raise eyebrows. Some of them pertained to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project vehemently opposed by the environmental left. One of the emails uncovered was addressed to Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for the firm seeking approval for that pipeline and a former staffer on Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.

“In one email, the [Ottawa] embassy official sent Mr. Elliot a message saying “Go Paul!” after he circulated some potentially positive news on the pipeline plan,” the Journal revealed. “She also complimented an appearance by the CEO of the company seeking to build Keystone XL.” The Friends of the Earth, the environmental group that successfully secured the release of these documents, called it the “smoking gun” that revealed the Clinton State Department’s pro-pipeline bias. Clinton has refused to take a position on Keystone, leading many environmentalists to draw their own unflattering conclusions.

There is a reason why President Barack Obama will attempt to link the trade promotional authority he wants to the threat of climate change in a report released on Wednesday morning. However dubious the link between these two issues, the White House is gambling that the progressive left’s near religious devotion to the cause of reducing carbon emissions will trump their antipathy toward free trade. But outside of the U.S. Senate, where a handful of committed ideologues can derail just about any initiative, is there any evidence to suggest that the progressive movement is worthy of this kind of deference?

If the Democratic Party’s far left was going to advance a truly liberal candidate for the presidency, that window is rapidly closing. There is no shortage of prospective usurpers who might assume the mantle of progressive champion ahead of 2016, but they have been largely cowed by Clinton’s stature within her party. As Republicans acquiesced to the inexorable Romney juggernaut in 2012, Democrats are apparently forced to come to terms with Clinton’s predestined ascension to the nomination.

A truly dominant political force would extract more concessions from Clinton and Obama than halfhearted mollification and lip service. At the moment, neither of them seems to think that more substantive concessions are necessary. For all the self-serving television presenters who are forever presaging the progressive moment that is about to dawn, there is precious little evidence to support that conclusion.

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Elliott Abrams: How COMMENTARY Does It

It’s notorious, and true, that government officials hardly read anything. Memos, sure; nowadays, emails and tweets as well. But magazines? People barely have time to eat lunch or see their kids, so how can an intellectual monthly affect public affairs?

The question is a good one. How did COMMENTARY do it?

The answer is that officials, like all citizens following American foreign policy, need a way to understand the world around them. When prevailing theories fail, when conventional wisdom is clearly at variance with what they see before their eyes, the outcome for senators and congressmen and White House officials is what the shrinks call cognitive dissonance. They may say one thing but believe another, or simply be unable to square previous beliefs and policies with the clear effects of U.S. conduct. They’ve lost the ability to explain the world.

And then came COMMENTARY, offering month after month of piercing, bracing analysis–and value judgments of right and wrong, and clear writing about American gains and losses. Here was an insistence on looking reality in the face. Here was plain argument, seeking no quarter intellectually and giving none.

And it mattered. It shamed some people, and emboldened others; COMMENTARY demanded that we conform policy to the opportunities and dangers that really faced America. In years of confusion and obfuscation, that striking clarity changed policies, and changed American conduct, because it changed the way we understood the world.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

It’s notorious, and true, that government officials hardly read anything. Memos, sure; nowadays, emails and tweets as well. But magazines? People barely have time to eat lunch or see their kids, so how can an intellectual monthly affect public affairs?

The question is a good one. How did COMMENTARY do it?

The answer is that officials, like all citizens following American foreign policy, need a way to understand the world around them. When prevailing theories fail, when conventional wisdom is clearly at variance with what they see before their eyes, the outcome for senators and congressmen and White House officials is what the shrinks call cognitive dissonance. They may say one thing but believe another, or simply be unable to square previous beliefs and policies with the clear effects of U.S. conduct. They’ve lost the ability to explain the world.

And then came COMMENTARY, offering month after month of piercing, bracing analysis–and value judgments of right and wrong, and clear writing about American gains and losses. Here was an insistence on looking reality in the face. Here was plain argument, seeking no quarter intellectually and giving none.

And it mattered. It shamed some people, and emboldened others; COMMENTARY demanded that we conform policy to the opportunities and dangers that really faced America. In years of confusion and obfuscation, that striking clarity changed policies, and changed American conduct, because it changed the way we understood the world.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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Reconsidering Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen, the 74-year-old Turkish Islamic thinker, has long been the subject of controversy in both American and Turkish policy circles. Born in Erzurum, Turkey, he taught and preached in Turkey for decades. His writings have focused on the interplay between religion, modernism, and interfaith tolerance, though his critics have suggested that his public and private statements were often at odds with each other. He came to the United States in 1999 seeking medical treatment for diabetes, among other ailments. While in the United States, videotapes surfaced which apparently showed Gülen suggesting his goal was to change Turkey’s system to make it more religious. Gülen and his supporters say the tapes were manipulated and his remarks twisted and taken out of context, but others suspected a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Gülen chose to stay in the United States rather than face prosecution in Turkey. After all, then as now justice was not the highest priority for the Turkish judicial system. He has since lived in Pennsylvania, near the Poconos town of Saylorsburg, at a small forested compound with houses and a meeting hall overlooking a small pond.

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Fethullah Gülen, the 74-year-old Turkish Islamic thinker, has long been the subject of controversy in both American and Turkish policy circles. Born in Erzurum, Turkey, he taught and preached in Turkey for decades. His writings have focused on the interplay between religion, modernism, and interfaith tolerance, though his critics have suggested that his public and private statements were often at odds with each other. He came to the United States in 1999 seeking medical treatment for diabetes, among other ailments. While in the United States, videotapes surfaced which apparently showed Gülen suggesting his goal was to change Turkey’s system to make it more religious. Gülen and his supporters say the tapes were manipulated and his remarks twisted and taken out of context, but others suspected a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Gülen chose to stay in the United States rather than face prosecution in Turkey. After all, then as now justice was not the highest priority for the Turkish judicial system. He has since lived in Pennsylvania, near the Poconos town of Saylorsburg, at a small forested compound with houses and a meeting hall overlooking a small pond.

Back in 2009, the Middle East Quarterly, a policy journal which I used to edit, published an article by Turkey expert and translator Rachel Sharon-Krespin about Gülen. The article ascribed malevolent motives to Gülen’s work. John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, in contrast, embraces Gülen’s work and teaching and affirmed his sincerity. Several years ago, the New York Times reported on the controversy over assessments of Gülen, as has Der Spiegel.

In my own writing, I have often been suspicious of the Gülen movement, although as I reflect, I realize I may have been misread the movement. While this post will be lengthy, the topic remains relevant and may be interesting to those focused on Islam and reform, and so I hope to address why I was suspicious, and why I have slowly been changing my mind. Over time, the basis for my suspicion of the movement has been multifold, although much of it had little to do with Gülen himself.

My Ph.D. work was in Iranian history, and while my dissertation did not involve Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, I had long studied his life and writing. Whereas Khomeini today is remembered for his revolutionary radicalism both in the United States and Iran, many Americans forget how Khomeini and his supporters sold the ayatollah to the West. In the U.S.-based, Persian language journal Iranshenasi, Jalal Matini, the chancellor of Ferdowsi University in Mashhad between 1975 and 1978, chronicled some of Khomeini’s quotes about his philosophy and vision for the future. In short, Khomeini told Westerners what they wanted to hear about his disinterest in personal power or the imposition of religious rule, and gullible reporters and diplomats ate it up. There were no shortage of useful idiots. Here, for example, is Richard Falk, at the time a professor of international law at Princeton who had the ear of Jimmy Carter, singing Khomeini’s praises in the New York Times.

Khomeini was not alone in fooling the West. The Muslim Brotherhood co-opted the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. They promised young Egyptians democracy, and there were many Western journalists, diplomats, and analysts who believed them. But the Muslim Brotherhood is a strictly hierarchical organization that does not tolerate internal debate and discussion. Their management philosophy is “listen and repeat.” Once in power, Mohamed Morsi like Khomeini eschewed his promises and any rhetoric of democracy and compromise and began to transform Egypt into an authoritarian, religious state. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi may not be a panacea to Egypt’s ills, and it may be impossible to gauge his true popularity given the repression that continues to exist in Egypt, but there is little doubt that his coup was extremely popular among Egyptians, including many disenfranchised youth who had once taken the Muslim Brotherhood at their word.

Perhaps nowhere has deception been as great as with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Diplomats and many former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Mark Parris, Morton Abramowitz, Ross Wilson, Robert Pearson, Marc Grossman—swore by Erdoğan and his alleged commitment to democracy (only Eric Edelman was an exception; he alone called Erdoğan correctly from the beginning as Wikileaks shows). They were not alone. President George W. Bush also praised the Turkish leader. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom,” he said. Erdoğan, of course, was no democrat. Rather, he was and is a bigot and a despot. Neither the White House nor any serious diplomat carry his water anymore; they recognize him for what he is.

So, the West has gotten burnt at least three times by embracing Islamists who preached democracy, only to see their rhetoric was empty. That does not mean, however, that all clerics and others who hold Islam dear are so cynical. To dismiss all such clerics or would-be reformers is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the West finds no partners nor can Muslims find leaders who can push a path which rolls back the hatred and radical interpretations spread by decades of Saudi and Iranian oil money.

That said, my suspicious understanding of Fethullah Gülen was driven by other considerations. Gülen has always emphasized education. This is laudable. The best schools in Azerbaijan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Africa, and elsewhere are affiliated with his movements. These schools do not proselytize, although they do embrace religious values. Regardless, they regularly turn out the best and brightest in their societies. These men and women in turn form networks, help each other with entry into governments or business, and often give back to the movement. Such networks can be secretive, and that secrecy can also breed suspicion. Suspicion can be justified, but it is not always so.

Another litmus test I use to judge movements is how forthright they are. Take the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MKO): It regularly spins off front groups to try to entrap the greedy or naïve. If the MKO was open and honest, they would just say who they are instead of trying to launder their history the way they do. Now, every Gülenist movement I know does not hide its ideology or its belief in the teachings of Gülen, but the ever expanding network of names and groups created a whiff of confusion. Turkey-watchers knew what each group was, but many others who became involved had no idea they were working with a Gülenist group. Sometimes, Gülenist groups seemed to try to co-opt individuals in organizations that did not know Turkey or who wanted a free trip, in order to suggest some institutional links where none existed.

Also contributing to my suspicion has been the fact that so much of the outside scholarship dedicated to Gülen’s work has been funded by Gülen’s charities. Over the years, I have known a number of his followers, and too often came to interpret his views by their actions. One Turkish diplomat, for example, tweeted favorably about University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby, which basically argued that Jewish Americans who disagreed with Walt and Mearsheimer held dual loyalty, an anti-Semitic attitude which has found a following among some intellectuals.

Likewise, some writers for Zaman, a newspaper affiliated with the movement, also used terminology and cast aspersions with regard to U.S. policymakers that sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism, and other columnists close to the movement sometimes falsified quotations although, to be fair, they apologized. Also coloring my assessment were the frequent discrepancies between the manner in which Zaman covered stories versus how its English language edition, Today’s Zaman, sanitized the same stories to make them more palatable to the Western ear. Some of Gülen’s followers may be anti-Semitic or prone to conspiracy, but is it fair to judge a whole movement by a few bad apples? After all, while no political movement in the United States is as cohesive as those in Turkey, there are men and women among both the right and the left in the United States who engage in conspiracy, are cynically political and are frankly embarrassing to their political allies. Guilt by association is a favorite past time of some politicos, but engaging in it is unfortunate when it becomes a way to side step more serious debate. That said, even while there are some followers who are bigoted and unrepentant, what is also true of the movement is that whatever differences they have, political or religious, they do not hesitate to sit down and discuss them openly and with civility. At the height of my political spat with the Gülenists, their door was never closed to me (they were for a long time housed in the same building as my American Enterprise Institute office). That shows self-confidence and principle, something that, for example, Erdoğan’s followers don’t have. During a recent visit to Turkey, for example, a former AKP member who once headed the German Marshall Fund’s office in Turkey worked to ensure that AKP members not accept meetings with myself and others whom he considered critical; likewise, the Kurdistan Regional Government also regularly seeks to handpick audiences in order to ensure that every question is a softball. Such strategies reflect a political culture that stresses sycophancy and dictatorial control rather than one that embraces inclusion.

The major basis for my suspicion about Gülen and his movement, however, was how his followers appeared to carry water for Erdoğan. And, indeed, it long appeared to me and others that followers of Gülen were working in an unholy alliance with Erdoğan in order to transform Turkish society fundamentally away from its Kemalist past and to blur the line between mosque and state. And perhaps they were, although, I also recognize it is equally possible that Erdoğan fooled Gülen’s followers by depicting his ultimate goals as far more moderate and democratic than reality has now shown them to be. Many Turks also suspect the Gülenists as contributing to the false evidence used to purge secularists, military officers, and nationalists.

What cannot be disputed is that, approximately a year-and-a-half ago, Erdoğan turned on Gülen and his followers. He launched a purge throughout the bureaucracy which, while not bloody, would nevertheless make Stalin proud. Any one even suspected of supporting Gülen or his myriad charities and schools—thousands and thousands of people—could and did find themselves out of a job without due process and, in some cases, could find themselves in prison. These are men and women who are sometimes responsible for feeding and clothing numerous children and parents, all of whom are now cut off. Erdoğan now demands that Gülen be extradited to Turkey where, perhaps, it would be easier to serve Gülen some figurative or literal polonium tea. Extradition would be wrong. Under no circumstances should the United States give any credence to Erdoğan, an increasingly unhinged and unrestrained dictator.

One of the more interesting debates right now in Turkey involves when Erdoğan changed. I have treated Erdoğan and his inner circle with suspicion almost from the beginning, and was once in a small minority, even among so-called neoconservatives. Many others have come around, whether it was because of Erdoğan’s embrace of Hamas, his conspiratorial ravings, his increasing anti-Americanism, his corruption, his response to the Gezi protests, or now the crackdown on Gülen and his followers. A question which many liberals, businessmen, and one-time supporters of Erdoğan now consider is whether or not they should have spoken up sooner against Erdoğan. Then again, the important thing is that they have recognized Erdoğan for what he is. And the fact that Gülen is now critical of Erdoğan gives pause for thought.

But just as Erdoğan has changed with time—even if his ideology has been consistent, his tactics have become far less nuanced—so too might Gülen have changed. Sixteen years is a long time to live in the United States, and Gülen is not isolated. He has seen both the American judiciary at work as well as hospitals. It may sound trite, but seeing how Americans treat each other as equals in contrast to how Erdoğan acts as a sultan can wear off. And, movements learn from their mistakes. Even if Gülen’s followers once collaborated with Erdoğan and caused a lot of damage when they did so, now that they find themselves on the opposite end of Erdoğan’s wrath provides a lesson which many have learned.

Was I right to be suspicious of the Fethullah Gülen and his movement? To some extent, yes. But was I at times unfair to the group? Absolutely. I regret that I once speculated that Gülen’s return to Turkey could mirror Khomeini’s return to Tehran, a comparison which became headline news in the often polemical Turkish press. Indeed, for that comparison, I apologize. Would I want to be judged by the same standards by which I judged the movement? Probably not. Does that mean I endorse the movement? No, I do not. But I am willing to listen to them.

That said, I do believe that while Gülenists and myself have followed radically different paths, when it comes to Turkey today, Erdoğan’s radicalism, the importance of the free market and business, and well as the importance of tolerance in society, and education, there is room for consensus.

Aside from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his Republican Peoples Party (CHP), no political party dominated by a charismatic leader in Turkey has survived that leader’s death. After Adnan Menderes was executed after the 1960 coup, his Democrat Party disappeared. Likewise, the Motherland Party did not survive Turgut Özal death in 1993. While Erdoğan, as president, should theoretically be above Turkish politics, he remains as partisan today as when he was prime minister. He also remains as domineering of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) over which he is an authoritarian lord. When Erdoğan is gone—and he knows that if he ever steps down, he will likely die in prison or in exile in Saudi Arabia—then the AKP will not survive. It will fracture and fragment, and the politics of compromise amidst coalitions may return. In that future, the followers of Fethullah Gülen will likely play a positive role and they undo the system of fear and the cynical use of religion that defines the Erdoğan era.

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Terrible News: Robert Wistrich Has Died

Robert Wistrich, the distinguished and gentlemanly historian of anti-Semitism, has died suddenly at the age of 70. His article “Judeophobia and Marxism” appeared in our December 2014 issue, and his “The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism” in our March 2013 issue. Stephen Daisley took the measure of Robert’s work in his review of the masterly From Ambivalence to Betrayal. I will miss him, and COMMENTARY will miss him, and everyone who believes in the importance of serving as witness to Jew-hatred will mourn him.

Robert Wistrich, the distinguished and gentlemanly historian of anti-Semitism, has died suddenly at the age of 70. His article “Judeophobia and Marxism” appeared in our December 2014 issue, and his “The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism” in our March 2013 issue. Stephen Daisley took the measure of Robert’s work in his review of the masterly From Ambivalence to Betrayal. I will miss him, and COMMENTARY will miss him, and everyone who believes in the importance of serving as witness to Jew-hatred will mourn him.

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Not Pro-Peace? Judge Palestinians By the Same Standard as the Israelis

Less than a week after his new government was sworn in, European and American critics are once again lambasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His appointment of Interior Minister Sylvan Shalom as the head of the country’s negotiating team in potential talks with the Palestinians is being panned as emblematic of the coalition’s inability to make peace. Shalom is a hawkish member of Likud and has in the past stated his opposition to a Palestinian state. Coming a day after Netanyahu reaffirmed the country’s commitment to opposing the redivision of Jerusalem on the 48th anniversary of its unification during the Six Day War, the naming of, as far his critics are concerned, the misnamed Shalom seemed to solidify the government’s international image as opposed to peace. But there are two problems with this point of view. One is that both Netanyahu and Shalom have committed themselves to negotiate in good faith. The other is that whatever one might think of the Israelis, it’s fair to ask why foreign critics don’t judge Palestinian negotiators by the same standard applied to Israelis.

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Less than a week after his new government was sworn in, European and American critics are once again lambasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His appointment of Interior Minister Sylvan Shalom as the head of the country’s negotiating team in potential talks with the Palestinians is being panned as emblematic of the coalition’s inability to make peace. Shalom is a hawkish member of Likud and has in the past stated his opposition to a Palestinian state. Coming a day after Netanyahu reaffirmed the country’s commitment to opposing the redivision of Jerusalem on the 48th anniversary of its unification during the Six Day War, the naming of, as far his critics are concerned, the misnamed Shalom seemed to solidify the government’s international image as opposed to peace. But there are two problems with this point of view. One is that both Netanyahu and Shalom have committed themselves to negotiate in good faith. The other is that whatever one might think of the Israelis, it’s fair to ask why foreign critics don’t judge Palestinian negotiators by the same standard applied to Israelis.

There’s little doubt that the Obama administration has no expectation that the Netanyahu government will give them what they want in terms of concessions to entice the Palestinians back to the table. The State Department dismissed Shalom’s appointment with what Foreign Policy termed “a shrug” as if to indicate that the president and Secretary of State John Kerry don’t really care who Netanyahu designates for the job of negotiator.

Like most members of his party, Shalom has been a skeptic about the peace process. He has said he will vigorously pursue a deal with the Palestinians and has a reputation as a pragmatist. But some people are suggesting, as the Times of Israel pointed out, that his true mission is to sabotage the talks. That is hardly likely since Netanyahu has never closed the door to negotiations in any of his previous three terms in office. No matter his positions on the shape of a potential deal, the prime minister views the continuation of talks as being in his best interests in terms of both domestic politics and the country’s foreign policy.

But while others are lamenting the comparison between Shalom and his predecessor in this role, Tzipi Livni, it should be pointed out that having an ardent advocate of a two-state solution leading the Israeli delegation at the talks didn’t make a bit of difference. The Palestinians blew up the talks last year when Fatah signed a unity pact with Hamas and decided to pursue recognition at the United Nations in an end run around the peace process. Though a bitter critic and rival of Netanyahu, Livni confessed that it was not the prime minister who torpedoed Kerry’s initiative. Rather, she said, it was Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who showed once again that he was incapable of making peace even if he wanted to do so.

That’s a key point that Western Israel-bashers consistently forget. Israel has already offered the Palestinians statehood and almost all of the territory they demanded three times between 2000 and 2008 and refused to talk seriously to Livni last year in what amounts to a fourth “no” to peace. Were they to come to the talks prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn they would find that no Israeli government would be able to resist taking them up on a two-state solution. But they can’t or won’t, a fact that renders the identity of the Israeli negotiators a piece of meaningless trivia.

But even if you want to be cynical about Shalom’s commitment to the process, it bears asking why the same people who think him insufficiently devoted to peace have no problem accepting and even praising Palestinians who do far worse. PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has regularly denounced Israel and engaged in libelous attacks on it while always denying it the right to be a Jewish state. His boss, PA leader Abbas, embraces and honors terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands, and has also incited Palestinians to attack Jews in order to compete with Hamas for popularity with a public that links bloodshed with political legitimacy. There has never been a Palestinian negotiating team that hasn’t stated positions that are far more extreme than anything Shalom ever said, yet never are they denounced as obstacles to peace.

Unlike with the Israelis, no one says Erekat’s belief in the “right of return” disqualifies him for the talks even though that marks him as a man that will never accept Israel’s existence. But Shalom’s skepticism is treated as proof that Israel won’t negotiate. Instead of worrying about the Israelis, who have already shown they’ll trade land for the hope of peace (and got terror instead), it’s time for the international community to start holding the Palestinians accountable. Until they do, they’ll never have an incentive to start talking in good faith.

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Obama’s Orwellian World

At his press briefing today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl if our war strategy against the Islamic State is a success. “Overall, yes,” Earnest replied.

Overall, that answer is untrue. Overall, that answer is insane. Overall, that answer is Orwellian.

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At his press briefing today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl if our war strategy against the Islamic State is a success. “Overall, yes,” Earnest replied.

Overall, that answer is untrue. Overall, that answer is insane. Overall, that answer is Orwellian.

To show how utterly dishonest this claim is, you might want to look at these pictures of members of the Islamic State holding a massive military parade in West Anbar, celebrating their victory in Ramadi. That would be Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in Iraq, which fell completely to militants of the Islamic State on Sunday. This represented, in the words of the New York Times, “the biggest victory so far this year for the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls.”

But that victory by ISIS shouldn’t obscure the fact that, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Islamic State leaders in Syria have sent money, trainers and fighters to Libya in increasing numbers, raising new concerns for the U.S. that the militant group is gaining traction in its attempts to broaden its reach and expand its influence. In recent months, U.S. military officials said, Islamic State has solidified its foothold in Libya as it searches for ways to capitalize on rising popularity among extremist groups around the world.”

And those gains in Libya, in turn, shouldn’t obscure the fact that last week, as the Associated Press points out, “The Islamic State group … seized more territory in Syria’s central province of Homs amid clashes with government forces that left dozens dead and wounded on both sides.”

The Islamic State’s gains in Libya, in turn, shouldn’t conceal the fact that “Militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Nigeria’s fearsome Boko Haram – all once linked to al Qaeda – have … pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

Beyond all these gains in individual countries — because of these gains in individual countries — CBS News reports, “ISIS has a dynamism and fervor that has seemed to fade for al Qaeda.”

Remember when President Obama pledged to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State? And assured us earlier this year that the Islamic State is “on the defensive and … is going to lose”? Those pledges were bluster, just as was Mr. Obama’s assurance that if Syria’s Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, he would be crossing “a red line for us.” President Assad used chemical weapons — and Mr. Obama did nothing in response.

The world — our adversaries and our allies — got the message. President Obama’s words mean nothing. He’s supine. He’s weak. He’s a laughingstock.

That is bad enough. But for the president and his press secretary to enter an Alice in Wonderland world makes things even worse. There is no known universe in which our current war strategy against the Islamic State can be considered, overall, a “success.” In fact it is, by virtually every objective measure, a failure. And not just any failure. It is the latest link in a chain of catastrophic foreign policy failures by Mr. Obama.

For Josh Earnest to claim that what we are witnessing in Iraq and throughout the Middle East is evidence of success is beyond spin. It’s beyond insulting. It is literally unbelievable. The contempt Mr. Earnest and the president he serves have for the truth, and the American people, is stunning. It’s a kind of corruption that is rare and worrisome to find in any political office, but especially in the presidency. And as Mr. Obama’s failures continue to multiple, so, we can assume, will his administration’s deceptions.

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The White House Deploys Spin and Denial in Response to Setbacks in Iraq

If you’re getting the impression that the White House sees the latest ISIS advances in Iraq culminating in the fall of Ramadi as a political setback rather than a strategic nightmare, you’re not alone.

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If you’re getting the impression that the White House sees the latest ISIS advances in Iraq culminating in the fall of Ramadi as a political setback rather than a strategic nightmare, you’re not alone.

“Ramadi has been contested over the last 18 months. We’ve always known the fight against ISIS would be long and difficult, particularly in Anbar Province,” White House Deputy Press Sec. Eric Shultz conceded on Monday. “There’s no denying that this is, indeed, a setback.”

Apparently, Schultz’s boss resented his deputy’s demoralizing candor. On Tuesday, he went about offering a variety of dubious claims designed to tamp down speculation that the president’s strategic approach to the war against the Islamic State was in shambles.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest urged reporters to “maintain perspective” when reporting of the fall of the capital of Anbar Province, a key city situated just 70 miles from Baghdad. Though he hinted that the president might entertain a “tweak” or two to his strategic approach to the war, Earnest insisted that the West’s tactical approach to the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is regularly modified according to circumstances on the ground.

“We have seen important progress that has been made, but there have also been periods of setback,” Earnest insisted. When pressed on whether the president believes that the war against ISIS is generally a success, Earnest insisted, “overall, yes.”

Courting the charge of insensitivity, Earnest mocked reporters for engaging in figurative self-immolation over the fall of a second major Iraqi city to the ISIS insurgency. “Are we going to light our hair on fire every time there’s a setback?” the exasperated press secretary said of the Sunni militia’s efficacy on the battlefield, perhaps failing to recall that this terrorist organization is composed of a number of proficient arsonists.

If the White House’s communications team set out to abate their humiliation over the abject and empirical collapse of America’s halfhearted war fighting strategy in the Middle East, they failed rather spectacularly. Not only are these comments reflective of a dangerous frivolousness on the part of this administration, they are indicative of the unsettling reality that the White House views the trifurcation of Iraq along ethno religious lines as a political challenge to be messaged away.

It is not merely the military front in the war against ISIS that is collapsing. The fall of most of Anbar has given way to a bloody purge of government officials and anyone who ever worked closely with U.S.-allied institutions in Iraq. Officials in Baghdad believe that some 500 civilians and soldiers have been murdered while another 5,000 were displaced since Friday, when ISIS began its final assault on Ramadi. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the Shiite militias loyal to Tehran to descend on a military base near the occupied provincial capital in preparation for a counterassault, despite the White House’s concerns that a Shiite-led attack on a Sunni-dominated city could ignite a sectarian civil war.

The war on ISIS’s assets is equally bereft of successes. Despite a successful mission conducted by U.S. Special Forces which resulted in the death of a figure described as the Islamic State’s CFO, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that ISIS’s finances are generally healthy.

“The Islamic State has revenue and assets that are more than enough to cover its current expenses despite expectations that airstrikes and falling oil prices would hurt the group’s finances, according to analysts at RAND Corporation, a nonprofit that researches public policy,” the Times revealed. “The group minimizes costs by looting military equipment, appropriating land and infrastructure, and paying relatively low salaries. The group also limits its vulnerability by shifting operations, transitioning between expanding its territory and fueling terrorist activity.”

Given all this, the administration has the temerity to blame House Republicans for setbacks in Iraq by failing to pass a new authorization to use military force in Iraq and Syria – a measure that, as written to the White House’s specifications, would constrain coalition military planners and limit the freedom of action they presently enjoy.

In early February, American military planners trumpeted ill advisedly their intention to mount the assault to liberate Iraq’s second city, Mosul, from ISIS terrorists in the late spring. That optimistic plan has been subject to some revision in the interim. With another major city in ISIS’s hands, the portions of that country in need of liberation are accumulating rapidly.

Even before Earnest’s buck-passing escapade, it was clear to most observers that the White House was focused more on managing public opinion than safeguarding Iraqi security. Today, there should be no doubt about the president’s priorities.

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Are Americans Prepared to Let ISIS Win?

The Iraqi government’s catastrophic defeat at Ramadi has brought into focus the fact that, as our Max Boot noted yesterday, ISIS is winning and the U.S. and its allies are losing. Though the White House and the Pentagon remain in denial about recent developments, there is little doubt that the U.S. strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terror group is an abysmal failure. Though bombing and Special Forces raids have inflicted damage on the group, it remains in control of much of Iraq and Syria. To the extent its efforts to expand the so-called caliphate have been restrained, that has been largely due to the efforts of Iran-backed militias that have given Tehran an even greater say in the country’s fate. But while Iraqis flee the onset of the ISIS butchers, it cannot have failed to come to the attention of both ISIS and Iran that Americans are currently paying more attention to the argument about the initial decision to invade the country in 2003. All of which raises the question not so much about the administration’s lackluster effort to prevail as it does about whether the American people are ultimately prepared to shrug off ultimate defeat in Iraq as they once did in Vietnam.

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The Iraqi government’s catastrophic defeat at Ramadi has brought into focus the fact that, as our Max Boot noted yesterday, ISIS is winning and the U.S. and its allies are losing. Though the White House and the Pentagon remain in denial about recent developments, there is little doubt that the U.S. strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terror group is an abysmal failure. Though bombing and Special Forces raids have inflicted damage on the group, it remains in control of much of Iraq and Syria. To the extent its efforts to expand the so-called caliphate have been restrained, that has been largely due to the efforts of Iran-backed militias that have given Tehran an even greater say in the country’s fate. But while Iraqis flee the onset of the ISIS butchers, it cannot have failed to come to the attention of both ISIS and Iran that Americans are currently paying more attention to the argument about the initial decision to invade the country in 2003. All of which raises the question not so much about the administration’s lackluster effort to prevail as it does about whether the American people are ultimately prepared to shrug off ultimate defeat in Iraq as they once did in Vietnam.

Last month was the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and most of the coverage focused, as it has always done, on the American evacuation of Saigon and the stories about the last people to escape the city as it fell to North Vietnamese troops. For the most part, the American memory of the war ends at that point with little if any thought given to the question of what happened to the country after the U.S. gave up. The horrors of the “re-education” camps and the ordeal of the boat people have largely slipped down the collective memory hole. Though some writers, such as Norman Podhoretz tried to address the moral questions raised by the communist victory, as far as the overwhelming majority of Americans are concerned, Vietnam no longer existed once the war ended. We washed our hands of it as if blaming the Vietnamese people more than the U.S. leaders who had plunged the nation into the war for the suffering that America had endured during the long conflict.

I reference this disturbing fact because the current debacle with ISIS and the general indifference toward it here raise the question of whether Americans are going through a similar process with respect to Iraq. It would seem obvious that during a week when it appears that a loathsome Islamist organization is taking control of places like Ramadi for which Americans fought and bled only a few years ago that we would be intensely debating the wisdom of President Obama’s efforts to make good on his pledge to defeat ISIS. But there’s no sign that the White House feels any particular pressure to reassess its half-hearted approach to the war.

As was true of Vietnam, the overwhelming majority of Americans — Republicans as well as Democrats — have now come to the conclusion that the U.S. invasion was a mistake. Though the world is better off without a monster like Saddam Hussein and, as some GOP candidates have pointed out this week, the decision was reasonable given what we knew then, few now think it was a good idea. Indeed, given the rise of Iran as its rival collapsed, it’s possible to argue that the horrors of Saddam’s regime notwithstanding, the war hurt U.S. security in the long run. If the current debate about the war’s origins are any indication, it will take a lot more videos of ISIS beheading or burning hostages to galvanize Americans into thinking they ought to do something more to stop it. The trauma of the war is such that the success of the surge that won the war in 2007 and 2008 after initial setbacks and the subsequent spectacle of Iraq’s collapse after President Obama pulled U.S. troops seems to be less important in the minds of much of the press and the people than the pointless finger pointing about what happened in 2003.

Seen in that light, it appears a lot of Americans would like Iraq to fade from our consciousness, as Vietnam once did, like a bad dream. But the problem with that attitude is that while the atrocities visited on the Vietnamese people by the communist victors in that war were awful, they were largely contained to a Southeast Asia that America could afford to ignore even during the Cold War. Not even genocide in Cambodia rattled Americans enough to revisit their decision to forget about that war. So, too, many of us may think we can do the same in Iraq regardless of how bad thing might be as it falls into the hands of ISIS or Iran’s allies.

Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is located in the middle of one of the most strategic regions in the world. As ISIS has proved as it branches out to Libya, it cannot necessarily be contained in Iraq and Syria. Nor can an Iran that is, thanks to President Obama’s desire for détente with the Islamist regime, prepared to compete with ISIS for regional hegemony, leaving moderate Arab nations and Israel to look to their own defenses.

Like it or not, Iraq can’t be as easily put in America’s rear-view mirror as Vietnam was. If President Obama can’t be motivated to do more than to contain ISIS or minimize its gains, his foreign policy legacy will be a disaster that will bedevil his successor and the people of the Middle East. Unlike that triumph of North Vietnamese communism that Norman Podhoretz rightly decried but which did not prove to be a strategic threat to the U.S., an ISIS victory will be a catastrophe. Though Americans may still prefer to pick at the scar of our misguided decision to enter the war, eventually they’re going to have to come to grips with the need to win it or pay the consequences.

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The Left’s Obscene Virtue of Self-Censorship

The ideal that art should serve no higher purpose than its own existence has always been something of a utopian goal. Aspiring authoritarians have a nagging tendency to want to harness the power of artistic expression for their own peculiar aims. This is an anti-republican impulse the left once shunned, but it appears to be making a comeback.

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The ideal that art should serve no higher purpose than its own existence has always been something of a utopian goal. Aspiring authoritarians have a nagging tendency to want to harness the power of artistic expression for their own peculiar aims. This is an anti-republican impulse the left once shunned, but it appears to be making a comeback.

The Soviets were famously censorious, but the Kremlin also used art and expression to advance its political objectives. But if the methods they applied were unique, the goals of Soviet bureaucrats were not.

“Soviet efforts to instill new cultural norms for everyday life were part of long-standing aspirations throughout Europe to solve social problems and reshape society,” wrote David Lloyd Hoffmann in Stalinist Values: The Cultural Norms of Soviet Modernity, 1917-1941. “Since the nineteenth century European political leaders, social reformers, and industrialists had sought to instill values of cleanliness, sobriety, and discipline in the working poor. Their efforts were motivated not only by instrumental hopes of molding a healthy and productive workforce but by aesthetic and altruistic ambitions to uplift the masses, to educate them, and to better their lives.”

Art, you see, is optimized when it is a vehicle for societal evolution. Those who would harness the power of expression for utilitarian ends do not perceive themselves autocrats but rather pragmatists. The starry-eyed creatives in their charge must be guided toward productive pursuits and the useful application of their talents. Of course, what begins as suggestion soon evolves into a directive. It is not long before the empowered well-meaning progressive compels society’s artist to use their gifts wisely or suffer the repercussions.

Those who were fortunate enough to outlive European communism recall that, of the many indignities they were forced to endure, forcible state-sponsored censorship was not nearly the most excruciating. It was the fact that this condition inevitably resulted in self-censorship that was the most painful consequence of authoritarianism. For fear of the Stasi’s ubiquitous eyes and ears, the average East German learned to not only cease expressing themselves in an uninhibited manner but to bury those thoughts that might cause them or their loved ones hardship. That is the most complete form of submission.

Stifling free expression for the good of the state is once more a Russian value. The imposition of laws designed to enforce selective codes of morality has again forced Russian artists to self-censor Or else. One particularly literary theater and film director recently described the condition of being forced to choose between self-censorship and running afoul of authorities as being trapped “between Scylla and Charybdis.”

This doesn’t happen overnight. The cultural degradation wrought by the best intentions of the reformers takes years to metastasize into censorship. The mechanisms through which the vulnerable are shielded from discomforting thought develop over the course of decades. The process often begins imperceptibly, but the trained eye can see it in its nascent stages. It is the application of that perspective that renders Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s ostensibly fatuous and self-serving condemnation of Game of Thrones so dangerous.

In service to the new demands associated with a culture of “social justice,” a concept distinct from objective justice, Missouri’s U.S. Senator castigated the HBO drama for daring to depict the unseemly aspects of life; namely, sexual assault. “Ok, I’m done Game of Thrones,” McCaskill wrote on her Twitter account. “[S]tupid. Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable.”

This casual admonition would be easily dismissed if running afoul of the ever-evolving concepts of social justice did not have dire career consequences for the accused. Livelihoods have been lost for offending the sensibilities of the left’s culture warriors, even years after the supposed offense has occurred. It is in this climate that the senator offered her opinion on the artistic virtue of the depiction of a brutal assault, a not atypical occurrence for this popular gritty drama on a premium cable network.

“We’re developing a culture of easy virtue,” National Review’s David French averred in 2013, “where concern for the poor can substitute for helping the poor, where the right words can cover the wrong actions, and where thumbing out 140 outraged characters constitutes ‘social action,’ so long as you choose the right target for your hate.”

Somewhere down the line, the retributive activists in our midst shifted tactics. Today, talk is cheap. Enforced conformity of thought and the criminalization of dangerous concepts is the new righteousness. For a modest fee, aspiring educators can today take a course on how to teach controversial subjects without being fired. It’s a worthwhile investment. To carelessly challenge assumptions today is to invite a backlash from the mollycoddled “safe space” advocates who wield unparalleled and wholly unwarranted deference from administrators. It seems those budding tyrants have an ally in the U.S. Senate.

The wall is marred with handwriting. The canaries are all dead. It’s impossible to ignore the ubiquitous signs indicating that another period in American life characterized by enforced censorship imposed by the well meaning is dawning.

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What Should Citizenship Mean?

Immigration is shaping up to be one of the major issues of the 2016 presidential campaign, and President Barack Obama’s fait accompli, legal or otherwise, to give five million illegal aliens amnesty has permanently changed both the debate and the scale of the problem. There were, according to conservative estimates, 11.2 million illegal aliens living in the United States as of November 2014. In addition, illegal immigrants give birth to several hundred thousand children each year, all of who automatically become Americans because of birthright, jus soli citizenship.

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Immigration is shaping up to be one of the major issues of the 2016 presidential campaign, and President Barack Obama’s fait accompli, legal or otherwise, to give five million illegal aliens amnesty has permanently changed both the debate and the scale of the problem. There were, according to conservative estimates, 11.2 million illegal aliens living in the United States as of November 2014. In addition, illegal immigrants give birth to several hundred thousand children each year, all of who automatically become Americans because of birthright, jus soli citizenship.

Personally, I’m in favor of immigration—legal immigration—but have little tolerance for illegal immigration, and find it especially noxious that the U.S. government is effectively allowing illegal immigrants to cut in front of the line in having their immigration status resolved.

Missing in the immigration debate, however, is what citizenship should mean: Is citizenship just a matter of a passport and taxes, or does it confer an ideological contract? About a decade ago, as part of a conference in the Netherlands, I had the opportunity to sit down with city councilmen in Rotterdam to discuss assimilation. One basic question stumped our hosts: What does it mean to be Dutch? Underlying their ability to answer was cultural equivalence: How could anyone require competence in the Dutch language? Knowledge of Dutch history? Dutch liberal values?

In the United States, many immigrants, and especially illegal immigrants, seek a better life—and economic opportunity, and many also seek to support their relatives back in their country of origin. Far fewer seem to choose America for the values it represents. Indeed, too many seem to treat those values with disdain.

It’s all well and good to give five million illegals amnesty, but there has yet to be a public debate on why they have come and what their eventual citizenship should mean once they are on that path. The question is not only relevant for economic migrants making the trek from Latin America, but also for the flood of East Asian, African, and Middle Eastern migrants.

It’s easy to appreciate multiculturalism: It’s far easier to sample the world’s cuisines, fashions, and celebrations in the United States than anywhere else. But at the same time, multiculturalism is not always positive. Different cultures embrace different values and think in different ways. Oppressing women and girls, for example, may be common in Saudi Arabia, but it is not acceptable in the United States. The caste system may exist in India, but no Indian should be untouchable in the United States, nor would the caste system be an excuse for housing or other discrimination among Americans of Indian descent. Many Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans engage in female genital mutilation. There should be no cultural exemption for that practice within the United States, nor should the United States accept the slavery which exists in Mauritania, nor the exploitation of child labor that occurs in Bangladesh or China, just because “that’s the way it has always been” back in those countries.

While multiculturalism on balance is positive, so too is cohesion and assimilation. How does assimilation balance with cultural identity? Cultural identity is the patina and may influence the home, but assimilation should be based on the common core of values that makes America exceptional. The values enshrined in the founding documents of the United States should not be some à la carte buffet. The Constitution should trump any religious or other cultural text when the rights and principles enshrined come in conflict. Women and girls from conservative Muslim countries should have the same rights and freedoms as any other American woman or girl. If their fathers, brothers, or uncles do not like it, then that family doesn’t belong in the United States, and they could just as easily migrate elsewhere.

Likewise, America was founded on a notion of individual liberty and smaller, restrained government. To flee a socialist state and then seek the same sort of government direction in the United States belies the notion that individual liberty matters to the migrant. Likewise, to flee sectarian war in Yemen, Syria, or Iraq but retain biases if not hatred toward others of a different religion suggests an export of a problem rather than a new beginning.

So what to do? There are no easy answers, but the question about what American citizenship should mean should be a preliminary discussion before any amnesty, change of status, or reform of the system. A secondary debate is how the common core of citizenship should be taught. The bare bones citizenship test—how many states, how many senators, when is Independence Day celebrated, etc.—does little to promote citizenship. Can citizenship be taught in a public education system presided over by so many seemingly embarrassed by America’s legacy? Candidates have become so caught up in numbers of immigrants and process, but they too often avoid the elephant in the room: What does it mean to be an American? What values must all Americans share, and what values should be disqualifiers? The 2016 Republican field is as large as it is diverse, and the Democratic field is heating up. Candidates may like to avoid the tough questions, but with both parties having started the United States down the slippery slope toward immigration amnesty, perhaps it actually pays those who wish to lead the free world to define what it should mean to be an American.

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Max Boot: Nothing Else Like COMMENTARY

There is more commentary in the world than ever before—whether in print, on the air, or on the Internet. But there is still a dearth of serious, informed commentary that reports, analyzes, and argues without ever stooping to name-calling or vitriol. If you further narrow down the segment of the commentariat that looks at the world from a conservative and Jewish perspective—well, you’re left with only one choice. The magazine you are now reading. COMMENTARY has changed over the years—for instance, it now publishes this blog—but one thing that has not changed is its steadfast commitment to providing the best analysis from the most informed writers of the most important ideas in the world, all written in clear prose that appeals to a general audience. There is nothing else like it. Never has been, never will be.

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There is more commentary in the world than ever before—whether in print, on the air, or on the Internet. But there is still a dearth of serious, informed commentary that reports, analyzes, and argues without ever stooping to name-calling or vitriol. If you further narrow down the segment of the commentariat that looks at the world from a conservative and Jewish perspective—well, you’re left with only one choice. The magazine you are now reading. COMMENTARY has changed over the years—for instance, it now publishes this blog—but one thing that has not changed is its steadfast commitment to providing the best analysis from the most informed writers of the most important ideas in the world, all written in clear prose that appeals to a general audience. There is nothing else like it. Never has been, never will be.

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What Else Was on Hillary’s Second E-Mail?

When we found out that Hillary Clinton used a private email for work purposes while serving as secretary of state, it was possible to argue that there was nothing improper about it even if it was hard to explain. The deletion of tens of thousand of those emails that were said to be personal and the wiping of the home server on which they were contained was a lot to harder to explain and raised questions about what might have been on the missing messages. But the news that Clinton had a second active private email account during this same period despite assurances to the contrary from her lawyer and the presidential candidate that there was nothing more to learn about this affair should set off even more alarms. The use of the second address was discovered in the investigation of the involvement of veteran Clinton machine hit man Sidney Blumenthal in formulating policy toward Libya during the period preceding the Benghazi terror attack. The deeper we dive into the tangled affairs of the Clintons, the more complications and lies we discover.

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When we found out that Hillary Clinton used a private email for work purposes while serving as secretary of state, it was possible to argue that there was nothing improper about it even if it was hard to explain. The deletion of tens of thousand of those emails that were said to be personal and the wiping of the home server on which they were contained was a lot to harder to explain and raised questions about what might have been on the missing messages. But the news that Clinton had a second active private email account during this same period despite assurances to the contrary from her lawyer and the presidential candidate that there was nothing more to learn about this affair should set off even more alarms. The use of the second address was discovered in the investigation of the involvement of veteran Clinton machine hit man Sidney Blumenthal in formulating policy toward Libya during the period preceding the Benghazi terror attack. The deeper we dive into the tangled affairs of the Clintons, the more complications and lies we discover.

The existence of another account is not, in and of itself incriminating. But the Clinton Camp’s insistence that there was only one private account that she worked on when the story about her emails broke in March is now coming back to haunt her. After assuring the country that the [email protected] address was the only one that contained both her work and private messages, we now know there was another — [email protected] — that was employed for communicating with Blumenthal and distributing the memos he wrote about Libya to State Department staffers.

As I wrote yesterday, the Blumenthal story is a startling example of how the world of Clinton Cash works. Blumenthal was a former high-ranking staffer in Bill Clinton’s White House who was well known for his attempts at character assassination of the president’s critics. He remained part of the Clinton orbit and was, by 2012, working for the Clinton Foundation as well as private groups promoting Hillary’s political agenda. At the same time, he was also serving as an advisor to Secretary of State Clinton on Libya policy, bringing up serious conflict of interest issues. But the conflict went further than just that. While seeking to influence Hillary on Libya, Blumenthal was involved in a business proposition in that country that required State Department help to succeed. The scheme fell through but his involvement with the secretary was still highly improper and open to serious questions about whether lines that should have separated private financial interests and public policy were crossed.

But now we have the additional question of what other sort of business was being conducted on the second email and why Clinton and her camp didn’t acknowledge its existence or purpose when she initially sought to defuse the issue. This is not merely, as Clinton’s use of private email for official work was, a breach of protocol. The revelations now move the story into one about lies and conflicts of interest that must be fully explained.

In a sign of the pressure Clinton is starting to feel from the momentum of a scandal that is beginning to snowball on her that she actually took five questions from the press today at a campaign event in Iowa. This interlude of talk in what was, as far as transparency was concerned, a silent movie of a presidential campaign, didn’t give us much information. She spoke about wanting the State Department to speed up the release of the 55,000 pages of emails that she returned to the government after leaving office. That’s all well and good, but still left unexplained are the tens of thousands of emails that were deleted because she and her staff claim they were personal. Nor did we get an explanation about the use of the second email other than her somewhat disingenuous claims that Blumenthal’s emails to her were “unsolicited.” A consultant’s emails of advice about Libya — a country about which he knew little other than the information that his business associates fed him — for which he was being paid are solicited by definition. So even as she sought to deflect criticism for her refusal to answer questions for weeks, she added to the pile of inconsistencies

In the days and weeks ahead, partisan Democrats will continue uttering their mantra that there is no proof that what Clinton did was illegal. But the Blumenthal story has begun a process in which previous Clinton statements are starting to be exposed as fallacious. Americans have a right to know why a man being paid by the Clinton family foundation — which acted as a slush fund for Bill, Hillary and Chelsea — was also being employed by the State Department to advise her on an issue on which he had a private business interest. Just as important, we need to know what other emails were sent from the second account and how many of them were permanently deleted by the former First Lady’s staff in violation of State Department procedures.

It is still possible to believe that the Blumenthal emails uncovered by the New York Times were not part of a wider correspondence that might shed light on the Clinton Cash allegations of conflict of interest by Bill and Hillary involving the massive sums that were paid to them in speaking fees and donations to a foundation that is a thinly veiled political slush fund. But until we have these questions answered, an ethical cloud will continue to hang over the Clinton presidential campaign.

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As Jews Worldwide Go Conservative, How Long Will U.S. Jews Buck the Trend?

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

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There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Greenfield’s answer is that non-Orthodox American Jews care less about Judaism that their counterparts overseas, and therefore inevitably care less about Israel. And certainly, that’s part of the answer: A 2013 Pew poll showed that Jewish affiliation has declined markedly among American Jews, with only 68% of Jews born after 1980 considering themselves “Jews by religion,” compared to 93% of those born in 1914-27. And among the 32% that define themselves as “Jews of no religion,” a whopping 67% raise their children “not Jewish,” 79% have non-Jewish spouses, 54% say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, and 55% feel little or no attachment to Israel.

Nevertheless, young Jews in other countries also intermarry more and are less Jewishly identified than their grandparents. So even if the decline has been steeper in America than elsewhere – an assumption for which Greenfield brings no evidence – it’s hard to see that alone as sufficient to explain this political divergence.

What’s missing from Greenfield’s answer, of course, is America itself: the anomalous fact that non-Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That certainly isn’t the case in Europe. And as an annual BBC poll shows, it isn’t even true in Canada and Australia, whose current conservative governments are staunchly pro-Israel.

Consequently, Democratic politicians are rarely as anti-Israel as their counterparts overseas, because being anti-Israel is still bad politics in America. Thus, for instance, they routinely support arms sales to Israel, whereas left-wing politicians abroad routinely oppose them. Nor does the American left’s animus against Israel spill over into blatant anti-Semitism as often as it does in, say, Europe. So for now, liberal American Jews still feel as if they can support the left without having to repudiate their Zionism or their Judaism – something that’s increasingly no longer possible overseas.

But even in America, that may not be true for long. As Sohrab Ahmari and Noah Pollak explained in detail in COMMENTARY this month, the Obama Administration and its Democratic cheerleaders have been steadily defining pro-Israel downward. During last summer’s Gaza war, for instance, the administration relentlessly criticized Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties, halted arms shipments in the middle of the fighting and urged Israel to accept a cease-fire dictated by Hamas patrons Qatar and Turkey, all while declaring itself to be unstintingly pro-Israel.

And on American college campuses, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing. See, for instance, the case of UCLA student Rachel Beyda, who was rejected for a post on the university’s judicial board solely because she was Jewish, until a faculty adviser intervened.

Thus if American Jewish liberals don’t want to go the way of their counterparts overseas – i.e., if they want to be able to continue voting left without feeling that they are thereby sacrificing their Jewish and Zionist identity – they need to mount an urgent campaign to convince their own political camp that any good liberal should also be pro-Israel. That’s far from an impossible case to make, since it has the advantage of being true, as I explained in detail in a COMMENTARY article in March. But conservatives can’t do the job for them; only liberals can persuade their fellow liberals.

And if American Jewish liberals don’t make that case, then in another decade or two, those that still care about Judaism and Israel are liable to find themselves exactly where their British, Canadian, Australian and French counterparts are now: forced to hold their nose and vote conservative, because anything else would be a betrayal of their Jewish identity.

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Can Obama Repair the Damage He’s Done to Race Relations Before Leaving Office?

Heady optimism, embedded as it is in the American genetic code, was perhaps never more pronounced than in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Even the most cynical among us looked forward to the effect that the election of the first black president would have on lingering racial disparity and antipathy. Six and a half years later, and that sanguinity seems as misplaced as was the belief that the president’s very aura would force the tides to recede. Americans believe that Barack Obama has failed to live up to his promise on the issue of race, and polls suggest racial comity has receded to its lowest point since before Bill Clinton took office. The president and his administration bear much of the blame for this condition, but can Obama repair his legacy on race relations before he leaves office?

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Heady optimism, embedded as it is in the American genetic code, was perhaps never more pronounced than in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Even the most cynical among us looked forward to the effect that the election of the first black president would have on lingering racial disparity and antipathy. Six and a half years later, and that sanguinity seems as misplaced as was the belief that the president’s very aura would force the tides to recede. Americans believe that Barack Obama has failed to live up to his promise on the issue of race, and polls suggest racial comity has receded to its lowest point since before Bill Clinton took office. The president and his administration bear much of the blame for this condition, but can Obama repair his legacy on race relations before he leaves office?

The spate of urban violence that rocked the nation over the course of the last nine months has led political observers to wonder whether the defining themes of the 2016 election would closely resemble those in 1968, when a losing war abroad and unrest at home propelled the “law and order” candidate into the White House. The present urban tension has its roots in fertile soil composed of chronically high black unemployment, a disproportionate African-American male prison population, and racial agitation on the part of this president and his administration.

The president’s allies spent much of the 2012 election campaign tearing at the American social fabric, particularly on the issue of race, in order to propel the beleaguered president back into the White House. Former Attorney General Eric Holder might be the worst offender in this arena. America’s chief law enforcement officer has in the past insisted that the nation was composed of “cowards,” merely because they failed to come to his preferred conclusion on matters racial. He denounced the treatment he and the president had received from Republicans as “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly, and divisive” before a predominantly African-American audience at Rev. Al Sharpton’s tax-evading charity. Holder has insisted that the ubiquitous and anodyne political petition to “take the country back” has a racial component when uttered by Republicans, though he was curiously silent about Hillary Clinton’s use of this phrase.

The president’s supporters in the media dutifully mimicked their allies in the administration, and proceeded to perfect the art of racial agitation. 2012 was the lamentable year in which the pet project of divining racial animus from everyday language was refined in liberal venues like MSNBC. “Coded” racial language became a pet fascination for the carnival barkers in the left-leaning opinion press. Words like “golf,” “Monday,” “apartment” and even “Constitution” were dubbed racially suspect.

All of this agitation has undoubtedly had far-reaching repercussions. But as the president begins to contemplate his legacy, he is perhaps looking to retroactively validate his approach to addressing racial grievances.

On Monday, the president restricted some of the surplus military equipment that could be purchased by local police forces; a policy aimed at reducing tensions between law enforcement and the communities they police. While justifying that policy shift, the president made note of the fact that racial tensions cannot be tackled comprehensively if we are unwilling to speak honestly about the subject.

One of the things I also want to focus on is the fact that a lot of the issues that have been raised here and in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York goes beyond policing. We can’t ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about. If we as a society don’t do more to expand opportunity to everybody who is willing to work for it, then we’ll end up seeing conflicts between law enforcement and residents. If we as a society aren’t willing to deal honestly with issues of race, then we can’t just expect police departments to solve these problems.

If communities are being isolated and segregated without opportunity and without investment and without jobs, if we, politicians, are simply ramping up long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes that end up devastating communities, we can’t then ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able bodied men in the community. Or kids are growing up without intact households.

There is no shortage of irony in this statement from a president who once said Florida teen Trayvon Martin looked like the son he never had, a clear implication that there was a racial element to his killing, well before the jury that would eventually acquit George Zimmerman of wrongdoing was even empanelled. But these are praiseworthy comments, nonetheless.

“Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Obama said courageously before a black audience in 2008. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

Obama largely abandoned that premise over the course of his presidency, but his return to the theme is noble. Obama’s embrace of criminal justice reforms, particularly those relating to the practice of creating felons out of non-violent drug offenders, is equally laudable.

Americans are optimists, and that characteristic is perhaps evident in praise for the president’s most recent attempt to tackle lingering racial resentment. In concert with Obama’s post-presidential goal of serving as a role model for disaffected black male youth, the president seems to have made it a priority to at long last have a positive effect on interracial relations in America. Let’s hope he succeeds in that endeavor.

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John Bolton: COMMENTARY Is Repeatedly Ahead of the Crowd

COMMENTARY has played an invaluable role in American political discourse for decades, offering thoughtful analysis on issues rather than sound bites or bumper stickers. Especially when it comes to U.S. foreign and defense policy, COMMENTARY has time and time again been ahead of the crowd, anticipating trends and developments that others react to only after the fact. I can’t imagine not being a COMMENTARY subscriber.

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COMMENTARY has played an invaluable role in American political discourse for decades, offering thoughtful analysis on issues rather than sound bites or bumper stickers. Especially when it comes to U.S. foreign and defense policy, COMMENTARY has time and time again been ahead of the crowd, anticipating trends and developments that others react to only after the fact. I can’t imagine not being a COMMENTARY subscriber.

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Egypt’s Life and Death Struggle

Few could have been surprised when an Egyptian court sentenced Mohammed Morsi, the country’s former president, to death on Saturday. But the announcement generated condemnations from most of the West including a pointed denunciation from the State Department on Monday. The U.S. said the verdict was “unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” Given the arbitrary nature of both the trial and the sentence, it’s hard to argue with that statement. The announcement was merely the culmination of a prosecution that bore little resemblance to a search for justice. But those who seek to use the sentence as a reason to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt are equally wrong. However harsh the government’s methods, it seems to understand something that many of its foreign critics as well as Obama administration often forgets: It is locked in a life and death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in which there can only be two outcomes: allowing the Islamists another shot at transforming Egypt into an Islamist tyranny or the continuation of military rule. The latter is clearly the lesser of two evils even if the military’s methods are deplorable.

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Few could have been surprised when an Egyptian court sentenced Mohammed Morsi, the country’s former president, to death on Saturday. But the announcement generated condemnations from most of the West including a pointed denunciation from the State Department on Monday. The U.S. said the verdict was “unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” Given the arbitrary nature of both the trial and the sentence, it’s hard to argue with that statement. The announcement was merely the culmination of a prosecution that bore little resemblance to a search for justice. But those who seek to use the sentence as a reason to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt are equally wrong. However harsh the government’s methods, it seems to understand something that many of its foreign critics as well as Obama administration often forgets: It is locked in a life and death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in which there can only be two outcomes: allowing the Islamists another shot at transforming Egypt into an Islamist tyranny or the continuation of military rule. The latter is clearly the lesser of two evils even if the military’s methods are deplorable.

The death sentence is just the latest sign that the military government led by former General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is determined to wipe out every vestige of resistance from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood regime Morsi led. Morsi is just one of many who have been railroaded in trials whose outcome was predetermined. These verdicts won’t win Sisi many friends abroad. Nor will they conciliate radical Muslims to accept his rule since killing Morsi will just give them another martyr. But as much as his death won’t do Cairo much good, Sisi isn’t interested in half measures with the Brotherhood or its Hamas allies in Gaza. In a real-life Game of Thrones scenario, the former general seems to think letting Morsi live would be to ultimately prolong a bloody struggle.

Though the trial was a parody of justice, what was interesting was the fact that among those condemned for the prison break that sprung Morsi from prison in 2011 during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak were 70 Palestinians. These were apparently members of Hamas who came into Egypt from Gaza via smuggling tunnels determined to help their Brotherhood cousins seize power. They succeeded in toppling Mubarak and then helping elect Morsi in what was at least superficially a democratic election. These details illustrate both how closely tied the Brotherhood (which tried during its bid for power to deceive the West about its alleged moderation) is with fellow Islamist terrorists and why the military has been so adamant about isolating Gaza since then.

What followed was a nightmarish year in which the Brotherhood sought to consolidate power and to forestall any effort to replace them by democratic means. This led to a mass uprising that sent tens of millions of Egyptians into the streets against Morsi triggering the military coup that brought Sisi to power. Critics of Sisi are right when they call him an autocrat and his government repressive. But he also seems to have the acquiescence of most Egyptians if not their support because they realize the only alternative to the military would not be liberal democracy, but another round of Islamist tyranny.

If President Obama had not forfeited the trust of most Egyptians, he might be in a position to save Morsi. But after torpedoing Mubarak and then supporting the Brotherhood government and condemning the coup and threatening aid cuts, few in Egypt, let alone Sisi, are interested in his opinion. If Egyptians aren’t listening to Americans talking about human rights violations it is because they see such advocates as hypocrites, since they were perfectly willing to let Morsi hold onto power and thereby plunge Egypt into the darkness of an Islamist regime.

Though refraining from transforming Morsi into a martyr would be smart, those who advocate for isolating the Sisi government in order to force clemency aren’t helping Egypt or the cause of human rights. The only hope for ultimate liberalizing Egyptian society is for the Brotherhood to be so utterly crushed that there is no chance of it trying again for power. Until then, the military will persist in its draconian tactics and probably have more the majority of Egyptians on their side.

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Video Ban Gave Killers Free Speech Veto

Yesterday a federal appeals court overturned a dangerous precedent on a legal technicality. The judges on the 9th Circuit ruled by a 10-1 vote that a lower court was wrong to grant an injunction to an actress in “The Innocence of Muslims” who wished to have a trailer for a film that will forever be associated with the Benghazi terror attack to be taken down from YouTube. The court decided the case on a question of copyright law, not the First Amendment rights of the film’s producer. But the question now is whether Muslims who are angry about the possibility that the trailer for an anti-Islam film might be shown again on YouTube, will respond to this decision with more violence. We pray that this won’t be the case especially in light of the way al-Qaeda connected terrorists used protests about the video as a pretext for the murder of four Americans. But no matter what they do, let’s hope the court decision will ultimately contribute to a defense of the First Amendment against those who seek to silence those who offend Muslims, whether or not we agree with what they’re saying.

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Yesterday a federal appeals court overturned a dangerous precedent on a legal technicality. The judges on the 9th Circuit ruled by a 10-1 vote that a lower court was wrong to grant an injunction to an actress in “The Innocence of Muslims” who wished to have a trailer for a film that will forever be associated with the Benghazi terror attack to be taken down from YouTube. The court decided the case on a question of copyright law, not the First Amendment rights of the film’s producer. But the question now is whether Muslims who are angry about the possibility that the trailer for an anti-Islam film might be shown again on YouTube, will respond to this decision with more violence. We pray that this won’t be the case especially in light of the way al-Qaeda connected terrorists used protests about the video as a pretext for the murder of four Americans. But no matter what they do, let’s hope the court decision will ultimately contribute to a defense of the First Amendment against those who seek to silence those who offend Muslims, whether or not we agree with what they’re saying.

The case, Garcia v. Google, involved the effort by a woman who had a brief appearance in the video under what were clearly false pretenses. She had no idea she was acting in an anti-Muslim screed and someone else’s voice was dubbed in that made it appear as if she was making an offensive remark about the Prophet Muhammed Lawyers for Cindy Garcia, argued that the actress retained the copyright to her performance and that airing it without her permission infringed on her rights. But the majority sensibly ruled that despite her justified fears about possible attacks from irate Muslims didn’t give substance to a weak copyright claim or justify a decision that would amount to censorship.

Up until now, efforts to silence the film have been met with legal success and the support of the U.S. government. Islamists eager to stoke anger at the West among Muslims exploited the existence of this obscure video into an international cause célèbre. Riots in various cities caused death and damage and in one case, let to the looting of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. But contrary to the assertions of the Obama administration in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, that crime was not another instance of film criticism run amuck. Rather, it was a concerted attack by terrorists who were using anger about the film as a pretext for even darker purposes.

The administration should have made it clear that, however much most Americans deprecated attacks on the Muslim religion, the U.S. protected even offensive speech from persecution and censorship. But instead it sought to pressure YouTube to take down the video and some prominent officials, including reportedly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, promised that the producer of the film would be punished. As it happens, he was. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was soon jailed on an unrelated charge. Ironically he remains in prison even though the persons responsible for the killing of four Americans in Benghazi have escaped justice.

The key principle here is that using legal fictions such as Garcia’s non-existent copyright claims to censor a film that is an embarrassment or even a danger to the U.S. can never be justified. However crude the film might have been or despicable its content, a nation that allows mobs to shut down free speech is in danger of no longer being free. As with the controversy over the “Draw Muhammed” cartoon contest that led to an abortive terror attack in Garland, Texas earlier this month, efforts to suppress unpopular opinions grant terrorists an undeserved victory and implicitly threaten the rights of all Americans to free speech.

Silencing the video or stopping people from drawing Mohammed only encourages Islamists in their belief that they have the right to censor Western behavior. Such violence must not only be condemned. It must be confronted by a vigorous defense of the right to criticize Islam or any other faith. Continuing a ban of this video, no matter what the pretext, gave murderers a veto over American freedoms. That is something that the courts must never allow to stand.

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How Did Clinton Conflict of Interest Schemes Work? Ask Sidney.

For the past two years, liberals have been laughing at Republican attempts to link Hillary Clinton to something incriminating or at least embarrassing about the Benghazi terror attack. But, as we saw with the issue of her emails that was uncovered by the investigatory efforts of the House special committee on Benghazi there is still plenty for her to be concerned about. Today, the latest shoe dropped in a depressing drip, drip, drip of scandal. As the New York Times reports, longtime Clinton family hit man Sidney Blumenthal was simultaneously advising Hillary on Libya during her time serving as secretary of state while also by employed by the Clinton Foundation and also working for other independent groups that were laying the groundwork for her presidential campaign. At best, this blatant conflict of interest raises questions, in the words of the Times, about the “blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years.” At worst, it’s another sordid example of the corruption and bad judgment at the heart of the Clinton machine’s style of governing.

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For the past two years, liberals have been laughing at Republican attempts to link Hillary Clinton to something incriminating or at least embarrassing about the Benghazi terror attack. But, as we saw with the issue of her emails that was uncovered by the investigatory efforts of the House special committee on Benghazi there is still plenty for her to be concerned about. Today, the latest shoe dropped in a depressing drip, drip, drip of scandal. As the New York Times reports, longtime Clinton family hit man Sidney Blumenthal was simultaneously advising Hillary on Libya during her time serving as secretary of state while also by employed by the Clinton Foundation and also working for other independent groups that were laying the groundwork for her presidential campaign. At best, this blatant conflict of interest raises questions, in the words of the Times, about the “blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years.” At worst, it’s another sordid example of the corruption and bad judgment at the heart of the Clinton machine’s style of governing.

That Blumenthal, a disreputable political assassin who earned notoriety for his antics while serving in the Clinton White House, worked as a paid consultant to the State Department on Libyan affairs is interesting by itself. It would take a Venn diagram to adequately illustrate the conflicts his employment by Clinton involved. Yet as the Times notes, he had already been barred from a job in the State Department by intervention by aides to President Obama who apparently had a more highly developed sense of smell, if not impropriety than Mrs. Clinton. But his role at the State Department involved more than a questionable taste in advisors:

Much of the Libya intelligence that Mr. Blumenthal passed on to Mrs. Clinton appears to have come from a group of business associates he was advising as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government. The venture, which was ultimately unsuccessful, involved other Clinton friends, a private military contractor and one former C.I.A. spy seeking to get in on the ground floor of the new Libyan economy.

The projects — creating floating hospitals to treat Libya’s war wounded and temporary housing for displaced people, and building schools — would have required State Department permits, but foundered before the business partners could seek official approval.

It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton or the State Department knew of Mr. Blumenthal’s interest in pursuing business in Libya; a State Department spokesman declined to say. Many aspects of Mr. Blumenthal’s involvement in the planned Libyan venture remain unclear. He declined repeated requests to discuss it.

But interviews with his associates and a review of previously unreported correspondence suggest that — once again — it may be difficult to determine where one of Mr. Blumenthal’s jobs ended and another began.

The Times goes on to detail the rather tangled web that Blumenthal and his associates wove. But the main questions we should be asking is what on earth was someone knee deep in a bizarre Libyan business scheme acting as an advisor to the secretary of state about a country with which he had previously had little to do.

Blumenthal was writing intelligence memos about Libya that were largely the product of the opinions of his business associates. Some of the memos he wrote made sense. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who would be murdered by terrorists in the Benghazi attack, shot others down. But whether or not they made sense, Clinton circulated them to her department as gospel, appended with notes praising their insight. But whether they were right or wrong, it is simply astonishing that someone who was on her family foundation payroll as well as working for other political outfits aimed at furthering her political future was put in a position where he could influence policy related to his business interests.

At the very least, this merits serious questions about the Clintons’ already notorious lack of ethics. We don’t know where one Blumenthal job ended and another began. All we do know is that he was getting paid by a number of different sources as well as the government while seeking to make profits enabled by the whims of Hillary’s State Department. The fact that the scam fell through before he could start raking in the profits is beside the point.

As the Times reports, Blumenthal’s role also breached a number of normal barriers intended to prevent conflicts of interest as well as measures that might seek to probe the reliability of intelligence sources.

This story illustrates how the Clinton Cash way of governing works. Clinton’s defenders rightly say there is no “smoking gun” proving that the secretary paid off donors to her family foundation with favors or biased decisions. But the way Blumenthal snaked his way through a complicated labyrinth of consulting jobs for the foundation, political operations and the government illustrates how unnecessary it was for there to be such a piece of damning evidence whether or not it was ultimately deleted from Clinton’s infamous home email server.

We know the Clinton Foundation was used as an informal political slush fund for Bill, Hillary and their daughter to which wealthy foreign donors hoping for and sometimes getting favors contributed. But the more we learn about the Blumenthal connection and other Clinton Cash hijinks, its clear that the once and would-be future First Family and their cronies consider philanthropy and the government just two interchangeable ATM’s they can use at will.

While Democrats may continue to dismiss all questions about the propriety of this sordid tale, even many liberal partisans must be beginning to wonder about what sort of person it is that they are trying to put back into the White House.

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Can the Left Be Baited to Attack Hillary?

The silence of many on the left about their misgivings about the Democratic Party’s putative 2016 presidential candidate is a tempting target for conservatives. As the New York Times noted over the weekend, some mischief-making conservatives have been using social media to prod liberals into criticizing Hillary Clinton on a host of issues where they may have profound differences with the former First Lady. As the Times notes, some of these efforts have met with success. But Republicans shouldn’t get too excited about these small triumphs. The left may not like the Clintons, but so far there is no sign that a critical mass of liberals are prepared to give in to the temptation of examining her views or the corrupt manner with which she and her husband have conducted their affairs. Until proven otherwise, this generation of liberals appears to be focused solely on winning elections in a way that many conservatives still are not.

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The silence of many on the left about their misgivings about the Democratic Party’s putative 2016 presidential candidate is a tempting target for conservatives. As the New York Times noted over the weekend, some mischief-making conservatives have been using social media to prod liberals into criticizing Hillary Clinton on a host of issues where they may have profound differences with the former First Lady. As the Times notes, some of these efforts have met with success. But Republicans shouldn’t get too excited about these small triumphs. The left may not like the Clintons, but so far there is no sign that a critical mass of liberals are prepared to give in to the temptation of examining her views or the corrupt manner with which she and her husband have conducted their affairs. Until proven otherwise, this generation of liberals appears to be focused solely on winning elections in a way that many conservatives still are not.

It is true that there have been signs that a Democratic Party that has been marching in lockstep since nominating Barack Obama is about to implode. The trade bill currently before Congress has illustrated a profound split between those Democrats dedicating to governing and those elements in the party still in thrall to either traditional left-wing institutions like the unions or to populist liberal ideology. The exchange between President Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren showed that there was plenty of fodder for a Democrat civil war that could, if it were not restrained by the fact that most Democrats feel a sense of personal loyalty to the president, blow up into something pretty nasty.

It is that breach that Senator Bernie Sanders and perhaps former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley would like to exploit as they prepare to challenge Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination. But though Clinton’s political rust, arrogance and the appalling sense of entitlement that characterize her halting progress toward 2016 would seem to offer an inviting target for a true-believing liberal, so far the challengers show little sign of making much progress.

Indeed, O’Malley was hurt more by his association with tough police procedures in Baltimore during his past terms as mayor than Clinton has been by any effort to tie her to the Iraq War and inconsistencies about trade, let alone the scandalous Clinton Cash allegations. That Democrats would be screaming bloody murder about the conflicts of interest noted in Peter Schweizer’s book if they were about a Republican goes without saying. But the silence of liberals who know they are not in step with Hillary on many issues is a tribute to the Democrats’ party discipline.

It is particularly significant that liberals who have been talking about going to the mat against Obama on the trade bill have been remarkably quiet about Clinton’s refusal to take a position. Hillary is terribly vulnerable on the issue since she is a past ardent supporter of free trade. But rather than hounding her stealth campaign demanding that she declare herself one way or the other, most of the same people moving heaven and earth to sabotage Obama’s efforts to pass the trade bill haven’t uttered a peep about Clinton’s strange silence.

That’s especially significant because if Warren were really tempted to challenge Clinton, this might be the issue on which she would start to tentatively attack her opponent at her weakest point. If Warren were seriously contemplating getting into the presidential sweepstakes, she’d be putting Clinton’s feet to the fire being lit by unions and other left-wing special interests on trade. That would be the way to either smoke Hillary out as an ally of big business and Wall Street or to force her to back their opposition to the bill.

But Warren, the one Democrat that most observers think could give Clinton a run for her money, has left her alone. The same goes for the unions that have, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, been using their members’ dues to funnel money to the Clinton Foundation that has been operating as a political slush fund for the former First Family.

So while, as the Times reported, stray left-wingers have been goaded into sniping at Hillary on Twitter by clever provocations from the right, most liberals are sticking to the party line about their candidate. Though Clinton’s weak start to her campaign showed she is not going to be the general election juggernaut that Democrats anticipated, she remains ahead of potential primary challenges by 40-50 percentage points. While Republicans are still struggling with the question of whether it is okay to nominate a candidate who strays from the consensus on the right on any issue, Democrats are interested only in victory. So long as Clinton is seen as a likely winner, a proposition that, as our Noah Rothman writes, may be in doubt, her party faithful will continue to ignore her faults and her positions, no matter how hard Republicans beg them to take note of them.

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Hillary Clinton’s Incredible Shrinking Electoral Targets

It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

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It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

The election was still two years away when Talking Points Memo’s Dylan Scott allotted 386 Electoral College votes to Clinton. That heady dispatch quoted extensively from the sequestered camp of prospective Clinton campaign staffers. They were certain that the former secretary of state would not merely revive Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition, but she would significantly augment it.

“Clinton has a record of appealing to white working-class voters — especially women — and they could be enough when paired with the Obama coalition to pull out a win,” Scott wrote. That appeal to working-class whites as well as traditional Democratic constituents like minorities and single women would yield Clinton victories in states like Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Arizona.

Much of that initial excitement has been dramatically tempered by the intervening scandal-plagued months. Today, Clinton is hoping – no, “banking on” the fact that the members of Obama’s coalition of voters will reassemble one last time to propel her back into the White House.

The Washington Post’s Anna Gearan observed on Monday that Clinton has been lurching toward the left recently despite a lack of a viable primary challenger solely in order to appeal to the dwindling true believers who made up the 2008 and 2012 electorates. To that end, embracing progressive priorities like universal paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage, debt-free college attendance, and publicly funded early childhood education make some degree of sense.

It is, however, optimistic to suggest that the recitation of liberal programmatic objectives rather than the historic nature of President Obama’s identity as the first black president contributed to assembling the last two winning Democratic coalitions. In fact, that belief may appear as ill considered in the coming weeks as Scott’s anticipation of a Clinton landslide in 2016 does today.

“The strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign,” Gearan observed. “Clinton will have to expand Hispanic support, increase turnout among independent women and still hold on to a large share of black voters who were drawn to the first African American major-party nominee.”

Few objective political observers believe Clinton will be able to turn out the president’s voting base merely because she can claim to be the first woman to have a credible shot at winning the White House. 28 percent of the electorate that turned out in 2008 was made up of minority voters. Four years later, the minority share of the electorate dropped to 26 percent. Though it is true that Hispanics and Asians voted in larger numbers for Barack Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008, it’s unclear that Clinton can recreate that performance without Mitt Romney on the ballot. Indeed, the 2014 midterm election exit polls suggested that Hispanic and Asian voters swung toward the GOP by 12 and 50 points respectively.

As for the young, unmarried women who are supposedly destined to turn out for Clinton in record numbers next year, to suggest that she can outperform Barack Obama is equally as dubious. In 2012, the president managed to win the support of between 50 and 68 percent of women voters in every state surveyed by Edison Research’s exit pollsters. “Obama already did better among female voters than almost any other Democratic candidate since data are available in 1976,” The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein noted. “In 2004, Kerry only won women by 3 points, but Obama won them by 13 points in 2008 and 11 points in 2012.” And this was amid the fabricated Republican “War on Women” that has since lost much of its luster.

Many bright political observers are equally skeptical that the working-class whites that abandoned Obama will nevertheless form a central pillar of Clinton’s electoral coalition. Chief among them is the co-author of the oft-cited Emerging Democratic Majority, John Judis. “These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced,” Judis wrote of blue-collar voters in the wake of the Democratic rout in 2014.

The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called “the office economy.” In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)

“The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans,” Judis added.

Clinton is banking on the notion that government-provided services for middle-and lower-income working professionals will lure them away from the Republican camp. But is the upshot enough to convince those toiling away in “the office economy” to endure the associated increase in their tax burden? The issue is certainly not as clear-cut as those who see Clinton winning Arkansas in 2016 would like to believe.

Formerly sanguine Democrats are certainly taking more sober stock of Clinton’s electoral prospects ahead of 2016. And Republicans haven’t even settled on a nominee yet.

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