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Destroying International Law by Tying the West’s Hands

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week. Read More

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week.

On the military side, the goal was already clear last week, thanks to an interview by Israel’s Channel 2 television with international law expert William Schabas, who headed the HRC’s Gaza inquiry until being forced out in February over a conflict of interests. “It would be a very unusual war if only one side had committed violations of laws of war and the other had engaged perfectly,” he declared. “That would be an unusual situation and an unusual conclusion.”

In other words, it’s virtually impossible for any country fighting terrorists to avoid committing war crimes, however hard it tries, because as currently interpreted by experts like Schabas, the laws of war are impossible for any real-life army to comply with. Thus, a country that wants to avoid international prosecution for war crimes has no choice but to avoid all wars; its only option is capitulation to the terrorists attacking it.

The report ultimately issued by Mary McGowan Davis, who took over the inquiry after Schabas resigned, achieved his goal through a neat trick: replacing the presumption of innocence – the gold standard for ordinary criminal proceedings – with a presumption of guilt. As Benjamin Wittes and Yishai Schwartz noted in their scathing analysis for the Lawfare blog, despite admitting that Hamas routinely used civilian buildings for military purposes, the report nevertheless concluded that any attack on a civilian building is prima facie illegal absent solid proof that the building served military purposes.

But as the report itself admits in paragraph 215, in a quote attributed to “official Israeli sources,” such proof is virtually impossible to produce, because “forensic evidence that a particular site was used for military purposes is rarely available after an attack. Such evidence is usually destroyed in the attack or, if time allows, removed by the terrorist organisations who exploited the site in the first place.”

In short, it’s impossible for any country to comply with the laws of war when fighting terrorists, because it will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent, and the only evidence acceptable to prove its innocence is by definition unobtainable. And lest anyone miss the point – or labor under the delusion that this precedent won’t be applied to other countries as well – Davis underscored it in a subsequent interview with Haaretz. Asked what solution international law does offer “to a situation in which regular armies of democratic countries fight against terror organizations in the heart of populated areas,” she replied scornfully, “My job is not to tell them how to wage a war.” The claim that “international law needs to develop standards that more accurately deal with military operations” is unacceptable, she asserted; the only acceptable changes are “to make protection of civilians stronger” and thereby make waging war even more impossible.

But the self-appointed interpreters of international law are targeting nonmilitary tools against terrorism no less vigorously, as another development this week made clear. Responding to a bill approved by Israel’s cabinet last week to allow jailed terrorists on hunger strike to be force-fed, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political affairs declared that such legislation would be “a contravention of international standards.” The Israel Medical Association’s ethics chairman similarly declared the bill a violation of international law, saying force-feeding has been defined as a form of torture.

Yet letting hunger-striking prisoners die in detention is equally unacceptable to the self-appointed experts. So what solution does that leave? MK Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party put it perfectly: “Instead of force-feeding them, which humiliates them and puts their lives at risk, we must address their demands.” After all, if you can neither force-feed them nor let them die, capitulation is the only option left.

Thus the bottom line is the same as that emerging from the UN’s Gaza inquiry: International law leaves democracies no options in the face of determined terrorists except capitulation. You can’t fight them, because then you’re guilty of war crimes. But you also can’t arrest and jail them, because they can simply start a hunger strike, which entitles them to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The result, as Prof. Amichai Cohen perceptively noted in a report submitted to Davis’ commission, is that these self-appointed experts are destroying the very idea of international law with their own two hands. Because why should Israel – or any other country – make an effort to comply with international law “if the international system itself does not recognize [the effort’s] efficiency?”

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The Price of Sycophancy

Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is having a bad month. After spending millions of dollars lobbying Washington to supply arms directly to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the Congress reversed course and, to the surprise of Barzani and the Kurds who seemed just days before to consider approval a done deal, voted not to send weaponry directly to the Kurdistan Regional Government. It was the right call: Barzani and his government not only had already acquired weaponry directly from Iran and several European countries, but they also have a troubling tendency to stockpile weaponry to empower themselves vis-a-vis Kurdish political rivals rather than deploy them where needed. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk, long called the Kurdish Jerusalem by factional leaders like Barzani and rival Jalal Talabani, is probably the city most in the crosshairs of the Islamic State and yet the Kurdistan Regional Government has yet to supply it with the weaponry it needs. The weaponry isn’t in Baghdad or missing, but rather warehoused in Erbil. Former Parliamentary Speaker Kemal Kirkuki, a Barzani loyalist, may tell foreign journalists otherwise; he is lying and simply taking advantage of the fact that most journalists now parachute in for only a short period of time. Read More

Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is having a bad month. After spending millions of dollars lobbying Washington to supply arms directly to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the Congress reversed course and, to the surprise of Barzani and the Kurds who seemed just days before to consider approval a done deal, voted not to send weaponry directly to the Kurdistan Regional Government. It was the right call: Barzani and his government not only had already acquired weaponry directly from Iran and several European countries, but they also have a troubling tendency to stockpile weaponry to empower themselves vis-a-vis Kurdish political rivals rather than deploy them where needed. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk, long called the Kurdish Jerusalem by factional leaders like Barzani and rival Jalal Talabani, is probably the city most in the crosshairs of the Islamic State and yet the Kurdistan Regional Government has yet to supply it with the weaponry it needs. The weaponry isn’t in Baghdad or missing, but rather warehoused in Erbil. Former Parliamentary Speaker Kemal Kirkuki, a Barzani loyalist, may tell foreign journalists otherwise; he is lying and simply taking advantage of the fact that most journalists now parachute in for only a short period of time.

Nor is Barzani’s desire for family rule going as smoothly as he planned. Barzani has led the Kurdistan Regional Government since his return from exile against the backdrop of Operation Provide Comfort, the U.S.-led effort to create a safe-haven in 1991. He agreed to a two-term limit from 2005; that expired in 2013. He received a legally questionable two-year extension on his second term back in 2013, but that is soon to expire. Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) over which he maintains autocratic control has been working to extend his rule indefinitely but has been facing increasing resistance from the two other major regional parties: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Goran. Harem Karem and Kamal Chomani, two of the most professional independent Kurdish journalists, have an excellent piece in the Kurdistan Tribune discussing the crossroad which Kurdistan now faces between democracy and autocracy. Needless to say, neither Barzani nor the KDP is happy with any resistance. A KDP parliamentarian, for example, attacked a Goran parliamentarian for speaking against the extralegal extension of Barzani’s term. An undisclosed medical emergency which sidelined Barzani a couple weeks ago — and forced him to cancel all appearances — only added fuel to the debate, given Barzani’s efforts to lay the groundwork for dynastic succession.

Finally, despite all the hype about Kurdistan’s oil potential, Kurdish officials find themselves perhaps $17 billion in debt, without any explanation as to where the money — owed to the oil companies for their share of the royalties — have gone. Apparently, Barzani’s government is gambling that the oil companies have invested too much already in Kurdistan to pull of stakes and accept their loss. While such a strategy might enrich some officials in the short-term, it is corrosive to long-term investor confidence in Kurdistan. This has forced Kurdistan to seek a $5 billion loan just to keep afloat.

Clearly, not all is going well for Barzani either in Kurdistan, in the United States or with investors. That he seems so surprised, however, illustrates one of the greatest Achilles’ heels of dictatorships: Sycophancy.

Barzani surrounds himself with yes-men. Those who parrot his line 100 percent are friends; those who only agree with him 90 percent of the time he and his staff consider enemies. He lives on a mountain top complex, which was once a public resort before Saddam Hussein seized it for himself. That Barzani appropriated it after Saddam was forced from the region was problematic. His staff argue that he needs it for security, but the optics have always been horrible and the cynicism of ordinary Kurds palpable. When living a couple dozen kilometers from the people he claims to represent, and when he seldom circulates among people, he might as well be ruling Kurdistan from the moon.

The problem of distance and sycophancy is compounded by the behavior of his staff. Why did they so greatly underestimate the atmosphere in Washington, D.C.? Last month, when Barzani visited Washington, his staff insisted host organizations run their invitation list past the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure there would be no attendees who might ask difficult questions. The Center for New American Security (CNAS), on whose board a lobbyist for Kurdistan sits, systematically disinvited multiple analysts, writers, and academics whom they feared might ask difficult questions. (In a Washington Post piece earlier this week, CNAS President Richard Fontaine and Chief Executive Michèle Flournoy repeat the trope that Baghdad does not provide Kurdistan weapons in a timely matter. As the White House, Pentagon, and, increasingly, Congress know, this complaint has no basis in reality, and so it is curious that CNAS continues to repeat it. The Atlantic Council, where the daughter of Barzani’s chief-of-staff works, likewise ensured an ingratiating audience. It certainly crosses a line to allow a foreign entity to control the audience in the middle of Washington, D.C.

As a result, Barzani was confronted not with questions about governance, oil policy, or press freedom, but rather with statements about what a most amazing man he was. His aides might consider that a successful trip, but it reflected as much the reality of Washington, as Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole reflected the garden party above.

Nor is Barzani able to understand reality by reading critical columns in the Kurdish press. After being peppered with lawsuits by the Kurdish government claiming unfair criticism, Awene, one of the region’s most respected independent newspapers, is about to close. Security forces controlled by Barzani’s eldest son Masrour have beaten and even allegedly murdered writers for other independent newspapers. Most parties publish their own organs which simply amplify party propaganda in the belief that if repeated enough, it must be true. Parties and individual politicians control television stations. When any government suffocates the press, it loses perhaps the most important mirror to reflect true public concerns short of holding free and fair elections.

Now, I don’t mean to single out Barzani or the Kurds — it’s simply the sharpest example of a true disconnect between government perception and reality. The same has held true of Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan eviscerated the press, sought to control audiences not only in Turkey but also while traveling abroad, including in the United States. Think tanks which hold theoretically open and academic events in Istanbul systematically exclude the Turkish opposition, even if they represent half the population; they understand that is the price of Ankara’s cooperation and any minister let alone Erdoğan himself showing up. Turkey has gone beyond even the Kurds, trying to silence foreign critics with ultimately irrelevant lawsuits filed in Turkish courts. The Turkish embassy, meanwhile, long ago stopped representing Turkey and today represents only the ruling party. Fortunately, other Turkish parties have sent their own representatives and often do their outreach better than the professional Turkish diplomats.

I am supportive of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, despite his path to power. While critics abound in Washington, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to the sincerity of his desire for reform. But, as he increasingly limits press freedom, constrains civil society, and uses the judiciary as a tool against opposition, he risks losing touch as he is no longer able to escape the bubble created by his sycophants. At some point, he will reach a tipping point when public opinion shifts against him. If he only discovers that months or even years after the fact, the resulting violence can be extreme.

Against this backdrop, what should the United States do? It’s important to support free press among both friend and foe. It should be the position of the United States always to support free speech abroad so long as it does not incite violence or genocide as during the dark days of the Rwanda genocide or wars resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Furthermore, while systems may be indispensable, leaders never are. And while entourages may like to shield leaders from the reality of public opinion at home, it should not be the job of any truly independent or academic organization in the United States to aid and abet that bubble. One thing is certain: When rulers insulate themselves behind layers of yes-men, the result is never the adulation of the people or an accurate sense of one position in the world. Rather, it is often quite the opposite.

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Palestinian Leaders Deserve to be Hauled Into the International Criminal Court

As expected, the Palestinian Authority made good on its threat to open a new front in its war on the state of Israel. By submitting material to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the PA is hoping to add to the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state in Europe and to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. While the ICC appears somewhat leery about diving headfirst into a political conflict that cannot be neatly contained, it’s likely that the PA provocation will reap it some of the benefits it seeks in terms of whipping up anti-Israel sentiment. But while there’s no doubt that such any international court will be biased against Israel and judge it by a double standard in terms of its measures of self-defense or settlement policy, the Palestinians also need to be reminded of an old truism: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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As expected, the Palestinian Authority made good on its threat to open a new front in its war on the state of Israel. By submitting material to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the PA is hoping to add to the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state in Europe and to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. While the ICC appears somewhat leery about diving headfirst into a political conflict that cannot be neatly contained, it’s likely that the PA provocation will reap it some of the benefits it seeks in terms of whipping up anti-Israel sentiment. But while there’s no doubt that such any international court will be biased against Israel and judge it by a double standard in terms of its measures of self-defense or settlement policy, the Palestinians also need to be reminded of an old truism: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The United States roundly condemned the Palestinian move today. The administration did so not out of affection for Israel, but because the decision to go to the court is evidence that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah clique have no intention of returning to peace talks with Israel no matter what inducements the Obama administration offers them. The president is still hoping to embark on one more bout of pressure on Israel in order to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians even though every previous such effort has been met by indifference on the part of the PA. But another power play directed against Israel becomes that much harder to justify if the PA is directly contradicting its past commitments to the United States to refrain from seeking to litigate in court issues that must be decided by direct negotiations.

One element of the PA strategy that should be noted is that Israel is not the only potential target of this effort. Abbas knows that even if the court takes up bogus war crimes allegations against Israel, it will be obliged to address the far more substantial charges that can be laid at the door of his Hamas rivals. It was Hamas, after all, that started last summer’s war and launched thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli cities and town intended to kill and maim as many civilians as possible. While the PA won’t assist efforts to investigate Hamas, that would be a fringe benefit of incitement against Israel.

But Hamas is not the only Palestinian force that is guilty of crimes worthy of investigation. The PA has also funded terrorists and incited terror via its official media. Moreover, shining a light on the terrorism conducted by Palestinians last summer may also land Abbas and aide Jibril Rajoub in court. The Israel Law Center is preparing to send the ICC its own indictments of the PA leadership for acts of terror committed by Fatah affiliates directly under Abbas’s control.

Using their formidable propaganda machine assisted by an international press that is always prepared to judge Israel affair, Palestinians have been able to demonize the Jewish state in the court of international public opinion. But any real court, even one as biased as the ICC against Israel will also have to look at the far more credible criminal charges that can be laid at the feet of both sets of Palestinian tyrants. Once investigations begin, PA is as vulnerable as Hamas no matter how much sympathy they generate in a Europe where anti-Semitism is on the rise. By going to court, they have opened a Pandora’s Box with consequences that few can predict.

Meanwhile, even an administration that is as biased against Israel as that of President Obama must look on this pointless exercise with dismay. Those who refuse to admit that the Palestinians are not interested in peace have ignored their repeated refusals to accept offers of statehood from Israel. But ignoring an effort to prosecute Israel rather than negotiate with it won’t be quite as easy. It’s time for President Obama to do more than have spokespersons condemn the court gambit. He needs to warn Abbas that he stands to be finally cut loose by an administration that has wasted too much political capital and good will in fruitless efforts to aid the Palestinians at Israel’s expense.

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Last Gasp in Paris

Writing in Hypervocal in March, Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin opened with a jarring observation. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” The old ways that are not already dead are dying. Those organisms that thrived in a bygone period must evolve or go extinct. But rather than go gentle, those who were for so long coddled by a state that insulated them from life’s harsher realities have opted to rage violently in response to their suddenly suboptimal circumstances. Read More

Writing in Hypervocal in March, Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin opened with a jarring observation. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” The old ways that are not already dead are dying. Those organisms that thrived in a bygone period must evolve or go extinct. But rather than go gentle, those who were for so long coddled by a state that insulated them from life’s harsher realities have opted to rage violently in response to their suddenly suboptimal circumstances.

The West Bank of the Seine more closely resembled the West Bank of the Jordan this week when hundreds of masked protesters took the streets of Paris intent on engaging in violence. Rioters burned tires, flipped over cars, attacked passersby, and barricaded roads leading to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those cars that remained in the roads were pelted from overpasses with potentially deadly projectiles. “[T]hey’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They’re beating the cars with metal bats,” Tweeted a distraught Courtney Love who was caught up in the chaos. “[T]his is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

Surely, these were members of the disaffected underclass raging against imperialism, inequality, institutional racism, or any of the other phantoms that haunt the left’s collective imagination? Not quite. These were taxi drivers, members of the Collectif des Taxis Parisiens union, in fact. They were reacting with violence to the entry of Uber Technologies vehicles into a marketplace in which they had once enjoyed a monopoly. What’s more, their grievance was not with a government that is unduly accommodating toward Uber. President Francois Hollande’s administration has gone out of its way to limit Uber’s freedom of action in France by making it harder for non-union drivers to operate a taxi service. They were rioting because the government has not banned the service outright.

“The government will never accept the law of the jungle,” Hollande told his fellow Frenchman in a televised address on Thursday night. But, of course, the jungle won out in the end. The country’s interior minister soon banned the use of the driving service inside Paris city limits. “France ordered a nationwide clampdown on UberPOP [the mobile application’s European version] on Thursday, siding with taxi drivers who blockaded major transport hubs in angry protests against the popular online ride-sharing service, Reuters reported. “[Hollande] also ordered local police chiefs and prosecutors to clamp down on what he said was a failure by Uber to pay social and tax charges in France.”

The mob’s veto once again carried the day, although the French president’s refusal to banish the service from his country entirely will continue to agitate the aspiring totalitarians terrorizing Parisian streets.

“The escalating fight in France comes as Uber is facing regulatory opposition in markets across the world,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Courts in Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have banned UberPOP. Earlier this week, Indonesian police said they had opened an investigation into the firm.”

Such a childish outburst of violence from modernity’s losers might seem unthinkable in the United States, but there are those in positions of authority here who are equally indebted to unions and would forestall the unpleasant effects of consumers’ choices on their privileged constituents. In May, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the self-styled champion of all that represents progress, moved to block Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and other firms that would steal business from the city’s livery union and car-for-hire companies from innovating at their current pace. His proposal would force these firms to request and obtain city approval each time they update their mobile applications, and to pay the city $1,000 for the privilege each time they do so.

In an Orwellian twist, Ira Goldstein, executive director of the Black Car Assistance Corp., told Bloomberg News that the proposed rule would “help level the playing field” against the upstart competitor that has only secured roughly 20 percent of hired driver business in New York City.

“We now have a clear choice as to how our future will look: Will it resemble the taxi commissions and the labor unions and the government departments that were founded in the 1930s, or will it resemble Silicon Valley?” National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke asked last month. The choice is, unfortunately, far more stark. The Uber genie can no more be put back in the bottle than can the splitting of the atom. Uber’s business model, as well as that of firms like Alibaba, Facebook, and Airbnb, is self-evidently viable; it cannot be done away with but through state-sponsored coercion or the invention of the better mousetrap. The latter is anathema to the Parisian rioters and their sympathizers, so it must be the former. But history suggests that innovation in a free society can only be temporarily contained. In Paris, two incompatible creatures are competing with one another over the same space, and one is far more adapted to the present environment than the other. The ultimate outcome of this brutal Darwinian arithmetic can only be forestalled for so long.

Even in nations like France, where cradle-to-grave entitlements and freedom from laborious exertion is perceived as a birthright, this clash could not be prevented forever. The choice ahead of Americans might not be between Silicon Valley or the Tennessee Valley but civilization and Paris.

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Clapper Walks Back Downplaying of Iranian Terror

In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

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In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

In his letter to Senate Intelligence Committee obtained by Fox News’s Catherin Herrige Clapper admits that terror conduct by Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries “directly threatens the interest of the United States and its allies.” Moreover, he also pointed out what has long been common knowledge: Iran and Hezbollah have been instrumental in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, which serves as a lynchpin for their efforts to wage war against Israel. He also noted that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq pose a direct threat to other groups in that country as well as to U.S. personnel and interests.

While not conceding that he lied by not mentioning Iran in his testimony, he did own up to the fact that, “A specific reference to the terrorist threat from Iran and Hezbollah – which was not included in any of the drafts of the testimony – would have been appropriate.” That’s true, especially since he now claims that his view of Iran as a threat has been a consensus position within U.S. intelligence for decades.

The Bush administration was widely and often unfairly accused of manipulating intelligence assessments, especially in terms of information that was released to the public. But here we see that it is the Obama administration that has sought, fortunately, in vain to cover up accurate intelligence about Iran in the hope of making Congress more receptive to its efforts to create an entente with the Islamist regime with a weak nuclear deal as its centerpiece.

If, as is almost certainly to be the case, the U.S. strikes a nuclear deal with Iran in the coming month, the result will be the complete collapse of sanctions on Tehran. That will start with the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the U.S. in what will amount to a large cash bonus to the regime that will flood it with cash after being isolated for so long. In response to concerns about Iran’s terror connections, administration apologists claim that specific groups or individuals will remain affected by international sanctions. But what they conveniently omit from their arguments is that money is fungible, especially in an authoritarian regime like that of Iran.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the deal President Obama is pushing is that as loose as the provisions about the nuclear threat may be, it completely ignores other aspects of Iran’s behavior. Contrary to the president’s efforts to segregate terrorism from the discussion about the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program may play a pivotal role in strengthening their terrorist auxiliaries and allies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. By letting Iran keep its infrastructure, the U.S. may eventually acquiesce to a potential nuclear umbrella over terrorist groups. Just as bad, by strengthening Iran’s economy by ending sanctions, the West is indirectly funding the same terror groups that its intelligence services are trying to stop.

This admission by Clapper provides yet another good reason why Congress can and must refuse to ratify any agreement that fails to address the issue of Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terror. Just as the details of the pact fall short of Obama’s own criteria for a good deal, one that doesn’t even mention terrorism should be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

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Common Sense Gas Decision a Triumph for Israel

Like most democracies but only more so, Israel’s political system is a confusing and often frustrating mess. So when the country began to develop the enormous reserves of offshore natural gas in recent years, the only impediment to the nation becoming an unlikely energy giant came from within, not from without. The legacy of the socialist economics practiced by it’s Labor Party founders and the cumbersome bureaucracy they created that existed more to regulate and retard development rather than speed stands as an ever-present threat to its ability to remain the world’s Start-Up Nation. The only obstacle to Israel successfully exploiting the seemingly miraculous discovery of vast reserves of gas within its grasp was always the government itself. Unfortunately, that fear was realized last December when an anti-trust regulator ruled that the Noble Energy and its Israeli partners, the Delek Group, were acting as a monopoly, putting an effective freeze on development of the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But after six months of inaction and negotiation, the Netanyahu government has invoked a never-before-used legal clause that allows the Security Cabinet to override an anti-trust commissioner by reason of national security. The result is that Israel’s progress towards becoming a major player in the energy field is back on track.

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Like most democracies but only more so, Israel’s political system is a confusing and often frustrating mess. So when the country began to develop the enormous reserves of offshore natural gas in recent years, the only impediment to the nation becoming an unlikely energy giant came from within, not from without. The legacy of the socialist economics practiced by it’s Labor Party founders and the cumbersome bureaucracy they created that existed more to regulate and retard development rather than speed stands as an ever-present threat to its ability to remain the world’s Start-Up Nation. The only obstacle to Israel successfully exploiting the seemingly miraculous discovery of vast reserves of gas within its grasp was always the government itself. Unfortunately, that fear was realized last December when an anti-trust regulator ruled that the Noble Energy and its Israeli partners, the Delek Group, were acting as a monopoly, putting an effective freeze on development of the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But after six months of inaction and negotiation, the Netanyahu government has invoked a never-before-used legal clause that allows the Security Cabinet to override an anti-trust commissioner by reason of national security. The result is that Israel’s progress towards becoming a major player in the energy field is back on track.

As Arthur Herman wrote in the March 2014 issue of COMMENTARY:

Israel is poised not only for future energy independence, but for becoming a major regional energy player—maybe even, if it uses its resources wisely, the next energy superpower. The looming question, however, is not whether the world is ready for Israel to be the next Texas. It’s whether the Israelis are ready.

Herman wrote that Noble Energy, a Houston-based company with expertise in deep water drilling, braved a possible Arab boycott (a not unreasonable fear in an industry dominated by companies that invariably do business in the Arab and Muslim worlds) responded to an Israeli offer to work on their offshore fields and to make some money while helping the Jewish state. But despite the obvious benefits of a nation without natural resources becoming rich in gas, there were plenty of critics of the project. Some objected on environmentalist grounds. Others feared that oil wealth would change the nature of the country. Still others worried about an oil boom that would be exploited too quickly and then leave the country’s economy worse off than it had been in the first place.

But it turned out the biggest obstacle to development came from a regulator who decided that the risky arrangement that Noble undertook was a restraint of free trade rather than a necessary deal without which the gas would stay in the ground.

Fortunately, the government has now ended this logjam and, after negotiations, resulted in a deal that will force Noble and Delek to give up control of smaller fields to competitors and dilute their hold on the two big ones that are under development. But it will still leave Noble with enough of a share that will justify their investment and risk.

For all of the pessimism that is often heard about Israel’s future from naysayers who lament the lack of peace with the Palestinians and the country’s internal divisions, natural gas offers the Jewish state and the region unprecedented opportunities for both development and cooperation. If properly exploited and managed, the Israeli natural gas fields will give the country energy independence as well as make it a significant exporter of energy to European markets that are currently dependent on Russia. It also offers the potential of cooperative economic relationships with both the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries, assuming they are capable of holding up their ends of the bargain or of being willing to do business with Israel.

Neither natural gas nor the reserves of shale oil also awaiting development that have been discovered in Israel offer a panacea to the question of peace. A prosperous Israel is no more tolerable to those who wish to destroy it than a poor Jewish state. But these natural resources (in a country that once joked about Moses foolishly leading the Children of Israel to the one place in the region without oil) do give Israel the means to strengthen itself immeasurably and ensure that the Start-Up Nation remains a First World economy and democracy in a sea of Third World poverty and tyranny.

Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves credit for taking the bull by the horns and doing what needed to be done to get this project going again. It will be up to him and his government to see that nothing stops it again.

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Erasing History? There’s an App for That

There is no cause so noble it can’t be made ridiculous by 21st-century activism. The Confederate flag debate is fast becoming another chapter in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taking Offense. According to toucharcade.com, Apple has removed American Civil War games from its App Store because they show the Confederate flag. They don’t celebrate the South or encourage racism. They simply show the flag in its proper historical context. “As of the writing of this story,” writes Tasos Lazarides, “games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow – Civil War games are nowhere to be found.”

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There is no cause so noble it can’t be made ridiculous by 21st-century activism. The Confederate flag debate is fast becoming another chapter in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taking Offense. According to toucharcade.com, Apple has removed American Civil War games from its App Store because they show the Confederate flag. They don’t celebrate the South or encourage racism. They simply show the flag in its proper historical context. “As of the writing of this story,” writes Tasos Lazarides, “games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow – Civil War games are nowhere to be found.”

But if swastikas are your thing, you’re all set. As these still shots from the iPhone version of Wolfenstein 3-D reveal, Apple is still ok with games that show the Nazi symbol:

 

Hitler swastika

The point is not that those of us offended by Nazism should now fight to enjoy the same sanitized game environments as those who are troubled by the Confederate South. It’s that this micro-policing—indeed self-policing—of the culture does not spring from serious moral reflection but from headline-driven cowardice.

Taking a stand against the honoring or legitimizing of evil is a moral obligation. As the writers on this blog have said repeatedly, take down the Confederate flags that fly over state capitals. But erasing all representations of a particular evil is a moral offense that turns justice into self-righteous sport. What’s more, it cuts us off from dark realities that we forget at our own peril. Worst of all, the obscurantism will never stop. Once we decide we’re simply uncomfortable with historical reality, history becomes a grand project of erasure. What makes video games different from movies or books or television shows? In the end, they’ll all be smothered by the big “shush.” And the Union will have won a strange victory for freedom indeed if it prohibits all reference to its greatest blow against human bondage.

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Don’t Fear Donald Trump on the Debate Stage

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race. Read More

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race.

Given that early polling is basically an exercise in gauging name recognition, it should come as no surprise that Trump’s level of voter support has spiked to the low double-digits both in national and early primary state polling. And while he might have the lowest ceiling of support of any of the prospective nominees, securing the backing 11 percent of the GOP electorate puts Trump on par with top-tier candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. What’s more, Trump’s polling stature almost certainly gives him access to the debate stage in August and possibly after that.

The prospect of Trump appearing on stage alongside the party’s groomed and capable 2016 candidates has horrified many observers. “The National Review called Trump a ‘ridiculous buffoon’ and ‘an ass of exceptionally intense asininity,’” Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur observed. “The conservative group Club For Growth said he “should not be taken seriously” and urged that he be excluded from the debates.”

Some have toyed with the idea of amending the debate rules to ensure that Trump and Trump alone is excluded from the process. Some of those, “like prohibiting candidates who gave money to Clinton’s past campaigns,” as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote, create criteria for participation in the debates that nakedly targets Trump individually. But the stakes are so high that such duplicitous rule bending seems justified.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called the notion of giving Trump a platform like a sanctioned GOP presidential debate a “nightmare” for the party. “He will interrupt, bully and seek to dominate the debate in ways that will make it impossible to get a word in edge-wise,” Cillizza wrote. “And, if past is prologue, the sorts of things he does say when he gains control of the debate floor will be stuff that appeals heavily to the Republican base and turns off, well, almost everyone else.”

And all that is true but is that really a “nightmare” for the GOP? While seeing Donald Trump share equal stature with Republican governors and senators will be a lamentable sight, there could be an upside that few seem to have entertained.

First, Cillizza is absolutely correct: If Donald Trump’s Twitter presence is any guide, Trump will bark and bleat, submit childish barbs and withering personal slights aimed at his GOP competitors, and lurch impractically to the right on every issue. After all, the man is deeply unprincipled, and he need not fear any consequence for embracing unworkable policy positions only to abandon them later with a shrug; it’s his style. And it seems the majority of Republicans are aware of that. The same national Fox News poll of Republican primary voters that found 11 percent backing Trump (putting near the top of the field of candidates, just below Jeb Bush) also revealed that 64 percent do not trust The Apprentice star.

In 2012, the commentary class on the left and right observed that the GOP’s presidential primary process had put their party’s nominee at a disadvantage. “It’s the primaries that push their presidential nominees far to the right,” former Politico reporter Jonathan Martin wrote in 2013, putting his finger on the conventional wisdom. It’s a myth but nevertheless a persistent one that holds Mitt Romney, a moderate Massachusetts man at heart, was dragged to the right by a grueling primary process that ultimately rendered him unelectable in the general election. If there is a kernel of truth to that notion, Donald Trump will only benefit Republicans by serving as a caricature of a populist conservative who merits no response, much less self-contortion on the part of his rivals.

Let’s examine a few of The Donald’s most recent jabs:

“Governor Rick Scott of Florida did really poorly on television this morning,” Trump said of the Florida governor who was asked for his opinion on the real estate mogul’s presence in the race and refused to comment. “I hope he is O.K.”

“I hear that dopey political pundit, Lawrence O’Donnell, one of the dumber people on television, is about to lose his show,” Trump averred of the longtime MSNBC host. “[N]o ratings? Too bad.”

“The ratings for The View are really low,” he added. “Nicole Wallace and Molly Sims are a disaster. Get new cast or just put it to sleep. Dead T.V.”

And this is just in the last 24 hours.

Anything short of effusive ego-boosting praise for this man yields a tirade of puerile taunts. How do you respond to this? Why would you respond to this? If this is the personality that Trump brings to the debate stage, it would be near impossible for any of his GOP competitors to muster a cogent response if only because they are so removed from their days in primary school.

And as for Trump’s policy positions, insofar as he has any, they are equally vapid. On illegal immigration: “I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” On trade relations with China: “The way you’re tough is they sell all of their products in this country, and if they don’t behave and act fairly we start taxing all their products coming into this country.” On Russian aggression: “They are all talk, no action.”

This isn’t policy; it’s deluded bluster. There is nothing here that merits a response. Trump may attract a few of the GOP’s populist voters with this kind of empty rhetoric, but his ceiling of support is low enough so that his fellow Republicans do not have to worry about losing much of their support to him. There is no getting to the right of Trump – he will always outbid you. The GOP field can safely allow Trump to stake out unprincipled, unrealistic policy positions in order to elicit applause lines and make a cogent case for their sober policy preferences to the remaining majority of persuadable and reasonable GOP primary voters.

“Trump presents a great opportunity for those who will seize it: The chance to become a better, tougher, calmer, readier candidate earlier in the cycle,” the GOP consultant Liz Mair posited. Maybe. Those who do confront him will do so in good humor; there is, after all, only one way to disarm a hothead, and a skilled debater knows it well. But most will be better served by ignoring him and allowing him to implode without assistance. And when he does, he will take the GOP’s self-defeating populist strain down with him.

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Stop Gambling on Dictators

Last month, former American Task Force on Palestine director Ghaith al-Omari and freelance journalist Neri Zilber, both currently affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published an important piece in Foreign Affairs examining what happens after the death of Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Read More

Last month, former American Task Force on Palestine director Ghaith al-Omari and freelance journalist Neri Zilber, both currently affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published an important piece in Foreign Affairs examining what happens after the death of Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

They wrote:

Palestinian President Abbas recently turned 80 and is known to be an industrious smoker. His successor by law is the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas official Aziz Duwaik. Duwaik is currently imprisoned in Israel, but even if he were free, there would be no chance of a parliamentary speaker from Hamas taking the reins of power in the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian parliament has not met in over seven years, and Abbas himself is now a decade into a four-year presidential term that began in 2005. Laws regulating transitions of political power are thus irrelevant: Abbas rules by presidential decree in the West Bank; Hamas rules by the gun in the Gaza Strip. No clear successor has come to the forefront, however, let alone one that has been officially designated by the party.

Across administrations, the State Department has preferred to work with autocrats simply because they believe that it is easier to deal with autocrats. When making peace, the logic goes, dictators can deliver, especially when the population has been poisoned by decades of incitement. Hence, while the first Palestinian “intifada” between 1987-1993 was largely a grassroots movement, first the George H.W. Bush administration and then the Clinton administration reached out to the more radical, exiled PLO leadership believing that it would be easier to make a deal with Yasir Arafat than with those Palestinians who had lived alongside Israelis, spoke Hebrew, and better understood Israel. Arafat liked having the trappings of office and power, without making either the compromises inherent in peace or preparing the Palestinian political and popular culture for the compromises of peace. In 2000, at the Camp David II summit, he rejected a peace deal to which his own negotiators had acquiesced and refused to make any counter offer. Under his leadership, Palestinian terrorism grew more frequent, Palestinians suffered greater deprivation against the backdrop of his and his Fatah cronies’ thievery, and the general situation worsened.

But it’s not just Arafat. Iraqi Kurdistan looked like an oasis of peace and stability a two decades ago. Successive administrations worked with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani and sang his praises, at least publicly. Former government officials were willing to embrace the Kurdish leader in exchange for business opportunities or cash. But today, Barzani is in the 11th years of his eight-year presidency and, like so many dictators before him, has just this month decided the Kurdish people aren’t yet ready for elections. That’s all well and good for those who consider Barzani indispensable, but the flipside of the indispensability is the supposition or acknowledgment that no other potential leader exists. To accept that Kurdistan is not ready for elections is to recognize that chaos or a son with poor judgment and temperament might succeed Barzani.

The United States has also fallen into the dictator-chic trap with Bashar al-Assad. Who can forget that just eight years ago Nancy Pelosi dismissed White House and State Department requests to desist and insisted on breaking Assad’s isolation? Or that just six years ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was testifying to Assad’s reformism? While, all along journalists were playing up the fact that Assad was Western-educated? The Damascus spring is a distant memory; in hindsight, it looks almost as if Assad feigned reform in order to see what he was up against before targeting those who dared stick their necks out.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likewise became an indispensable man in whom the West put great faith to usher in real reform. What he did in reality was quite the opposite: He unraveled checks and balances and deconstructed a system that, while imperfect, had kept potential extremisms at bay for decades. In 2006, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, symbolized the U.S. embrace of strongman rule and disdain for democratic opposition when he dismissed Turkey’s secular opposition parties as little more than a “cacophony.”

The United States may be making the same mistake in Egypt. While I supported the coup that overthrow Mohamed Morsi who, as president, had tried to implement a one-man, one-vote, one-time system, there’s a danger in placing all hope in Abdel Fattah el-Sisi no matter how successful he will be in his quest to jumpstart a reformation. And while I’m willing to give Sisi benefit of the doubt, no diplomat, journalist, nor Sisi himself can truly gauge his popularity since the crackdown on opposition has muted criticism and silenced what could have been a useful pressure valve. If Sisi is the new Atatürk, American policymakers need to consider what happens in Egypt if a single bullet fells the leader, leaving no clear successor behind.

The list goes on. True believers in the Obama administration’s Iran strategy — reportedly Hillary Clinton aide Jake Sullivan, for example — see in Iran a Deng Xiaoping moment. They believe first that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a reformer and, second, working through him can marginalize hardliners. This is nonsense, of course, and misunderstands Rouhani and the Iranian system. Still, even if we were to accept it as true, it doesn’t address the concern about what happens if Rouhani dies or is removed from the scene. Both George W. Bush and especially Hillary Clinton likewise had great faith in Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush saw a soul, and Clinton saw a partner for reset. Many Russians welcomed his strongman-style after the uncertainty if not chaos of the Boris Yeltsin years. Putin shows the old adage that it’s essential to be careful of what one wishes for. Putin has so eviscerated the system that there really will be no filling the vacuum once he dies without either continuing a paranoid, confrontational dictatorship under the likes of Dmitry Rogozin or by suffering a period of instability while Russia rebuilds.

The list is pretty long, but the lessons remain the same: Basing national security on individual rulers is at best a short-term solution with dire long-term consequences. It might be much harder to accomplish, but ultimately it should be an overwhelming national interest to encourage the creation of a system that can endure even when key figures die or move on. Leadership does not mean taking short-cuts, or sacrificing long-term security for ephemeral, short-term gain.

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For the Iran Nuclear Deal, ‘the Game Is Pretty Much Up’

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

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

The administration has rolled out three arguments for why the Saudis won’t go nuclear.

(1) ‘They’re too poor to go nuclear’ – this argument has appeared a couple of times in print in recent weeks. The assertion is difficult to square with the North Korean experience, where the DPRK has built industrial-scale nuclear infrastructure despite having functionally no economy.

(2) ‘They’re afraid of an international backlash, including an oil embargo’ – there are a couple of NSC staffers who are fond of this argument. I think it’s fair to say that the administration has had trouble getting people to accept that the West will forgo Saudi energy.

(3) ‘American security assurances will be sufficient to reassure the Gulf, so they won’t chart their own course’ – this was the point of the Camp David summit between the President and the Gulf states. There have been claims that it worked. According to what former Defense Secretary William Cohen told Bloomberg View this morning, it very much didn’t:

The administration’s intent was to have a counter-proliferation program. And the irony is, it may be just the opposite… Once you say they are allowed to enrich, the game is pretty much up in terms of how do you sustain an inspection regime in a country that has carried on secret programs for 17 years and is still determined to maintain as much of that secrecy as possible… [the Syria CW red line] was mishandled and everybody in the region saw how it was handled. And I think it shook their confidence in the administration… The Saudis, the UAE and the Israelis were all concerned about that… They are looking at what we say, what we do, and what we fail to do, and they make their judgments. In the Middle East now, they are making different calculations.

Remember how Saudi nuclearization plays out. It’s not just that the Sunnis will acquire nuclear weapons, and within a few years there will be a polynuclear unstable Middle East – although that’s a disaster all on its own. It’s also that Saudi nuclearization will rebound and destroy the JCPOA deal with Iran that started the cascade in the first place. There is no chance that the IRGC will sit on the sidelines while the Saudis go nuclear. Nobody pretends otherwise. They’ll back off the deal and match the Saudis.

That makes the deal all cost and no gain: the administration will have seeded a polynuclear Middle East, detonated Washington’s alliances with its traditional allies, and shredded the sanctions regime – and it won’t even have a denuclearized Iran to show for it. Instead of the status quo of no deal and no nukes, it’ll be a world of no deal but yes lots of nukes.

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Wait Until 2017? ObamaCare Likely to Live Forever Now

Just as he did three years ago in the original case affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts found a way to avoid having the U.S. Supreme Court bear the responsibility for stopping the Affordable Care Act. By declaring that the language in the law saying that insurance subsidies would be made available in exchanges “established by the states” was ambiguous rather than a seemingly straightforward rule, the chief justice allowed the subsidies to continue coming directly from the federal government in the states where no exchanges were set up. Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is a huge victory for President Obama’s legacy and assures ObamaCare’s survival unless Republicans are able to repeal it by taking the presidency and retaining control of Congress in 2016, and even then it is not certain that they’d be able to repeal it without coming up with a viable alternative, something they are unlikely to be able to do. But it is also a tactical political win for the GOP since the overturning of the subsidies would have put Congress in a position of having to come up with a fix that would have allowed millions of Americans to keep their insurance.

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Just as he did three years ago in the original case affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts found a way to avoid having the U.S. Supreme Court bear the responsibility for stopping the Affordable Care Act. By declaring that the language in the law saying that insurance subsidies would be made available in exchanges “established by the states” was ambiguous rather than a seemingly straightforward rule, the chief justice allowed the subsidies to continue coming directly from the federal government in the states where no exchanges were set up. Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is a huge victory for President Obama’s legacy and assures ObamaCare’s survival unless Republicans are able to repeal it by taking the presidency and retaining control of Congress in 2016, and even then it is not certain that they’d be able to repeal it without coming up with a viable alternative, something they are unlikely to be able to do. But it is also a tactical political win for the GOP since the overturning of the subsidies would have put Congress in a position of having to come up with a fix that would have allowed millions of Americans to keep their insurance.

As it was in 2012, one has to try and read between the lines to understand the tortured reasoning supporting Roberts’ majority opinion. The assertion that the plain English of “established by the states” is hard to credit. But, like his insistence that ObamaCare mandates were a tax (a position that neither the government nor those suing to have it overturned held) rather than a clearly unconstitutional infringement of the Constitution, Roberts has managed to come up with a rationale that allows the court to let ObamaCare survive in spite of the strong legal reasons why it should be halted. Yet, in doing so, rather than keeping the court out of politics, the chief justice has actually done more to undermine its credibility than any controversy stemming from its overturning of the statute would have done. In his stinging and brilliant dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia rightly says that the law ought now to be called “SCOTUScare” rather than ObamaCare since it is only alive due to the judicial somersaults that Roberts turned to keep it going. The idea that the court upholds the law without respect to political fears was always a tenuous hope, but now it is completely dead.

As for the future of the law, it must be conceded that the chances are good that it is now a permanent part of the country’s legal landscape. Should Republicans sweep both Congress and the presidency next year, it is likely they would take up repeal in January 2017. But just as the possibility of the subsidies being taken away set off a divisive battle inside the GOP over what to do about the plight of the millions who would then lose their insurance, repeal is no longer merely a matter of starting over from scratch. Any attempt to overturn a law that would have already been in operation for years will be a perilous undertaking fraught with political danger for Republicans. Their presidential candidates will all pledge to throw it out in the coming campaign, but that will be easier said than done. The odds are that John Roberts has ensured that this legal monstrosity will live forever.

In the short term ObamaCare survival is a boost for Republicans since a win for the plaintiffs would have meant that Congress would have been forced to wrestle with the difficult problem of finding a patch that would have let the subsidies stay in place. That would have been an impossible task as conservatives would never have endorsed anything that let ObamaCare linger on in any form, and the president wouldn’t have signed even the most reasonable of compromises. Their inevitable failure to deal with the problem would have given Democrats a powerful cudgel with which they could have abused the GOP next year. The millions who lost their insurance as a result of the overturning of the subsidies would have become poster children for Republican heartlessness.

But while they may be breathing a sigh of relief over dodging this bullet, conservatives should be mourning what Roberts has done in his two ObamaCare decisions.

By twisting itself into a pretzel in order to let the law stand, the court has allowed the Democrats to massively expand the power and the reach of government in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. The ObamaCare mandates create a dynamic that does more than offer cheap insurance to more people than would have otherwise been covered. It also allows the federal government to embark on a path in which it will be making far-reaching decisions about the future of American health care. It has already created rules that infringe on religious liberty and create distortions in the marketplace that will lead to massive increases in premiums while also losing jobs. While many, especially among the poor, are net winners, it has also created a large number of net losers who will never be compensated for the president’s broken promises about keeping their insurance and doctors if they liked them.

President Obama’s legacy as the man who pushed a health care law through Congress that few understood is now secure. Some Americans will benefit from this, but many others will be paying dearly for this unwieldy law. Most of all, future generations will recognize the court’s decisions as a crucial moment when our liberties were diminished. That is something for which all those involved in passing and preserving this disaster should be held accountable by history, if not the ballot box.

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Trade Bill Deals a Setback to Israel-Bashers

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill sending it to President Obama’s desk where he will happily sign it in a rare legislative victory for the White House. That angered some on the left as well as the right who, for differing reasons, saw the trade bill as either a threat to union power or an unnecessary favor for an unpopular president. Due to the revolt by his party’s left-wing caucus, not everything that the president wanted was in the bill, but one point that was supported by friends of Israel did wind up in the final version that will become law: amendments that require U.S. negotiators to insist that European governments seeking to expand trade with the United States not take part in any boycotts Israel. This is a signal defeat for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that has become a major factor in Europe and which has sought a foothold in the United States on college campuses. The trade bill’s anti-BDS provision is also a slap in the face to left-wing groups like the left-wing lobby J Street which opposed the measures because they drew no distinction between boycotts of West Bank settlements and those of the entire state of Israel.

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On Wednesday, the Senate passed a version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill sending it to President Obama’s desk where he will happily sign it in a rare legislative victory for the White House. That angered some on the left as well as the right who, for differing reasons, saw the trade bill as either a threat to union power or an unnecessary favor for an unpopular president. Due to the revolt by his party’s left-wing caucus, not everything that the president wanted was in the bill, but one point that was supported by friends of Israel did wind up in the final version that will become law: amendments that require U.S. negotiators to insist that European governments seeking to expand trade with the United States not take part in any boycotts Israel. This is a signal defeat for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that has become a major factor in Europe and which has sought a foothold in the United States on college campuses. The trade bill’s anti-BDS provision is also a slap in the face to left-wing groups like the left-wing lobby J Street which opposed the measures because they drew no distinction between boycotts of West Bank settlements and those of the entire state of Israel.

As I noted last month, some, like J Street, who claim to friends of Israel, opposed the anti-BDS provision because they didn’t like the fact that it prohibited boycotts of Israel or “Israeli-controlled territories.” That interfered with their effort to promote a boycott that might only target Jewish communities in the West Bank. But the distinction between that kind of BDS and the economic war being waged against the existence of the Jewish state is an entirely false one. Indeed, that attempt to draw a line between boycotting Jews they don’t like and others is entirely lost on those backing an economic war on Israel. Such boycotts won’t bring peace one day closer nor foster a two-state solution that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected. Whether you support the retention of some settlements (the vast majority of which are in blocs that Israel would retain in any likely deal) or not, Israelis who live there are part of the Jewish state. Those who wish to push for a two-state solution should concentrate their energy on persuading the Palestinians to finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, not on forcing Israel to withdraw before they are sure they are not creating another terrorist-run state like Gaza.

Much like the laws that helped beat the Arab boycott of Israel a generation ago, the current legislation forces foreign nations and companies to realize that they cannot wage economic war on Israel while taking advantage of trade with the U.S. What Congress has done by placing the anti-BDS amendments in the trade bill is to put the United States on record that it will not acquiesce to a European effort to isolate and crush Israel’s growing economy. Nor will it let arguments about settlements that should be settled at the peace table to allow anti-Israel boycotts in through the back door. Fortunately, both Democrats and Republicans stepped in a manner that leaves President Obama no choice but to sign a bill with the anti-BDS language.

By opposing this bill, J Street and its leftists allies have once again demonstrated not only how out of touch they are with the pro-Israel consensus in Congress but how removed they are from the reality of the Middle East. The choice for Americans is whether they stand with the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself in freedom and prosperity. A bipartisan majority of Congress has just voted to demonstrate where it stands. Sadly, those on the left who disagreed showed us something very different.

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Education Reform Gains an Organizational Ally

Campbell Brown was once an anchor at CNN and NBC; she is now one of the leading education reformers in America. She’s just announced the creation of The Seventy Four, a non-profit, non-partisan online newsroom aimed at driving the conversation on education. Taking its name from the 74 million school-age children and scheduled to launch in mid-July, The Seventy Four will consist of experienced journalists who will conduct investigations, provide analysis, and develop multi-media content. Its mission is to “lead an honest, fact-based conversation” about education.

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Campbell Brown was once an anchor at CNN and NBC; she is now one of the leading education reformers in America. She’s just announced the creation of The Seventy Four, a non-profit, non-partisan online newsroom aimed at driving the conversation on education. Taking its name from the 74 million school-age children and scheduled to launch in mid-July, The Seventy Four will consist of experienced journalists who will conduct investigations, provide analysis, and develop multi-media content. Its mission is to “lead an honest, fact-based conversation” about education.

“Our public education system is in crisis,” the website reads. “In the United States, less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin.”

“There are a lot of entrenched interests that are standing in the way of some the best possibilities for innovation” in education, Brown said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We want to challenge and scrutinize the powers that be.” She added that she hoped her site would help make education a prominent issue in the coming campaign. “This presidential election campaign is shaping up to be one with a lot of room for debate on education and that will be very ripe for us,” Brown said.

This strikes me as a propitious moment for this effort. For one thing, the education reform movement needs a shot in the arm, and The Seventy Four will help provide it. For another, it’s important that advocates of education reform assemble the best data, arguments and human stories, and tell those stories. When I was a speechwriter for William Bennett when he was President Reagan’s Secretary of Education, we produced a series called “What Works,” which profiled successful school, principals, and educators, including those focused on disadvantaged children. It was based on the belief that you can prove the possible by the actual, and there are plenty of actual success stories in American education. The problem is bringing what works to scale; to take episodic success stories and make them normative.

It’s puzzling that education isn’t a higher priority in American politics since it’s a central issue when it comes to everything from social mobility, to economic growth, to our civic and social order. Education is part of what the scholar Ron Haskins calls the “success sequence” in life, by which he means finishing schooling, getting a job, getting married, and then having babies. According to Haskins

Census data show that if all Americans finished high school, worked full time at whatever job they then qualified for with their education, and married at the same rate as Americans had married in 1970, the poverty rate would be cut by around 70% — without additional government spending. No welfare program, however amply funded, could ever hope for anything approaching such success.

And here’s the thing: unlike strengthening families, which is something government really doesn’t know how to do very well, education is something on which government policies can make an enormous difference.

Beyond all of that, I’m enough of a traditionalist to believe that schools are crucial to the formation of character. Education’s best claim, according to William James, is that it teaches a person to value what deserves to be valued. Today we are betraying far too many children by failing to provide them with good schools, good teachers, and a good education. There is a moral imperative to change that. To her great credit, Campbell Brown understands that and is, with her colleagues at The Seventy Four, doing something about it.

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Religious Freedom Can’t Depend on a Whim

The U.S. Supreme Court will likely hand down a ruling in the coming days on whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. If, as expected, the court rules that there is a right to same-sex marriage, then this event will be rightly seen as a benchmark in the country’s legal and cultural history. The result will mark society’s full acceptance of gays rather than seeing them as a minority to be tolerated. Indeed, the culture has changed so much on this point that it is likely that a same-sex marriage decision will be seen as the court merely catching up with the times rather than it being a pacesetter. But the possible implications of such a decision reach beyond the question of allowing gay and lesbian couples to be married by the state. As the Court discussed during oral arguments in this case, a religious institution or school that was doctrinally opposed to same-sex marriage and forbade such living arrangements for their students and faculty, it might lose their tax-exempt status because of what would be seen as morally equivalent to racist codes. If so, and there is very good reason to think that it will be an issue, then what we are about to embark upon as a society is not just an era of acceptance for gays that the vast majority of Americans supports but also one of intolerance for religious conservatives.

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The U.S. Supreme Court will likely hand down a ruling in the coming days on whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. If, as expected, the court rules that there is a right to same-sex marriage, then this event will be rightly seen as a benchmark in the country’s legal and cultural history. The result will mark society’s full acceptance of gays rather than seeing them as a minority to be tolerated. Indeed, the culture has changed so much on this point that it is likely that a same-sex marriage decision will be seen as the court merely catching up with the times rather than it being a pacesetter. But the possible implications of such a decision reach beyond the question of allowing gay and lesbian couples to be married by the state. As the Court discussed during oral arguments in this case, a religious institution or school that was doctrinally opposed to same-sex marriage and forbade such living arrangements for their students and faculty, it might lose their tax-exempt status because of what would be seen as morally equivalent to racist codes. If so, and there is very good reason to think that it will be an issue, then what we are about to embark upon as a society is not just an era of acceptance for gays that the vast majority of Americans supports but also one of intolerance for religious conservatives.

As the New York Times reports, liberal legal scholars were extremely displeased with Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s answer when Justice Samuel Alito posed the following question to him:

“In the Bob Jones case,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said, referring to the 1983 Supreme Court decision, “the court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?”

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, said that was possible. “I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics,” he said, “but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is going to be an issue.”

Yes, it is, and it is not one that liberals are comfortable answering honestly at the moment. One response tried at one and the same time to quiet such concerns while also highlighting the rather sketchy notion of religious freedom that underlies liberal discourse on the issue:

Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said Mr. Verrilli’s response to Justice Alito was ill-considered. “Church leaders are worried about this,” he said, particularly because “there is a certain obvious logic” to Justice Alito’s question.

But he added that it was unimaginable that any administration of either party would try to deny a tax exemption anytime soon to a religious institution based on its views on homosexuality. “When gay rights looks like race does today, where you have a handful of crackpots still resisting,” he said, “you might see an administration picking a fight.”

Religious institutions shouldn’t be calmed by such a prediction. It may be that even the Obama administration would not seek to lift the tax-exempt status of Catholic, Mormon, evangelical or even Orthodox Jewish institutions over their rules about gay relationships. But that is merely a momentary pause. The furious reaction from the mainstream liberal media to the debate over the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act should have alerted us to the fact that granting legal protection for gay couples to marry wasn’t the sole objective of its advocates. If a religious baker can be hounded out of business because he doesn’t wish to be part of gay wedding, then the time is not far off when respected religious institutions may similarly be labeled as no better than a racist who opposes relations between whites and blacks. If the only thing preventing that is fashion rather than a firm legal principle, then no church, synagogue or mosque, or related school or institution is safe from being proscribed on account of the principles of their faith.

It must be asserted that you don’t have to oppose gay marriage to be deeply concerned about this very real possibility. Indeed, those who wish for a transformation of our society into one in which such marriages are commonplace would do well to seek to ensure that this change is accompanied by legal protections for believers lest gay rights be turned into an inquisition in which the believers are hauled into the dock for their faith.

Can we have gay marriage while also ensuring religious freedom? The answer to that is an obvious yes. Religious freedom statutes must be passed and upheld that will protect the right of believers and their institutions to practice their faith openly without discrimination by a government that now also protects the rights of gays to marry. That is a good argument for RFRA statutes and/or gay marriage laws in the states that will protect both gays and conservative believers. If not, what the Supreme Court will be doing will be to launch is into a bitter culture war in which the freedom of all to believe as they like will be called into question. The right to religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment is not supposed to be subject to the whim of the government of the day or even what is considered acceptable to popular culture at any given moment.

Liberals scoff when conservatives say religious freedom is in peril, but the far-reaching nature of a potential court decision on gay marriage illustrates that this is no far-fetched scenario. We are approaching the moment when a great many religious institutions are going to be forced to choose between their faith and the need for government aid or relief from taxes. That is a question no American faith, no matter how out of touch it may be with the zeitgeist, should ever be forced to answer.

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The New Left’s Ugly Race Consciousness

As Republicans, the party of emancipation and desegregation, are busily dismantling the last vestiges of the Confederacy’s legacy from public grounds, the left has embarked on a bizarre victory lap. An uncritical media establishment is certainly aiding liberals in their effort to cast themselves as heroes in this latest racial debate, specifically Hillary Clinton for having the courage to recite road-worn, analgesic slogans peripherally related to racial healing in speeches before friendly audiences. The right’s more abrasive voices are, however, not helping the GOP make the case that it is a party of racial tolerance. Commentators like Ann Coulter, who recently called rebel flag slayer and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley an “immigrant” who “does not understand America’s history” (she was born in Bamburg, South Carolina), provide the left’s self-assured ethnographers with a justified opportunity to attack the movement with which she identifies as being hostile to those of non-European descent. But some on the left have indulged in peculiar and equally offensive bouts of race consciousness of late. Those who have indulged in this manner of naked stereotyping deserve all the censure that Coulter has received. Read More

As Republicans, the party of emancipation and desegregation, are busily dismantling the last vestiges of the Confederacy’s legacy from public grounds, the left has embarked on a bizarre victory lap. An uncritical media establishment is certainly aiding liberals in their effort to cast themselves as heroes in this latest racial debate, specifically Hillary Clinton for having the courage to recite road-worn, analgesic slogans peripherally related to racial healing in speeches before friendly audiences. The right’s more abrasive voices are, however, not helping the GOP make the case that it is a party of racial tolerance. Commentators like Ann Coulter, who recently called rebel flag slayer and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley an “immigrant” who “does not understand America’s history” (she was born in Bamburg, South Carolina), provide the left’s self-assured ethnographers with a justified opportunity to attack the movement with which she identifies as being hostile to those of non-European descent. But some on the left have indulged in peculiar and equally offensive bouts of race consciousness of late. Those who have indulged in this manner of naked stereotyping deserve all the censure that Coulter has received.

“[Bobby] Jindal’s status as a conservative of color helped propel his meteoric rise in the Republican Party — from an early post in the George W. Bush administration to two terms in Congress and now a second term as Louisiana governor — and donors from Indian American groups fueled his first forays into politics,” a Washington Post report observed earlier this week. “Yet many see him as a man who has spent a lifetime distancing himself from his Indian roots.”

The Post noted that Jindal’s parents stopped visiting their homeland on the Subcontinent in the 1990s after the Louisiana governor’s grandfather died. The report added that he changed his name to “Bobby” from Piyush and converted from Hinduism to Christianity as a teenager. “There’s not much Indian left in Bobby Jindal,” rah University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Pearson Cross told the Post.

Yet there is little evidence that Jindal is ashamed of his ethnic background so much as he is proud of his American heritage and profoundly thankful for the sacrifices his parents made in order to ensure that he could call himself an American.

Jindal, whose boilerplate stump speech focuses extensively on his parents’ backgrounds in India and the trials they endured in order to provide him with the opportunities that he made the best of in the United States, has committed what the left regards as the unforgivable sin of rejecting identity politics altogether. The Pelican State governor called those who preoccupy themselves with prejudging their fellow Americans based on their skin colors “dim-witted” and added that his family has refused to consider themselves “hyphenated Americans.”

“My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans,” the governor has said. “If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India. It’s not that they are embarrassed to be from India, they love India. But they came to America because they were looking for greater opportunity and freedom.”

Throughout his career, Jindal has been subjected to question after question from the press designed to elicit his precise level of race consciousness. In fact, the Post’s expose on Jindal’s racial authenticity is reflective of a longstanding impulse on the left to question Jindal’s devotion to his ethnic background. The Washington Examiner’s T. Becket Adams recalled that MSNBC was compelled to apologize after one of its guest speculated that Jindal was trying to “scrub some of the brown off his skin” in order to seek his party’s presidential nomination. “Is Bobby Jindal’s reputation for intelligence anything other than ethnic stereotyping?” Vox.com editor Matt Yglesias asked in 2013. Jindal is, for the record, a Rhodes Scholar who attended three Ivy League institutions and Oxford University as a student.

“How Dinesh D’Souza and Bobby Jindal advance in the GOP by erasing their ethnic identities,” a tweet promoted by the formerly serious intellectual journal The New Republic shrieked. The article, authored by Jeet Heer in February, spends most of its time attacking D’Souza – a conservative provocateur who hasn’t served in a political role since the Reagan administration – for his denunciation of Barack Obama’s “anti-colonial” worldview. Heer goes on, however, to include Jindal and Gov. Haley in his catchall rebuke of conservative Indian-American political figures.

D’Souza indicates a wider problem, given that one of the Republican Party’s most prominent Islamophobic voices is Louisana [sic] Governor Bobby Jindal, a South Asian. D’Souza’s racism and Jindal’s xenophobia find a more muted parallel in the career of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, whose advancement includes suppressing public references to her Sikh heritage and being presented by her campaign as a “proud Christian woman.”

“The careers of D’Souza, Jindal, and Haley carry an implicit message: Racial minorities can advance in the GOP by erasing their ethnic identity and/or attacking other minorities,” Heer concluded.

This kind of noxious racial paranoia is toxic to national comity, and it undermines the very virtues associated with the immigrant ethic. The left professes a profound appreciation for America’s immigrant heritage, but it apparently recoils at the notion that the immigrants who come here do so with the intention of assimilating into American society. Jindal and Haley were born in the United States. To presume that they should display a cultural affinity other than towards the country of their birth is precisely the kind of contemptible ethnic stereotyping liberals claim they abhor.

In all likelihood, this manner of disreputable racial agitation on the left is only going to grow coarser over the course of the 2016 cycle. The expansive Republican field includes politicians of a variety of ethnic, gender, and religious backgrounds; it’s probably the most diverse field of presidential candidates any American political party has ever produced. By contrast, the Democratic slate is conspicuously monochromatic. For a party that has branded itself the champion of ethnic diversity over the course of the Obama administration, this will be a jarring transition. One obnoxious coping mechanism is to undermine the authenticity of the GOP slate’s minority candidates. Get ready to see more of its kind soon.

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Former Obama Advisers Join Chorus of Iran Deal Critics

With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

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With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

The former Obama advisers that signed the statement are: Dennis Ross, the longtime diplomat and Middle East peace processor who oversaw Iran policy during the president’s first term; David Petraeus, the former general appointed by Obama to lead the CIA; Robert Einhorn, the veteran State Department official responsible for the enactment and enforcement of sanctions on Iran on Obama’s watch; Gary Samore, who served as the president’s chief adviser on nuclear policy; and General James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responsible for implementing the president’s decisions on building up forces in the region.

As the New York Times notes in its article on the statement, all of these men:

Joined in hours of Situation Room meetings during the president’s first term, and some into the second, to devise both the strategy to bring Iran to the negotiating table — a mix of sanctions, sabotage of the nuclear program and the prospect of a broader relationship with the West — and the negotiating objectives.

The statement also makes clear that, contrary to the efforts of the administration to smear all critics of their deal as advocates for war, the signatories support a negotiated settlement of the issue. Nor do they completely dismiss, as many critics rightly do, the current framework as a negligible achievement. But they say that unless the president insists on the deal meeting the same criteria that he has repeatedly enunciated are necessary for it to meet the goals he set forth when the negotiations began, then it will fail to accomplish his stated mission of preventing Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

The statement outlines five key areas where Western negotiators must stand their ground:

1. Monitoring and Verification: The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the “IAEA”) charged with monitoring compliance with the agreement must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. This must include military (including IRGC) and other sensitive facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities.

2. Possible Military Dimensions: The IAEA inspectors must be able, in a timely and effective manner, to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities (“Possible Military Dimensions” or “PMD”). This work needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.

3. Advanced Centrifuges: The agreement must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first ten years, and preclude the rapid technical upgrade and expansion of Iran’s enrichment capacity after the initial ten-year period. The goal is to push back Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges as long as possible, and ensure that any such deployment occurs at a measured, incremental pace consonant with a peaceful nuclear program.

4. Sanctions Relief: Relief must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations. Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement. Non-nuclear sanctions (such as for terrorism) must remain in effect and be vigorously enforced.

5. Consequences of Violations: The agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran is found to be in violation of the agreement, including by denying or delaying IAEA access. In addition, the United States must itself articulate the serious consequences Iran will face in that event

But the statement goes on to raise yet another important point concerning the nature of the framework that is set to expire after ten years, potentially leaving Iran free after that to build a bomb:

Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires. Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this.

This statement comes in the wake of a series of astonishing concessions on the part of the administration in which it has abandoned positions — such as the need for Iran to come clean about its past military research — that it declared were inviolable back in April when the framework was announced. Yet with so many important issues yet to be resolved in the negotiations such as the lifting of sanctions and the nature of inspections, the signatories urge the president to refuse to give in again to Iran as he has done on virtually every issue over the past two years. Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Tuesday that he would never allow inspections and would insist on lifting all sanctions immediately and permanently. Clearly, Iran expects the U.S. to fold again. If the negotiations are to continue, then the U.S. should stop acting as if they needed a deal more than the Iranians. If Obama’s spine finally stiffens, the West still has enough leverage to force Iran to give up its demands.

But the source of their anxiety is not that the administration lacks a strategy to achieve its goal. The problem is that the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he thinks a bad deal is better than no deal at all so every time Iran says no, he buckles. Given this history, it’s difficult to fault the Iranians for believing it won’t happen.

That’s why this statement is so important. It is a warning to Congress that the Iran deal should not be treated as a partisan issue in which Democrats will rally to the president’s side no matter their misgivings. The consequences of a nuclear Iran are too serious for this to be a political football. Democrats and Republicans must warn the White House that they will not acquiesce to surrender to a nuclear Iran that an unsatisfactory deal ensures. It is difficult to imagine the president deciding to change course at this late date. But the fact that some of his former confidantes are joining the ranks of the Iran deal’s critics shows that this deal can and ought to be stopped.

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The 2016 October Surprise Already in the Works

The term “October Surprise” has its origins in a ploy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to announce just days before the 1972 election that peace was at hand in Vietnam, thus fulfilling Richard Nixon’s pledge from years prior to end the war and deflating the campaign of Democrat George McGovern.

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The term “October Surprise” has its origins in a ploy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to announce just days before the 1972 election that peace was at hand in Vietnam, thus fulfilling Richard Nixon’s pledge from years prior to end the war and deflating the campaign of Democrat George McGovern.

The true popularity of the term, however, dates to a conspiracy theory espoused by Gary Sick, a Carter administration National Security Council aide. Sick suggested, without really any evidence at all as a congressional investigation subsequently determined, that the Ronald Reagan campaign conspired with Tehran to undercut the release of U.S. hostages and so undermine Carter’s chance to resolve the Iran hostage crisis in the days before the 1980 election. The theory was nonsense. Sick repeatedly contradicted himself and falsified what little evidence he did have. When challenged by journalists and congressional investigators on other key points, Sick was unable to substantiate his charges, although he presumably made a lot of money in the interim though book sales.

It has now become a regular feature of elections to have enterprising journalists or politicos with whom they sometimes collaborate to drop a bombshell story shortly before elections with the goal of swaying it. By the time the truth behind the sometimes sensational charges becomes clear, those who planted the stories hope that it will be too late for the target of their opprobrium.

Just days before the 2000 presidential election, for example, a prominent Democratic politician in Maine revealed that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in that state nearly a quarter century before. That didn’t sway the election, but it might have if a few thousand more voters had latched on.

And, in October 2004, eight days before the U.S. presidential election, the New York Times reported that looters had made off with 380 tons of explosives after U.S. forces had failed to secure Iraq’s Al-Qa’qaa military facility. The implication, of course, was that Bush administration incompetence was contributing to the deaths of Americans at the hands of a growing insurgency. After the election, it turned out that much of the reporting about Qa’qaa was inaccurate.

And, just four days before the 2008 election, news broke that Senator Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyang was an illegal immigrant living in Boston.

So what will the 2016 October Surprise be? Keep a look out for the “Iraq Inquiry” or so-called Chilcot Report. Against the backdrop of the Iraq War’s (and George W. Bush’s) deep unpopularity, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed John Chilcot, a former British civil servant with significant experience in Great Britain’s intelligence service, to head an inquiry into the origins of the 2003 Iraq War. Chilcot and his staff interviewed dozens of British officials, as well as a handful of American officials. As often occurs in such cases, limiting the witnesses to a relatively narrow subset of officials enables the Commission to direct its conclusions in the direction which the politicians or officials involved in the inquiry wish.

Most British officials expect that, when the Iraq Inquiry is released, it will add sustenance to the conspiracies surrounding the Iraq War. Indeed, in Great Britain, some of these conspiracy theories are already being treated as fact in mainstream newspapers. Some of those interviewed in the United Kingdom either have political axes to grind, bucks to pass, or were philosophically opposed the Iraq war. Former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, for example, has called the Iraq war illegal and has said that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet was misled into thinking it was legal. (Short also accepted money from Hezbollah’s television station, according to British press reports; perhaps that suggests ideological slipperiness rather than a search for truth).

The Americans interviewed are a more limited lot. They skew to the State Department and studiously avoid most Defense Department civilians at any level, from the Secretary of Defense on down. But, as everyone knows from the Iraq Study Group or the UN’s various investigations into Gaza, such reports are often written to fulfill political goals. They uphold the maxim, garbage-in, garbage-out, although a few more ego-driven witnesses will trade the bragging rights of having been called for the drawback of allowing their names as witnesses to lend superficial credibility to the report.

While the last interviews occurred in 2011, Chilcot has repeatedly delayed the release of the report to the growing frustration of many among Britain’s political leadership. On June 17, 2015, he announced yet another delay. Indeed, it now looks like Chilcot might not release his report until sometime next year. Now, here’s the catch. A quick glance of the American interviewees shows that some are among the advisors to leading Republican presidential candidates.

It will be very hard for a candidate like Jeb Bush, for example, who has already stumbled over the Iraq war question, to dismiss a report unfairly castigating his brother if that report’s conclusions bashing the White House and the George W. Bush administration are based upon the testimony of a key member of his brain trust. But, whomever the candidate is, let us hope they use the next year to prepare for the poison that may emanate from London shortly before Americans head to the polls.

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Force? Obama Already Told Us There is No Plan B on Iran

In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

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In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

The chances of the U.S. ever resorting to force against Iran were always slim, but last month the president sent a very clear signal to Tehran they needn’t fear a change of heart on that score. Speaking to Israel’s Channel Two, the president not only didn’t repeat past promises about all options being on the table but specifically dismissed the utility of the use of force against Iran:

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

There’s some truth to this assertion but since the entire premise of the framework with Iran that he was trying to sell to the Israelis as well as Congress is to merely delay Iran’s program and to lengthen its “break out” time towards a bomb, his reservations about force seem to lack credibility.

But the main point to be gleaned from this statement is that it was a clear signal to Iran that Crowley’s scenario about the Americans walking out of the talks this week in frustration and ordering B-2 bombers loaded with MOP to be put on alert is something that will never happen.

Over the course of the last two years of negotiations with Iran, President Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that his desire for an agreement on virtually any terms outweighs any concern about Iran eventually getting a bomb. He jettisoned his demand for an end to their nuclear program (as he promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) as well as international demands that they cease enriching uranium. The current agreement already allows Iran to retain thousands of centrifuges and to maintain a program of nuclear research. Even worse, the deal will expire after ten years leaving Iran largely free to do, as it likes after that.

These overly generous terms were secured by tough Iranian negotiating tactic that have were answered with American surrenders on almost every crucial point. As Secretary of State John Kerry explained after the interim Iran deal was signed in November 2013, once the Iranians said “no,” the U.S. came to the conclusion that its demands were never going to be met so the administration simply accepted this situation and moved onto the next point. This was repeated only this month when the U.S. conceded that Iran won’t come clean about its past military nuclear efforts prior to the signing of the deal but, contrary to past promises, won’t consider this a reason to abandon the negotiations.

Now that the talks to finalize the nuclear deal are coming down the homestretch, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Iran believes this pattern won’t be broken. As I wrote earlier today, the statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader yesterday in which he made clear that the sort of inspections that would make the deal verifiable won’t be allowed are a direct challenge to President Obama.

If Iran had the slightest worry that the president believed force was an option they would never dare to throw down the gauntlet in the talks in this manner. But two years of Obama’s weak negotiating tactics have forced them to conclude that they can defy the U.S. with impunity. Nor are they afraid of Israel resorting to force because they are positive that the U.S. won’t allow it, a point that is reinforced by the fact that, as Crowley notes, the administration has not shared the MOP system with Israel despite its boasts about bolstering the security relationship with the Jewish state.

At this point, it doesn’t matter that the United States has the capacity to take out the bunker at Fordow and every other Iranian nuclear facility. Crowley writes that the existence of MOP may have helped bring Iran to the table and that it could influence their behavior in the future since it will remain as a deterrent to cheating on the pact. The first assertion is arguable but the latter is not. Without a president who is prepared to negotiate from a position of strength the ability of the MOP to take it out Iran’s nukes is irrelevant both to the current talks and to what follows.

An advanced bunker buster system like MOP should have empowered President Obama to demand an agreement that would have eliminated for all time any possibility of an Iranian weapon. But it didn’t. The deal now in place offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire. And the military option isn’t stopping Iran from making sure the deal that is being finalized now is substantially weaker than President Obama claimed it was back in April when it was announced.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s successor will be able to walk away from this mess, assuming that Congress isn’t able to prevent it from being put into effect. In January 2017, MOP may for the first time become a factor in U.S.-Iranian relations. But by then it may be too late. Even a commander-in-chief determined to get tough on Iran may be faced with the fact that sanctions can’t be easily re-imposed and the international seal of approval on Iran’s nuclear program may make it harder to justify using force to take out the same facilities that the U.S. gave a seal of approval to only a year and a half earlier. Still, MOP or an even more advanced system will be there to be used to stop an Iranian bomb if the U.S. has the will to act. But after years of exploiting Obama’s weakness, the Iranians probably think they’ll jump off that bridge when they come to it.

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Support Syrian Kurdish Forces Now

It is hard not to see the United States in willful strategic collapse. The Islamic Republic of Iran has made no secret of the fact that it sees the United States as the Great Satan. This isn’t mere rhetorical opprobrium: Over the past ten years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps operating on the orders of Iran’s top leadership have killed hundreds of Americans. Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also has blood on his hands, having served as chairman of the Supreme National Security Council at a time when Iranian-backed militias were targeting both American servicemen and civilians. And yet, when the Iranian public rose up in disgust at the Iranian leadership’s dishonesty in 2009, President Obama sided not with the Iranian people but with their oppressors.

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It is hard not to see the United States in willful strategic collapse. The Islamic Republic of Iran has made no secret of the fact that it sees the United States as the Great Satan. This isn’t mere rhetorical opprobrium: Over the past ten years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps operating on the orders of Iran’s top leadership have killed hundreds of Americans. Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also has blood on his hands, having served as chairman of the Supreme National Security Council at a time when Iranian-backed militias were targeting both American servicemen and civilians. And yet, when the Iranian public rose up in disgust at the Iranian leadership’s dishonesty in 2009, President Obama sided not with the Iranian people but with their oppressors.

China has stolen at least 14 million present and former government officials’ personal information, including mine, according to Office of Personal Management emails I received. And the consequences for Chinese actions? None. And, for that matter, the consequences for those within the U.S. government charged with keeping our personal information secure? Again, zero.

As the world approaches the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, Bosnians might reflect at how much worse the massacre might have been had it been Obama rather than Bill Clinton at the helm. At least the U.S. under NATO auspices launched an air campaign later that summer to bring the horrific violence to an end. Obama would likely have found a reason not to enforce any humanitarian or strategic red lines whatsoever. And, as for the Ukraine? It’s easy to talk about helping a fledgling democracy counter naked aggression but when push comes to shove, Obama seems perfectly willing to sell Ukrainians down the river as well.

Of course, it gets worse. After having invested hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama is preparing to pull the plug on the former and has already largely done so on the latter.

It is increasingly clear that neither U.S. national security nor human rights are criteria upon which Obama bases decisions. Max Boot is absolutely right that the Obama administration is readily ceding Iraq to Iranian influence, all the more ironic since many of the Iraqi Shi‘ites hugely resent Iran’s ambitions: If a traveler ever wants to experience true anti-Iranian sentiment, forget Jerusalem or Riyadh and visit Fao, the southern-most fishing village in Iraq, or have hushed conversations in some of the hill villages of southern Lebanon. I have also had the opportunity to see Hayya Bina, the Lebanese group to which Max refers, in action during some of my trips to Beirut and southern Lebanon. The Obama administration has demanded the group stop working among Lebanese Shi‘ites to organize or support any work or opposition to Hezbollah.

Nowhere has the Obama administration been so cavalier toward freedom, liberty, and the fight against terrorism as in Syria. As secretary of State, Hillary Clinton continued to call Bashar al-Assad a “reformer” even after his murderous rampage began. And, as senator, John Kerry made his aides blanch when he repeatedly described Assad as “my good friend” after bonding during a motorcycle ride. Let’s just be glad that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t like yachting, as Kerry’s moral vacuity and poor character judgment might have led him to say something equally regrettable.

Whatever the hope for the Syrian opposition in the initial months, the group radicalized tremendously. Advocates for the opposition like Sen. John McCain have their hearts in the right place, but have allowed their tenaciousness to trump good judgment: Supporting the Syrian Sunni Arab opposition would, at this point, be akin to supporting Al Qaeda. McCain should not become Erdoğan with a better sense of humor. At the same time, though, the idea of reconciliation or even a hands-off approach to Assad is noxious. This is a man that not only uses chemical weapons against his own people, but also refused to order his air force to strike the Islamic State’s headquarters at Raqqa at any point during the pre-September 2014 period when he had uncontested dominance over Syrian airspace.

There is only one group that has had any modicum of success fighting radicals and counter Assad inside Syria, and that is the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel‎ (YPG), the People’s Protection Units or the Syrian Peshmerga. I was fortunate to meet the YPG last year during a trip to northeastern Syria. They have sacrificed tremendously: I visited both memorial shrines, spaces reserved for families of martyrs, and fresh graves, while also hanging out at YPG checkpoints and talking to YPG commanders. Aside from a few airdrops around Kobane and, in the last few days, some air support around Ayn Issa, a town north of Raqqa, they have received little from the United States. The Syrian opposition that the United States does support has little to show for its money.

The YPG – and the Syrian Kurdish administration to which they answer – has the added benefit of being largely tolerant. They host tens of thousands of Arab refugees from the Aleppo area, and churches, mosques and, for that matter, Yezidi temples. And yet, the Obama administration and Kerry specifically give the Syrian Kurds the cold shoulder. The State Department refuses Salih Muslim, the Syrian Kurdish leader, a visa and it is a rarity that U.S. diplomats will speak with him, even if in the same room. Kerry has welcomed Syrian militants with blood on their hands to join the international diplomatic process but continues to veto any real Kurdish participation, at least among the Kurds representative of the Rojava administration.

In the last few days, the YPG has captured a strategic town just 30 miles north of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital. It’s an opportunity that should be supported. Clearly, the YPG fulfill Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s “will to fight” prerequisite. If Obama truly wishes to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, then working with the YPG should be the central pillar. It’s time to work in the realm of reality and seize every opportunity, rather than continue to embrace the fantasy of Assad’s responsibility or other Syrian opposition’s credibility and moderation.

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Russia Outmaneuvers Obama in the Middle East

Being a revanchist means being keenly aware of your country’s history, its interests as defined by prior generations, and that which they so carelessly lost. Steeped as he is in revanchism, Vladimir Putin has put a premium on the national interests of Russia’s leaders of another era. He covets the Black Sea coast, as have all his predecessors dating back to Catherine. He views the United States has his country’s strategic competitor in Europe, as did the Soviets who inherited Stalin’s post-War order. And, like many of the ghosts who roam the Kremlin’s halls, Putin is uniquely conscious of the strategic value of the Middle East. He is fortunate in that the American president is equally determined to extricate his country from Middle Eastern affairs and is presently engaged in a disruptive project to reorder the region so as to facilitate that retreat. Putin has taken full advantage of the every opportunity American military retrenchment and diplomatic restructuring in the Middle East has afforded him, and the future will be darker for it. Read More

Being a revanchist means being keenly aware of your country’s history, its interests as defined by prior generations, and that which they so carelessly lost. Steeped as he is in revanchism, Vladimir Putin has put a premium on the national interests of Russia’s leaders of another era. He covets the Black Sea coast, as have all his predecessors dating back to Catherine. He views the United States has his country’s strategic competitor in Europe, as did the Soviets who inherited Stalin’s post-War order. And, like many of the ghosts who roam the Kremlin’s halls, Putin is uniquely conscious of the strategic value of the Middle East. He is fortunate in that the American president is equally determined to extricate his country from Middle Eastern affairs and is presently engaged in a disruptive project to reorder the region so as to facilitate that retreat. Putin has taken full advantage of the every opportunity American military retrenchment and diplomatic restructuring in the Middle East has afforded him, and the future will be darker for it.

In February, when Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi chose Russia as the first non-Arab state to which he would make a formal trip, it set off alarm bells in Washington. America’s bilateral relationship with that flawed but nevertheless critical nation’s military leadership had long been strained. Relations between American and Egyptian officials grew tense when President Barack Obama demanded Washington’s ally of over three decades, Hosni Mubarak, leave office amid anti-government protests and spiraling violence. At first welcoming the election of Mohamed Morsi and then standing by him when it became clear that he and his political allies would use every lever of Egyptian democracy at their disposal to destroy it, Barack Obama alienated the members of the Egyptian military with whom America had once had firm relations since the late 1970s. Finally, after being visibly paralyzed by events in Egypt following Morsi’s ouster – vexed by the notion of whether to punish the putsch leaders by calling the events they welcomed a “coup” – Obama’s government eventually withdrew a significant amount of the military aid the world’s most populous Arab country had come to rely upon.

The result of this fecklessness was to alienate Egypt’s democrats, frustrate its Islamists, and terrify the members of its military establishment. It’s one thing to have an idealistic foreign policy that eschews legacy obligations to unsavory actors established by foreign policy realists, but it’s quite another to adopt an approach to international affairs that apparently has no philosophical moorings whatsoever. Obama embraced the latter course.

“Washington’s rather limited criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood during its year in power, as well as the intensifying swirl of conspiracy theories about the U.S. role in Egypt, have fostered a severely anti-American political atmosphere that may welcome a shift away from Washington,” The Washington Institute’s David Schenker and Eric Trager observed.

If the alarm bells were ringing in February, they screamed like an air raid siren by March. It was then that the Sisi government announced that it had secured a deal to purchase $2 billion in arms from Moscow. The arrangement represented the ruination of the post-Sadat status quo, in which the former Egyptian leader and American administrations under three successive presidents over the skillfully disentangled Egypt from the Soviet sphere of influence. Indeed, the importance with which Russia viewed Egypt was revealed when Sadat flamboyantly expelled Soviet advisors and he was subsequently rewarded with even more military aid from Moscow. Putin had effectively reversed Leonid Brezhnev’s folly in Egypt.

But this would not be the end of the West’s humiliation on the Nile. According to a report via the Egyptian Independent, Cairo has agreed to establish a free-trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Union – a trade zone dominated by Russia and comprised of the former Soviet Republics Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia.

“Egypt’s trade agreement with the EEU would ideally give it preferential access to the integrated single market of 176 million people and a GDP of over US$4 trillion,” The publication wrote of the trade zone designed to serve as a counterbalance to the European Union. “A Russian industrial zone near the Suez Canal and a number of other joint projects in the areas of transport, manufacturing, and energy are on the table, and the upcoming free trade agreement, expanding the scope of cooperation, would undoubtedly contribute to increasing EEU’s influence…”

As Washington makes no secret of its desire to see Iran rise and become the region’s prohibitive stabilizing power, it isn’t just Egypt that has turned its jilted eyes toward Moscow. “Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman visited St. Petersburg in the last week and signed several agreements with the Russians concerning cooperation on oil, space and peaceful nuclear energy, as well as nuclear technology sharing,” Al-Monitor reported on Wednesday. Between the Saudis proxy war in Yemen against Iran-backed Shiite rebels and its speedy pursuit of nuclear technology from countries like France and Russia, the Saudi Kingdom’s behavior a virtual textbook example of how sovereign powers react to shifting regional dynamics and alliance structures.

In fact, the effects of the Obama administration’s approach to regional power politics in the Middle East might have been pulled directly from one of the late University of California, Berkeley, Professor Kenneth Waltz’s lectures. As the United States has become an unreliable ally, propping up a revisionist aspiring hegemon in their neighborhood, the region’s Sunni states have gone in search of some insurance. This real world experiment in international relations theory is actually quite fascinating. If only it were not so extremely dangerous.

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