Commentary Magazine


Another Jewish Charm Offensive Won’t Fix What Obama Has Broken

After several months of insults (chickensh*!t) and threats about re-evaluating U.S. policy, the Obama administration appears to have awakened to the fact that its feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone too far. As the New York Times reports today, the White House is making a conscious effort to play down its anger at the Israeli government, primarily by making nice with American Jewish groups. But what is sounding very much like another edition of the Jewish charm offensive that characterized administration statements about Israel during the year preceding President Obama’s reelection is not going to fix what has been broken by President Obama and his foreign-policy team. The problem is an American government that is intent on creating distance between itself and Israel, not misunderstandings rooted in a personality clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Its only purpose is to disarm Jewish groups and to persuade them to stay quiet during the impending debate about the Iran nuclear deal while still threatening Israel with diplomatic isolation over the Middle East peace process.

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After several months of insults (chickensh*!t) and threats about re-evaluating U.S. policy, the Obama administration appears to have awakened to the fact that its feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone too far. As the New York Times reports today, the White House is making a conscious effort to play down its anger at the Israeli government, primarily by making nice with American Jewish groups. But what is sounding very much like another edition of the Jewish charm offensive that characterized administration statements about Israel during the year preceding President Obama’s reelection is not going to fix what has been broken by President Obama and his foreign-policy team. The problem is an American government that is intent on creating distance between itself and Israel, not misunderstandings rooted in a personality clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Its only purpose is to disarm Jewish groups and to persuade them to stay quiet during the impending debate about the Iran nuclear deal while still threatening Israel with diplomatic isolation over the Middle East peace process.

As with the reelection year charm offensive, the administration is doing little to mend fences with an Israeli government that it has slandered and undermined. Rather, it is focused on holding the hands of Jewish groups that face the difficult choice between standing up to the president or keeping quiet in order to maintain their access to the White House.

The administration is rightly fearful that it’s public venting of anger about Netanyahu’s opposition to its push for détente with Iran and their insistence on blaming him and not the Palestinian Authority leadership for the latest collapse of the peace process is exposing the rift between much of the Democratic Party and the pro-Israel community. That doesn’t necessarily threaten the Democrats’ hold on the Jewish vote in 2016, but Obama isn’t really worried about Hillary Clinton’s fate right now. What bothers him is the prospect that a critical mass of American Jews will be sufficiently fed up with the president’s threats toward Israel and insufficiently sold on the virtues of the Iran deal that they will exert pressure on wavering Democrats to vote against the agreement if it is actually signed and then comes up for a vote sometime this summer.

That’s what’s behind the meetings with Jewish groups (though most of those invited to the tête-à-têtes at the White House have been either loyal administration cheerleaders like J Street and other left-wing groups or mainstream organizations that can usually be counted on not to make trouble for the powers that be) and, just as important, leaks from administration sources that lead to articles like today’s New York Times feature intended to calm the nerves of the paper’s liberal Jewish readership.

Despite the talk of recognition that, in the words of former U.S. ambassador to Israel and veteran peace processor Daniel Kurtzer, “anger was replacing policy,” the division between the two countries had little to do with pique on either side of the alliance. The White House temper tantrums about Netanyahu’s prickly personality, his acceptance of an invitation to address Congress without bespeaking Obama’s permission first, or even some of the things he said in the days before his election victory certainly added to the tensions that have been building for six years. But the real source of the problem lies in policy prescriptions not inadequate personal relations.

The president entered office convinced that the U.S. must distance itself from Israel and engage Iran and after years of effort, he finally seems to have accomplished both objectives. To that end, the president has consistently sought to pressure Israel to make concessions and blamed the Jewish state when these efforts failed, as they always have, to entice the Palestinians to make peace. Consistent Palestinian rejections of peace offers have convinced most Israelis that peace is impossible in the foreseeable future and to reelect Netanyahu, but the administration has reacted to the same facts by seeking more distance between Washington and Jerusalem and overtly threatening to abandon Israel at the United Nations.

Even more ominously, the White House has embraced a new bizarrely Iran-centric policy in the Middle East that has alienated both Israel and moderate Arab nations while negotiating an agreement that, at the very least, establishes Tehran as a threshold nuclear power and gives it two paths to a bomb, one by cheating and the other by waiting until the deal expires.

Neither of these problems can be papered over by mere meetings or statements. President Obama’s disingenuous efforts to convince the country that, despite everything that has happened during his time in office that would convince any objective observer to the contrary, he is true friend of Israel ring false even for many Democrats.

But Obama doesn’t need, as he did in 2012, to convince most supporters of Israel that he is one of them. After all that has happened in the last year, let alone the five that preceded it, that isn’t going to work despite his avowals of friendship. All he needs is to neutralize the mainstream groups that could make a lot of trouble for him if they decided to go all out to try and defeat an Iran deal that poses a potential mortal threat to the security of the West, regional security, as well as Israel’s existence. Such an effort on their part might be enough to tip many ostensibly pro-Israel Democrats to oppose the deal even though the president has tried to make support for the deal a test of partisan loyalty.

That’s why Obama says he won’t meet Netanyahu until after the Iran deal is finalized and approved even if he has to get that approval by stopping Congress from overriding his veto.

Supporters of Israel in both the Democratic and Republican parties need to recognize that what is needed are not feel-good meetings but a presidential promise that the final Iran deal will insist on the inspections and other points the Iranians currently refuse to countenance. They should also get guarantees that the president won’t stop backing the Jewish state in the United Nations when the Palestinians and their supporters seek recognition for their state without first being required to make peace.

Anything less than that is a diversionary tactic, not an effort to heal a breach the president has worked so hard to create.

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Hillary’s Bet: Voters Want More ‘House of Cards,’ Less ‘Veep’

One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

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One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

This raises a question: As much as Americans like their dark and cynical political fantasy, are they really ready to elect the Clintons and make it a reality?

One comparison to which the Clintons are often subjected is the Underwoods of the American adaptation of House of Cards. But I find this one unconvincing, not least because the Clintons don’t (despite some imaginative conspiracy theories) go around killing those who pose an obstacle to their accumulation of power. When it comes to House of Cards, truth really isn’t stranger than fiction.

But House of Cards does provide at least a useful discussion point because it seems to represent the dark fantasy of American politics. President Obama himself likes to joke that he wishes real life were more like the dead-souled politics of House of Cards. As Time reported in 2013: “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient,” Obama told tech industry leaders. “It’s true. It’s like Kevin Spacey, man this guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.”

It’s Obama’s version of Tomfriedmanism: every so often, a bit of ruthless authoritarianism is worth the further decay of freedom and democracy.

Of course, in real life, Washington D.C. far more closely resembles HBO’s Veep, in which those in power are awkward and bumbling and, well, human. There is perhaps something reassuring in the House of Cards model in the belief that things are a certain way because powerful people want them to be that way. But there is, in fact, not really such a thing as presidential stability, and often the more stable it looks from the outside the more it truly resembles a Jenga tower. (A good example is FDR, the closest thing since Washington that America has had to an indispensable man. Only in death did it become fully clear the democratic rot over which FDR presided.)

But the House of Cards frame is useful for another reason: while the Clintons are obviously not cold-blooded killers, they are unlike any other family in American politics. And as Hillary runs for president, she will be asking the country to vote its dark fantasies into reality. Do Americans like House of Cards for the escapism, or do they secretly wish life was really like that?

There is reason to think they’re beginning to get uneasy with this. As our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, according to Quinnipiac a majority of voters don’t think Hillary is honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents. Here’s Chris Cillizza on those numbers:

That’s a remarkable set of findings — and speaks to the divided mind the public has about the Clintons broadly and Hillary Clinton specifically.  There’s a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for. There’s also widespread distrust in her personally.  People admire her but don’t know if she’s honest.

And that is the central problem for Clinton with this series of stories today. It affirms for people that there is always some piece — or pieces — of baggage that come with electing the Clintons to anything.  It’s part of the deal.  You don’t get one without the other.

Make no mistake: Forcing people to decide whether Clinton’s readiness for the job outweighs the fact that it’s always something with these people is not the choice the Clinton team wants on the ballot in November 2016.

If it’s not the choice the Clintons want people to make, then they’re really not so confident that America’s ready for Claire Underwood. But there’s an argument to be made that such questions are fully irrelevant to the actual election.

For example, Democrats are mostly going to support Hillary, and Republicans will generally be happy to stay on their side of the dividing line. And Democrats are not going to vote Republican just because Hillary is dishonest and untrustworthy. In that Quinnipiac poll, she beats each major Republican candidate. The point is not that those numbers can’t or won’t change but that the same voters who say she’s untrustworthy and dishonest would still pick her over the other guy.

And without a serious Democratic primary challenger, Hillary can continue to rally support based on the premise that it’s either her or the Republicans. The GOP might hope for voter apathy come Election Day, but how many Democrats will stay home when they have another chance to make history?

Clintonian corruption is not a disqualifying factor to a great many voters–at least not yet. But on the other hand, the Quinnipiac poll was taken before the latest revelations that the Clintons were personally enriched by steering American strategic resources into the hands of the Russians (and thus the Iranians) when Hillary was secretary of state. There might be a limit, in other words, to how much voters are willing to stomach. And Hillary’s already making them queasy.

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The al-Qaeda Hostages and Deteriorating U.S. Intel

Today a grim-faced President Obama announced that he was taking “full responsibility” for the inadvertent death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda and killed in the frontier region of Pakistan by an American drone strike. He was right to do so, but it’s not an especially brave thing to do on the president’s part because few but the most perfervid partisans will blame him for this accident of the type that happens so often in the “fog of war.”

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Today a grim-faced President Obama announced that he was taking “full responsibility” for the inadvertent death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda and killed in the frontier region of Pakistan by an American drone strike. He was right to do so, but it’s not an especially brave thing to do on the president’s part because few but the most perfervid partisans will blame him for this accident of the type that happens so often in the “fog of war.”

The only people who might be remotely surprised by this mistake would be those technologists and futurists who once argued that advances in computing power would make possible “perfect information awareness,” thereby turning war into a sterile targeting exercise. The U.S. military in the 1990s to some extent bought into this orthodoxy, which became known as “network-centric operations.” Although the limitations of information technology were brutally exposed in Afghanistan and Iraq, where no number of precision airstrikes could defeat determined insurgencies, there has remained a political vogue for “precise,” “surgical” airstrikes—now done by drones rather than by manned aircraft. This has, in fact, become the preferred Obama way of warfare.

There is no question that drone strikes are a useful tool of counter-terrorism policy, but the mistaken killing of the two hostages shows the limits of our intelligence. It would be all too easy to kill the enemy if we knew precisely where he was, but we don’t—insurgents like to hide in plain sight and it takes a lot of work to distinguish them from the civilian population. To be sure, high-tech reconnaissance and surveillance can enable this process but human-intelligence is necessary too, both the kind acquired by spies and the kind acquired by interrogators.

As it happens, the Joint Special Operations Command under Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Adm. Bill McRaven became very, very good at doing battlefield interrogations without using torture. It was their success in getting detainees to talk that enabled JSOC operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that is now a lot harder to pull off because the U.S. is no longer holding detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have transitioned the detention process over to the Iraqis and Afghans, with predictably dismal results. Many hardened killers who have blood on their hands were set free.

Moreover, Obama is refusing to send any new detainees to Guantanamo and continuing George W. Bush’s policy of releasing detainees, roughly a third of whom return to their old tricks. Finally Obama, like all presidents, is averse to putting American troops on the ground in harm’s way. Thus the strong preference for U.S. counter-terrorism strikes is to kill rather than to capture terrorists. But dead men tell no tales. The fact that we are not capturing and interrogating more bad guys means, inevitably, that the quality of our intelligence is going down, thus raising the likelihood of mistakes such as the ones that killed hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” is fine for Westerns, but in the real world live terrorists are far more useful than dead ones.

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What Obama Should Be Apologizing For

President Obama stepped before the cameras this morning to apologize for the deaths of two Western hostages, including one American, in a U.S. drone strike on an al-Qaeda target. Speaking in a dignified and sorrowful tone that marked a strong contrast with most of his press appearances, the president expressed profound regret about the deaths on behalf of the government and vowed that it would do its best not to repeat the mistake. While the families deserved to hear his apology, the rest of us do not. But the American people are owed an apology for something else. As we add to the total of Americans killed as a result of terrorism by a group we were informed by the Obama re-election team was on the run and finished, sometime before the president leaves office it would be far more appropriate for him to own up to the mistakes he made that have led us to a moment in history when Islamist terror is more dangerous than ever.

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President Obama stepped before the cameras this morning to apologize for the deaths of two Western hostages, including one American, in a U.S. drone strike on an al-Qaeda target. Speaking in a dignified and sorrowful tone that marked a strong contrast with most of his press appearances, the president expressed profound regret about the deaths on behalf of the government and vowed that it would do its best not to repeat the mistake. While the families deserved to hear his apology, the rest of us do not. But the American people are owed an apology for something else. As we add to the total of Americans killed as a result of terrorism by a group we were informed by the Obama re-election team was on the run and finished, sometime before the president leaves office it would be far more appropriate for him to own up to the mistakes he made that have led us to a moment in history when Islamist terror is more dangerous than ever.

It’s important to give credit to the president for providing some transparency about the fate of both hostages. Going public with the news about the fact that the hostages were killed as a result of U.S. action was the right thing to do. So was the apology to the family. But, like his refusals to ransom other hostages held by terrorists, the president was right not to try to buy the freedom of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto and also correct to order the attack on an al-Qaeda stronghold even if the results of these decisions were tragic.

Second-guessing about specific operations is easy for critics but useless. No one seriously believes the strike would have been planned and approved had anyone known about the presence of the hostages. The only apologies truly needed for this incident should come from the terrorists who seized two innocent people—both aid workers who were in the region to help, not wage war—and are responsible for their deaths, no matter the origin of the bomb that ultimately killed them.

But any discussion about al-Qaeda must start and end with an honest evaluation of the administration’s counter-terrorism policy in the context of its broader foreign-policy goals. And it is here that apologies are warranted.

The president has taken a beating from some on the left as well as their unlikely libertarian allies on the right such as Senator Rand Paul for the extensive use of drones to kill terrorists. Those criticisms are largely unfounded. These are legitimate targets, and taking out these killers and their infrastructure is both necessary and justified.

The drone attacks are wrongly blamed for making the terrorists popular. As much as many in Pakistan and Afghanistan resent them, the factor that drives terror recruitment is the notion that they are prevailing in the struggle against the West, not resentment of successful attacks that prove they are not winning. But what isn’t working is the foreign policy that makes the context for military action and which has given the terrorists good reason to believe that they are succeeding.

We now know that administration decisions to pull out of Iraq precipitously rather than stay and negotiate a deal that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in the country facilitated the rise of ISIS. The same can be said for the president’s dithering about the civil war in Syria when decisive Western action in the opening months of the struggle probably also would have made it difficult for ISIS to establish a foothold there as well. In Afghanistan, the continued strength of the Taliban even after setbacks they experienced as a result of the surge the president ordered in his first term is largely due to Obama’s announcement of a pullout date for U.S. troops even as reinforcements were arriving.

The problem is that the president was so eager to declare wars over or ending that he forgot that the terrorists were not getting the memo about their being defeated. The same applies to al-Qaeda, whose defeat was supposed to be sealed with the death of Osama bin Laden, a centerpiece of the president’s reelection campaign rhetoric. Yet while the administration was trying to tell us that al-Qaeda was decimated or on the run or effectively out of business, it was continuing to dig in and expand. Now it appears that its affiliates are as strong or stronger than in bin Laden’s time. Combined with the efforts of their ISIS rivals, it’s clear terrorism is as great a threat to U.S. security as ever. Add in the ongoing activities of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Houthi in Yemen, all of which are prospering because of the active aid of Iran, a nation that is the object of the president’s efforts at détente, and the picture becomes even darker.

This is an administration that is more concerned with withdrawing from the Middle East than in showing that it will stay and fight until victory. The appeasement of Iran on the nuclear issue and the refusal of the president to insist that Iran stop supporting terror as part of the negotiations (indeed, his Democratic allies in the Senate successfully insisted that any accountability on terror be left out of the Corker-Menendez bill on the Iran deal) also undermine any notion that it is a priority.

It is that dismal situation and not a tragic if honorable failure to know that hostages might die with their terrorist captors in a drone strikes that merits a presidential apology.

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North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal Is Bigger Than We Thought

A few weeks ago, I wrote about North Korea’s nuclear breakout, and that the U.S. government was finally beginning to acknowledge the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could no longer be ignored. Yet even as the Obama administration continues to talk about the North Korean nuclear “program,” along come the Chinese, of all people, to tell us that North Korea is in reality a nuclear power, with a growing arsenal beyond what American experts suspected.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about North Korea’s nuclear breakout, and that the U.S. government was finally beginning to acknowledge the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could no longer be ignored. Yet even as the Obama administration continues to talk about the North Korean nuclear “program,” along come the Chinese, of all people, to tell us that North Korea is in reality a nuclear power, with a growing arsenal beyond what American experts suspected.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports on what many of us in Washington have been hearing for a while, namely that North Korea may possess as many as 20 nuclear weapons already, and that it could build 20 more by 2016, possibly having 75 nuclear bombs by 2020. The source of this latest intelligence (which, it must be acknowledged, is guesswork)? Chinese nuclear experts, who meet regularly with their American counterparts.

The American experts quoted in the piece take a lower-end estimate of Pyongyang’s nuclear inventory, but still believe that Kim Jong-un currently controls around a dozen bombs, with as many as 20 by next year. Combine either the Chinese or the American total with the North’s ability to launch a long-range ballistic missile that can travel up to 5,600 miles, covering most of America’s West coast, and the picture of strategic stability in Asia begins to look a little different.

By now, it must be clear to all but the most naive of observers that North Korea will never denuclearize. Any idea of returning to the moribund Six Party Talks to achieve that goal is a dangerous notion, as more negotiation over an unachievable outcome will only give Pyongyang more time to further build up its inventory and perfect its ICBM capability. Instead, it is time to put some intellectual firepower behind meaningful sanctions that harm the pocketbooks of North Korea’s leaders, and enhance anti-proliferation activities, to prevent the transfer of sensitive technology.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration may be guilty of hiding information of precisely such proliferation activities, so as to keep nuclear negotiations with Iran alive. Given the failed Bush-Obama attempts to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons during years of intense negotiations, the folly of pursuing a similar script with Iran becomes ever clearer. Now, North Korea is stockpiling an arsenal of nuclear weapons controlled by a paranoid, erratic, aggressive regime. Counting on Kim Jong-un’s rationality is a risky bet, but America’s diplomatic failures up to now give few other options for dealing with his threat. Thinking about the unthinkable may become fashionable again.

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Israeli Independence Day, Then and Now

Today marks Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. In honor of the Jewish State’s 67th year of independence, here, from the February 1948 issue of COMMENTARY, is David Horowitz, then chief economic adviser to the Jewish Agency (established to oversee Jewish immigration to Israel), on “Founding the New State: An Expert’s Estimate of the Tasks Ahead”:

A world of dreams has come true against the background of twenty centuries of martyrdom and a tenacious struggle for survival—this was the first, the emotional reaction to the United Nations decision on Palestine. More than a state and a haven of refuge were created in that fateful hour. The ethnic identity and continuity of Jewish national existence was reasserted. An epoch of national renascence was inaugurated.

Click here to read it all.

Today marks Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. In honor of the Jewish State’s 67th year of independence, here, from the February 1948 issue of COMMENTARY, is David Horowitz, then chief economic adviser to the Jewish Agency (established to oversee Jewish immigration to Israel), on “Founding the New State: An Expert’s Estimate of the Tasks Ahead”:

A world of dreams has come true against the background of twenty centuries of martyrdom and a tenacious struggle for survival—this was the first, the emotional reaction to the United Nations decision on Palestine. More than a state and a haven of refuge were created in that fateful hour. The ethnic identity and continuity of Jewish national existence was reasserted. An epoch of national renascence was inaugurated.

Click here to read it all.

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The ‘Clinton Cash’ Allegations Are a Test of the Democratic Party’s Health

The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

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The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

One thing about these stories is that they demonstrate the mainstream media have spent the Obama years resolutely not doing their jobs—which means that Hillary Clinton has not actually been vetted the way, say, every major Republican in the race has been. (Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the subject of intense scrutiny from Florida media, Scott Walker from Wisconsin media, Chris Christie from New York-area media, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz from Texas media, Bobby Jindal by Louisiana media, and so on.) This story—the story of the Clinton Foundation overall— has been hiding in plain sight from 2010 onward. Thus, Democratic voters who like her and believe she is the best person for them are operating on the basis of incomplete information owing to a systematic lack of scrutiny by a media largely unwilling (consciously and unconsciously) to do the deep digging into Obama administration troubles—especially during the first term, when such digging might have served the interests of Republicans in 2012.

But here we are. These stories and more are unavoidable now, and the classic Clinton dodges (which I detail today in a New York Post column) aren’t going to work very well in response to them.

Which brings up the Democratic party, its voters, and its overall health. The condition of the party is a complex one. At the presidential level, the results of the past five elections suggest Democrats go into 2016 with a mild structural advantage; it would seem that, all things being equal, they can depend on a nationwide floor around 48 percent, while the GOP floor is probably a point or a point and half below that. Brilliant get-out-the-vote innovations from 2008 and 2012 will doubtless be added to as we head into the coming year.

On the other hand, the national condition of the Democratic Party outside the presidential realm is terrible. Since 2009, Democrats are down 60 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. Republicans held 22 governor’s mansions in 2009; now they hold 31. Democrats have an astounding 910 fewer state legislators than they did when Barack Obama took office. The GOP has majorities in 67 of the 99 state legislative bodies in the United States, more than at any time since the 1920s.

So Democrats go into 2016 in good structural shape for a presidential bid but in horrendous overall shape as a political party when it comes to holding the levers of power everywhere else.

Hillary Clinton’s ability so far to clear the field—with the exception of a former governor of Maryland who ended office wildly unpopular in his own state—is a mark of the party’s sclerosis. Even when George H.W. Bush was running as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1987-88, there were six other serious contenders, five of them figures of note in the party: Senate GOP leader and one-time vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the wildly popular Rep. Jack Kemp, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Pat Robertson. If Bush had stumbled badly, or if scandal had surrounded him, Dole in particular was right there to pick up the slack.

That was the mark of a party that had been strengthened rather than weakened by its years in the White House.

The biggest polling news today—from a Quinnipiac survey completed before the blockbuster story—indicates that 61 percent of self-described independents find Hillary Clinton “untrustworthy.” That is a dangerous number for her and her party. If everything that has happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen to Hillary Clinton does not surface a challenger or two more threatening to her than Martin O’Malley, the party she will lead in 2016 will be more the wounded animal than the national force.

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Did We Just Find the Corrupt Hillary Clinton Cash Quid Pro Quo?

Hillary Clinton’s allies and surrogates have been working hard in recent days to discredit the allegations, contained in a forthcoming book, about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative influencing her decisions during her time as secretary of state. But Hillary loyalists are going to find it quite a bit harder to pooh-pooh the furor over Clinton Cash today after the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton State Department approved the sale of one of America’s largest uranium mines to a unit of the Russian state nuclear agency after those involved with the sale had donated a staggering $2.35 million to the Clinton charity and former president Bill Clinton had been invited to speak in Moscow by another firm with ties to the Kremlin for an equally astounding $500,000 honorarium. At the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest behind a decision that seems to strengthen one of America’s leading geopolitical foes is obvious. At worst, those searching for a clear case of a corrupt quid pro quo between the Clintons and foreign donors have found their answer.

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Hillary Clinton’s allies and surrogates have been working hard in recent days to discredit the allegations, contained in a forthcoming book, about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative influencing her decisions during her time as secretary of state. But Hillary loyalists are going to find it quite a bit harder to pooh-pooh the furor over Clinton Cash today after the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton State Department approved the sale of one of America’s largest uranium mines to a unit of the Russian state nuclear agency after those involved with the sale had donated a staggering $2.35 million to the Clinton charity and former president Bill Clinton had been invited to speak in Moscow by another firm with ties to the Kremlin for an equally astounding $500,000 honorarium. At the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest behind a decision that seems to strengthen one of America’s leading geopolitical foes is obvious. At worst, those searching for a clear case of a corrupt quid pro quo between the Clintons and foreign donors have found their answer.

Since the pre-publication publicity began about Clinton Cash, family loyalists have been faithfully trotted out on news shows to bash author Peter Schweizer as a right-wing hack and claim there was nothing new about anything contained in the book even as they admitted they hadn’t read it. But most tellingly, they have asserted that talk of any quid pro quo between foreign entities that funneled cash to the Clintons and U.S. policy from 2009 to 2012 is ridiculous.

To be fair, some of the leaks about the book’s content bolstered that point. To unpack just one of the allegations, it must be admitted that the notion that contributions from Colombia to the Clinton kitty was the reason why the Obama administration pushed ahead with a free-trade deal with that important American ally is absurd. But the sale of the Uranium One company that controls a major source of that rare and strategic material is something else entirely. The tale of how the Putin regime wound up in possession of American uranium mines is complicated. But boiled down to its essentials, the facts are clear. Those who stood to profit by the sale of the Canadian firm that controlled the mine to Rosatom, a company owned by the Russian atomic energy agency, poured massive amounts of money into the coffers of the Clinton Global Initiative. And Putin allies invited Bill Clinton, who had a history of involvement and profiting by his association with shady figures and governments in the former Soviet Union, to speak in Moscow for half a million dollars. Not long after, the State Department’s committee tasked with the duty of approving foreign investment in strategic materials in the United States approved the sale.

Clinton apologists are claiming today that there is no proof that the secretary of state intervened in the decision made by the department’s committee. But that means nothing. Cabinet officials have many ways of conveying their wishes to subordinates.

What is most suspicious about the involvement of the Clintons in this matter is the deceptive behavior of their foundation. Contributions from the Canadian who profited from the sale to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as others connected to his company and stood to gain from the deal were not fully reported and were only discovered when journalists examined the tax returns of those involved.

Even worse, these sorts of donations expressly violated the undertakings given by Hillary Clinton to President Obama upon accepting her appointment at State to publicly disclose all donors. That these donations were hid from public view is, at the very least, a sign of a mens rea—guilty knowledge and willful intent to do wrong, and not a mere oversight.

For the foundation to now tell us that they will be more transparent in the future and will not take money from countries that are not U.S. allies is meaningless. The avalanche of cash from less than savory foreign powers and businesses to the Clintons has already happened. The foundation that supports Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton in high style has accumulated $250 million in assets by trading on the influence not only of a former president but also of a sitting secretary of state and a possible future president.

Let’s be frank about these donations. While the Clinton Global Initiative is reported to have helped fund a lot of good work around the planet, the same can be said of many other charities that do far more. The reason why this charity and the three people who run it have grown immensely rich is not because of their much-publicized good intentions and good deeds but because foreign governments and international businesses believe donating to it will do them a world of political good. The nice term for such activity on the part of the Clintons is influence peddling. A less flattering way of describing it would be corruption.

As I wrote earlier this week, there is no precedent for an ex-president to be running such a large charity or for him to be doing so while his spouse serves as secretary of state and plotting a future run for the White House. None but the Clintons, who seem to play by different rules than everybody else on everything from perjury to government emails, would have even tried this, let alone get away with it. But now that Hillary is running for president, this can of worms is being opened and what we’re discovering isn’t pretty.

At this point, it’s no longer possible to dismiss the Clinton Cash controversy as recycled trash. Clinton has a lot of questions to answer about letting Putin get hold of American uranium after her family was funneled a ton of cash from Russian associates. Her only possible defense is that she made this decision because she genuinely believed in the comical “reset” with Putin’s Russia, which constitutes evidence of the sort of bad judgment that makes her time at State appear to be an even bigger failure than we thought. And her family foundation needs to answer questions about false tax returns and violated agreements.

This would be bad news for them even if Hillary were retiring to private life. But for a presidential candidate, even one with massive assets and without strong rivals for her party’s nomination, this is a potential catastrophe.

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Hillary, Obama, and the Corruption of American Foreign Policy

There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

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There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

We already knew the Russian “reset” was a humiliating failure, and that the Iran deal was well on its way to being one as well. But the latest Clinton scandal shows that the reset itself was also tainted by corruption and the product of Obama getting outmaneuvered even more than we previously thought. If you don’t think foreign policy is important in a presidential election, just take a look at how easily Obama was played by Putin and how detrimental to American interests Obama’s attempts to sit at the adult table have been.

Now we know, for example, that a Russian state energy company took control of one-fifth of American uranium production in a series of moves facilitated by Bill Clinton and approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as donations from the major players in this saga flowed into the Clinton family foundation and cash payments went directly to Bill Clinton from the Russians.

But there’s more. For obvious reasons, the official line was that the uranium mined here in the States by the foreign entities could not be exported without additional licensing. That was a lie–as the owner of a Wyoming ranch discovered when he noticed the uranium from his property leaving the country anyway:

Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license — which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing plant in Canada.

Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has, in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers, said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being shipped from the Wyoming mines.

Amazing. Even the truth is never the truth with the Clintons. They said don’t worry about exporting because Uranium One doesn’t have an export license. They just conveniently forgot to add that the license was given to the transport company instead. And the Clintons broke their agreement with the Obama administration to provide transparency on such deals and prevent direct foreign influence peddling, and they even filed false tax returns to hide their shenanigans from the IRS.

So it wasn’t only that Putin had run circles around Obama, using the “reset” to reach into Obama’s back pocket with one hand while shaking Obama’s hand with the other. He did so with the enabling of Obama’s own sitting secretary of state, who was running institutions of a parallel government allowing foreign dictators to circumvent U.S. rules to increase their control of American energy assets, all the while getting both the Russians and the Clintons rich.

Additionally, the Russian energy agency involved here, Rosatom, is a chief partner in Iran’s nuclear program with regard to reactors and uranium supplies. Sean Davis explains why this is such an important detail:

The former secretary of state has remained relatively silent on the proposed Iranian nuclear deal thus far, apparently for good reason. Her opposition could sink Rosatom’s 2014 deal to provide enriched uranium to eight Iranian nuclear reactors for their entire life cycles, potentially enraging the wealthy investors who funneled millions to her family’s foundation. And if she clearly endorses the deal and Iran ends up using the enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, opponents could blame Hillary for approving the deal that enabled Russia to provide all that uranium to the Iranians.

She is, it should be pointed out once again, running for president of the United States. In the meantime, the country is still dealing with the fallout of the institutional corruption Hillary brought to the State Department and to American foreign policy. That foreign policy is Obama’s too.

It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to clean up this mess. But that effort will only be stymied by the fact that this mess is still the operating principle of American foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran.

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A Serious Conversation About Torture

Back in December, as her swan song at the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a report written exclusively by Democratic staffers excoriating the CIA for torturing suspected terrorists and allegedly deceiving the executive and legislative branches about what it was up to. Feinstein’s report claimed that no useful information had been generated through coercive interrogations. Committee Republicans, along with the CIA itself, released blistering rebuttals denying that anyone had even been tortured, noting that senior executive branch and congressional leaders had been kept fully informed, and arguing that the information generated helped to track down Osama bin Laden.

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Back in December, as her swan song at the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a report written exclusively by Democratic staffers excoriating the CIA for torturing suspected terrorists and allegedly deceiving the executive and legislative branches about what it was up to. Feinstein’s report claimed that no useful information had been generated through coercive interrogations. Committee Republicans, along with the CIA itself, released blistering rebuttals denying that anyone had even been tortured, noting that senior executive branch and congressional leaders had been kept fully informed, and arguing that the information generated helped to track down Osama bin Laden.

A lot of ink was spilled in this battle royal by both sides. But the wisest commentary on this brouhaha arrives in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs in an essay written by Robert Jervis, an eminent political scientist at Columbia University who has also served as a CIA consultant. Jervis brilliantly exposes the pretensions of both sides, puncturing the Republicans’ argument that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not technically torture and the Democrats’ argument that nothing useful was learned from the interrogations.

Regarding the question of whether the CIA engaged in “torture,” he writes: “Prisoners went for days without sleep, often with their arms shackled to a bar overhead. Sometimes, handlers forced them to go to the bathroom in diapers (Bush expressed unease about this) and delivered food and water rectally (for medical reasons, the CIA claims). Whether these and other tactics, such as slapping or waterboarding, qualify as torture under the law remains subject to debate. But they certainly count as torture in the ordinary sense of the term.”

Regarding the question of whether the interrogations were “effective,” a point denied by the Democratic staffers, he writes, “On its face, that position is suspect. For it to be true, all 39 of the people the CIA tortured would have had to divulge everything useful they knew before being tortured or given up nothing once they were. In theory, it’s possible that’s what happened, but it seems unlikely, given the wide range of ways that different people respond to duress and pain. And if torture were uniformly ineffective, there would be no need for a treaty banning it—which the Geneva Conventions do.” Jervis goes on to note even if information derived through torture did not directly lead to bin Laden, it surely enabled the CIA to make sense of the mass of other information it had collected and pointed it in the right direction.

Jervis suggests we should stop debating whether enhanced interrogation techniques are actually torture and whether they worked, and start debating a harder but more meaningful question: “whether the interrogation program did more harm than good.” He notes: “Even if torture worked in the narrow sense, its costs might have outweighed its benefits: the negative global reaction to the CIA’s brutal methods decreased support for U.S. policies and may have helped terrorist groups win more sympathizers and recruits.”

Jervis is right to suggest that we need to have a grown-up conversation about the tradeoffs involved in employing torture instead of resorting to the simple, easy, and wrong talking points favored by partisans on both sides.

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Is Iran the Next North Korea?

Yesterday Foreign Affairs posted an article I had written with Sue Mi Terry, once the CIA’s foremost North Korea analyst, arguing that the experience of the Agreed Framework was an inauspicious precedent for the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. We wrote: “The case of North Korea clearly exposes the dangers of the United States seeking a nuclear agreement with a state that has no intention of abiding by one. The 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, which called on North Korea to freeze the operation and construction of nuclear reactors, collapsed within a decade of its signing. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, and today it is a full-fledged nuclear power. The United States’ experience with North Korea should make it wary of similar nuclear negotiations, especially with Iran.”

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Yesterday Foreign Affairs posted an article I had written with Sue Mi Terry, once the CIA’s foremost North Korea analyst, arguing that the experience of the Agreed Framework was an inauspicious precedent for the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. We wrote: “The case of North Korea clearly exposes the dangers of the United States seeking a nuclear agreement with a state that has no intention of abiding by one. The 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, which called on North Korea to freeze the operation and construction of nuclear reactors, collapsed within a decade of its signing. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, and today it is a full-fledged nuclear power. The United States’ experience with North Korea should make it wary of similar nuclear negotiations, especially with Iran.”

Today the Wall Street Journal runs an article exposing just how grave the danger is. According to the Journal, Chinese experts have concluded that the North Korean nuclear program is even more advanced than the U.S. intelligence community has believed: “The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year.”

To add to the danger, the Journal notes, “Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, said this month that defense officials believe North Korea can now mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile called the KN-08. U.S. officials don’t believe the missile has been tested, but experts estimate it has a range of about 5,600 miles—within reach of the western edge of the continental U.S., including California.”

It’s not too hard to imagine, a decade from now, reading similar reports about how Iran has dozens of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States, to say nothing of nearby targets such as Israel, which Iran can already strike with an arsenal of 50,000 rockets positioned in Lebanon. And there is no reason to believe that Iran is any more sincere than North Korea about giving up its nuclear program. Those who advocate the agreement with Iran imagine that we will be able to somehow monitor Iranian nuclear developments, but the North Koreans caught us by surprise by developing a secret plutonium enrichment program—and if the Journal report is accurate, North Korea continues to surprise us still.

The rapid pace of the North Korean nuclear and missile programs is alarming in part because of its implications for regional stability–will South Korea and Japan feel compelled to go nuclear too in their own defense? If so that could set off a nuclear arms race. South Korea and Japan have so far refrained from such actions, even though both have extensive civilian nuclear programs that could be weaponized in a heartbeat, because both countries shelter under the American nuclear umbrella.

Some suggest that our nuclear umbrella could be extended to states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to prevent them from going nuclear to counter the Iranians, but the major reason our security guarantees to South Korea and Japan have credibility is because we have tens of thousands of troops stationed in those countries. We don’t have any troops in Saudi Arabia, nor are we likely to put any back in, because we would regard that as a provocation for more terrorism. Absent Americans in harms’ way, however, any American security guarantees would be about as credible as the “red line” that Obama drew in Syria. Thus the U.S. would have little influence to stop an incredibly dangerous nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Another reason why the advanced state of the North Korean program should be of such concern is because North Korea is a notorious nuclear and missile proliferator. As the Journal notes, North Korea “previously exported nuclear technology to Syria and missile components to Iran, Yemen and Egypt.” North Korea could easily offer Iran a shortcut toward putting nuclear weapons on missile warheads, bypassing entirely all of the procedures put in place to monitor Iranian compliance with a nuclear accord—procedures which appear to be if anything less rigorous than those under the Agreed Framework.

And if Iran breaks out as a nuclear power after a bogus agreement with the West, as North Korea did, the consequences will be much more severe for the world. North Korea, after all, is a declining, bankrupt state whose leadership is primarily intent on staying in power. Its juche philosophy appeals to no one outside its borders, and few within. Iran is an expansionist state, by contrast, with a jihadist ideology that appeals to many Shiites and ambitions of dominating the entire Middle East.  The nuclear accord with Iran is, therefore, potentially far more dangerous than the Agreed Framework with North Korea—and we know how that worked out.

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Hillary’s Woes Help O’Malley Grow a Spine

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

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Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

O’Malley is now firing shots at Clinton about trade, indicating he plans to try to run well to her left. Though his chances of beating her still may be calculated as being somewhere around zero, O’Malley’s sudden switch from timidity to truculence toward the former first lady is significant because it illustrates how the accumulation of bad news for Clinton is changing perceptions about her vulnerability. Clinton’s shaky launch of her candidacy and her inability to evade the taint of scandal is making O’Malley’s challenge look less like an exercise in futility.

With a 50-point lead over O’Malley and any other possible rival, even a political earthquake may not be enough to derail Clinton’s path to coronation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next summer. But even Clinton loyalists must understand that the drip-drip-drip of scandals combined with her wooden campaign style is emboldening even seemingly tame opponents such as O’Malley.

Throughout the last several months, O’Malley has acted as if he wanted to ask the Clintons for permission before he said a word about Hillary. Such deference made it appear that he was running for a spot on her ticket, not to replace her on the top spot. But the strident tone adopted by O’Malley when he took after her today in the course of demonstrating his opposition to President Obama’s trade bill showed that the days of his saying, “please, may I” before even glancing at her are over.

Granted, most Democratic primary voters don’t care about Clinton’s callous disregard of the rules and any sense of accountability that her email scandal illustrated. Nor do many of them seem particularly worked up about the Clinton Cash accusations about the way former President Clinton raked in honorariums and contributions for the family charity from foreign donors while his wife was serving as secretary of state despite the obvious and unprecedented conflict of interest.

But Clinton’s attempt to play the populist in an attempt to head off a challenge from the left by Senator Elizabeth Warren—the one Democrat who is seen as having even a small chance of knocking her off—isn’t convincing even her most ardent fans. Nor are even they impressed by the stilted nature of her campaign so far. Despite her vast resources at her disposal as she begins raising the billions she plans on spending over the course of the next year and a half, as well as the fear that the Clinton attack machine inspires among most Democrats, O’Malley is sensing that all these advantages are masking some real weaknesses.

If the Clinton Cash charges stick rather than fade away as the chorus line of Clinton apologists trotted out on cable news keep insisting, then for the first time in this cycle it might be possible for a non-Clinton candidate to start eating into her enormous lead. That might lead to a scenario where O’Malley may finally benefit from being the only mainstream Democrat who had the chutzpah to challenge Hillary. Of course, that might lead Warren to come out of hiding and jump into the race. But if not, that’s the point where O’Malley will be transformed from a joke to a genuine thorn in Clinton’s side.

We’re a long way from that point, but O’Malley’s new boldness is a warning sign for Clinton that it’s not just Republicans who realize what a lousy candidate she still is. Many Democrats resent not having a competitive race and will be prepared to back a long-shot challenger if only to make things more competitive. Which means that far from coasting to the nomination, she may actually have to spend some of the billions she is planning on raising on winning the nomination. That’s good news for O’Malley as well as for Republicans who would relish the spectacle of Democrats turning on each other rather than merely lying in wait for whomever it is that emerges from the GOP primaries.

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Defending Israel and the Wounded Feelings of the Jewish Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the crux of Gingrich’s argument:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walker’s Problematic Solution to His Immigration Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are Asia’s Nations Losing Their Fear of China?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

freetradegallup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Help Yemen? For Obama, Iran Détente Always Wins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why the Angry Left Needs Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Justice and Influence in Egypt and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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