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Common Sense on Vaccinations in California

One doesn’t look for much common sense in a state whose politics is often dictated by fads and liberal myths and run by an aging politician who embodies most of what is wrong with American politics. Nevertheless, California Governor Jerry Brown deserves our applause for signing a mandatory vaccination bill that ended most exemptions for religious or personal reasons for parents of school children on Tuesday. This has prompted an outcry from critics that believe the bill, which allows exemptions based on health, to be a coercive measure that wrongfully interferes with the rights of parents to make health care decisions for their children who would not be permitted to stay in school if they remain unvaccinated. Some argue that the law infringes on religious liberty and may also be illegal because the state Constitution guarantees a right to public education. These are serious arguments that speak to a legitimate worry about expanding the power of government and of infringing on religious freedom. Nevertheless, the vaccination law is a good idea because its purpose — maintaining public safety — is a fundamental purpose of government. Another reason to favor it is the fact that most of the resistance is rooted in irrational myths about vaccines used to prevent infectious diseases that rational observers are obligated to oppose.

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One doesn’t look for much common sense in a state whose politics is often dictated by fads and liberal myths and run by an aging politician who embodies most of what is wrong with American politics. Nevertheless, California Governor Jerry Brown deserves our applause for signing a mandatory vaccination bill that ended most exemptions for religious or personal reasons for parents of school children on Tuesday. This has prompted an outcry from critics that believe the bill, which allows exemptions based on health, to be a coercive measure that wrongfully interferes with the rights of parents to make health care decisions for their children who would not be permitted to stay in school if they remain unvaccinated. Some argue that the law infringes on religious liberty and may also be illegal because the state Constitution guarantees a right to public education. These are serious arguments that speak to a legitimate worry about expanding the power of government and of infringing on religious freedom. Nevertheless, the vaccination law is a good idea because its purpose — maintaining public safety — is a fundamental purpose of government. Another reason to favor it is the fact that most of the resistance is rooted in irrational myths about vaccines used to prevent infectious diseases that rational observers are obligated to oppose.

No measure that does anything to increase the scope of an already bloated state bureaucracy should be viewed with anything but concern. Moreover, given the steady incursions of the federal government against religious liberty via ObamaCare and what may happen in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision to religious institutions that won’t change their beliefs to conform to that new reality, anything that takes away religious exemptions can only be contemplated as a last resort. But if libertarians believe that the fundamental purpose of government is to defend our freedom, we must start such a discussion by recognizing that its first job is to ensure public safety.

No freedom, not even those guaranteed by the First Amendment, is absolute. Our individual rights to make choices for our children and ourselves ends at the point when those decisions directly impact the safety of our neighbors and their kids. And that is exactly what happens when a critical mass of children are not vaccinated.

Opponents of mandatory vaccination laws say that if individuals want to take the risks that go with refraining from vaccinations, they should be allowed to do so. But the basic fact is that, on a societal level, once a critical mass of children are not vaccinated, dangerous diseases that were largely wiped out begin to come back. Mass vaccination creates a “herd immunity” for the entire community since even those who don’t get the shot for various reasons, such as pregnant women, infants, or individuals whose immune system is compromised, get a benefit because the spread of disease is contained. The inalienable right to make a fist ends at the tip of another person’s nose. Thus vaccination is more than a personal option; it is a societal choice.

That brings us to the reason that has driven most of the opposition to vaccines. In recent years, an urban myth about vaccines being responsible for the spread of autism has spread from the margins to mainstream pop culture where it has been championed by various celebrities that have no medical or research expertise. Study after study has proven that there is no link between autism and vaccines. Yet like most such irrational beliefs, the autism myth has survived largely because it fits in with a post-modern mindset that views science cynically and places blind faith in “natural” or “organic” remedies regardless of their merit. It would be unconscionable for those responsible for public health to allow such irrational reasoning to prevent them from acting to ensure the safety of the community. That’s why the decision of some politicians who ought to know better — like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Senator Rand Paul — to avoid taking a strong stand in favor of mandatory vaccination was so discouraging.

If, like the facts about smoking or drinking, individuals were able to make decisions about vaccines that would affect only their own health rather than that of the community as a whole, they would be within their rights to oppose vaccines. But that is not the case. Allowing increasing numbers of unvaccinated children into schools is a prescription for more outbreaks of measles like the one that happened at Disneyland late last year that influenced the California legislature to pass the law Brown signed yesterday.

It is to be hoped that the vaccination law survives legal challenges and that similar tough measures will be adopted elsewhere. The cost of allowing diseases that should be wiped out to come back is simply too high for us to allow irrational arguments or even legitimate concerns about government power, to endanger the health, if not the lives, of all Americans.

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What Will the West’s Many Concessions to Iran Produce?

It has been hard to keep up with the cascade of U.S. concessions in the negotiations with Iran, because there has been no natural stopping point. If you think virtually any deal is better than no deal, you need to keep making the concessions necessary to get it. If you have allowed Iran to get within a few months of a bomb and think extending the breakout period a few more months is a good deal, the concessions have to come. If you think a one-sided détente with Iran is strategic brilliance, you are less troubled by the concessions than by the fact that — if you don’t make them — your brilliant strategy will fail. We await the details of the coming deal, but the larger picture was made clear in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, in the following exchange between Chairman Bob Corker and Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

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It has been hard to keep up with the cascade of U.S. concessions in the negotiations with Iran, because there has been no natural stopping point. If you think virtually any deal is better than no deal, you need to keep making the concessions necessary to get it. If you have allowed Iran to get within a few months of a bomb and think extending the breakout period a few more months is a good deal, the concessions have to come. If you think a one-sided détente with Iran is strategic brilliance, you are less troubled by the concessions than by the fact that — if you don’t make them — your brilliant strategy will fail. We await the details of the coming deal, but the larger picture was made clear in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, in the following exchange between Chairman Bob Corker and Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

TAKEYH: … [T]he primary priority of [Iran] today is the projection of power in the Middle East. The Islamic Ali Khamenei is the most successful imperialist in the history of modern Iran. The Shah never had control of the Iraqi state … He never was a material player in Syria … Previously Iranian regimes were never main players in Lebanon … And of course in the Persian Gulf, the battered alliances of the United States make that particular sub-region a bit more susceptible to Iranian subversion. Imperialism is financially costly. The [Iranian] economy of 2013 could not have sustained the imperial surge Iran that has embarked upon … [T]his agreement enables both consolidation of power at home, the imperial surge in the region, as well as establishes a pathway for industrialization, upon which they can decide whether they have a nuclear weapon or not.

CORKER: So if I could paraphrase you … it allows them to meet their short term goals of consolidation …

TAKEYH: It allows them to exploit remarkable opportunities that they have in the region.

CORKER: … and still reach their longer-term goals of being a nuclear threshold country within a short amount of time.

TAKEYH: Yes, sir.

In his prepared testimony, Takeyh stated that while Iran has sustained its essential red lines, the U.S. has “systematically abandoned the sensible prohibitions that have long guided its policy,” and that the “impending agreement, whose duration is time-limited and sets the stage for the industrialization of Iran’s enrichment capacity, places Tehran inches away from the bomb.”

In the same hearing, David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), told the committee that the deal will establish “a new norm” – one that “legitimizes uranium enrichment despite the lack of need for the enriched uranium and a history of non-compliance and non-cooperation with the IAEA.” And good luck trying to inspect Iran’s military complex at Parchin, the suspected site of previous high-explosive testing linked to nuclear weapons development — assuming the U.S. doesn’t concede that, too. Here is what Albright told the committee about Parchin:

Since the IAEA asked to visit this site in early 2012, Iran has reconstructed much of it, making IAEA verification efforts all but impossible. Tehran has undertaken at this site what looks to most observers as a blatant effort to defeat IAEA verification. Because of such extensive modifications, the IAEA, once allowed access, may not be able to resolve all its concerns. Thus, access to Parchin alone is no longer sufficient to resolve the issues underlying the IAEA’s original request to access this site.

Albright told the committee that his organization has been calculating breakout timelines for many years in collaboration with centrifuge experts at the University of Virginia, and that for the prospective agreement with Iran, the administration’s estimate is too optimistic: “Our timelines [at ISIS] are less than 12 months.”

So, after all the concessions; after trashing UN resolutions that prohibit Iran’s nuclear program and substituting a UN resolution that permits it; after giving the Iranian regime the financial resources to consolidate its rule at home and its expansion abroad; after approving an industrial-grade nuclear program with early relief from sanctions; after agreeing to a sunset provision that will eliminate the key provisions of the agreement; after leaving Iran’s ballistic missile program and terror-sponsoring activities off the table and completely unaffected; and after destroying the respect for American leadership in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other U.S. allies (not only in the region, but in those watching from other areas of the world as well), the real breakout time is not even going to be a year.

Heckuva job.

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Drawing District Lines

In 2000, the people of Arizona, by initiative and referendum, took away from the state legislature the power to draw district lines for both the state legislature and for Congress. The argument that allowing the legislature to do so is an obvious conflict of interest, a conflict of interest that has been exploited to the hilt over the last two centuries in most states. The Arizona State Legislature sued in federal court, arguing that the Constitution’s elections clause, Article I, Section 4, gives the legislature the exclusive right to set the lines. On Monday, the Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission ruled in favor of the Redistricting Commission, 5-4. Read More

In 2000, the people of Arizona, by initiative and referendum, took away from the state legislature the power to draw district lines for both the state legislature and for Congress. The argument that allowing the legislature to do so is an obvious conflict of interest, a conflict of interest that has been exploited to the hilt over the last two centuries in most states. The Arizona State Legislature sued in federal court, arguing that the Constitution’s elections clause, Article I, Section 4, gives the legislature the exclusive right to set the lines. On Monday, the Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission ruled in favor of the Redistricting Commission, 5-4.

Gerrymandering is a uniquely American perversion of democracy, unknown elsewhere in the English-speaking world, where independent, non-partisan districting commissions are the norm. It’s end of this blot on American democracy would be more than welcome. But does this decision make a good constitutional argument? I don’t think so.

The elections clause says that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; . . .” Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, argues that since Arizona has initiative and referendum, “the people” constitute a legislature and thus the Arizona system comports with the Constitution. Chief Justice Roberts, in withering dissent, says that that is nonsense as the Constitution frequently uses the terms “legislature” and “the people” and never, ever interchangeably. In 1787, the idea of initiative and referendum — a reform of the Progressive era to circumvent legislative corruption — was unheard of. It seems incontestable that when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention wrote “legislature,” they meant a body of elected men empowered to write laws.

But does “Time, Places and Manner of holding Elections” encompass the drawing of district lines? Certainly “Time” and “Places” have obvious meanings. But does “Manner” mean anything more than the method of voting on Election Day, such as raising hands, paper ballots, etc.? I’m not at all sure that it does.

Gerrymandering was also unknown in 1787. It was invented in 1812 by Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. When one politically self-serving district he drew was said to resemble a salamander, a portmanteau word was born. (The governor’s name is pronounced with a hard G, however.) And I am not at all sure that the delegates even considered the problem of districting at all. The only precedent they had was the British Parliament, and it hadn’t been redistricted since the reign of Henry VIII.

Not even the conclave of geniuses that sat in Philadelphia in the hot summer of 1787 could anticipate everything. Just as they failed to anticipate the rise of factional parties so they failed to anticipate gerrymandering or, perhaps, the problem of districting at all.

And if the Constitution is silent on the subject of districting, are not the states free to handle the problem as they please, subject only to the Congressional override that Article I, Section 4 also provides for?

In other words, by narrowly construing the word “Manner” rather than very broadly construing the word “Legislature,” Justice Ginsburg could have achieved her end without doing unnecessary violence to both the Constitution and the English language.

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Lawless Administration Won’t Enforce Law Against Israel Boycotts

The signing of a trade bill last week that included provisions specifically requiring U.S. trade negotiators to oppose European boycotts of Israel was a signal defeat for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement. The willingness of a bipartisan majority of Congress to label efforts to wage economic war on the Jewish state as inconsistent with American law was especially important since it rightly dismissed any distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those that only target Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it appears celebrations about that victory were premature. Comments by State Department spokesman John Kirby let it be known that, although President Obama signed the bill, he won’t enforce it. As it has on so many other issues, such as immigration, this administration regards laws that it likes differently from those it doesn’t and will simply ignore the latter.

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The signing of a trade bill last week that included provisions specifically requiring U.S. trade negotiators to oppose European boycotts of Israel was a signal defeat for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement. The willingness of a bipartisan majority of Congress to label efforts to wage economic war on the Jewish state as inconsistent with American law was especially important since it rightly dismissed any distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those that only target Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it appears celebrations about that victory were premature. Comments by State Department spokesman John Kirby let it be known that, although President Obama signed the bill, he won’t enforce it. As it has on so many other issues, such as immigration, this administration regards laws that it likes differently from those it doesn’t and will simply ignore the latter.

The statement by Kirby, which was related on Twitter by the Associated Press’ Matt Lee and picked up by Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Jewish Press, makes it clear that laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are null and void if they conflict with administration policy. According to Kirby:

By conflating Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories,” a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, include with regard to settlement activity. Every U.S. administration since 1967 — Democrat and Republican alike — has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This administration is no different. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.

Kirby is right that the U.S. government has never formally recognized the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem or the West Bank. But he’s wrong to assert that President Obama’s policies are entirely consistent with that of his predecessors. This administration has made an issue of the existence of 40-year-old neighborhoods in Jerusalem in a way that is unprecedented since it treats the presence of Jews in parts of Israel’s capital as being just as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlement. Moreover, no previous administration has ever considered boycotts of Israel, whether of the entire country or of the half million Jews who live on the other side of the 1967 lines as legitimate. Kirby’s statement is an implicit endorsement of some Israel boycotts while opposing others.

Nor does the focus on settlements aid the cause of peace as the administration claims. Israel has already made far-reaching offers of withdrawal from the West Bank including statehood that has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinians. The refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is the obstacle to peace, not the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank.

As I have written previously, the notion that it is okay to boycott some Jews but not others is one that sends a dangerous signal to Israel’s enemies. Once it is deemed lawful to anathematize parts of the Israeli economy, it is a slippery slope to treating all such boycotts as legitimate. Since the original Arab boycott that sought to strangle the Israeli economy was only broken by U.S. efforts to ban trade with those who enforced the boycott, a Congressional effort to move against BDS now was entirely in keeping with longstanding U.S. policy. But since this administration is obsessed with the idea of banning settlements, it is prepared to let a Europe in which a rising tide of anti-Semitism has fueled support for BDS activity get away with such boycotts.

This is a disgrace, but any thought of a legal challenge to the decision is a waste of time. Since the U.S. Supreme Court gave President Obama the right to invalidate laws about Israeli rights to Jerusalem in a decision handed down earlier this month, he can be confident that he will be granted similar latitude to ignore anti-BDS law.

But it isn’t just friends of Israel who should be outraged about this decision. This is an administration that views law enforcement as an option, not an imperative. Just as he did on immigration, where he ignored the will of Congress and used executive orders to effectively annul legislation by not enforcing those concerning illegal immigrants, President Obama regards his personal opinion as being above the law. That is a dangerous tendency to substitute his preferences for the rule of law ought to scare all Americans, regardless of their views about trade or Israel.

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Liberal Gerrymander Myth Will Be Exposed

In yet another instance of the U.S. Supreme Court twisting the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution, a 5-4 majority ruled that states could bypass their legislatures to create commissions to determine Congressional districts. The U.S. Constitution states specifically, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” but, in writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that “legislature” can mean a referendum. That’s absurd, but after a week in which “by the states” can be translated as “by the federal government” (Chief Justice Roberts on ObamaCare) and an amorphous concept not mentioned in the Constitution such as “dignity” can be used as justification for overturning state laws (Justice Kennedy on gay marriage), what’s one more legal fiction if it gets a liberal majority what it wants? As with those other two cases, this has excited a lot of liberals who believe, as Paul Blest writes in The New Republic, that this decision can lead to a political earthquake that could eventually give the Democrats back control of the House of Representatives. But unlike the other decisions that will help transform the world to conform to liberal preferences, this one is bound to disappoint the left. The reason why Republicans seem to have acquired a lock on the House has less to do with the gerrymander myth that claims the GOP wins by cheating than it does to with population patterns and the Voting Rights Act.

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In yet another instance of the U.S. Supreme Court twisting the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution, a 5-4 majority ruled that states could bypass their legislatures to create commissions to determine Congressional districts. The U.S. Constitution states specifically, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” but, in writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that “legislature” can mean a referendum. That’s absurd, but after a week in which “by the states” can be translated as “by the federal government” (Chief Justice Roberts on ObamaCare) and an amorphous concept not mentioned in the Constitution such as “dignity” can be used as justification for overturning state laws (Justice Kennedy on gay marriage), what’s one more legal fiction if it gets a liberal majority what it wants? As with those other two cases, this has excited a lot of liberals who believe, as Paul Blest writes in The New Republic, that this decision can lead to a political earthquake that could eventually give the Democrats back control of the House of Representatives. But unlike the other decisions that will help transform the world to conform to liberal preferences, this one is bound to disappoint the left. The reason why Republicans seem to have acquired a lock on the House has less to do with the gerrymander myth that claims the GOP wins by cheating than it does to with population patterns and the Voting Rights Act.

Gerrymandering is almost as old as the republic, but it has always had a bad reputation. Both Democrats and Republicans have carved up states in bizarre patterns in order to maximize political advantage for one party or the other. But in recent years, as the GOP won midterm landslides that gained them control of the majority of state houses around the country, Republicans have had the opportunity to do more gerrymandering than Democrats.

Blest’s piece gives as good a summary of the gerrymander myth as can be found. In short, he blames the Republican victory in 2010 as enabling them to steal seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio by coming up with districts with “nonsensical formations.”

The effects of that redistricting were noticeable in 2012 when, despite easily holding the White House, adding to their Senate majority, and winning the popular vote in the House by over 1 million votes, Democrats only won back eight congressional districts. In Ohio, two longtime progressive members of Congress, Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, were drawn into the same district, the boundaries of which are objectively ridiculous. After the 2012 election in Michigan, where Obama won by nearly ten points, Republicans held nine seats to just five for Democrats. And in Pennsylvania, the GOP picked up two seats despite Obama’s winning the state by over 300,000 votes and Senator Bob Casey’s winning re-election by an even wider margin. This process wasn’t limited to Republicans, either—they just had more opportunities to do it.

But while the GOP took advantage of their chance to redraw districts where they could, the sea change in House elections dates back more than two decades to the early 1990s when redistricting helped play a role in ending an almost unbroken 60-year streak (1946-48 and 1952-54 being the only brief exceptions) when Democrats controlled the House. Since then, the House has been generally trending to the Republicans, and they’ve run things other than Nancy Pelosi’s four-year reign from 2006-2010. But what happened in 1992 wasn’t the result of a vast GOP gerrymander. It was the result of court decisions interpreting the Voting Rights Act that demanded that states create minority-majority districts that would vastly expand the number of African-American and Hispanic members of the House. That effort succeeded brilliantly but though almost all of these members were Democrats, this triumph came at the expense of their party.

In the past, when Democrats had the chance to draw districts, they’d take advantage of the situation by trying to include areas with a high minority population in competitive districts. Since blacks were — and still are — an essential part of the base of the Democratic party, once they were concentrated into minority-majority districts, that left swing districts overwhelmingly white and as a consequence, far more likely to be won by Republicans. Moreover, the minority districts were far more “nonsensical” than anything any Republican or even Elbridge Gerry (after whom the practice is named) could have even dreamed of as they stretch across states and cross normal country and even geographic boundaries in order to corral as many minorities as possible into one district.

As Nate Cohn notes in the New York Times Upshot blogs, the Democrats’ dominance in urban districts with mostly minority voters inflates their national vote total in Congressional elections. But it does them little good to win inner city districts in cities by 8-1 margins while losing most of the competitive seats by close margins. What Cohn calls a “wasted vote problem” means that Democrats can win states like Pennsylvania decisively while losing the majority of Congressional seats.

The court, to the approval of liberal strongholds like the New York Times editorial page, believes good government pieties about non-partisanship will always favor the Democrats. But the liberal faith that supposedly non-partisan commissions such as the one created in Arizona will solve their problems is misplaced. Even non-partisan districts are always going to favor Republicans in states with minority and urban populations. Unless those commissions are prepared to break up minority districts and cost black and Hispanic politicians their jobs — something that is not only politically impossible but would be considered illegal by the courts — the fundamental GOP advantage will remain.

Moreover, as Cohn points out, instead of looking to the courts to win them victories they can’t achieve on their own, Democrats might do better to forget about commissions and concentrate on winning back state houses before the next census sets off the next round of redistricting. If the GOP wins the presidency in 2016, that might set up 2018 as the moment when Democrats might take advantage of the midterm pattern that gives the party out of power the edge. Of course, that means no President Hillary, so Democrats don’t even want to think about it.

But the most important lesson to be learned from this subject is that while redrawing districts can give political parties help, such devices are no substitute for popular support. If Democrats want to win back the House, they’ll have to do it at the ballot box winning swing districts and not by judicial fiat.

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Selling the Deal Via “the Other Iran” False Narrative

The nuclear negotiations with Iran are in their final stages. We don’t know exactly when the deal will be signed or what exactly it will say. But we already know that it will be the result of a series of humiliating retreats on the part of the United States from previous positions demanding an end to the Iranian program (for a comprehensive then and now comparison of the Obama administration’s positions, see this from the Foreign Policy Initiative). It will more or less guarantee that Iran will become a threshold nuclear state and will have two paths to a bomb — one by cheating the easily evaded terms of the deal, and the other by waiting patiently for it to expire in ten years. That means the real focus at this point will start to shift from the final details of the agreement to an effort to sell Congress and the American people on it. Administration spokespersons and other apologists will be spending the coming months defending the indefensible on the nuclear issue, as well as the failure to address Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism. But the most telling aspect of their campaign will be the more subtle efforts to justify the real purpose of the deal: to create a new détente with the Islamist regime. And for that they need to create a narrative that portrays Iran as something other than the theocratic tyranny with ambitions of regional hegemony that actually exists. We will be hearing a lot about “the other Iran” of happy, forward-looking young people who are just like us. But, as seductive as these arguments will be, they must be rejected.

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The nuclear negotiations with Iran are in their final stages. We don’t know exactly when the deal will be signed or what exactly it will say. But we already know that it will be the result of a series of humiliating retreats on the part of the United States from previous positions demanding an end to the Iranian program (for a comprehensive then and now comparison of the Obama administration’s positions, see this from the Foreign Policy Initiative). It will more or less guarantee that Iran will become a threshold nuclear state and will have two paths to a bomb — one by cheating the easily evaded terms of the deal, and the other by waiting patiently for it to expire in ten years. That means the real focus at this point will start to shift from the final details of the agreement to an effort to sell Congress and the American people on it. Administration spokespersons and other apologists will be spending the coming months defending the indefensible on the nuclear issue, as well as the failure to address Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism. But the most telling aspect of their campaign will be the more subtle efforts to justify the real purpose of the deal: to create a new détente with the Islamist regime. And for that they need to create a narrative that portrays Iran as something other than the theocratic tyranny with ambitions of regional hegemony that actually exists. We will be hearing a lot about “the other Iran” of happy, forward-looking young people who are just like us. But, as seductive as these arguments will be, they must be rejected.

The New York Times inaugurated this genre of journalism intended to justify Iran détente back in 2009 when Roger Cohen wrote a series of columns intended to both whitewash the regime’s anti-Semitism as well as to portray the country as a fun, exotic place we should like. Earlier this year, the Times had another piece about young American businesspeople visiting there that I wrote about in April. But the latest example of the “other Iran” narrative comes today from Politico where author Christopher Schroeder writes of his trip to the country along with other entrepreneurs where they met lots of nice Iranians. Schroeder tries to acknowledge that his frame of reference does not erase other concerns about Iran, but his argument is clear. He wants Americans to stop thinking of Iran solely through the lens of a conflict that dates back to the 1979 embassy hostage crisis, terrorism, and nuclear deceptions, and to start thinking of the Iranian people as potential business partners.

This is an attractive scenario for many in the business community that see Iran as an untapped market. They see European companies chomping at the bit waiting for the sanctions to collapse so they can dive into Iran and start making money and want their share, too. So, in order to justify an entente with Iran, those with a financial interest in ignoring the reality of Iran’s threats must tell us about the wonderful diversity of Iranian society. It is, they tell us, young and as in love with technology as Americans. They urge us to think about the country in more complex terms. Here’s an example of this kind of thinking from Schroeder’s “The Iran I Saw:”

It’s tempting to simplify these two tales of Iran into a polarizing discussion of “theocracy” versus “technology,” “closed” versus “open,” or even of the tension between “local” versus “global.” All of these simplifications are a huge mistake. For one thing, they grossly diminish an extremely rich, nuanced, and yes, sometimes messy story. Washington in particular and our media in general favors one tale by reducing complexity generally to an either/or (“Is it a good thing or a bad thing?”), when we all know things are much more complicated and contradictory.

Yes, things are always “more complicated and contradictory” than sound bytes. But all this talk about complexity has a clear political purpose: backing the president’s push for Iran detente.

Integral to that will not be a pitch that the deal will effectively prevent Iran from getting a bomb since the deal won’t do that. Instead, we’ll get clichés about Iran being “one of the oldest civilizations in the world” and also, “a magnet to the fastest growing economy in the world [China].” That may make you want to visit and to invest there, but this nothing more than a cheap diversion from the reality of Iranian terror, oppression, and aggression.

During the Soviet era, there was a long, disgraceful history of American journalists and fellow travelers who visited Communist Russia and returned to tell us about all the nice people they met and the wonderful, hopeful things they saw. They told us not to think of the country in terms of its murderous government or its threat to Western freedom and security. Such voices instructed us not to think of Russia as a nation of gulags (if they were willing to admit they existed) but one of opportunity. Though Iran is very different from the Soviet Union, the same dynamic applies to those who tell us about its diversity and the need to look at the world from its point of view.

Let’s be blunt. Whatever the personal motives of those who come back with such tales (and in the case of Schroeder and other business types the motivation is money rather than President Obama’s naïve belief that the ayatollahs want “to get right with the world”), their purpose is plain. They want us to ignore the truth about Iran’s despotic government, its abuse of human rights, its support for terrorism, and its desire to create an axis of terror including Iraqi militias, Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza to both advance its goal of regional hegemony and to destroy Israel (a goal for which its push for nuclear weapons is the only possible justification).

In order to justify striking deals with businesses that are controlled by the Iranian government or its Revolutionary Guard Corps, people like Schroeder need to confuse us with stories about hopeful Iranians. As President Obama seeks to convince us to accept his appeasement of Iran he needs voices like Schroeder to become louder. But neither Congress nor the American people should be fooled. The true face of Iran is not a 20-something with a cell phone that wants to get ahead, but the aging theocrats that govern the country and could soon have their hands on a nuclear weapon. Anything that distracts us from that truth is, at best, self-interested drivel by profit-hungry, unprincipled businesspeople. At worst, the other Iran narrative is a deliberate attempt to create a false narrative to justify the most far-reaching and dangerous act of American appeasement since the end of the Cold War.

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Obama’s ‘Best Week Ever’ and the Coming Backlash

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction. Read More

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction.

In a typically insightful column, National Review’s Kevin Williamson recently observed that we might have entered a period of “peak liberalism” characterized by frantic, almost manic, pursuits of trivial cultural victories followed by excessive celebratory displays that serve primarily as tribal self-affirmations. Williamson suggests that this conspicuous behavior might be a subtle acknowledgment of the fact that cultural progressivism has reached its zenith and will soon being to recede. “If there is desperation, it probably is because the Left is starting to suspect that the permanent Democratic majority it keeps promising itself may yet fail to materialize,” he wrote. Williamson has identified a condition of which partisans on either side of the aisle would be shocked to learn. For those on the left, progressivism’s march is relentless; it’s speed, constant; it’s course, unalterable. For conservatives, the Obama era has been an endless stream of disappointments punctuated by only occasional and minor reprieve. If there were a pendulum swing in the works, both Democratic and Republican partisans would probably contend that it is sub-rosa to the point of imperceptibility.

But conservatives have reason to indulge in a little optimism. Since the end of World War II, American political culture has a remarkably constant tendency to counter the excesses of those in power. At the presidential level, this propensity is exaggerated and most easily observed (there’s a reason why only once has a party won three consecutive terms in the White House in the post-war period). To some extent, this is a natural function of the physics of political coalitions. As Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende put it, political coalitions are like water balloons: “When you press down on one side, another side pops up,” he noted. A winning national coalition must necessarily be so broad and diverse that it will eventually mature into something unwieldy without substantial maintenance. As the Democratic coalition of voters forged in the New Deal era dissolved amid neglect, Republicans began to pick off key elements of this coalition (working class whites, in particular). Democrats hope to replace their winning alliance of voters with a new emerging group of ascendant voters – the backbone of which is made up of students, women, and minorities. Hillary Clinton’s frantic efforts to ingratiate herself to Barack Obama’s voters are indicative of how uncertain Democrats are that Obama’s coalition of voters is now a permanent Democratic voting bloc.

Making it permanent is an urgent Democratic project, in part, because history suggests that the wind will not be at Democratic backs in 2016. No matter how “ascendant” your coalition may be, securing that elusive third term in the White House, much less maintaining coattails for your party’s down-ballot candidates, is always a struggle. This condition will probably be made worse for Democrats insofar as the electorate has been registering various levels of dissatisfaction with the state of affairs now for three consecutive elections, only to see progressive causes continually advanced.

Following two consecutive Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008, the electorate soured on Democratic governance and delivered the House of Representatives (as well as a slew of statehouses and legislative chambers) to the GOP in 2010. It was a victory that indicated the Republican revolution of 1994 and their ensuing 12 years of governance in Congress after generations of Democratic supremacy was no fluke. And what did voters gain from this no confidence vote? The Affordable Care Act signed into law, the Budget Control Act (sequester) indiscriminate cuts to defense spending, and a series of executive orders that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, the gutting of the 1996 welfare reform laws, and the watering down of American immigration law. Whether or not one views these as positive accomplishments, they are indisputably associated with liberal policy priorities.

The 2012 election can most charitably be described as a status quo election; Americans were dissatisfied with the state of affairs, both foreign and domestic, but were not sufficiently horrified by them to transfer any branch or chamber of government to the opposition party. The president and his party, however, chose to interpret his reelection as a mandate to redouble his efforts to set the nation down a liberal course. The Democratic Party rammed through tax increases on top marginal rates as well as payroll, which is not to mention the tax hikes associated with the implementation of the ACA. Democrats engaged in a failed gun control push that the president has pledged to pursue indefinitely regardless of how often it is rejected. Obama again rewrote immigration law via executive authority, pursued liberal priorities like carbon taxation and net neutrality through America’s regulatory agencies, and applauded as his party curtailed the minority party’s rights in Congress so as to see all of his nominees confirmed.

In 2014, the voters revolted again. A wave election arguably larger than 2010 swept a generation of liberal lawmakers out of office at the local level and delivered the U.S. Senate to the GOP. Again, the voters were ignored. The president’s party has obstructed the construction of the Keystone pipeline to death, preserved Obama’s determination not to enforce existing immigration law, and celebrated as the Supreme Court dubiously affirmed the ACA once more and dubbed same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Again, whether or not one agrees with these policy prescriptions is immaterial; they undeniably advance liberal objectives.

If history is any guide, change is coming. Dispirited conservatives will balk at the notion that Republicans can serve as change agents, but the out-party is the most frequent beneficiary of this voter sentiment. For progressives, the irrefutable moral justification of their cause renders any setback to its agenda a deviation from the norm, but this is self-flattery. American political history and the inherent dynamics of republican politics suggests that voters will soon correct for the excesses of the progressive left that it once empowered. When it happens, it will probably come as a shock to all those progressives who are forever citing the long march of history to justify their peculiar policy preferences.

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Will Obama Throw Lifeline to Bankrupt Iranian Media?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made little secret that his primary motivation in talks with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program is rescuing Iran’s anemic economy. The White House subtly acknowledges this fact, arguing that the Iranian government will use its unprecedented financial windfall — equivalent to 20 times the annual budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — to relieve the dire economic circumstances of the Iranian people. This, of course, is nonsense. Read More

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made little secret that his primary motivation in talks with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program is rescuing Iran’s anemic economy. The White House subtly acknowledges this fact, arguing that the Iranian government will use its unprecedented financial windfall — equivalent to 20 times the annual budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — to relieve the dire economic circumstances of the Iranian people. This, of course, is nonsense.

Rather, the financial windfall that Iran will receive will be pumped directly into its efforts to export its revolution, a concept which might seem foreign to effete politicians and diplomats like John Kerry, but which is nevertheless enshrined in both the Iranian Constitution and the founding statutes of the IRGC.

Some of Iran’s efforts to export its revolution occur through its various militias, such as Lebanese Hezbollah or Iraq’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Other efforts occur through supposed charity work, conducted through such organizations as the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, some of whose branches the U.S. Treasury Department have designated terrorist entities. Cold, hard cash also plays a role. Iranian officials, for example, have long pursued a strategy to cultivate Africa. Tehran has sought to buy the votes of non-permanent African members of the UN Security Council and members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, for example, beyond seeking logistical bases for its military and potential uranium exporters.

Tied into its Africa efforts has been its expanding media presence. Iranian-sponsored media saturates Bahrain and Iraq and has become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. Suffice to say, Iran relies on its media not only to get its message out to a susceptible audience, but also to provide cover for Iranian agents conducting espionage, surveillance, and engaged in terrorism.

Tehran’s economic mismanagement, however, has taken a toll, as have international sanctions. In January 2015, Tabnak, a news agency affiliated with former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, reported that all its television and news-gathering bureaus save four — London, Baghdad, Damascus, and New York — would close because of financial constraints.

Now it seems that, as of June 29, Iran was knocked off the air in Africa because of non-payment to Arabsat, the main regional satellite broadcast operator.

Now, that may not seem like much, but it is emblematic of just how much potential leverage the United States has over Iran and how much President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s coterie of negotiators have bungled the negotiations that are nearing conclusion. When Iran starts to shut down operations that should be a good thing; unfortunately, rather than permanent silence a source of hate and conspiracy, Obama and Kerry will throw a lifeline to an otherwise failing regime and enable it to amplify its prestige and footprint worldwide.

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The Steep Costs of an Iran Nuclear Deal

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear talks with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear talks with Iran:

Good morning from Vienna, where Zarif is back and talks have resumed. He either has the Supreme Leader’s permission to sign a deal or he doesn’t, and there’s not much left in between. The Americans have publicly collapsed on most of what was left vague at Lausanne — immediate cash windfalls, a robust inspection regime including military sites, full Iranian disclosure of its nuclear program — and are willing to shred the sanctions regime by redefining non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear so they can be lifted. The rest should be just details.

That said, morning meetings just began a couple hours ago, so news won’t begin to trickle out for a while.
In the meantime, this scoop-filled WSJ story is the 2nd huge article from the last few days outlining how the Obama administration very, very quietly sought to secure rapprochement with Iran. A few days ago, the AP assessed that cozy U.S.-Iran talks have become the “new normal” despite White House assurances that it distrusts the Iranians. Now this WSJ story reveals that the administration began making concessions to Tehran — aimed at achieving exactly that result — from day one. The President’s outreach included releasing Iranian arms dealers and blacklisting organizations that the Iranians considered hostile:

Iran secretly passed to the White House beginning in late 2009 the names of prisoners it wanted released from U.S. custody, part of a wish list to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving ties and a move that set off years of clandestine dispatches that helped open the door to nuclear negotiations. The secret messages… included a request to blacklist opposition groups hostile to Iran and increase U.S. visas for Iranian students, according to officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. eventually acceded to some of the requests… With a deal in sight, some worry the U.S. will give up too much without getting significant concessions in return. The Obama administration initially called for an end to Tehran’s nuclear fuel production, a dismantling of many of its facilities and a rollback of its missile program—goals that have been dropped… Over the past six years, U.S. allies in the Mideast say, Iran has expanded its influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Now, they say, Tehran is set to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure, while scoring an economic windfall.

The story will be get added to the list of things the administration has been willing to sacrifice in pursuit of its nuclear deal with Iran. That list already included:

China expansionism: Last week the NYT reported that the Obama administration has been loath to pressure China on a range of issues because they need the Chinese on Iran.

Russia expansionism: Articles have been circulating since 2014 suggesting the same thing is going on with Russia, and that Obama has taken a soft line on Ukraine because he needs the Russians on Iran (even Roger Cohen (!) rushed last November to editorialize against what he called the Iran-Ukraine tradeoff).

Middle East alliances: Differences over the Iran deal have badly undermined Washington’s traditional alliances with Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Syria/U.S. WMD credibility: The President declined to enforce his Syria red line against the reintroduction of weapons of mass destruction to modern battlefields, shredding the U.S.’s nonproliferation credibility and leaving the French seething in the process. Administration spokespeople have been left trying to convince reporters that chlorine bombs don’t count.

IAEA credibility: The IAEA has been kneecapped as the P5+1 global powers moved to conclude a deal with Iran, a country that still owes the agency answers on a dozen unresolved questions.

UN sanctions credibility: The U.S. has looked the other way while the Iranians busted through binding U.N. sanctions and has ceased providing information to a U.N. panel charged with monitoring the integrity of the U.N.’s sanction regime.

Iranian human rights: Obama administration officials kept the Green Revolution at arm’s length so as not to inflame Tehran’s paranoia about regime change.

Congress/Democrats: The President and his allies have repeatedly clashed with Congress, including with Congressional Democrats, over Iran diplomacy. There have been two full-blown media campaigns, each lasting several weeks, in which sitting Democratic lawmakers were accused of being warmongers beholden to Jewish money. Versions of those accusations came from administration spokespeople talking to reporters from White House and State Department podiums.

All of this happened while administration officials assured Congress that they were committed to constraining Iran. As the WSJ article points out, they went so far as to flat out deny that prisoner swaps were taking place. And, as the AP article pointed out, today they’re cozier with the Iranians on nuclear issues than they are with the U.S.’s traditional Middle East allies.

Lawmakers will have the obvious concern: Given that administration officials have sacrificed so much to cobble together even a weak agreement, it seems unlikely that they would identify and respond to Iranian violations of a final deal. It’s all they have left.

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Will Mauritania be the New Terrorist Haven?

When it comes to the Middle East, Americans and Europeans are good at neither prediction nor threat assessment. The Middle East today looks very different from what anyone ever expected just two decades ago. In 1991, there was huge optimism in Washington when Secretary of State James Baker, capturing the momentum of the lightening quick victory in Operation Desert Storm, cobbled together the Madrid Conference, bringing together most of the Middle East’s most intractable foes (minus Iran) for the first time. That optimism culminated in 1993 with the Oslo Accords and the famous handshake between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. Read More

When it comes to the Middle East, Americans and Europeans are good at neither prediction nor threat assessment. The Middle East today looks very different from what anyone ever expected just two decades ago. In 1991, there was huge optimism in Washington when Secretary of State James Baker, capturing the momentum of the lightening quick victory in Operation Desert Storm, cobbled together the Madrid Conference, bringing together most of the Middle East’s most intractable foes (minus Iran) for the first time. That optimism culminated in 1993 with the Oslo Accords and the famous handshake between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn.

Leaving Saddam in power was a huge mistake, however. Not only did he retrench himself, but it also gave Iran time to train and cultivate Iraqi Shi’ites who previously had comparatively little to do with their neighbor to the east. Meanwhile, the hope that diplomats and professional peace-processors placed in Arafat quickly proved naïve. Iraq and the Palestinian question became slow-burning fuses. They are real problems but, until the eruption of the Islamic State in the former, they remained essentially local problems.

How ironic it was that the two issues that soaked up so much diplomatic attention ended up being so peripheral to the real forces that would destabilize the region. Sure, partisans can debate the 2003 Iraq War, but what has happened in the Middle East in recent years is much bigger than Baghdad. Likewise, while the Palestinian-Israel conflict is an equally virulent obsession among activists or activists masquerading as journalists. No matter how much Americans may like to navel-gaze, and no matter how shrilly biased European officials may be on the issue, neither the Arab Spring nor the rise of al-Qaeda and its violent offshoots have had much if anything to do with questions over the fate of Jerusalem. For Bin Laden, Israel was an occasional talking point thrown into his “Mad Libs”-style rants. Simply put, the West is neither responsible for everything that occurs in the region nor can American and European bureaucrats wielding screwdrivers thousands of miles long be able to tweak policies and implement some magic formula.

Consider how unexpected events in the region have been over the past few years:

  • Popular uprisings have swept aside dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya.
  • Civil war continues to rage in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya.
  • Turkey and Qatar are catalysts of regional instability.
  • al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists continue to destabilize Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula
  • Mali, once scored by Freedom House as the most democratic majority Muslim country, remains chaotic after an al-Qaeda group seized its northern half until French forces drove them out.
  • There have been two successions in Saudi Arabia.
  • Kurdistan is on the verge of statehood.

If the Middle East were the Powerball Lottery, no one would have won the pot that would be worth billions by now. So what problem do policymakers ignore that might rear its ugly head on the horizon to the detriment of U.S. and European security? As a historian, I’m paid to predict the past, but in this case I’ll stick my neck out based simply on growing whispered concern in North Africa and Europe. The problem to watch is Mauritania.

A largely desert country wedged between Senegal and Morocco, Mauritania has the population of the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area but spread over an area more than twice the size of California.

Diplomatically, Mauritania has been all over the map. It declared war on Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, but only joined the Arab League six years later. In 1999, however, Mauritania recognized Israel, becoming only the third Arab country (after Egypt and Jordan) to do so. That openness and moderation would not last long. On August 5, 2009, the current president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, overthrew the democratically elected leader and returned Mauritania largely into the geopolitical rejectionist camp.

Mauritania is also an Islamic Republic and culturally embraces some noxious practices. While Islamic State slavery is the stuff of headlines, slavery has long been rife in Mauritania, with the Arab Berbers victimizing the country’s black population. (When I was in Senegal in 1989, I visited refugee camps filled with black Mauritanian refugees fleeing the country).

The problem is not Mauritanian human rights or lack thereof, but rather poor governance coupled with lack of government control over broad swaths of the country mixed with loose weaponry pouring in from unsecured Libyan depots looted against the backdrop of Muammar Qaddafi’s fall, as well as militants who have poured into Mauritania to escape French intervention in northern Mali. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb also has unfettered access to most of the country. In short, Mauritania increasingly resembles Fezzan, the southern portion of Libya that is a virtual Club Med for terrorists, smugglers, and weapons dealers. The government in Nouakchott is both unable and unwilling to crack down and control its territory. In short, Mauritania is now pre-9/11 Afghanistan, only with a greater number of terrorist groups calling it home. The next devastating attack on Europe or the United States might just as easily be planned in this West African country as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen. The only difference between them is that Mauritania is much closer to both Europe and the United States.

The United States no more pays attention to Mauritania than the European Union concerns itself with Honduras, but just because a country is peripheral to U.S. interest and Washington largely defers policy to Europe doesn’t mean that country cannot pose a threat. Indeed, ask any European security professional, and Mauritania is the grave and growing threat that they have on their radar. It is the next domino to fall, but the culture of counter-terrorism and diplomacy in the White House today is to ignore threats until terrorists shed the blood of innocents.

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Turkey Reportedly Plots Invasion of Syria… to Stop the Kurds

When proponents of American retrenchment advocate disengagement from a chaotic and hostile world, they often lament how little responsibility the globe’s non-NATO powers take for safeguarding their own security. But amid six years of sustained retrenchment, a variety of state actors have, in fact, begun to display the will to secure their backyards. Russia has invaded Ukraine, Egypt and the U.A.E. are conducting airstrikes over Libya, and a Saudi-led coalition of 10 Sunni Arab states are degrading an Iran-backed insurgency in Yemen from the air. Unsurprisingly, you don’t hear many of the champions of Western withdrawal touting the fruits of this policy preference. If reports are right, another pillar of the Pax Americana is about to fall, and it will be an erstwhile American ally that pulls it down. Read More

When proponents of American retrenchment advocate disengagement from a chaotic and hostile world, they often lament how little responsibility the globe’s non-NATO powers take for safeguarding their own security. But amid six years of sustained retrenchment, a variety of state actors have, in fact, begun to display the will to secure their backyards. Russia has invaded Ukraine, Egypt and the U.A.E. are conducting airstrikes over Libya, and a Saudi-led coalition of 10 Sunni Arab states are degrading an Iran-backed insurgency in Yemen from the air. Unsurprisingly, you don’t hear many of the champions of Western withdrawal touting the fruits of this policy preference. If reports are right, another pillar of the Pax Americana is about to fall, and it will be an erstwhile American ally that pulls it down.

As the conflict in Syria grows increasingly chaotic, with battle lines shifting wildly and Islamic State forces surging back into the previously cleared city of Kobane, the Turkish National Security Council met on Monday to discuss extraordinary measures to address the rapidly deteriorating security situation. “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has authorised a change in the rules of engagement previously agreed by the Turkish parliament to allow the army to strike at Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well as the Assad regime,” the Telegraph revealed. But Erdoğan’s true targets aren’t Syrian Islamists or the regime in Damascus that has already attacked and destroyed Turkish military assets; it’s the West’s only reliable anti-ISIS ground force in the region, the Kurds.

“I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria,” the Turkish president vowed on Friday. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.” The speech, in which Erdoğan alleged that Syrian Kurds were engaged in ethnic cleansing, signaled an end to Turkey’s brief flirtation with the prospect of an independent Kurdistan.

Ankara’s proposal consists of a limited invasion of Northern Syria to establish a “110-km long (70-mile), 33-km deep (20-mile) buffer zone” along the border with Turkey that will prevent both ISIS and Kurdish incursions. The Financial Times further alleges that Turkey will be joined in their invasion of Syria by Jordan, which will invade from the south and establish their own safe zone stretching across the “provinces of Deraa and Suwayda, and including the city of Deraa.”

Naturally, Obama administration officials displayed their typical insouciance about the prospect of the further degradation of the international order in the Middle East.

“Later on Monday, the State Department said the United States has no ‘solid evidence’ that Jordan and Turkey are considering seeking a buffer zone in Syria,” Haaretz revealed. “State Department spokesman Mark Toner said there were ‘serious logistical challenges’ in creating such buffer zones but he had not seen any concrete evidence either Jordan or Turkey were considering such a zone.”

But this dismissal sounds similar to those voices of moderation who once insisted that the Saudis lacked the military means to engage in sustained combat operations against the Houthi rebels in Yemen right up until the minute the bombs started falling. While theirs was an accurate assessment of Saudi military capabilities, it was a gross underestimation of the scale of the threat posed by pro-Iranian proxies in control of Aden and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait as seen from Riyadh’s perspective. Likewise, the risks associated with an invasion of the virtual failed state of Syria might seem like they are not worth the rewards when viewed from Washington, but the same calculation made in Ankara and Amman appears to be yielding a different result.

“Twenty five percent of Turkey’s population is Kurdish, and Erdoğan —like most of his ethnic Turkish countrymen—are terrified that Turkey may lose a huge swath of its territory if Syrian Kurdistan liberates itself alongside Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish Kurdistan could very well be the next domino,” the World Affairs Journal’s Michael Totten observed. “They are not crazy to fear this.”

It’s also clear and has been for some time that ostensibly NATO-allied Turkey does not view ISIS as an existential threat. As Michael Rubin noted, Erdoğan’s sympathy for ISIS is matched only by his antipathy toward the Kurds. “Like Atatürk, Erdoğan is perfectly happy to embrace Kurds so long as they abandon their ethnic identity,” he wrote. But the Kurdish campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that has demonstrated that they are among the more capable fighting forces in the region, and that realization has yielded a boost in Kurdish nationalistic identity and self-confidence. That, apparently, cannot be allowed to stand.

Indeed, the very impetus for a Turkish invasion of Syria is the efficacy of Kurdish fighting forces. “In a telephone interview, [the London-based RUSI think tank fellow Aaron] Stein said the new talk of action was due in part to dramatic Kurdish gains in Syria, where rebels have scored a series of victories against IS, most notably in the border town of Tal Abyad,” the Associated Press reported. “That key transit point is not far from the IS’s Syrian power base of Raqqa.”

A Turkish invasion of northern Syria could advance American interests by depriving Islamist militants of access to the border and the access to the West that it once enjoyed. It will also, however, place the United States one step closer to being drawn directly into a messy conflict in Syria. Within two years of Barack Obama’s decision to abandon the “red line” for action in Syria that he set, the region is fully ablaze with more conflicts smoldering on the horizon. For advocates of retrenchment, however, there will likely be no evidence that forces them to reconsider their convictions.

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Chris Christie Buys a Presidential Lottery Ticket

Why is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie running for president? Christie was seen as a formidable contender after his landslide re-election victory in 2013, but his chances were diminished by the impact of the Bridgegate scandal. Moreover, once he began making moves toward a run in the last year, many on the right made it clear they had never forgiven the governor for his ill-timed hug of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that took place days before the 2012 election. Though his name recognition is second only to that of Jeb Bush, polls show him on the bubble in the second tier of Republican presidential candidates in 11th place and in danger of missing the cut for the crucial first debate on Fox News in August. Just as serious is the facts that many of the same important donors that once urged him to run in 2012 have no abandoned his camp to support other GOP contenders. So what is he doing announcing for president today? The answer is that this run is the moral equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. His chances aren’t good but, in a field without a true frontrunner, his chances are no worse than most of the candidates. After spending years pointing toward this goal, why not give it a try?

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Why is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie running for president? Christie was seen as a formidable contender after his landslide re-election victory in 2013, but his chances were diminished by the impact of the Bridgegate scandal. Moreover, once he began making moves toward a run in the last year, many on the right made it clear they had never forgiven the governor for his ill-timed hug of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that took place days before the 2012 election. Though his name recognition is second only to that of Jeb Bush, polls show him on the bubble in the second tier of Republican presidential candidates in 11th place and in danger of missing the cut for the crucial first debate on Fox News in August. Just as serious is the facts that many of the same important donors that once urged him to run in 2012 have no abandoned his camp to support other GOP contenders. So what is he doing announcing for president today? The answer is that this run is the moral equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. His chances aren’t good but, in a field without a true frontrunner, his chances are no worse than most of the candidates. After spending years pointing toward this goal, why not give it a try?

The scenario for a Christie win is pretty slim. After passing on Iowa, he will have to win or place in New Hampshire and then hope he catches fire while the candidates seeking to win some of the same moderate voters like Jeb Bush implode. Stranger things have happened but, like the people who buy lottery tickets or gamble in the casinos in his state, Christie’s decision seems more like an exercise in wishful thinking than hard political calculation.

Even Christie’s detractors have to admit he brings great political skills to the race. He is a great speaker and undaunted by criticism or challenges, characteristics that will stand him in good stead in the debates that will be crucial in determining the arc of the campaign (assuming that is, that he can get into the first debates rather than be relegated with the others at the bottom of the polls). There is also no denying that his blunt truth-telling style appeals to a lot of people. Indeed, his style was the key to understanding his rise to power in New Jersey as well as the way his YouTube putdowns of liberals who challenged him at town hall meetings made him a national figure. Christie also has a sense of humor and the resiliency needed to survive the maelstrom of a national campaign.

It’s also true that his years of preparation for this moment have equipped him with substantive positions on a variety of issues. Having spent the last few months giving detailed speeches on entitlement reform and foreign policy, Christie enters the race ready to mix it up with substance in a way that some of his rivals are clearly not.

But looming over all of this is the question of his personality and Bridgegate; elements that many pundits believe render his hopes utterly futile.

Let’s concede that most Republican primary voters don’t care much about the traffic scandal that transformed him from a darling of the media to a punch line. Nor is there a shred of proof that he was involved in the bizarre plot to tie up traffic on the George Washington Bridge as part of his staff’s plot to take revenge on a mayor who failed to endorse the governor. But the charge resonated with the public because it seemed entirely in keeping with the bullying style Christie has always employed against political opponents and the press. While his opening campaign video seeks to play on the virtues of his no-holds-barred style, a lot of voters understandably see his “sit down and shut up” approach to dissent as consistent with the Bridgegate scheme. Though this mini-scandal received coverage that was disproportionate to its importance, it stuck with him because of that. It’s also hard to imagine that sort of attitude playing well on national campaign trail under far more intense scrutiny that he has received up until now.

But even if Bridgegate had never happened, Christie was always a long shot for the Republican nomination. Though he has conservative credentials on most important issues, including litmus tests for the GOP like abortion, the perception in the base is that he is a RINO and that is a tag that is almost impossible to shake once it is applied to a politician. The Obama hug is responsible for much of this, but it is also an inevitable consequence of being a governor of blue Northeastern state in a party dominated by the south and the west.

But even if we dismiss that label as meaningless, Christie’s formidable resume still falls short of that of his chief competitors. He’s not as much of a moderate or as comfortable representing the party establishment as Jeb Bush. He is not nearly as heroic a figure as Scott Walker when it comes to defying the unions or Democrats in state disputes (and Christie’s stature as a successful governor has been markedly diminished by plunging popularity and fiscal setbacks in New Jersey). He’s also not as good a speaker or as charming and charismatic as Marco Rubio.

Add up all these factors and you have a candidate with little chance to win. But let’s also understand that Christie isn’t likely to have a better chance four or eight years from now. Since he is term-limited as governor and without a realistic option for a Senate seat (and it is impossible to imagine Christie being a member of a deliberative body), it’s either the presidency or nothing for him. Perhaps he will shine so brilliantly in the debates and Bush, Walker and Rubio will all flop. Probably not, but you’ve got to be in it to win it so why not try?

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Why Flotillas Sail to Gaza, Not Syria

Today, the latest publicity stunt by pro-Palestinian activists ended harmlessly as the Israel Navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Gaza that was attempting to break the blockade of the strip in order to draw attention to what is passengers claim is a humanitarian crisis. But, like previous Gaza flotillas, the effort has little to do with the plight of the people of Gaza and everything to do with the long war being waged to end Israel’s existence. More to the point, the continued focus on Gaza by those calling themselves advocates for human rights at the very moment that a genuine human catastrophe is occurring inside Syria without much of response from the international community tells us all we need to know about the hypocrisy of Israel-bashers.

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Today, the latest publicity stunt by pro-Palestinian activists ended harmlessly as the Israel Navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Gaza that was attempting to break the blockade of the strip in order to draw attention to what is passengers claim is a humanitarian crisis. But, like previous Gaza flotillas, the effort has little to do with the plight of the people of Gaza and everything to do with the long war being waged to end Israel’s existence. More to the point, the continued focus on Gaza by those calling themselves advocates for human rights at the very moment that a genuine human catastrophe is occurring inside Syria without much of response from the international community tells us all we need to know about the hypocrisy of Israel-bashers.

The fact that it was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who today pointed out the fact that flotillas aren’t sailing to Syria doesn’t make it any less valid. Hundreds of Syrians have been slaughtered by the Assad regime that is backed by Iran and Hezbollah terrorists with more being killed by its tacit ISIS allies. The carnage has created millions of refugees who are living in squalor inside the country or in camps in neighboring Jordan.

But as Netanyahu knows, there will be no peace activist flotilla to Syria to bring aid to people who really need it. Nor had those on the Swedish-registered Marianne that was diverted by the Israelis gotten lost on their way to help those truly in need. Instead, they were on the way to try and help the Hamas government of Gaza that has been rightly isolated by the international community since the bloody 2007 coup when the Islamist group seized power.

While the situation in Gaza isn’t pleasant, the popular notion of a humanitarian crisis there is a myth. That’s because there is no shortage of food or medicine in the strip since Israel allows daily convoys of such supplies into Gaza every day, including those when Hamas is shooting rockets over the border at cities and towns inside the Jewish state. It is true that there is a shortage of building materials inside Gaza. Given the scale of the destruction wrought by the war Hamas launched against Israel last year, that’s a problem. But the reason why such materials can’t be brought into the strip without restrictions was revealed anew when Hamas showcased a new terror tunnel that it claims reaches into Israel on Iranian TV on Sunday. Most of the concrete that is brought into Gaza is being used for such tunnels or for the construction of elaborate fortifications that will enable Hamas to shield its arsenal and other structures intended to make it harder for Israel to repress rocket fire aimed at civilians.

If Gaza is a mess, it is not because both Israel and Egypt understand that Hamas terrorism must be quarantined. Rather, it is because the international community stood by indifferently as Hamas transformed the congested strip into a terrorist state that believes it has the right to pursue its war on Israel by any means anytime it sees fit. Hamas not only commits war crimes by engaging in terrorism but by using the population of Gaza as human shields behind which its killers and their armaments find shelter.

Those who want to help Gazans need to think of ways to free them from the despotic control of Hamas, which executes its enemies without mercy and represses every kind of free expression as it enforces its ruthless Islamist ideas on the population. The independent Palestinian state in all but name that they govern is an experiment in tyranny that is particularly cruel. Yet somehow those who purport to care about the Palestinians think the real villain is an Israeli government that withdrew every single soldier, settler and settlement in 2005 and simply wishes in vain for quiet along the border.

Activists seek to go to Gaza, however, for one clear reason, and it has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns. Arabs who are engaged in conflicts with other Arabs don’t interest them no matter how many people are killed or how much suffering is caused. Even at the height of the fighting last year when hundreds of Palestinian civilians were unfortunately killed as they were caught in fighting provoked by Hamas, the casualties there were dwarfed by what is going on in Syria. But it is only when Jews are involved in defending their state that the human rights community discovers a crisis.

The double standard this sort of behavior illustrates has nothing to do with good works for a suffering people. It is nothing less than anti-Semitism, since it treats Israeli self-defense as inherently illegitimate and bolsters those who commit atrocities as valid forms of “resistance” against the presence of Jews inside the 1967 lines and not just in the West Bank. Those who seek to aid the efforts of Hamas to wage war on Israel and oppress their own people are not humanitarians. They are anti-Semites.

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Is the Iran Inspection Process Really Unfettered?

The news that a solution has been found to offer United Nations inspectors access to Iranian nuclear sites makes it appear as if the Obama administration will gets the deal it has been working toward. The Times of Israel is reporting that “a senior U.S. official” is saying that the two sides in the nuclear talks have reached an agreement that, in theory, ought to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency the ability to inspect Iran’s facilities to ensure they aren’t cheating on an agreement that is supposed to prevent from working toward a bomb over the next ten years. If true, that would mean a major obstacle to completion of the negotiations is completed allowing the White House to be able to trumpet the pact as a triumph for American diplomacy and enhance its chances of surviving a Congressional vote on ratification. But the language used by the senior official to describe this achievement ought to give pause to those seeking to declare the deal a success before it is even signed. If, as the source said, a “process” will be required to allow the IAEA to show up at a nuclear or military site, then it’s not clear that what will follow could possibly be the sort of surprise inspection that would actually catch any cheating. Moreover, since it we’re also told it won’t mean that inspectors will have access to all Iranian military sites, the diplomatic victory we may be hearing about in the coming days may not be anything like the unfettered inspections without warning that would be needed for the deal to work.

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The news that a solution has been found to offer United Nations inspectors access to Iranian nuclear sites makes it appear as if the Obama administration will gets the deal it has been working toward. The Times of Israel is reporting that “a senior U.S. official” is saying that the two sides in the nuclear talks have reached an agreement that, in theory, ought to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency the ability to inspect Iran’s facilities to ensure they aren’t cheating on an agreement that is supposed to prevent from working toward a bomb over the next ten years. If true, that would mean a major obstacle to completion of the negotiations is completed allowing the White House to be able to trumpet the pact as a triumph for American diplomacy and enhance its chances of surviving a Congressional vote on ratification. But the language used by the senior official to describe this achievement ought to give pause to those seeking to declare the deal a success before it is even signed. If, as the source said, a “process” will be required to allow the IAEA to show up at a nuclear or military site, then it’s not clear that what will follow could possibly be the sort of surprise inspection that would actually catch any cheating. Moreover, since it we’re also told it won’t mean that inspectors will have access to all Iranian military sites, the diplomatic victory we may be hearing about in the coming days may not be anything like the unfettered inspections without warning that would be needed for the deal to work.

The administration has already begun selling this “compromise” by saying that it’s completely reasonable for Iran to deny access to all of its military sites because the U.S. wouldn’t allow such inspections either. That may be true but, again, as with every other retreat by American negotiators, what the administration has done here is to put the Islamist regime and its nuclear ambitions on the same moral plane as the United States. The U.S. is treating Iran with kid gloves because it sees the rogue regime as a potential partner in a new détente rather than as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with dreams of regional hegemony.

The series of events that led to this compromise show that, as has been the case throughout the negotiations, the Iranians are in control. Once Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out any inspections at all, that was the signal for the U.S to begin retreating from a position that would grant IAEA officials complete access to Iran’s nuclear and military facilities. By restricting inspections only to known sites and giving up the right to enter other military areas, the West has more or less given Tehran the okay to move any illicit nuclear work to those that will be off limits to the inspectors. As I noted last month, Khamenei has been giving Obama a lesson in tough negotiating tactics.

As for the process that the senior official claims will be sufficient to grant the IAEA access to those areas not already within their purview, any such procedure will probably grant the Iranians plenty of warning time to clean up their act. Without the right to show up announced at such places, any inspection process is, by definition, almost worthless. Thus, when looked at more closely, this compromise may not provide the sort of inspections that the U.S. has long promised would have to be essential to any deal. By seeking to preserve the Iranians dignity and to mollify Khamenei, what the administration has done is to actually give away the game as they have on every other nuclear issue including uranium enrichment, the underground bunker at Fordow, their continued possession of thousands of centrifuges and the fact that the deal will expire in ten years leaving the Islamist regime free to do as it likes after that. The Iran inspection process may sound good but it may turn out to be more of a scam than insurance against cheating.

Congress should not be deceived by any deal that stops short of surprise and unfettered access to all of Iran’s sites. Despite Secretary of State Kerry’s boasts, it is well known that Western intelligence has no idea what is going on at nuclear sites that have not already been acknowledged by the regime. If reports about this compromise are accurate, we’ll never know more about them or what is really going on at Iran’s military sites. That’s a formula for an Iranian bomb, not a reason for Congress to okay a weak deal that is getting weaker with each passing day.

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An Increasingly Autocratic EPA Encounters a Roadblock

Conservatives who have come to view the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts with contempt in recent years had that belief vindicated by a variety of decisions the Court handed down this term. The Court bent over backward and virtually rewrote the statute (again) in order to preserve the Affordable Care Act. It found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage whereas no such right to heterosexual marriage exists in that same document’s ever-evolving penumbra. Though the Supreme Court determined that the use of lethal injection drugs by the state did not violate the constitution, a handful of liberal justices concluded that the practice of capital punishment authorized in the Fifth Amendment suddenly violated the Eighth. In the future, a majority of the nine in black who are apparently so susceptible to societal pressure might soon agree with what is at present a minority opinion. But the Court gave forlorn conservatives at least one reason to smile at the end of this term. In a 5-4 decision in Michigan v. EPA on Monday, the Supreme Court correctly addressed a matter genuinely outside the voters’ control: the rapid expansion of the regulatory state. The Court’s decision in a case involving a pervasive proposed regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency could inaugurate a process of curtailing the power of America’s unelected bureaucracy.  Read More

Conservatives who have come to view the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts with contempt in recent years had that belief vindicated by a variety of decisions the Court handed down this term. The Court bent over backward and virtually rewrote the statute (again) in order to preserve the Affordable Care Act. It found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage whereas no such right to heterosexual marriage exists in that same document’s ever-evolving penumbra. Though the Supreme Court determined that the use of lethal injection drugs by the state did not violate the constitution, a handful of liberal justices concluded that the practice of capital punishment authorized in the Fifth Amendment suddenly violated the Eighth. In the future, a majority of the nine in black who are apparently so susceptible to societal pressure might soon agree with what is at present a minority opinion. But the Court gave forlorn conservatives at least one reason to smile at the end of this term. In a 5-4 decision in Michigan v. EPA on Monday, the Supreme Court correctly addressed a matter genuinely outside the voters’ control: the rapid expansion of the regulatory state. The Court’s decision in a case involving a pervasive proposed regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency could inaugurate a process of curtailing the power of America’s unelected bureaucracy. 

In the Obama era, the EPA has been defined not as an institution designed to safeguard public health but to sabotage the American economic engine in the name of vague and ill-defined climatological concerns. To that end, the agency was authorized to regulate mercury, arsenic, and acid gasses emitted by coal-fired power plants. In practice, the move was almost explicitly designed to accelerate the process of mothballing America’s coal-fired power plants. The EPA gave no consideration to the costs incurred by firms trying to meet its new regulatory guidelines. The House GOP’s measures introduced in 2011 that were designed to reduce the technological thresholds industrial facilities would be required to meet to comply with the EPA rules never made it out of Congress. On Monday, the Court put a halt to the implementation of this rule that was expected to cost nearly $10 billion. By some estimates, they would have raised the costs of electricity by as much as $1,200 per year for every American household.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, found that the EPA “unreasonably” interpreted the Clean Air Act to constitute a vehicle by which the environmental regulatory agency could institute new guidelines that were all but overtly aimed at shuttering “dirty” power plants. “EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants,” the opinion read. That’s significant; contrary to the wealth of shallow emotionality that suffices for modern political commentary, profits matter. Individual livelihoods and the economic health of the nation are still protected by the Constitution, and they should not be subordinated to environmental sustainability in the zero-sum game that has become America’s regulatory culture.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan scolded her colleagues for engaging in the “micromanagement of EPA’s rulemaking.” The justice’s newfound concern for judicial restraint is heartrending, but her admonition is doubly ironic. It’s fitting that an agency that views as its mission micromanaging whole industries to death would itself become the target of meddlers. The agency founded to protect America’s natural landscapes and safeguard the public from disreputable polluters has instead transformed into a revolutionary advocacy organization that wields immense power and recklessly deploys it against its perceived enemies.

Coal is not the agency’s only target. The improved exploitation of oil and natural gas in America that has resulted from the development of new technologies and extraction processes has proven uniquely vexing for this regulatory agency. The EPA tightened the rules on firms engaged in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in March that required them to disclose the proprietary chemicals used in the process and to build large barriers to protect nearby water sources. Three months later, the agency’s own study of the practice found that water contamination as a result of fracking was neither “widespread” nor “systemic.” The agency’s new rules were a solution in search of a problem. That is, unless one views the problem as the practice of fracking itself.

Nor is curtailing industry the EPA’s only infringement on American liberties. In 2008, Idaho couple Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased a plot of land near their home in Idaho with the intention of building a new structure. After obtaining all the necessary local permits, the EPA halted their project and they were told to restore the land they had purchased to its pre-construction state or face thousands of dollars in fines. It turned out that the couple was building on what the EPA determined were protected wetlands, despite the fact that it had already been built upon and was purchased with a pre-installed sewer main. After four years, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled the EPA had unilaterally seized property and arbitrarily dubbed it “wetlands” after the fact.

“[T]he agency ought to have asked itself years ago whether it really needed to hassle a couple seeking to build a home in an existing subdivision, helping to justify every negative caricature of the EPA that Republican presidential hopefuls peddled during the primary race,” The Washington Post‘s editorial board advised. “Perhaps the agency would have been able to keep more of its regulatory power if it had been more judicious.” That admonition has surely fallen on deaf ears at the EPA. In May, the agency just expanded its regulatory authority over waterways to include small ponds, those subjectively defined “wetlands,” and agricultural irrigation ditches, none of which run off into navigable waterways.

In 2010, senior EPA official Al Armendariz resigned after he was discovered to have said that his agency’s philosophy toward polluters should be similar to the Roman practice of mass and indiscriminate crucifixion in order to tamp down rebellion. It was a window into the dominant line of thought that pervades this bureaucracy, one of the most onerous members of America’s vast and expanding regulatory rubric. Armendariz resigned in disgrace, but the mentality he identified still prevails at the agency he once helped to manage. In a small victory for individual liberty and state sovereignty, the Supreme Court narrowly curtailed the growing power of America’s most intrusive regulatory agency. If history is any guide, however, these gains will be temporary and elusive unless the agency’s reform becomes a political priority for the next Republican administration.

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Why Hillary’s Emails Still Matter

Almost from the moment we first heard the astonishing news that Hillary Clinton conducted business while serving as secretary of state on a secret email account operating from a home server and then deleted most of its contents, Democrats have been telling the American public that there was nothing to see so they should just move on. In their favor was the fact that, as bizarre as this scenario was, it was a scandal not directly linked to an actual crime. Republicans had discovered her odd behavior while investigating the Benghazi terror attacks and this encouraged Democrats to think that, no matter how inexplicable her behavior might have been, the public’s patience with what seemed like an endless dead end story had long since ended. But last week, the Hillary Clinton email mess got new life when it turned out that, contrary to her assertions, the former secretary of state had not, as she said, turned over all of her work-related emails to the State Department before deleting all other data on the server that Clinton claimed were personal. A subpoena served on Clinton crony Sidney Blumenthal turned up 15 emails that didn’t match any of the 30,000 that she turned over to the State Department. This raises two factors that ought to worry Democrats counting on her being the next president. One is that we now know for sure that she lied about the deleted emails not being about official business. The other is that the Blumenthal connection highlights the unholy nexus of official and private business interests that link the Clinton Family Foundation to the Hillary Clinton State Department.

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Almost from the moment we first heard the astonishing news that Hillary Clinton conducted business while serving as secretary of state on a secret email account operating from a home server and then deleted most of its contents, Democrats have been telling the American public that there was nothing to see so they should just move on. In their favor was the fact that, as bizarre as this scenario was, it was a scandal not directly linked to an actual crime. Republicans had discovered her odd behavior while investigating the Benghazi terror attacks and this encouraged Democrats to think that, no matter how inexplicable her behavior might have been, the public’s patience with what seemed like an endless dead end story had long since ended. But last week, the Hillary Clinton email mess got new life when it turned out that, contrary to her assertions, the former secretary of state had not, as she said, turned over all of her work-related emails to the State Department before deleting all other data on the server that Clinton claimed were personal. A subpoena served on Clinton crony Sidney Blumenthal turned up 15 emails that didn’t match any of the 30,000 that she turned over to the State Department. This raises two factors that ought to worry Democrats counting on her being the next president. One is that we now know for sure that she lied about the deleted emails not being about official business. The other is that the Blumenthal connection highlights the unholy nexus of official and private business interests that link the Clinton Family Foundation to the Hillary Clinton State Department.

The timing of this discovery couldn’t be worse for Hillary since, as our Noah Rothman wrote last week, it comes on the heels of polls showing sizeable numbers of Democrats in crucial early voting states like New Hampshire may be tempted to vote for her socialist challenger Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator offers an authentic left-wing voice to a party that is increasingly shifting to the left. While most Democrats will stick with Hillary, this latest reminder of her mendacity further damages her credibility.

Moreover, it is also a reminder of the unpleasant odor that emanates from the Clinton Foundation. The willingness of the Clintons to raise vast sums of money from individuals and countries that hoped to influence U.S. foreign policy while she served as secretary of state was a shocking conflict of interest. That was especially true of some of the egregious examples uncovered by author Peter Schweizer in his Clinton Cash book, such as the owners of a uranium mine that needed and got State Department approval for its sale to Russia after becoming donors to the foundation.

Blumenthal was a paid consultant to the Foundation while he was also advising Clinton on Libya policy, the subject of the emails that just turned up. Blumenthal had never even visited the country, but the longtime Clinton political hit man had business interests there and was seeking to influence the secretary’s decisions about U.S. strategies in the strife-torn North African country. The emails also appear to reveal that contrary to another of Hillary’s assertions, his advice was not unsolicited and that she encouraged him to keep the information coming.

What does this mean?

In Clinton’s favor, the emails still provide no direct link to a felony either involving her emails or the foundation. But the Blumenthal emails show that is clear that there were at least some, if not quite a lot of emails relating to official business that were deleted when she had her home server wiped. We’ll never know what those said. But what we do know is that she has lied about them. Moreover, we also know that this shows that foundation connections were inextricably tied up with official state department policy discussions. Democrats, like ranking Benghazi panel member Rep. Elijah Cummings, may complain that the committee is focused solely on investigating Hillary Clinton but blaming this all on a “vast right-wing conspiracy” won’t end questions that have caused most Americans to tell pollsters they don’t trust the former First Lady.

The email story has legs because we now know Hillary not only didn’t follow President Obama’s advice about transparency but also lied about she was doing with her records. None of this would be a subject for discussion if she had used a government email or hadn’t wiped her server clean. Nor would there be grounds for suspicion if the Clintons weren’t operating a political slush fund under the guise of a charity that raised billions but gave little of it to directly help the poor.

As it has been repeatedly said in the last few months, if not being indicted is the sole criteria for electing a person to the presidency, it’s likely Hillary Clinton will qualify. But if even the New York Times is prepared to admit that the Blumenthal emails contradict Clint’s assertions, Democrats know their presumptive nominee has a serious problem. the continuing questions will help Sanders undermine her juggernaut and cause her to have to fight harder for her party’s nomination and drift farther to the left to do so. That doesn’t mean she can’t ultimately win the presidency. But the higher the pile of Clinton lies grows, the easier it is to imagine that she will not be taking the oath of office in January 2017.

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The Greek Crisis

Greece ordered it banks to close today to abort a run on the entire banking system. Depositors, fearing default and the loss of their money, have been getting their deposits out while the getting was good. Fear in financial markets is highly contagious. There’s a reason these sorts of events are known as panics. Something similar happened in this country in the late winter of 1933, before Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, with the same governmental response. The Greek central bank also imposed limits to keep an increasing flood of money from leaving the country. Read More

Greece ordered it banks to close today to abort a run on the entire banking system. Depositors, fearing default and the loss of their money, have been getting their deposits out while the getting was good. Fear in financial markets is highly contagious. There’s a reason these sorts of events are known as panics. Something similar happened in this country in the late winter of 1933, before Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, with the same governmental response. The Greek central bank also imposed limits to keep an increasing flood of money from leaving the country.

Stock markets sank on the news (but then rebounded somewhat) while such safe-harbor investments as U.S. and German government bonds ticked upwards. German ten-year bonds are currently yielding a piddling .79 percent while Greek bonds tumbled so badly that the falling price pushed the yield up to an astonishing 33 percent.

The Eurozone foreign ministers have said no more and Greece is expected to default tomorrow when a large debt payment is due that Greece cannot meet. The European Central Bank has also limited its support to the Greek banking system.

The Greek government is under intense pressure. On the one side, its foreign creditors are demanding austerity in exchange for more aid so that Greece can meet its financial obligations. On the other, the Greek population is demanding business (and government largesse) as usual. The government has proposed a referendum on whether to accept austerity.

If Greece goes into default and is kicked out of the Eurozone (to which it should never have been admitted in the first place, of course), it would have huge and immediate consequences for Greece, as all sorts of financial chickens come home to roost. But Greece is a very small country with a population of less than 11 million and a GDP of $204 billion, barely more than 1 percent of U.S. GDP. So the consequences outside of Greece would be limited.

The main problem would be, again, the highly contagious nature of financial fear. If Greece goes, what might happen to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, which also have large debts and dubious credit?

It’s going to be an interesting summer.

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To Defeat Racists, Finance Them?

News over the last two weeks has been dominated by discussion of racism, intolerance, and inclusion in the United States. There was the Charleston shooting, a horrendous example of premeditated murder motivated by racism. There can be absolutely no mitigating factor. South Carolina has the death penalty and I, for one, hope it is used in this case when the suspect, who reportedly has confessed to the crimes, is convicted. Much has been written here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere about the subsequent campaign to tear down and banish the confederate flag that has become a symbol of that racism.

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News over the last two weeks has been dominated by discussion of racism, intolerance, and inclusion in the United States. There was the Charleston shooting, a horrendous example of premeditated murder motivated by racism. There can be absolutely no mitigating factor. South Carolina has the death penalty and I, for one, hope it is used in this case when the suspect, who reportedly has confessed to the crimes, is convicted. Much has been written here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere about the subsequent campaign to tear down and banish the confederate flag that has become a symbol of that racism.

Then, there was the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. Gays celebrated, as did many heterosexuals, although there were instances of intolerance on both sides of the issue: opponents of gay marriage upset at both a narrow loss and federal encroachment on what they see as states’ rights and gay activists who spit on priests and sought to punish political opponents who might simply have been defending their own religious perspectives.

Here’s the question: If President Barack Obama and his followers want truly to overcome the legacy of hate and intolerance, should he seek to ban the confederate flag and use law enforcement to hound violent groups antagonistic to gay rights into the shadows, or should he instead fund the Ku Klux Klan (to pick an extreme example) beyond its wildest dreams? Would a ‘Grand Wizard’ of the KKK come in from the cold if the FBI chose to wire him a few million dollars into his personal bank account? Or would those who believe gays deserve nothing but scorn benefit from money beyond their wildest dreams? I ask that with tongue-in-cheek, of course, but to illustrate a serious point: It is the logic that surrounds the Obama administration’s efforts to moderate Iran.

If and when a deal is signed, the Obama administration plans to reward Iran with around $100 billion in sanctions relief, unfrozen assets, on top of which there will be billions in new investment. To put that figure in perspective, it’s about 20 times the annual official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Obama administration officials have argued that Iran will invest its financial windfall to better its economy and help its long-suffering people. Colin Kahl, Vice President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, told Bloomberg, for example, “It is our assessment … that they are not going to spend the vast majority of the money on guns, most of it will go to butter,” although he did concede that the IRGC would also benefit. Simply put, Kahl’s assessment is both wishful thinking and it depicts profound ignorance of Iran and Iranian history. Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union chose to shower Iran with trade under the theory that greater ties to the world community and a chance at enrichment could moderate Iran. At the same time, the price of oil increased, providing Iran with a hard currency windfall. The result? A huge investment in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Council on Foreign Relations scholar Ray Takeyh who knows Iran far better than Kahl also suggests that some of the windfall Obama allows Iran will benefit ordinary Iranians. Writing in the Washington Post, he argues:

Two years into Rouhani’s tenure, his government stands as one of the most repressive in the post-revolutionary period. Many civil society activists languish in prison, media censorship has continued unabated and the intelligence services remain abusive and unaccountable. The state cannot sustain such an oppressive order without ameliorating some of its constituents’ misfortunes.

While he is right about Rouhani’s repression, he is wrong and lacks any evidence whatsoever to support the idea that the state cannot sustain an oppressive order. For one, he ignores demography. The birth rate in Iran is half of what it was in the mid-1980s. The aging population means a relative decrease in the number of young Iranians translating into a greater efficiency in repression. Regardless, it was Rouhani who was Supreme National Security Council chairman from 1988-2005, during which point he helped supervise the evisceration of the reform movement. Regardless, Iran is no democracy; sovereignty comes from God through the supreme leader, who serves as the deputy of the messiah on Earth. If popular will mattered, the Islamic Revolution would have ended within a year of its start when the reality that Ayatollah Khomeini lied about an Islamic democracy and a benevolent order would have become undeniable.

The Islamic Republic does not reflect the reality of the Iranian people. In any dictatorship, it’s the guys with the guns that control things and repress liberty and freedom. The ideology the regime upholds is as racist and noxious as the Ku Klux Klan. There really is no dismissing regular calls to genocide on the part of the Iranian regime and proxies like Hezbollah that it supports. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and, yes, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s bigotry toward Baha’is, Jews, Christians, and Sunni Muslims is real, and it is palpable. The solution to the integration of that hatred into policy is no more to deliver tens of billions of dollars to it than is the solution to racism funding the racists. The counter-intuitive is not always sophisticated, as so many in the White House and State Department would like to believe; often, it is just stupid. The simple fact is this: incentivizing hatred with money breeds more hatred. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may want a legacy. Unfortunately, it will more likely be measured in the blood of Iran’s future victims than in any recognition of their own imagined diplomatic prowess.

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Ben Wattenberg, 1933-2015

Ben J. Wattenberg, who brought an unusual sense of good cheer and optimism to the social-science and polling research he undertook on the United States, died last night. He was a jaunty guy who loved this country and sought in ways both high (as in a few articles for this magazine), middlebrow (the PBS programs he was always hungry to host), and populist (through newspaper columns over decades) to evangelize for its essential health. He was one of the Democrats in the late 1960s and early 1970s who committed himself to fighting those who wanted to divert his party into anti-American tributaries through the founding of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, a group that had little success but did prove prophetic in insisting that only a move to the center, a la Bill Clinton, would save the party from itself. His most notable later book, Values Matter Most, became a hot topic of discussion when Clinton called Wattenberg and discussed it and his own failings in 1995. Baruch dayan emet.

Ben J. Wattenberg, who brought an unusual sense of good cheer and optimism to the social-science and polling research he undertook on the United States, died last night. He was a jaunty guy who loved this country and sought in ways both high (as in a few articles for this magazine), middlebrow (the PBS programs he was always hungry to host), and populist (through newspaper columns over decades) to evangelize for its essential health. He was one of the Democrats in the late 1960s and early 1970s who committed himself to fighting those who wanted to divert his party into anti-American tributaries through the founding of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, a group that had little success but did prove prophetic in insisting that only a move to the center, a la Bill Clinton, would save the party from itself. His most notable later book, Values Matter Most, became a hot topic of discussion when Clinton called Wattenberg and discussed it and his own failings in 1995. Baruch dayan emet.

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Iran’s Coming Betrayal and Our Jilted Allies

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks:

A couple of quick updates before everyone goes out to dinner here.

US diplomats are now telling journalists that talks will go beyond the original June 30 deadline. No surprise but consider it confirmed. The talks are still expected to conclude with a deal in the very early days of July. The current over/under is July 4th, which would give the Obama administration a full 5 days to meet the July 9 Corker deadline for filing the text of the agreement with Congress. If they file the deal before July 9, it sits in front of Congress for 30 days. If they miss the deadline, it sits in front of Congress for 60 days. The administration doesn’t want lawmakers to have an extra 30 days to discover the deal’s flaws, and so the State Department is under heavy pressure to conclude negotiations with enough time to get the text to Congress before the deadline.

Meanwhile the newest Associated Press article filed from Vienna – pasted below – is getting a lot of attention. It’s a broad overview of how US negotiations with Iran have created a “new normal” in which the Obama administration is far more comfortable talking to Iran than to America’s traditional Israeli and Arab allies. Lawmakers will ask how the administration can be trusted to enforce a deal: not only will evidence of Iranian cheating detonate the President’s legacy, but the President and his team have simply become – on a basic personal level – cozy with the Iranians:

Whether or not the U.S. and its negotiating powers can clinch a pact in Austria’s capital over the next several days, it’s hard to imagine the tentative U.S.-Iranian rapprochement ending anytime soon. It’s become the new normal… Although neither will use the word trust, for the first time in decades, U.S.-Iranian ties have in some ways “normalized.”… the interactions between Kerry and Zarif, and the two countries’ other negotiators, have expanded dramatically. They regularly chat in hotel breakfast halls before their daily discussions, hold regular calls and coordinate schedules…

In March, Kerry began a meeting by offering condolences to Rouhani after his mother died and wished the Iranians a happy Persian New Year with the traditional declaration of “Nowruz Mubarak.” Later, he approached Rouhani’s brother, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hugged him… And the good will has spread to others in the negotiating team.

Washington clearly remains light years closer to Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, but their coolness or outright hostility to the Iran talks has taken a toll. For the Obama administration, it has created the strange dynamic of sometimes finding it easier to discuss nuclear matters with Tehran… Only last week, many Iranian parliamentarians chanted “Death to America” as they passed legislation that would bar nuclear inspectors from visiting military sites – a key U.S. and international demand.

This article isn’t some random neocon opinion piece. It’s the Associated Press’s top diplomatic journalists filing a news report on the state of the talks.

When Iranian expansionism finally forces a future U.S. President to take action against Tehran – and it will, given that the Iranians are engaged in a region-wide hot war with the Arab world and are constantly looking to start another hot war with Israel – the Iranians will accuse that President of violating the nuclear deal and back out. Washington will then face an Iran that will be economically and militarily resurgent, opposite an array of abandoned allies.

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