Commentary Magazine


Iran Stakes Bigger Than Bibi and Barack

The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

The focus on Netanyahu is understandable. By choosing to accept an invitation to speak to Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without first gaining the approval of the administration, he injected himself into a debate over an Iran sanctions bill that looked to have massive bipartisan support and perhaps even a veto-proof majority despite the fervent opposition of the White House. That decision gave the administration the opening it needed to pick off many wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions advocates including some who probably will not boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But once the terms being offered the Iranians were leaked in late February the debate about the speech became a mere political sideshow.

It bears remembering at this point that the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations has nothing to do with protocol or a speech many in this country perceive as having more to do with Netanyahu’s efforts to win reelection later this month. The crisis is the result of more than six years of administration efforts to distance itself from Israel on both the Palestinian issue as well as the Iran nuclear threat. By choosing to discard his 2012 campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program and instead embracing a diplomatic effort aimed at creating détente with the Islamist regime, it is President Obama who precipitated the argument, not Netanyahu.

The question before Congress is, after all, not about U.S.-Israel relations. Rather, it is whether an administration that has already taken a step toward acquiescing to a nuclear Iran can, Power’s promises notwithstanding, take another even bigger one with the current negotiations. If, as reports indicate, the U.S. has not only already agreed to let Iran keep several thousand centrifuges but also agreed to a ten-year sunset clause that would give Tehran the ability to do as it likes after the deal expires, then what is under consideration is a fundamental re-ordering of U.S. security policy.

Allowing Iran to, in President Obama’s words, “get right with the world,” might involve the Islamist regime in efforts to fight ISIS. But it will also means that its efforts to achieve regional hegemony—a goal that the victories of its Syrian ally and the strength of Hezbollah and Hamas make possible—will also be strengthened and given the imprimatur of the United States.

Seen in that light, it is not possible to ignore Netanyahu’s warnings as mere political gamesmanship or a foolish game of one-upmanship being blamed by the two governments.

It no longer matters whether Netanyahu blundered when he stumbled into the trap Obama seems to have set for him when the speech was announced. Democrats who treat his speech and the underlying issues as a test of party loyalty are making a fundamental mistake. So, too, are any pro-Israel or Jewish groups that are trying to keep the prime minister at arm’s length right now.

After years of balancing his animus for Netanyahu against the political necessity of not undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance, Obama has finally and completely gone off the tracks with a potential Iran deal that could endanger the security of both countries. In a sense, it would be better for Israel if Netanyahu were not the face of opposition to this dangerous policy rather than Obama critics like Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. But with a dangerous deal that the president has no intention of submitting to Congress for approval perhaps only weeks away, there is no excuse for any supporter of Israel, no matter how devoted to their party, to stay away from the speech or to ignore its content.

Obama started this argument with Israel when he took office. But Congress has an obligation to act as a check on a policy that ought to alarm anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East or the survival of Israel. If Netanyahu’s speech can help focus attention back on that necessity, then it will be worth the grief it has caused.

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The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

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Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

One of the regular critiques from the administration and its spokesmen in the media of tomorrow’s speech by Netanyahu is that Bibi just wants to use the speech as a prop in his own reelection campaign. As Axelrod’s book demonstrates, catering to voters and representing their interests in the government is borderline incomprehensible to Obama. His disdain for other world leaders who follow the wishes of their employers–the taxpayers–instead of doing what Obama wants is especially strange, considering its undisguised imperialist overtones.

And Netanyahu, of late, has found himself the world leader who values democratic elections far too much for Obama’s taste. When Netanyahu pressed ahead with giving the speech to a joint session of Congress, the Obama administration said they’d hit back, and suggested one way of doing so would be for them to bash Bibi through the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, as they often do when they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. They did so; here is how Goldberg delivers the talking point:

It would be reassuring—sort of—to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu decided to set the U.S.-Israel relationship on fire mainly because he fears that President Obama is selling out Israel. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3—a speech arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner—is motivated by another powerful fear: the fear of unemployment. The message Bibi is preparing to deliver on Tuesday (a “statesmanlike message,” according to an official close to him) has as its actual target not Congress but, instead, Israeli voters who need reminding, in Netanyahu’s view, that he is the only leader strong enough to face down both the genocidal regime in Tehran and the Israel-loathing regime in Washington.

You can set aside the obviously false characterization of Netanyahu’s culpability. According to Goldberg–and the administration–Netanyahu’s “main” concern is not Israel’s perceived existential threats or a bad Iran deal or President Obama’s repeated insistence on selling out Israel (sometimes during wartime).

Now, obviously Netanyahu cares about reelection. He’s a politician in a democracy, and is acting as one, not as a tyrant or a religious cult figure. His decision to accept the speech without the president’s support was also clearly a mistake. He compounded that mistake by not backing out or rescheduling when he had ample opportunity to do so. And his mistake has already had tangible effects: the speech has almost certainly destroyed the possibility of the very veto-proof sanctions he hoped to inspire, at least for now.

But sufferers of Bibi Derangement Syndrome don’t see “mistakes”; they see arson. They violate the cardinal rule of democratic politics in a free society: Don’t attribute to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence.

And the Obama-Axelrod-Goldberg line is strange for another reason: the belief that Bibi doesn’t take the long view but instead focuses on near-term electoral fortunes is pretty much the opposite of what the administration’s critique of him had previously been. In May 2011, the consensus was that Netanyahu was practically obsessed with incorporating the grand sweep of history into his dialogue with Obama. “Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment,” Goldberg wrote in a post titled “Netanyahu Continues to Needlessly Alienate.”

(It was a common framing. ABC News: “In Oval Office, Bibi Offers History Lessons to Obama.” Chicago Sun-Times: “Obama gets Netanyahu Israeli history lecture.”)

Netanyahu has also come in for criticism for saying “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs… preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” And the press has taken a couple swings at him for referencing Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of Israel against the wishes of the State Department and other governmental agencies in his speeches, as he did this morning at AIPAC.

Also in his speech this morning, the prime minister returned to the long view of Jewish history:

For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak in our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more. No more. The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us–those days are over.

It’s no surprise the recitation of history makes Obama uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, the president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive, but he is especially unknowledgeable on Israeli and Jewish history. It doesn’t seem to interest him, and it shows.

So it’s always been a bit rich for the president who thinks history started with his own presidential election to accuse others of not thinking about the big picture. What Obama means by this is actually that these other politicians and world leaders aren’t thinking enough about Obama’s legacy, which he’d like them to prioritize over the needs and wants of their citizens, Israel being no exception.

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Jeb Bush’s James Baker Problem

Last month, Governor Jeb Bush unveiled a foreign-policy team with a number of Republican heavy hitters from the past three Republican administrations, and soon thereafter delivered a foreign-policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The big question that many analysts asked was whether Jeb Bush would lean more toward his father’s vision of foreign policy than toward his brother’s. The underlying spin behind that question was that the elder Bush had more foresight with regard to the application of military force and understood the limits of power. While both men oversaw an invasion of Iraq, many foreign-policy analysts and journalists approve of Operation Desert Storm but consider Operation Iraqi Freedom to have been a historic mistake. That’s something historians will decide. But a better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

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Last month, Governor Jeb Bush unveiled a foreign-policy team with a number of Republican heavy hitters from the past three Republican administrations, and soon thereafter delivered a foreign-policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The big question that many analysts asked was whether Jeb Bush would lean more toward his father’s vision of foreign policy than toward his brother’s. The underlying spin behind that question was that the elder Bush had more foresight with regard to the application of military force and understood the limits of power. While both men oversaw an invasion of Iraq, many foreign-policy analysts and journalists approve of Operation Desert Storm but consider Operation Iraqi Freedom to have been a historic mistake. That’s something historians will decide. But a better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

Jeb Bush gave a fine speech, even if a bit anodyne. Sure, Jeb criticized Obama’s “inconsistent and indecisive” leadership on the world stage, but that’s an issue of style and competence, not philosophy. Pretty much any successor to Obama, whether Democrat or Republican, will do better on the world stage. The same holds true for Jeb Bush’s insistence that red lines should matter. Few presidents would disagree, Obama being the exception. Calling for greater economic growth at home is also a no-brainer: Would any president really want moribund growth? Greater defense spending is a step in the right direction, as so many military and national-security experts and scholars across the partisan divide recognize.

While it may be commendable that Jeb Bush has hired folks who represent different sides of past policy debates, former Secretary of State James Baker who, alongside former Secretary of State George Shultz, is Jeb’s most senior and, perhaps because he is not fishing for a job himself, most influential advisor, has a track record of policy recommendations that hone closer to what Obama has implemented than the clean break Jeb Bush suggests he wants.

Baker was co-chair back in 2006 of the Iraq Study Group, better known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission which, in the darkest days of the Iraq war, not only counseled the type of retreat which George W. Bush refused but also blessed the idea of unilateral retreat which Barack Obama implemented. Baker went further, however, and worked into the report a call for Israel to make concessions under fire and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to be rewarded. Both a latent hostility to Israel and a benign reading of the Syrian regime have long been characteristic of Baker’s philosophy, as they have been Obama’s. Remember, Obama came into office believing Assad was a reformer and, despite the horrific civil war in subsequent years, now appears ready to again legitimize Assad as a partner. Baker also sought to partner with Iran in order to resolve difficulties in Iraq, leading to this brilliant David Zucker parody featuring Baker.

If there’s one thing that the past decade should have made clear it is that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not central to the divisions and problems which undercut Middle Eastern stability and American national security. The whole Iraq Study Group was a put-up job, with Baker and Lee Hamilton stroking the egos of those testifying all the while ignoring the substance of their input while aides wrote a pre-ordained report. As such, Baker should be held fully accountable for the report’s often counterproductive and self-defeating recommendations.

Alas, the Baker-Hamilton report was the rule rather than the exception. Against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential campaign, Baker traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he appeared to give an endorsement of the type of diplomacy with rogue regimes which George W. Bush shied away from, but which Obama had made the centerpiece of his campaign. Then, again, this merely restated the policy which Baker blessed as secretary of state with regard to North Korea. In The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992, he explained, “Our diplomatic strategy was designed to build international pressure against North Korea to force them to live up to their agreements.” In reality, however, Baker pioneered a philosophy which Obama has now perfected; that is, a belief that a bad deal is better than no deal, even if it means turning a blind eye toward an enemy’s cheating. As the State Department negotiated with Pyongyang, Baker accepted North Korea’s insistence that limited inspections regarding North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure to sites “agreed upon between the two sides,” in effect giving Pyongyang a veto. Baker offered this concession even though the CIA had warned that North Korea was hiding parts of its nuclear program. Such a philosophy laid the groundwork for a process that culminated during the Clinton administration in “The Agreed Framework,” an achievement celebrated in Washington but treated disdainfully in Pyongyang as the North Korean regime pocketed associated aid and accelerated its drive toward a nuclear bomb. Baker, however, bragged in his memoirs (published after the Agreed Framework was signed) that “American diplomacy [was] directly responsible for an end to six years of intransigence by the North.”

Much of Baker’s positive reputation comes from how he and George H.W. Bush handled Operation Desert Storm. And, for this, they deserve plaudits. What is interesting, however, is how Baker was for Saddam before he was against him. On February 15, 1990, after the Voice of America broadcast an editorial into several Arab countries celebrating the collapse of dictatorship in Eastern Europe and castigating Iraq as belonging to a club whose leaders maintained power “by force and fear, not by the consent of the governed,” Saddam was furious. Rather than defend the premise and maintain moral clarity, the Bush administration apologized and decided that the secretary of state, James Baker, would personally clear future editorials. Again, instinct matters.

Baker has been outspoken in his support for Jeb Bush. While Baker is friendly with Jeb Bush’s father, that did not stop the former secretary of state from signaling his displeasure with the governor’s brother. It is hard to imagine Baker giving such full-throated support to Jeb Bush unless he sees in Bush a kindred spirit. If that’s the case, then there is much to worry about as Jeb Bush develops his foreign policy.

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AIPAC Focuses on Iran, Not Israel

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

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The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference, a day before he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, and it is beginning to dawn on those who spent the last month lambasting him for his alleged breach of protocol that a very bad deal is in the works–now the focus of attention primarily because the Israeli prime minister decided that calling it out was more important than his (non-existent) personal relationship with the U.S. president.

Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote last month that Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress made “absolutely no sense” and was a “tone deaf ploy” that left Goldberg “unable to understand his thinking,” yesterday wrote that he expects a strong speech to Congress, because:

Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability is a dicey proposition; in fact, any agreement at all with an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. [Emphasis added.]

Goldberg is not only worried about the “sunset” clause that would permit Iran to become a nuclear power once the agreement expires, but worried even more “that the Iranians will find a way to cheat their way out of the agreement even before the sun is scheduled to set.”

In a panel yesterday at the AIPAC conference, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who has supported Netanyahu’s speech from the time it was announced, told a large audience “why the speech has to be given now, despite the consequences that will go down for the next 22 months”:

Number one, a deal is about to be signed and so this is the last opportunity just before an election the timing of which Bibi did not set [and] an election that Bibi didn’t want … and this isn’t timed for politics–although God forbid a politician should be guilty of committing politics. It was timed in connection to the negotiating timetable which was, in fact, established by John Kerry and his partners.

Secondly, representatives and senators ought to hear directly from the prime minister why this deal, which is terrible for the United States, is potentially fatal for Israel. And all these members of the House who pat themselves on the back as they vote for Iron Dome funding–as if that is the sole credential for being pro-Israel–ought to be put on record that this is the moment that counts … a final opportunity for Israel to make a case to the United States to act before Israel, I fear, will have to act irrespective of what the United States wants …

And, by the way, what is Bibi doing? He is giving a speech. He’s not hurling thunderbolts from Congress. He’s giving a speech! I would hope that in the spirit of democracy, civility, and–by the way–congressional self-respect for a co-equal branch of government, that every Democratic member, whether they agree with Bibi or not, will do him the courtesy of hearing him out.

Stephens noted that the administration is not only “not checking Iranian moves throughout the region–we are facilitating the rise of Iranian power”:

And I say this–I’m almost shocked to hear myself say this–but the deal we are going to strike isn’t that we’ve moved from a policy of prevention to containment: we are actively facilitating Iran’s bid to become a regular nuclear state … By the way, South Korea: we deny them the right to enrich. So, the South Koreans can’t enrich, according to this administration–we’re pressuring them not to enrich–but Iran, because it’s such a marvelous, wonderful regime, in 10 or 15 years, they’re going to get the bomb. We are facilitating this. We have facilitated their ability to maintain client regimes around the Middle East.

It is one of the reasons why we have not fulfilled the president’s other unmet promise of going after the Assad regime, and we now have a de facto pro-Assad policy in Syria. It’s one of the reasons why we have no strategy to speak of to prevent the Houti militia, who are not some tribal militia–they’re the Hezbollah of Yemen–from seizing [Yemen’s capital] Sana’a and then throwing out our client government. …

So, now the Iranians makes the boast–I’m sure all of you are familiar with this–that they have four Arab capitals in their hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a, and you might add Gaza City, if you consider that one. And that’s correct, and we have done nothing to stop it. We have no strategy to speak of, except accepting a new status quo on the hope that one day, the Iranians will change the nature of their regime and they’ll be nice to us. Good luck.

A “bad deal” does not begin to describe the strategic disaster the administration is attempting to conclude in secret, without informing Congress of the details and allowing a free and open democratic debate. The administration opposes even the new Corker-Menendez bill, introduced on Friday, which would prevent any deal from taking effect for 60 days, after Congress finds out what it is.

After AIPAC members listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, its thousands of delegates will lobby their representatives to urge them to support Corker-Menendez–bolstered by the speech of a prime minister who decided an existential threat to his country (the principal U.S. ally in the region) deserves to be fully considered by the representatives of the American people, before it is too late, not only for Israel but the United States.

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No, Mr. Kerry, There Can Be No Benefit of the Doubt on Iran

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

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Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

Mr. Kerry is right to highlight the problem with military action. At best, it would delay Iran’s program by two or three years. Those who believe a one-time strike would end Iran’s program are unrealistic. There is no parallel to Israel’s 1981 strike on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, an airstrike that crippled Iraq’s bomb program until Saddam Hussein’s regime ultimately fell. After all, Saddam was unable to rebuild Osirak because Iraq was embroiled first in an eight-year, World War I-style fight against Iran of Saddam’s own making. No sooner did that end that Saddam ordered Iraqi forces into Kuwait, unleashing a cascade of events that crippled Iraq further. It is doubtful that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would make the same mistakes in the wake of any potential strike.

To have American aircraft bomb Iran’s nuclear program, however, would effectively be using American servicemen to kick the can down the road because the White House, State Department, and Congress can’t come to a policy consensus about what it would take realistically to blunt the threat of any Iranian nuclear arsenal. The problem isn’t simply the nuclear weapons, but rather the ideology of the regime which would wield them.

This is where Kerry shows himself a narrow, shallow thinker. He artificially boils Iran options down to two: Either cut a deal, no matter how bad and no matter how likely Iran is to cheat, or engage in military action that will be expensive and won’t end with a single strike. He refuses to recognize that either way, it is the Iranian regime which is the problem.

This doesn’t mean the United States should engage in Iraq- or Libya-style regime change. But what Kerry and crew have essentially done is take a regime foundering under decades of economic mismanagement and sanctions, and effectively subsidized its survival to the tune of $7 billion per year (and $11 billion total) since negotiations began. They did this against the backdrop of a dramatic decline in the price of oil and so forfeited the best opportunity in decades not to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees but rather to allow it to stumble and trip on its own. Ultimately, if the Iran problem is going to be resolved, it will mean an end to the clerical regime, not Kerry’s false choice. Trusting Iran is a non-starter. And that is exactly what Kerry seeks when he asks for benefit of the doubt on an agreement whose parameters he is too embarrassed to show to America’s Arab allies and Israel because he knows they will point out the obvious loopholes. No, Mr. Kerry, neither the White House nor Iran deserve benefit of the doubt on nuclear negotiations. The world cannot afford the consequences.

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Sorry Peter Beinart: Young Americans Still Haven’t Turned Against Israel

This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

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This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

As I pointed out, previous dramatic declines in American support for Israel, as indicated by this poll or that poll, had been followed by recovery. But Beinart was nonetheless confident that this time the anti-Israel cake would bake at last, at least for the young. And Beinart was far from the only commentator to take this position.

It is therefore of some interest that Gallup is out with a new poll. Here is Lydia Saad, a senior editor: some “six months [after the poll on Gaza], young Americans’ broad sympathies toward the Israelis vs. the Palestinians are the same as a year ago.” Approximately 57 percent of 18-29 year olds surveyed both years said that they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians in the conflict. Sympathy with the Palestinians has also held steady at about 23 percent.

Compare this year to 2005, the year anti-Israel activists started Israeli apartheid week, a period devoted to demonizing Israel, mainly on college campuses, which is in full swing as I write. That year, support for Israel among 18-29 year olds stood at 51 percent. Ten years of a relentless campaign against Israel, specifically targeting the young, has not had its intended effect. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the wearying sameness of the distortions trotted out year after year, that Israeli apartheid week is getting almost no coverage in the United States this year. Look it up now, and the best known media outlet focusing on it is Iran’s Press TV.

I do not mean to say that we should not be concerned about these campaigns which may well, if they are not resisted, have the long-term effect of making Zionism a suspect, if not quite a dirty, word. But those who seized on one striking poll to predict that Israel had finally worn out its welcome with young Americans should be asked to comment on this one. It appears that when they hoped young Americans would pressure Israel into making unilateral concessions with a view to engaging nonexistent peace partners, they may have been indulging in wishful thinking.

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Whom Should the U.S. Train in Syria and Iraq?

The United States has begun vetting Syrian rebels to determine whom to train to fight Islamic State (ISIS) extremists inside Syria. It’s an effort that promises very little and comes extremely late. The goal is to train, in Turkey and with the cooperation of Turkish forces, 5,000 moderate fighters a year for perhaps three years. Actual training will begin within four to six weeks.

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The United States has begun vetting Syrian rebels to determine whom to train to fight Islamic State (ISIS) extremists inside Syria. It’s an effort that promises very little and comes extremely late. The goal is to train, in Turkey and with the cooperation of Turkish forces, 5,000 moderate fighters a year for perhaps three years. Actual training will begin within four to six weeks.

As currently conceived, the effort is doomed from the start. Including—and, indeed, relying upon—Turkey is a poison pill, given the growing extremism of the Turkish government and the sympathies of at least certain segments of the Turkish government to more extreme elements inside Syria.

At the same time, the United States has moved forward with training and assistance programs to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga.

The irony of both efforts is that the United States continues to ignore the most moderate, religiously tolerant, and most effective fighting force in the region: the Popular Protection Units (YPG) of the Syrian Kurds. Without formal training, the YPG held Kobane in the face of a tremendous onslaught. But Kobane is only the tip of the iceberg: I visited portions of Syria controlled by the YPG last year. They have made tremendous sacrifices and brought a modicum of stability and security to northeastern Syria.

But it is not only inside Syria where the YPG has seen success. Despite billions of dollars poured into the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, they at best have achieved little more than a stalemate. Prior to the Islamic State’s onslaught against the Yezidis of Mount Sinjar, Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani had turned down the Yezidis and local residents’ requests for reinforcements. Then, peshmerga and security forces commanded by his sons abandoned their posts, sacrificing thousands of Yezidis to the cruelty of the Islamic State. The YPG did not wait for coalition airstrikes before seeking to come to their rescue. At present, the YPG reportedly enjoys greater popularity than the Kurdistan Region Government’s peshmerga in Sinjar and those areas inside northwestern Iraq contested by the Islamic State.

The reason why Turkey objects to any training for the YPG is that they and their civilian political counterpart, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) fall under the general umbrella of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group which aligned with Soviet interests during the Cold War and long waged an insurgency inside Turkey. That may be a problem, but it’s time to set priorities: Defeating the Islamic State is more important than paying heed to Turkey’s obsessions. If Turkey won’t play ball if the YPG are included in training, then it’s time to stop working through Turkey. They are, after all, not the only U.S. partner to border Syria.

The Islamic State presents a grave and growing threat throughout the region. If they are to be defeated, no moderates should be excluded. If moderates can be found among Syrian Arabs, that would be great, although they are, at this point, likely a chimera. But there are worthy forces to train among the Iraqi army and even some of the Iraqi volunteers who answered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call to fight the Islamic State. Last fall, I stayed at a facility in which some of these volunteers trained in southern Iraq. While Iran has certainly tried to co-opt and control some of these volunteers, many more care only about defending their communities against the Islamic State and do not care an iota for geopolitics. The United States needs to support and help rebuild the Iraqi army, and those elements which survived their trial by fire. The Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga also are worthy of support. But the YPG complete the picture. If they can be as successful as they have been against the Islamic State without formal training, they might be the ace in the hole if they can hone their tactics and skills and actually receive the weaponry they need to do the job at hand.

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Why Are American Hostages Still Held in Iran?

Since President Obama initiated high-profile, high-stakes talks with Iran, the United States has released more than $11 billion in frozen funds to the Islamic Republic, and that comes on top of billions of dollars in new investment. To put just the $11 billion in perspective, that represents more than twice the Congressional Research Service-estimated official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the group responsible for killing hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. Now, consider that Iran’s economy had shrunk between 5.3 and 5.8 percent (depending upon which Iranian figure is speaking) in the year before Obama began his outreach while, despite the crash in oil prices, Iran’s current growth is positive, and it’s hard not to conclude that for the Iranian leadership, Team Obama has been a dream come true.

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Since President Obama initiated high-profile, high-stakes talks with Iran, the United States has released more than $11 billion in frozen funds to the Islamic Republic, and that comes on top of billions of dollars in new investment. To put just the $11 billion in perspective, that represents more than twice the Congressional Research Service-estimated official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the group responsible for killing hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. Now, consider that Iran’s economy had shrunk between 5.3 and 5.8 percent (depending upon which Iranian figure is speaking) in the year before Obama began his outreach while, despite the crash in oil prices, Iran’s current growth is positive, and it’s hard not to conclude that for the Iranian leadership, Team Obama has been a dream come true.

Given all that Iran has gained outside of the nuclear arena, what is most perplexing is how little the United States has received. Take for example the four American hostages which Iran now holds:

  • Saeed Abedini. Iran has long been hostile to Christianity. While the Iranian city of Isfahan hosts a large Armenian community which thrives today, the Armenian Christians settled in Isfahan only because they were forcibly relocated there from northwestern Iran as the shah at the time doubted their loyalty. Non-Orthodox Christians have special difficulty in Iran. Past State Department human-rights reports, for example, depict the disappearance and murder of priests and, especially, evangelical Christians whose community is small but growing in Iran. Abedini, a 34-year-old from Idaho, was arrested during a 2012 trip to Tehran to visit family and sentenced to eight years in prison. He is a married father of two small children.
  • Robert Levinson. A former FBI agent whom Iran alleges to have worked for a CIA contractor visited Kish Island, an Iranian free-trade zone which is visa-free, in an effort to research a cigarette smuggling case when he was seized by Iranian intelligence in 2007. While the Iranians have sought at times to deny responsibility or knowledge of Levinson’s case, the state-run Iranian press acknowledged Iranian involvement. He remains the longest-held Iranian hostage. Perhaps reflecting its role as the ­de facto lobby of the Islamic Republic, the National Iranian American Council has distinguished itself by omitting Levinson in its calls for the release of hostages.
  • Amir Hekmati. A former American Marine, Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting family in Tehran. Charged with espionage, he was initially sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted. While some Iranians might look askance at his military service, it should be remembered that because Iran has conscription, many male Iranian graduate students seeking to come to the United States to continue their education or to visit family have served in the Iranian military. The charges were more ridiculous considering Hekmati sought and received permission from Iranian authorities in the United States before traveling. Hekmati had briefly launched a hunger strike which he subsequently suspended.
  • Jason Rezaian. The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Rezaian was arrested on undisclosed security-related offenses on July 22, 2014, and initially held incommunicado. On January 15, 2015, an Iranian prosecutor announced that Rezaian would stand trial in a revolutionary court. His case is slated to be heard by one of Iran’s most notorious hanging judges.

That three of the four men are Iranian American should be irrelevant. Immigrants and their children do not check their citizenship at the door when they visit Iran, even if Iranian authorities insist they enter only on their Iranian documents. Ronald Reagan famously obsessed over American hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon. The “Tower Commission” found that Reagan obsessively peppered his staff with questions about their condition and the possibilities for their release. Never has the contrast between two presidents been so great. Obama seems more concerned with springing terrorists from Guantanamo Bay than in freeing Americans held captive by one of the world’s most repressive regimes. And, while Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly condemned the Iranian detention of American citizens and called for their release, Obama and Kerry’s willingness to continue business as usual in negotiations and in payments to Iran suggests to the Iranians a lack of seriousness on the Obama administration’s part.

There should not be a single press conference dealing with Iran where the first, second, and third questions don’t force administration officials to address those Americans in prison in Iran. The hostages should be household names. When the State Department counsels quiet diplomacy, what diplomats are seeking is enough distraction to sweep the problem under the rug. They should not be able to. Indeed, there should not be another meeting held, let alone incentive given or payment made, until they are happily at home and reunited with their families. Quite the contrary, there should be no end to sanctions and punishment until the Americans—all four—come home.

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Gerrymandering: an American Perversion of Democracy

Everyone is waiting for Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument regarding King v. Burwell and whether the phrase in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the states,” means what it plainly says. It’s the most important case on the Court’s docket this term because if the Court rules against the administration, ObamaCare will probably become financially untenable and so crash and burn, quite possibly taking the Obama presidency with it
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Everyone is waiting for Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument regarding King v. Burwell and whether the phrase in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the states,” means what it plainly says. It’s the most important case on the Court’s docket this term because if the Court rules against the administration, ObamaCare will probably become financially untenable and so crash and burn, quite possibly taking the Obama presidency with it
But there is an important case being argued tomorrow morning, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, that could adversely impact the movement to eliminate gerrymandering from American politics. It should be paid attention to.

Gerrymandering is named after Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who came up with the idea (although his name is pronounced with a hard G and the eponymous—and nefarious—practice he invented is pronounced with a soft one). It involves the setting of legislative district lines—whether state or federal—so as to give one party or the other partisan advantage. As someone described it, democracy is where the voters choose their representatives. Gerrymandering is where the representatives choose their voters. It is a wholly American perversion of democracy, unknown elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

The Court has always declined to flatly outlaw gerrymandering, although many people (myself included) think that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. After all, if you’re a Democrat living in a district carefully designed to return a Republican legislator, you are effectively disenfranchised. Your vote is worthless. That’s why Baker v. Carr (1962) rewrote the Court’s doctrine on “political questions” in order to require “one man, one vote.”

In 2002, Arizona voters in a public referendum took away the hopelessly self-interested state legislature’s power to draw district lines and established an independent commission to do it instead. The Arizona legislature sued, claiming that because the Constitution (Article I, Section 4) says that “The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; . . .” only the state legislature has the right to set district lines. A special three-judge district court ruled (2-1) in the commission’s favor and the legislature appealed to the Supreme Court.

There is a standing issue, but if the state legislature survives that and the Court gets to the merits, George Will thinks the Court should give the state of Arizona a lesson in remedial reading. He accepts as self-evident the legislature’s argument that the “Manner of holding elections” includes setting district lines. To me, it means nothing more than deciding how the vote should be taken: paper ballots, machines, online voting, early voting, a raising of hands, etc.

Other states, including California, have been moving in this direction, especially as computers have made it possible to draw district lines with exquisite precision, even house by house, and so make more and more districts uncompetitive.

This also makes American politics more extreme. One of the reasons the center of American politics has largely emptied out in recent decades (although not the only one) is that as general elections have become less and less determinative, primaries have become more so. In primaries, the left in Democratic races and the right in Republican ones exert much more influence, pulling candidates one way or another. Indeed the word primary has recently become a verb, as in “If Congressman Snoot doesn’t vote this way on the widget bill, he’ll probably be primaried.”

Gerrymandering does not belong in the world’s oldest democracy.

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What Will Nemtsov’s Assassination Mean for Hillary?

On February 27, Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and a liberal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin. It wasn’t the first time a Russian figure who ran afoul of Putin paid the ultimate price—think Sergei Magnitsky or Anna Politkovskaya—but it was among the most brazen attacks, or at least the most brazen attack that didn’t involve polonium. Unknown assailants killed Nemtsov, a critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just two days before a major opposition rally. Any doubt that Vladimir Putin is anything but a cold, calculating psychopath, an aggressive despot who seeks not Russian greatness, but rather his own unquestioned power, should now be put to rest.

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On February 27, Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and a liberal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin. It wasn’t the first time a Russian figure who ran afoul of Putin paid the ultimate price—think Sergei Magnitsky or Anna Politkovskaya—but it was among the most brazen attacks, or at least the most brazen attack that didn’t involve polonium. Unknown assailants killed Nemtsov, a critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just two days before a major opposition rally. Any doubt that Vladimir Putin is anything but a cold, calculating psychopath, an aggressive despot who seeks not Russian greatness, but rather his own unquestioned power, should now be put to rest.

Hillary Clinton rose to prominence not on her own merits as an elected leader, but rather as a first lady. She might be smart and talented, but her path to power was not her own. Granted, she leveraged her prominence to run and win a Senate seat in New York, but she approached the office with extreme caution and simply bided her time; she certainly will not go down as a great legislator. After surprising no one and running for the presidency in 2008, she got her chance when President Barack Obama appointed her to be his secretary of state. It is chiefly the legacy of these four years in office that provide the only window into Clinton’s executive experience and policy judgment.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but few secretaries of state appear to have been so quickly proved wrong on the major initiatives they oversaw. Like it or not, Clinton’s foreign-policy legacy—the experience she needs to prove that she is worthy of answering the 3 a.m. phone call—rests upon her tenure at the State Department. And it is here that the Russian reality might come crashing down upon Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

President Obama took the Iran issue as his own—asking the Iranian leadership figuratively to unclench its fist—leaving Clinton in charge of Russia. Clinton shaped and oversaw the so-called “reset.” The conceit of the reset was the belief on Obama and Clinton’s part that their predecessors had mishandled the Russian relationship and allowed it to derail. George W. Bush was far from perfect on the issue—his claim to have looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul showed poor judgment and misplaced trust—but he quickly calibrated his policies to reality as the real Putin showed through. Clinton’s reset at best reflected a willingness to forgive and forget the Russian occupation of Georgia and, at worst, showed a complete ignorance of Putin and his ambitions.

Had Clinton learned from her mistakes, she might not be tied to Putin today. But, even against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Clinton insisted that her reset policy was a success, that it somehow benefited the United States’s security and position in the world. Alas, the opposite is demonstrably true. Russia is far more aggressive today than it has been in decades. Russian bombers not only probe NATO defenses in Europe, but also may soon patrol the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Then, of course, there was the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). In order to win congressional approval for a deal riddled with holes, the State Department withheld information from Congress which detailed Russian cheating on previous agreements. Clinton’s point person on the new START was her undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, Ellen Tauscher. Tauscher subsequently left the State Department and joined the Atlantic Council, where she sought to further the reset with an initiative called “Mutually Assured Stability,” a silly name for an idea that treated Russian ambitions naively. There is no stability when the Kremlin sniffs weakness. What was incredible about Tauscher’s project was that she accepted Kremlin money to underwrite it. The Kremlin founded the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) to act as its representative in the NGO world. Clinton had hundreds of staffers, and dozens claimed to be her close aides, so can she really be held accountable for what Tauscher did after leaving the State Department? Normally, the answer would be no. But Clinton has since brought Tauscher back as a key aide in one of the shadow groups organizing her campaign. That suggests Clinton is doubling down on her embrace of Russia even as Putin shows his true colors.

Few presidential elections revolve around foreign policy. Americans tend to vote with their wallets. But 2016 may be an exception: Obama’s diplomatic and national-security strategy had now been tried and found wanting. Obama did not cause the Arab Spring, but his belief in leading from behind allowed wildfires in Libya and Syria to spin out of control. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has reinforced a malaise not seen since the Carter years. Add into this mix that Clinton, if she runs, will have to run on her State Department tenure and it seems evident that foreign policy will matter in 2016. If Clinton cannot admit an error, that’s bad enough. If she truly believes her ideas and actions on Russia were to the benefit of international security, then that suggests a far greater question of judgment.

The more Putin embraces the paranoia and worldview of former Soviet Premier Josef Stalin—a comparison which will only be highlighted by Nemtsov’s murder—the more Clinton may find her State Department tenure not to be her greatest asset, but instead her Achilles’ heel.

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The Murder of Yet Another Putin Critic

In 1934 Sergei Kirov, an old Bolshevik who had been head of the Party organization in Leningrad, was assassinated with a shot to the back. Most of his NKVD bodyguards had been mysteriously removed before the murder. Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union’s absolute dictator, expressed shock at the murder and promised to investigate personally. Within weeks a disgruntled former party functionary was arrested, convicted, and that very night executed. Stalin then used the assassination as an excuse to purge Trotskyites and others who he claimed were a threat to the regime, and whom he blamed for Kirov’s death. In reality, the bulk of the historical evidence suggests that Stalin himself arranged the assassination because he viewed Kirov, like other old Bolsheviks, as a potential threat to his rule.

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In 1934 Sergei Kirov, an old Bolshevik who had been head of the Party organization in Leningrad, was assassinated with a shot to the back. Most of his NKVD bodyguards had been mysteriously removed before the murder. Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union’s absolute dictator, expressed shock at the murder and promised to investigate personally. Within weeks a disgruntled former party functionary was arrested, convicted, and that very night executed. Stalin then used the assassination as an excuse to purge Trotskyites and others who he claimed were a threat to the regime, and whom he blamed for Kirov’s death. In reality, the bulk of the historical evidence suggests that Stalin himself arranged the assassination because he viewed Kirov, like other old Bolsheviks, as a potential threat to his rule.

Sound familiar? On Friday, Boris Nemtsov, a leading critic of the Putin regime, was gunned down with four shots to the back within yards of the Kremlin, the most heavily patrolled and secured area in the entire country. Vladimir Putin promised to personally take charge of the investigation while immediately branding it a “provocation,” presumably designed by his enemies to unfairly implicate him. Before long the Kremlin-controlled media were dropping dark hints that the CIA or the Russian opposition–or maybe the two in cahoots–were responsible for killing Nemtsov to blacken Putin’s good name. Or perhaps, they speculated, Nemtsov was killed because of his own moral turpitude; he was said to be involved in a back-alley abortion or some such.

Putin is no Stalin, but he has been rehabilitating Stalin’s image in Russia and he gives the clear impression that he has learned a few tricks from one of the most brutal dictators in history. Like how to get rid of your opponents.

There is, in fact, a disturbing and obvious pattern of what happens to those who challenge Putin’s authority. The “lucky” ones like Mikhail Khodorkovsky are merely sentenced to prison on trumped up charges–a decade in the gulag in Khodorkovsky’s case. Or their relatives are sentenced to prison–the brother of opposition leader Alexei Navalny was recently sentenced to three and a half years in prison on trumped up charges. The unlucky ones are simply eliminated from the face of the earth.

As the Washington Post notes, Nemtsov “was by no means the first Putin opponent to be murdered in brazen fashion. Similar hits by gunmen killed the dissident lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow and the human rights activist Natalia Estemirova in Chechnya. A former KGB agent who turned on Mr. Putin, Alexander Litvinenko, was assassinated in London by agents who poisoned him with radioactive polonium.”

Putin treats other countries pretty much the same way he treats his own people. He has eliminated resistance in Chechnya with scorched-earth tactics. He has invaded Georgia and carved out Russian protectorates in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And now he has invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and turning eastern Ukraine over to Russian-backed rebels.

Why does he do it? Because he can. Because Putin is a deeply corrupt, deeply amoral man who is out to acquire as much wealth and power as possible. Not just for himself and his cronies, to be sure: He is also, in his fashion, a Russian patriot who views the breakup of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century,” and he is clearly bent on undoing it. He is determined, in other words, to resurrect if not exactly the Soviet Union (he is too much of a crony capitalist for that) then the Russian Empire with himself as its benevolent tsar.

No doubt Putin, like countless other despots throughout history, has convinced himself that his country will become “great” again only if he is its absolute leader. Just as Hitler reacted to the weakness of Wiemar Germany and Mao to the weakness of the warlord era in China, so Putin is reacting to the perceived weakness of the Yeltsin era in the 1990s. He no doubt sincerely believes that it is in the interest of all Russians to swallow weak neighboring states, and that anyone who stands in his way is a “traitor” and “Fifth Columnist”–the epithets used to brand the likes of Nemtsov and Navalny. Whether Nemtsov was killed on Kremlin orders or killed by some ultra-nationalist inspired by the Kremlin’s ultra-nationalist propaganda is immaterial: No matter how many layers of cut-outs Putin had between himself and the dark dead, he is still morally culpable.

Beyond being a moral monster, Putin is also a supreme opportunist. He advances when he senses weakness and retreats, at least temporarily, when he encounters staunch resistance. He hasn’t been encountering a lot of staunch resistance lately.

The Bush administration all but ignored his subjugation of Chechnya, which could be linked to the broader struggle against Islamist terrorism, and did almost nothing about his invasion of Georgia, which came when the administration was war-weary and on its way out. John McCain argued for a stiffer response and was laughed off the stage.

Predictably Barack Obama, who came into office promising a “reset” of relations with the man in the Kremlin, has been even more supine in the face of Putin’s blatant aggression in Ukraine. Obama refuses to supply Ukraine with the weapons needed to defend it from Putin’s aggression. He won’t even provide Ukraine with usable intelligence on where Russian troops and Russian rebels are located. Because he is afraid of “provoking” Putin.

Which is just what Putin is counting on. The murder of Nemtsov and the invasion of Ukraine are of a piece: they are barely disguised acts of aggression designed to show Putin’s adversaries, real or perceived, what happens if they oppose his corrupt, imperial designs. No question about it, he is a scary man. He is capable of anything–anything that he can get away with.

But he is not suicidal. Putin is not a member of ISIS who seeks death in opposing the West. He seeks a long, prosperous life for himself and his cronies. If he thought that his criminal actions would endanger the prospects of such a happy outcome, odds are he would pull back. But he has no reason to think that now.

Sure, the U.S. and the European Union have imposed some sanctions on Russia, but Putin is convinced that when oil prices return to $100 a barrel, Russia will be in good shape. The sanctions aren’t doing much to hurt Putin personally or his inner circle; they still control their ill-gotten billions not only in Russia but in places like the City of London, Switzerland, and Cyprus. It’s the little people who are getting crushed by the devaluation of the ruble, but, a la “1984,” they are being narcotized by the steady stream of Kremlin propaganda which is touting the aggression in Ukraine as the greatest thing that has ever happened to the long-suffering Russian people.

Only a few Russians such as Boris Nemtsov have been brave enough to expose Putin’s lies–to oppose the aggression in Ukraine and the corruption behind the Sochi Winter Olympics. But Nemtsov is now gone, and few will follow in his footsteps.

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Obama Must Explain Why the Iran Deal Isn’t North Korea Redux

As the Obama administration rushes into a nuclear deal with Iran, it pays to remember the last time the United States struck a deal with a rogue regime in order to constrain that state’s nuclear program and the aftermath of that supposed success.

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As the Obama administration rushes into a nuclear deal with Iran, it pays to remember the last time the United States struck a deal with a rogue regime in order to constrain that state’s nuclear program and the aftermath of that supposed success.

Bill Clinton had been president barely a month when North Korea announced that it would no longer allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, followed shortly thereafter by an announcement that it would withdraw from the NPT altogether within a matter of months. If Kim Il-sung expected Washington to flinch, he was right. The State Department aimed to keep North Korea within the NPT at almost any price. Chief U.S. negotiator Robert Gallucci and his aides explained in their book Going Critical, “If North Korea could walk away from the treaty’s obligations with impunity at the very moment its nuclear program appeared poised for weapons production, it would have dealt a devastating blow from which the treaty might never recover.” Unwilling to take any path that could lead to military action, Clinton’s team sought to talk Pyongyang away from nuclear defiance, no matter that talking and the inevitable concessions that followed legitimized Pyongyang’s brinkmanship.

As with President Obama relieving Iran of the burden of six United Nations Security Council resolutions which demanded a complete cessation of enrichment, Clinton’s willingness to negotiate North Korea’s nuclear compliance was itself a concession. After all, the 1953 Armistice required Pyongyang to reveal all military facilities and, in case of dispute, enable the Military Armistice Commission to determine the purpose of suspect facilities. By making weaker frameworks the new baseline, Clinton let North Korea off the hook before talks even began.

Just as Israeli (and Saudi and Emirati and Egyptian and Kuwaiti and Bahraini) leaders express frustration with the Obama administration regarding its naiveté and unwillingness to consult, so too did South Korea at the time chafe at Clinton’s arrogance. South Korean President Kim Young Sam complained to journalists that North Korea was leading America on and manipulating negotiators “to buy time.” And in a pattern that repeats today with regard to Iran, the IAEA held firmer to the demand that North Korea submit to real inspections than did Washington. The issue came to a head in September 1993 after the State Department pressured the IAEA to compromise on limited inspections.

In the face of Pyongyang’s defiance, Clinton was also wary that coercion could be a slippery slope to war. Just as President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel instructed U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf not to stand firm but rather to retreat if probed or pushed by Iran, Clinton sought to mollify Pyongyang, for example cancelling the joint U.S.–South Korea military exercise in 1994. Adding insult to injury, the Clinton administration criticized the South Korean government for being unwilling to compromise. Indeed, everything the Obama administration has done with regard to Israel over the past year—with the exception, perhaps, of the classless chickensh-t comment—was ripped right from the Clinton playbook two decades before when the White House sought to silence Seoul.

There followed months of baseless optimism in Washington, followed by disappointment quickly supplanted by denial. At one point, when it looked like Kim Il-sung’s intransigence might actually lead to war, former President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang and, whether cleared to or not, made concessions which diffused the situation. It was the diplomatic equivalent of Obama’s voided redlines. Nightline host Ted Koppel observed on May 18, 1994, “this administration is becoming notorious … for making threats and then backing down.”

On July 8, 1994, a heart attack felled Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il, his eldest son, took over. Negotiations progressed quickly. Gallucci and his team promised an escalating series of incentives—reactors, fuel oil, and other economic assistance. They kicked inspections of North Korea’s suspect plutonium sites years down the line.

What had begun as North Korean intransigence had netted Pyongyang billions of dollars in aid; it would go down in history as the largest reward for cheating and reneging on agreements until Obama granted Iran $11 billion in sanctions relief just for coming to the table. Columnist William Safire traced the steps of concessions on North Korea. “Mr. Clinton’s opening position was that untrustworthy North Korea must not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” he observed, but Clinton “soon trimmed that to say it must not possess nuclear bombs, and stoutly threatened sanctions if North Korea did not permit inspections of nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, where the CIA and KGB agree nuclear devices have been developed. But as a result of Clinton’s Very Good Deal Indeed, IAEA inspectors are denied entry to those plants for five years.” And Sen. John McCain, for his part, lamented that Clinton “has extended carrot after carrot, concession after concession, and pursued a policy of appeasement based … on the ill-founded belief that North Koreans really just wanted to be part of the community of nations.” Again, the parallels between Clinton’s and Obama’s assumptions about the desire of enemies to reform were consistent.

Clinton wasn’t going to broker any criticism of what he believed was a legacy-defining diplomatic triumph, all the more so when the criticism came from abroad. On October 7, 1994, South Korean President Kim Young Sam blasted Clinton’s deal with the North, saying, “If the United States wants to settle with a half-baked compromise and the media wants to describe it as a good agreement, they can. But I think it would bring more danger and peril.” There was nothing wrong with trying to resolve the problem through dialogue, he acknowledged, but the South Koreans knew very well how the North operated. “We have spoken with North Korea more than 400 times. It didn’t get us anywhere. They are not sincere,” Kim said. His outburst drew Clinton’s ire. He became the Netanyahu of his day. Meanwhile, the U.S. and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework. Gallucci and his team were “exhilarated.” They later bragged they “had overcome numerous obstacles in the negotiations with the North; survived the intense, sometimes strained collaboration with Seoul and the International Atomic Energy Agency; and marshaled and sustained an often unwieldy international coalition in opposition to the nuclear challenge, all under close and often critical scrutiny at home.”

Today, by some estimates, North Korea is well on its way to having 100 nuclear weapons and is steadily developing the ballistic capability to deliver them. Iran’s nuclear negotiators have cited North Korea’s negotiating strategy as a model to emulate rather than an example to condemn. Meanwhile, Obama has relied on many of the same negotiators to advance his deal with Iran.

The State Department has never conducted a lessons learned exercise about what went wrong with the North Korea deal. Perhaps it’s time. Diplomatic responsibility and national security demand it.

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Who’s Shutting Down DHS? Democrats!

With only hours to go before the deadline for a Department of Homeland Security shutdown expired, a last minute compromise attempt to continue the funding failed late Friday afternoon. After the Senate passed a temporary spending bill to fund DHS, the House took up a measure that would keep the money flowing for three weeks until a more permanent solution can be found. But though the White House and the rest of the Democratic Party have been citing Republican efforts to stop funding those parts of the DHS budget that enable President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens as the cause of the shutdown, when push came to shove it was the Democrats who voted overwhelming against the compromise that could have ended the standoff. Though efforts to try again may continue through the evening and the weekend, the House vote showed that the Democratic talking points about the GOP being the party of obstruction that has been endlessly repeated by the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section is a transparent lie.

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With only hours to go before the deadline for a Department of Homeland Security shutdown expired, a last minute compromise attempt to continue the funding failed late Friday afternoon. After the Senate passed a temporary spending bill to fund DHS, the House took up a measure that would keep the money flowing for three weeks until a more permanent solution can be found. But though the White House and the rest of the Democratic Party have been citing Republican efforts to stop funding those parts of the DHS budget that enable President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens as the cause of the shutdown, when push came to shove it was the Democrats who voted overwhelming against the compromise that could have ended the standoff. Though efforts to try again may continue through the evening and the weekend, the House vote showed that the Democratic talking points about the GOP being the party of obstruction that has been endlessly repeated by the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section is a transparent lie.

The vote on the compromise plan was a narrow defeat for the proposal put forward by House Speaker John Boehner. But while there were significant Republican defections from their leadership’s proposal, the reason the measure failed was due to the Democrats. Republicans supported the funding by a margin of 192 to 50. But Democrats opposed it by a 172-12 vote.

Why did the Democrats who have been accusing Republicans of playing politics with funding for DHS at a time when the terrorist threat from ISIS and its sympathizers is so great vote no? The answer is simple. They were playing politics.

Rather than accept a compromise that would have kept the department funded, they chose to grandstand in favor of a bill that would have extended throughout the fiscal year. That’s their privilege but if the goal here was to ensure that DHS is funded while the leaders decide on a permanent solution to a problem created by the president’s extralegal end run around Congress on illegal immigration, then their stunt failed miserably.

The point here isn’t to say that Republicans were not doing their own grandstanding as 50 GOP members also voted no because they want no funding of DHS so long as the executive orders stand. But with almost all the Democratic caucus decided to play “chicken” with the majority and thus run the risk of defunding DHS when a compromise was there to be passed, the mainstream media’s favorite theme about Republican obstructionism just became obsolete.

Neither side is without blame in this standoff. The notion that the Republicans who are standing on principle as they seek to use their power of the purse to defund the amnesty program are the extremists while the Democrats are the adults in the room has always been pure partisan bunk. By refusing to compromise on his executive orders, the president is just as guilty of pushing the nation to the brink over DHS funding as the Republicans.

But by torpedoing a measure that would have kept the money flowing to DHS — the thing that Democrats have been telling us is the only thing that matters — the president’s party revealed themselves to be just as cynical and mindlessly partisan as anyone on the other side of the aisle. If anything, they are far worse because they are hypocrites for decrying obstructionism while acting as the prime force behind today’s gridlock spectacle. If Republicans can be smeared as “terrorists” for holding the budget hostage to make their political points, what do we call Democrats who do the same thing?

This may not stop liberals from using the same tired meme about Congressional Republicans in the future. But if they do, honest observers will remember the DHS shutdown that illustrated just how specious Democratic claims of innocence truly are.

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RE: The GOP has an Image Problem with the Middle Class

I totally agree with Pete that the GOP has an image problem, as revealed by the Pew polling data:

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I totally agree with Pete that the GOP has an image problem, as revealed by the Pew polling data:

About these findings, I’d say several things, the first of which is that Republicans would be foolish to ignore the findings or respond defensively to them. Many Republicans will of course feel these impressions are unfair, the product of biased media coverage and so forth. But they need to understand how voters see the GOP, since accepting there’s a problem is the first step toward correcting it.

As I wrote recently, Republicans should most definitely not be defensive in dealing with the mainstream media and its unrelenting bias. As Glenn Reynolds says, “Punch back twice as hard.” Be in their face, treat them contemptuously when they deserve contempt and challenge them to be fair and balanced (to coin a phrase). But do it, like Ronald Reagan, with a smile. That little rueful nod of the head Reagan perfected, (along with the immortal, “well, there you go again” that so gently, but thoroughly, eviscerated Jimmy Carter at their only debate) would go a long way towards punching back without being either nasty or angry.

Republican politicians need to always keep in mind that 1) Republicans are now the majority party, 2) their ideas are newer and far more in sync with the world of today than are the ideas of the Democrats (and the MSM) that hark back to the glory days of FDR and LBJ, 3) they are the party of the individual and the American dream, while the Democrats are more and more the party of the superrich, ever-expanding government (and thus taxes) and government dependency, 4) Republicans are the party of reform and renewal, the Democrats are the party of the status quo, Republicans are the party of tomorrow, the Democrats the party of yesterday.

But not just individual Republicans should act on these principles, so should the party as a whole. A program, starting soon, of image advertising, would do much to change the party’s image with the voters. Corporations have effectively used image advertising, not to sell a particular product but the corporation itself, for decades. So should the Republican Party.

As a neat little dividend, it would drive the MSM absolutely around the bend to have to run such ads in the midst of the evening news programs and Sunday talk shows. It might even make them clean up their acts a bit.

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Obama Sabotaged AIPAC, Not Netanyahu

The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

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The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

Whatever the motivations of those who published the piece — and the website is quite hostile to Israel’s government — the answer is clearly no. The current dustup is obviously a disaster as far as AIPAC is concerned. But as much as Netanyahu deserves some of the blame for their dilemma, the second story was just as true. Whatever their feelings about the wisdom of the decision to go to Congress in this manner, AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington next week aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.

Those inclined to defend both AIPAC and Netanyahu should concede that the basic conceit of the AL Monitor article actually captured a basic truth about the lobby’s purpose and the way it operates. Contrary to the allegations that have been hurled against it by its critics and the left-wing J Street lobby, AIPAC isn’t a creature of the right or slanted toward Republicans. It backs all Israeli governments, whether led by figures of the right or those of the left. And its great achievement over the course of the last 40 years is to have created a truly bipartisan, across-the-board coalition in favor of Israel in Congress and the nation.

So it is hardly surprising that the perception that the Netanyahu speech was a plot cooked up with Republicans to embarrass or insult a Democratic president would create a problem for AIPAC. That’s the way the speech has been treated by most of the mainstream media and the incessant and increasingly bitter attacks on Netanyahu by senior figures in the Obama administration has made AIPAC’s task of smoothing the way for support for both the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill much more difficult.

It’s also true that, as AL Monitor gleefully reported, leading American Jews have tried to persuade Netanyahu to back off on his plans and that figures in Israel’s defense establishment — many of whom have always disliked and tried to undermine the prime minister’s stands on security issues like Iran for political motivations of their own — have been not so quiet about their dismay about his decision.

Much as those who are rightly up in arms about President Obama’s dangerous concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks are eager to hear Netanyahu, there’s no getting around the fact the speech gave the White House the opportunity to change the subject from the administration’s push for détente with Iran to that of an alleged breach of protocol and the injection of partisanship into the discussion of the issue. This was nothing more than transparent political spin but that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and his advisers didn’t make a mistake. For weeks, even as news broke about astonishing concessions being offered Iran in the form of a sunset clause that would give Tehran carte blanche to gain a weapon after ten years, Washington has been debating Netanyahu’s chutzpah and the president’s hurt feelings instead of the negotiations or the need for more sanctions. As a result, the odds of a veto-proof majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of a sanctions bill that would have had a chance to hold the administration accountable on the issue is far less likely than it was before the announcement of the speech. That’s because the White House has been able to pick off Democrats who don’t feel comfortable taking sides with Netanyahu against Obama. Can anyone blame AIPAC officials for being frustrated about the Israeli government’s unwillingness to listen to their advice about the consequences of the speech?

But the focus on AIPAC is a sidebar to the real story here.

Though Netanyahu deserves to be criticized for walking into Obama’s trap, the only player in this drama who has consistently sought to inject partisanship or to sabotage the U.S.-Israel alliance has been the president.

It was Obama who discarded his 2012 campaign promises (repeated in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) about ensuring the end of Iran’s nuclear program and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues. The price for this entente cordial with the ayatollahs is acquiescence to their long-term nuclear ambitions as well as their plan for regional hegemony that is scaring the daylights out of America’s moderate Arab allies.

The decision to turn the Netanyahu speech into a cause célèbre was rooted in the White House’s belief that the only way to derail a new sanctions bill that already could count on massive bipartisan support was to turn Iran into a partisan football. And that’s just what the administration has done by piling on Netanyahu while disingenuously claiming to be defending the alliance.

At this point friends of Israel understand the argument about Netanyahu’s speech is now largely irrelevant. With an Iran nuclear deal that would sink any chance of stopping the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power and eventually the owners of a bomb now perhaps only weeks away, the time has ended for recriminations about the way the invitation to Congress was handled. The only thing worth discussing now is what, if anything, Congress and the pro-Israel community can do to derail Obama’s betrayal of principle.

The number of those who boycott the speech will be a barometer of how much success the White House has had in undermining the pro-Israel consensus. Democrats who claim to be friends of the Jewish state and opposed to an Iranian nuclear weapon need to forget about false arguments about partisanship and join with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans in listening to Netanyahu. More importantly, they must help pass the Iran sanctions bill before it is too late to stop the president’s plans for détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic Islamist regime.

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Iran Needs to Come Clean on both Nukes and Terrorism

Journalists and many diplomats who give President Barack Obama credit for his willingness to engage with Iran often forget that two decades before Obama asked Iranian leaders to unclench their fist, George H.W. Bush was as enthusiastic for a breakthrough. Just six months into Bush’s presidency, Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died. Journalists and diplomats saw Khomeini’s successor, former President Ali Khamenei as a moderate. As Khamenei took the leadership, he was replaced as president by the clerical businessman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who, the day after taking office, suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages that Iranian proxies in Lebanon still held.

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Journalists and many diplomats who give President Barack Obama credit for his willingness to engage with Iran often forget that two decades before Obama asked Iranian leaders to unclench their fist, George H.W. Bush was as enthusiastic for a breakthrough. Just six months into Bush’s presidency, Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died. Journalists and diplomats saw Khomeini’s successor, former President Ali Khamenei as a moderate. As Khamenei took the leadership, he was replaced as president by the clerical businessman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who, the day after taking office, suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages that Iranian proxies in Lebanon still held.

In an episode I detail in my book about the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, Rafsanjani privately told intermediaries that U.S. gestures might catalyze their release. American diplomats smelled a process—an allure that few diplomats can resist. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler voiced her belief that “Iran is genuinely engaged.” Bush issued a national security directive saying that the United States should prepare for “a normal relationship with Iran on the basis of strict reciprocity,” and he asked UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to serve as an intermediary between the national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, and Iran’s new president. Pérez de Cuéllar sent Giandomenico Picco, a career UN bureaucrat, to Tehran and met Rafsanjani, where he got a surprise: Rafsanjani dismissed the idea of negotiating the release of hostages out of hand: to talk would be to admit culpability in taking hostages in the first place. Within the Iranian context, there’s a huge difference between projecting the image of moderations and actually being will to act moderately. Coming clean is not something the Iranian government is willing to do.

Hence, it has been the case with regard to Iran’s nuclear program. The irony of those who seize upon the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to argue that Iran doesn’t have any military nuclear program is that the 2007 NIE acknowledged that Iran had earlier had just that: after all, experimenting within nuclear weapons triggers is not part and parcel of the energy cycle. And yet, rather than hold Iran to account and, at a minimum demand that Iran comes clean, the Obama administration seems willing to allow Iran simply to sweep its earlier cheating under the rug. If a nuclear agreement is meant to be a fresh start, however, there is no reason why Iran should not come clean fully. At the very least, intelligence can gauge their sincerity by comparing Iranian admissions with what the Central Intelligence Agency believes it knows through its own sources and methods.

The same failure to demand accountability occurs with regard to continued Iranian involvement in terrorism. That the Islamic Republic facilitated the 9/11 attacks was revealed by none other than the 9/11 Commission. The latest revelations that the documents seized from the Bin Laden compound show continued Iranian complacency with Al Qaeda come as little surprise to Iran watchers, but do raise questions about the Obama administration’s efforts to cover up that fact behind a barrier of classification and a simple refusal to release those documents found in the Abbottabad compound.

While those Al Qaeda documents might now be in the headlines thanks to the dogged work of terrorism expert Thomas Jocelyn, there are other aspects of Iran’s terror sponsorship that requires as much exposure and explanation. Take the latest reported in the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat:

Iran has been coordinating with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2007 with the aim of carrying out terror attacks against US targets in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, informed sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat. Speaking under condition of anonymity, the sources said coordination between Iran and the global terrorist organization was mainly taking place through Saudi citizen Saleh Al-Qarawi, a senior member of the organization who is on the Kingdom’s most-wanted lists and is the founder of Al-Qaeda affiliate the Abdullah Al-Azzam Brigades. The sources contend Qarawi is the main Al-Qaeda figure coordinating operations from inside Iran, where they say he has been moving freely for a number of years and from where he has been recruiting other Saudi citizens for the organization and coordinating their movement into Iran from the Kingdom. Along with Abdul Mohsen Al-Sharikh, another senior Saudi member of the organization—and also on the Kingdom’s most-wanted lists—the sources accuse Qarawi of planning a terror attack in Saudi Arabia aiming to abduct US citizens residing in the country. The plan eventually failed but the sources say Qarawi and Iran have been coordinating on several other operations, including a planned attack in 2007 against a US army base in Jordan which was foiled by the Jordanian authorities. Qarawi and Iran have also coordinated on another failed operation, the sources said, which planned to attack the US embassy [sic- should be consulate] in Dubai using either a drone aircraft loaded with missiles and bombs or by having a pilot fly a small aircraft used for flight instruction into the embassy building.

It’s admirable to want to bring an end to the enmity which exists between Iran and the United States. But to do it when Tehran seems so unwilling to come clean and stop its efforts to kill Americans does not advance peace; it only emboldens an already overconfident adversary. If Iran wants peace, let them come clean, change their behavior, and make amends. But under no circumstances should the Obama administration or its senior diplomats and officials give Tehran a free pass.

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Is Turkey Hosting Hamas Training Camps?

I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

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I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

After all, in the wake of the Palestinian elections, the European Union, the United States, and other countries had demanded that Hamas first acquiesce to the basis of the Oslo Accords—that is foreswearing terrorism and recognizing Israel—before it would be a welcome player in the international community. This was good diplomacy, after all, because the precondition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence was the Palestinian abandonment of terror and recognition of Israel. It was not an optional aspect to the agreement. Should the Palestinian Authority cease respecting that aspect of the agreement, Israel would be justified legally in returning to the status quo ante.

The reason for the surprise at Turkish actions was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had personally promised German Chancellor Angela Merkel just days before that Turkey would not invite the Hamas leader. Erdoğan thought he would be too clever by half, however, and explained that the invitation came not at the behest of Turkey but rather by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which dominated the Turkish government.

Over subsequent years, the relationship between Erdoğan and Hamas grew tighter. Erdoğan’s affair with Hamas had little to do with sympathy toward the Palestinian cause—after all, this was a cause he undermined by favoring Hamas over Fatah—but rather with Hamas’ Islamist and perhaps anti-Semitic vision. Hamas leaders inside Turkey planned recent terrorist plots against Israel.

Perhaps the United States was willing to turn a blind eye toward Erdoğan’s dalliance with a terror group. That might have simply been a factor of the man in the Oval Office. But, if the latest reports are true, then Erdoğan has gone far beyond the realm of plausible deniability. From Israel’s Ynetnews:

Relations been Israel and Turkey have been on a slippery downward slope in recent years; of late, however, the situation has led to grave consequences beyond the realm of politics: Turkey has become a Hamas hotbed, and members of the organization’s military wing are undergoing military training on Turkish soil, with the knowledge, support and assistance of the local authorities. The U.S. administration has appealed in recent months to the Turkish government to prevent Hamas military activity in its territory, arguing that Turkey is a member of NATO and that most NATO members view Hamas as a terrorist organization. The appeals have gone unanswered.

The idea that Turkey—a NATO member—would allow military training camps on its soil for a group designated by the United States and much the rest of the West as a terrorist organization is not something that can be diplomatically cast aside. Just as states—even allied states—are designated as deficient when it comes to combating human trafficking or money laundering on the logic that they work to rectify their status, so too it is time to designate Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism with whatever sanctions incumbent levied until such a time as Turkey rectifies its behavior. Such a designation might have financial implications in the defense sector and general investment, but quiet diplomacy simply has not worked. It’s time to hold Turkey to account.

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New Revelations Show IRS Is Judge, Jury, Executioner–And Grave Robber

The most important piece of information about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups is this: it is still going on. Politico reported yesterday that there are two categories of groups still being delayed and silenced by the IRS’s tax-exempt apparatchiks. The first category is Karl Rove (and his Crossroads organization). The second category is financially strapped mom-and-pop shops who have been driven into debt by the IRS’s corrupt practices in which critics of the Obama administration are deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

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The most important piece of information about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups is this: it is still going on. Politico reported yesterday that there are two categories of groups still being delayed and silenced by the IRS’s tax-exempt apparatchiks. The first category is Karl Rove (and his Crossroads organization). The second category is financially strapped mom-and-pop shops who have been driven into debt by the IRS’s corrupt practices in which critics of the Obama administration are deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

The story notes that this contradicts new IRS director John Koskinen’s claim that the agency “completed” its set of recommendations to get the corruption under control. As of this week, it’s still taking place. What this means in practice is that these groups, some of which applied several years ago, are still in limbo, unable to proceed. The point is to destroy the groups by bankrupting and suffocating them. Politico quotes a former IRS official using the agency’s term for this: “death by bureaucratic delay.”

Here’s how it plays out for the groups the government’s weaponized tax collectors set out to crush:

The years-long delay has gutted these groups’ membership, choked their ability to raise funds, forced them to reserve pots of money for possible back taxes and driven them into debt to pay legal bills.

“If you say the targeting issues have been resolved … how come we still haven’t received a determination one way or the other?” asked Rick Harbaugh, leader of the Albuquerque Tea Party, which has been waiting five years for its tax exemption. “We are still being targeted.”

Rove’s Crossroads group can afford being the target of a government campaign against those who would or should appear on the president’s enemies list (though obviously the IRS’s behavior is still morally repulsive). But what about all the others? Here’s one example:

At one point, for example, Unite in Action, a group that’s been on hold for more than 1,700 days, looked poised for growth. With members in various states and a mission to “prepare current and future generations to be guardians of our Constitutional Republic,” it quickly built a nationwide following, fundraising $600,000 to throw a multiday rally on conservative priorities in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Thousands attended.

IRS agents flagged its tax-exempt application, citing a blog post that said “fire Timothy Geithner,” then the Treasury secretary, and “demand Joe Biden apologize,” according to leaked IRS documents from 2011.

When the IRS asked Unite in Action for its list of donors, their occupations and addresses, the group’s finances took a nosedive.

“We told everybody that we will in no circumstances surrender that … [donor] information, but it still has dried up about 95 percent of the fundraising that we were able to do prior,” said current president Jay Devereaux, who joined the group in 2009. The IRS would later apologize for asking for groups’ donors, which it said was inappropriate.

Now Unite in Action is $16,000 in debt and operates on an annual budget of $8,000 to $10,000.

That case is an important one, because the IRS admitted afterwards that its own actions were inappropriate. There is no debate, in other words, about the injustice of the government’s actions here. But that didn’t stop the government from destroying a growing group and plunging it into debt because it dared criticize the administration of Dear Leader.

They lose donors and members “out of fear and frustration.” Some groups, Politico notes, “went belly-up while waiting.” That’s the point of the death-by-delay targeting. In other cases, the IRS demanded back taxes to try to pick the pockets of the activists one more time before the groups faded away. The IRS is both executioner and grave robber.

It’s also been engaged in a cover-up, and new revelations suggest that cover-up may be exactly as illegal as it looks: which is to say, very.

Politico reports on the congressional testimony of the IRS’s inspector general J. Russell George and his deputy, Timothy Camus. They revealed that the IRS actually withheld communication and evidence related to Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the abuse-of-power scheme:

In addition, TIGTA learned two weeks ago there were more than 400 additional back-up tapes that IRS did not disclose to the agency for examination when it opened its probe last summer and asked for all the relevant back-ups, said Deputy IG for Investigations Timothy Camus. They believe those could include more Lerner emails from 2011.

“There is potential criminal activity,” Camus said when pressed by Republicans.

And unsurprisingly, the Democrats in Congress are aiding in the cover-up by attacking the inspector general. These Democrats, including Virginia’s Gerry Connolly, want an investigation into the investigator. For whatever reason, the Democrats continue to act as though any serious investigation will be damaging to them.

And the Justice Department, led by outgoing attorney general Eric Holder, is lending its own support to the abuse of power. One of the reasons the IRS has given for the continued delay on some applications is that those applications are the subject of litigation and therefore the Justice Department has a say. But of course the Justice Department is not seriously investigating the administration or its political allies, so it’s a cover and an excuse to deny justice. It’s a scam.

The IRS, by the way, has basically proved that it shouldn’t be the free-speech gatekeeper not only because it’s unconstitutional but also because it’s simply incapable of respecting the rights of ordinary Americans. For example, the IRS, according to Politico, made the groups an offer: “immediate approval if they pledged to spend less than 40 percent of their time and resources on political campaigns. But several of the groups dismissed that option on principle, calling it unfair because it was a stricter standard than other 501(c)(4)s had to abide by.”

Precisely. The IRS told groups they could surrender a portion of their rights to which they are legally entitled and the IRS would allow them to retain the remaining portion of their free-speech rights. This is the behavior of an organized crime syndicate, not a governmental institution of a free country. It is extortionate, deeply immoral, and a permanent stain on the agency and the politicians who enabled it.

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Call Clinton Foundation Action What It Was: Corruption

So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

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So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

In 2010, however, the Algerian government, through its embassy in Washington D.C., allegedly gave the Clinton Foundation $500,000 in theory to support earthquake relief in Haiti. Now, the Haitian earthquake was devastating, and Algeria doesn’t have an embassy in Port-au-Prince and so on the surface, a donation is plausible.

But to believe that Algeria chose the Clinton Foundation randomly or because it was best positioned to work in Haiti beggars belief. After all, the Clinton Foundation does not appear to specialize in emergency relief. Its Haiti program page charts activity dating back only to 2010, the year of the Algerian donation. Most countries seeking to donate to Haitian earthquake relief might simply have answered the United Nations’ emergency call for assistance. There was also the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund stood up specifically for the purpose of Haiti earthquake relief and, with its mission completed, now folded.

Now, Algeria is a problematic regime at best. Through the Cold War, it was firmly in the Soviet camp. It has waged proxy war against Morocco, one of the most pro-Western, moderate Arab countries and continues to sponsor the totalitarian Polisario Front. To believe that its aims were humanitarian are belied by its persistent theft—according to Europe’s anti-fraud office—of humanitarian assistance donated by the European Union for the use of refugees in its remote Tindouf province. Rather, it seems that Algiers simply sought to influence the secretary of state with a back-channel donation. Now, let’s assume the Clinton Foundation passed money forward on earthquake relief, but the Foundation is famous for its high overhead, that is, support for the Clintons’ luxurious travel preferences, so a significant portion of the Algerian donation likely never made it to the Haitians in need. And let’s assume that Clinton was simply open to her Foundation taking money from everyone without enabling those donations to influence her decisions. The appearance of corruption is unavoidable.

Now, many states in the Middle East are woefully corrupt. Often, this corruption occurs because of a lack of legal framework defining what would ordinarily be a conflict of interest. There’s the problem of first sons, for example, with Middle Eastern leaders—Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, among others—each engaging in business with their sons acting as business agents. In the United States, we call it corruption, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the law. It’s a type of business practice with which Algerians are both aware and comfortable. And in Hillary Clinton they seem to have believed they found a kindred spirit. Now, this doesn’t mean Clinton violated the law, but a competent secretary of state understands perception is often more important than reality. Her actions and those of her Foundation have at the very least undercut the ability of future American governments to make serious efforts to undercut corruption abroad, for Algerians and others will simply call American officials hypocritical given Clinton’s favorite charity and namesake accepting the cash. Hillary Clinton can plead that no corruption occurred—perhaps it depends what the meaning of “is” is—but the rest of the world simply won’t buy the spin. Judgment matters.

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Issue is the Constitution, Not the Shutdown

With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

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With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

While many conservatives continue to call for the Republican leadership to stand their ground against the Democrats, both Boehner and McConnell understand that this is a losing fight. Even if, as many on the right have aptly pointed out, the DHS shutdown is more symbolic than actual since most of its employees will continue to show up for work, that symbolism is the last thing the GOP needs right now.

At a time when concern over terrorism is on the rise and the country is coming to grips with the president’s inept and halfhearted approach to fighting ISIS and its allies, any defunding measure aimed at any part of the country’s defenses is political poison. Unlike the sequester that continued in place for many months with few citizens noticing, a DHS shutdown is a nonstarter. That’s especially true since it will enable the president to change the topic from his own failures and put the spotlight on a fractious and dysfunctional Congress where both chambers have Republican majorities.

But as bad an idea as a shutdown might be, anyone tuning in to see Telemundo and MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart feeding questions to Obama in order to press him to even greater commitments to amnesty policies must realize that the drama in Congress is something of a diversion from the real problem: a president that believes he can legislate on his own without benefit of Congress.

Immigration isn’t the only issue on which Obama’s imperial presidency is flexing its muscles against the Constitution. The Iran nuclear talks seem to be heading toward an American agreement to a deal that would make the Islamist regime a threshold nuclear power now and give it a green light to create a bomb in at least ten years. But the president has no plans to present the most important foreign treaty the U.S. has signed in this generation to the Senate for approval, as the Constitution requires. By not calling it a treaty, he intends to circumvent the law so as to avoid the scrutiny and the judgment of the legislature.

But it is on immigration which the president has made the boldest move toward one-man rule in decades. By signing executive orders that amount to amnesty for up to five million illegal aliens, the president has with a stroke of the pen asserted a power that he previously had said 22 times was not his to exercise. Though a lawsuit brought by 26 states against this measure has had an initial success in a Texas federal court, Obama may be right to feel confident that eventually the courts will back him up on technicalities.

But by issuing orders to the relevant departments to stop enforcing the law mandating the deportation of illegals, the president is actually setting a dangerous precedent. A president who feels entitled to state what laws may or may not be enforced is one untrammeled by the normal constitutional constraints at the heart of American democracy.

While playing to a crowd of immigrants, the president says that the changing demography of the nation mandates a solution to the dilemma of up to 12 million illegals already in the country. But whether you think that Congress is wrong to fail to act on a plan to give them a path to citizenship or not, the notion that laws can still be annulled by presidential fiat is an untenable concept that would be swiftly condemned by Obama’s press cheering sections if it were a case of a Republican undoing some liberal project created by a predecessor.

More to the point, the continuing stream of illegals over the border, lured by promises of amnesty and confident that requests for asylum, whether justified or not, will keep them out of jail, will ensure that Obama’s approach will not solve the country’s problem at the border.

Obama may be right to think he’s won this news cycle as the Republicans seek a path, whether temporary or not, to retreat from their pledges to use the power of the purse to stop the executive orders from being implemented. But more surges of illegals in the future could change the political balance of power on this issue in ways that Democrats confident of Hispanic support don’t currently envision. The only enduring values here are the defense of the Constitution and the rule of law that Obama has trashed, not amnesty for illegals. Whatever happens this week in Washington, if Republicans are faithful to that principle, they won’t regret it in the long run.

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