Commentary Magazine


Did Corker Give Congress a Fighting Chance on Iran Deal?

Bipartisanship is as rare these days in Washington as a duck-billed platypus. That it prevailed on so controversial an issue as the Iranian nuclear deal is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been pressing for legislation, co-authored with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, that would force President Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval. The president has been threatening to veto any such legislation, claiming that “partisan” criticism of the deal “needs to stop” and not-so-subtly suggesting that his critics must be in favor of war with Iran—because that is the only alternative to the generous deal he has crafted. Or so he claims.

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Bipartisanship is as rare these days in Washington as a duck-billed platypus. That it prevailed on so controversial an issue as the Iranian nuclear deal is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been pressing for legislation, co-authored with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, that would force President Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval. The president has been threatening to veto any such legislation, claiming that “partisan” criticism of the deal “needs to stop” and not-so-subtly suggesting that his critics must be in favor of war with Iran—because that is the only alternative to the generous deal he has crafted. Or so he claims.

Yet today Corker managed to convince every member of the Foreign Relations Committee to endorse a bill that would give Congress the right to approve any lifting of sanctions as a result of the nuclear deal. So thoroughly did he manage to win over Democrats that Obama, facing a veto-proof majority, had no choice but to concede that he would sign the legislation. How did Corker do it? It’s hard to know exactly from the outside but it sounds as if, in negotiating with committee Democrats, he made some cosmetic changes, such as shortening the congressional review period from 60 to 30 days and not requiring Obama to certify that Iran has gotten out of the business of supporting anti-American terrorism. Such changes will spark criticism from some on the right, but the essential point appears intact—namely, that Obama will have to allow Congress to weigh in, something that he has so far adamantly resisted doing.

Ironically, this legislation could actually strengthen Obama’s hand with the Iranians: Secretary of State John Kerry can now plausibly tell his Iranian interlocutors that, however much he would like to concede their points, Congress won’t stand for it. But the larger message of today’s action should not be comforting to a president who has bet his entire foreign-policy legacy on reaching a deal with Iran regardless of its contents.

The basic message, from Democrats and Republicans alike, is that there is deep unease in Congress, as well as in the country at large, about the terms of the accord that Obama is negotiating. And for good cause: As former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger have noted, “negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.” Those concerns were only exacerbated by Russia’s announcement yesterday that it will move ahead with the delivery of a sophisticated S-300 air defense system to Iran that will make its nuclear plants much harder to hit from the air in the future. Now at least there will be a fighting chance for Congress to try to stop a bad deal, even if the odds still favor the president, given his enormous leeway in the conduct of foreign affairs.

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Containing China

At the risk of home-team boosterism (I’m a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) I must commend for wider attention a new Council on Foreign Relations Special Report on U.S. policy toward China. Its authors are my Council colleague Robert Blackwill, a former deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration and a former ambassador to India, and Ashley Tellis, a well-respected Asia expert from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has done stints inside the government.

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At the risk of home-team boosterism (I’m a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) I must commend for wider attention a new Council on Foreign Relations Special Report on U.S. policy toward China. Its authors are my Council colleague Robert Blackwill, a former deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration and a former ambassador to India, and Ashley Tellis, a well-respected Asia expert from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has done stints inside the government.

One might expect, based on their impeccable Establishment credentials, that they would be in favor of the post-1970s consensus in Washington regarding China: namely, that a stronger China is in America’s interest. But that is not what Blackwill and Tellis argue. Rather, they describe China as the “most significant competitor to the United States for decades to come,” a competitor that must be contained rather than turbo-charged. “Because the American effort to ‘integrate’ China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia—and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.”

What would this strategy consist of? Among other steps, they argue “Congress should remove sequestration caps and substantially increase the U.S. defense budget… Washington should intensify a consistent U.S. naval and air presence in the South and East China Seas,” and “accelerate the U.S. ballistic-missile defense posture” in the Pacific; the United States should encourage its allies “to develop a coordinated approach to constrict China’s access to all technologies, including dual use”; Washington should “impose costs on China that are in excess of the benefits it receives from its violations in cyberspace … increase U.S. offensive cyber capabilities … continue improving U.S. cyber defenses,” and “pass relevant legislation in Congress, such as the Cyber Information Security Protection Act.”

To be sure, they couple these tough calls for containment policies with a desire for enhanced “U.S.-China discourse,” which “should be more candid, high-level, and private than is current practice.” There is no one who will object to talking to Beijing. But Blackwill and Tellis’s call for actively containing Chinese power—including by an increase in U.S. military spending—is sure to be controversial. There remain many “panda-huggers” in Washington who remain convinced, notwithstanding China’s crude power-flexing in the South China Sea and East China Sea, that it will be content with a “peaceful rise” within an American-dominated geopolitical system. The evidence suggests otherwise, and Blackwill and Tellis have done the valuable service of issuing recommendations that are more in line with how China is actually behaving than how we would like it to behave.

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The Future of Jewish Conservatism

If you’re not familiar with Mosaic magazine, you should be. Devoted to Jewish issues and ideas, it’s one of the outstanding publications on the American scene today–beautifully edited and endlessly fascinating, including (and sometimes especially) for a non-Jew like myself. To prove my point, consider this month’s full-length essay by Eric Cohen (which Seth Mandel has previously written on) and a response by Yuval Levin.

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If you’re not familiar with Mosaic magazine, you should be. Devoted to Jewish issues and ideas, it’s one of the outstanding publications on the American scene today–beautifully edited and endlessly fascinating, including (and sometimes especially) for a non-Jew like myself. To prove my point, consider this month’s full-length essay by Eric Cohen (which Seth Mandel has previously written on) and a response by Yuval Levin.

The essay and the response focus on Mr. Cohen’s argument that in both America and in Israel, the liberal faith of too many Jews has put at risk the Jewish future–and what is needed is a serious and thoughtful alternative grounded in Jewish conservatism. According to Cohen, liberalism has weakened Judaism in both America and Israel; for the most part, conservative critics of Jewish liberalism have not proceeded to formulate an adequate response to it; and for a Jewish conservative movement to take root and alter how Jews look at family life, nationalism, and economics, the animating principles of Jewish conservatism, which he argues are relevant to all Jews, need to be articulated. Mr. Cohen’s elegant essay provides the linkages among these core ideals, demonstrating both what Jews have to teach and what they have to learn.

Which brings me to Dr. Levin, who writes that “if Judaism is to be both student and teacher, the necessary underlying glue” need to identified. And what might that underlying glue be?

Perhaps what is needed is a Jewish case for the conservative disposition itself—the Jewish case for anti-utopianism and high-minded skepticism of worldly perfection. Such a case would reinforce the argument for the family by highlighting the practical impossibility of all alternatives; it would strengthen the case for moral realism in world affairs by emphasizing the permanence of evil in the human experience; and it would diminish the lure of radical egalitarianism by showing that no technocratic fantasy could do more for the poor than a market economy. But it would not ultimately be a case about the family, world affairs, or the economy. It would be an anthropological argument—a case about the human person.

As someone who is something of an outside observer, I want to be careful about thrusting myself into the middle of an intra-Jewish debate. Yet as a conservative who feels a deep kinship for the Jewish people and reveres the Jewish state, for reasons both tied to and apart from my own Christian faith, I do believe it’s appropriate to say that this project, as laid out by Cohen and refined by Levin, is immensely important. A very great deal rests on how these things will unfold in the years to follow. But it seems to me this is just the right way to think about shifting the trajectory of events.

Nothing will happen overnight, and as Cohen himself admits, what he’s arguing for “run[s] against the grains of the times.” But times change, intellectual and moral fads fade away, and eventually human nature and the truths about human nature reassert themselves. And because conservatism is more aligned with human nature than liberalism, what people like Cohen and Levin are attempting to do is not only vital; there is a reasonable chance that with time, effort, and wisdom, it can succeed. The embrace of a coherent Jewish conservatism can happen. But read both pieces and decide for yourself.

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What’s Wrong with Obama Walking in the Ayatollah’s Slippers?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

Here’s the gist of Friedman’s argument:

What really came through to me in the interview really is a couple things that really do show you the difference between him and Netanyahu. Obama is someone who has lived abroad, maybe more than any president in a long time. And because of that, he actually knows what America looks like from the outside in. And he can actually see America even to some point from the Iranian perspective. And it comes through when he says let’s remember we, the Unites States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Friedman is right that understanding your adversary is a vital tool for any world leader. It is possible that the president’s experience of living abroad in his youth is an asset in that it does help him understand the way foreigners view the United States. Perhaps that has aided his efforts to think seriously about Iran and to realize that it is a vast complex country with a government with competing factions vying for influence in an undemocratic structure, at the top of which sits a supreme leader who ultimately calls the shots.

No one who thinks about Iran policy should be ignorant of the narrative of their country’s modern history that the leaders of the Islamist regime have carefully propagated, though it’s more likely that that the president learned about this from leftist professors at Columbia University and not at the Indonesian school where he studied as a boy. As Friedman rightly notes, Iran’s rulers see their nuclear-weapons project as an insurance policy against any threat of regime change that might, as many of those Iranians who took to the streets in a “Green Revolution” in 2009 may have hoped, lead to a government that would allow them more freedom than their current theocratic masters with whom the president prefers to do business will ever allow.

Friedman contrasts what he claims is Obama’s nuanced view of Iran with the more simplistic understanding of the country that he attributes to Netanyahu. The latter, he says, views it as a country with no politics and where 85 million people get up every morning clamoring for a bomb to drop on the Jews. The president and Friedman see it as more complex and think the right sort of diplomacy will tip the balance toward more moderate factions and away from extremists.

That is an interesting scenario that most in the West would applaud. But it is also the point at which walking in another fellow’s shoes becomes wishful thinking about that other person wanting the same things you want. In the case of Iran such thinking is not a triumph of understanding. It is delusional.

A truly nuanced view of Iran would incorporate the ideology that runs throughout the Islamist regime encompassing the worldview of both the so-called “moderates,” supposedly led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the hardliners, whose most prominent personality is the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As much as there is certainly a political struggle between the two factions (though Rouhani has always been a faithful servant of the country’s extremist leaders), they don’t disagree about wanting a bomb. Nor do they differ much on the nation’s goal of regional hegemony or the desirability of obliterating Israel by any means possible. In that sense, Netanyahu’s supposedly more primitive grasp of the situation (a misnomer since the prime minister has devoted far more time to scholarship and writing about the Middle East than Obama has ever done, but never mind) is actually far closer to the truth.

The problem here isn’t that critics of Iran don’t get the motivations of those in power in Tehran. It’s that Obama and his foreign-policy team have bought into a myth about the potential for Iranian moderation that is rooted in their hopes for détente and completely divorced from recent history or Iran’s behavior. Having placed himself in the ayatollah’s slippers, President Obama has not only sought to gain a grasp of his prejudices; he has adopted them and treated them as normative and even worth defending. It is this mindset that caused him to assess his adversary in the talks and to discard the West’s enormous economic and political leverage and give in to Iran’s obdurate demands to keep its nuclear infrastructure rather than face them down.

This is not wisdom or understanding. It is folly and the sort of misplaced empathy with foes that has served as the rationale for every act of appeasement of tyrants throughout history.

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Clintonian Gibberish: The New Language of American Politics

If I asked you to which economic class you believe you belong, statistics tell me you’re probably going to say “middle class.” If I asked you, say, what kind of American you are, logic tells me you will back away slowly. What you almost certainly won’t do is say: “everyday American.” And this contradiction tells us much about Hillary Clinton’s latest effort to erase the meaning from every word she can get her hands on, sparing none. And a New York Times story accepting her framing today confirms it: the new language of American politics is gibberish.

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If I asked you to which economic class you believe you belong, statistics tell me you’re probably going to say “middle class.” If I asked you, say, what kind of American you are, logic tells me you will back away slowly. What you almost certainly won’t do is say: “everyday American.” And this contradiction tells us much about Hillary Clinton’s latest effort to erase the meaning from every word she can get her hands on, sparing none. And a New York Times story accepting her framing today confirms it: the new language of American politics is gibberish.

Of course Hillary won’t be abandoning talk of the “middle class.” That will still be part of her campaign rhetoric. But deliberately putting “everyday Americans” up as the rhetorical centerpiece of her campaign is designed to do something specific. Hillary, who is nothing like you and could not possibly understand your daily struggles, is just like you because she understands your daily struggles, she swears. Also–and this is important–she’s really not an oddball. Scout’s honor.

Don’t take my word for it. You can read that in the Democrats’ newspaper of record, the New York Times. Here’s the lede of today’s piece on the contrasting image challenges of Clinton and the Republicans: “On one side is a crowd of Republicans trying to look presidential. On the other side is a lone Democrat trying to look normal.”

Considering that Hillary’s opening campaign gambit is jumping out at unsuspecting strangers from a van, I’m not quite sure her definition of “normal” lines up with how “everyday Americans” might define the word. Nonetheless, there is her greatest obstacle: she is a train wreck when forced to interact with people who aren’t paying her two hundred grand to speak at their corporate retreat.

Allow me to be Captain Obvious for a moment: you can’t fake authenticity. But one way Hillary will attempt to do so is by diluting the English language until there are no more words, just empty sounds, hand gestures, and facial expressions.

The truth is that while “middle class” has been stretched to its limits as a descriptive term, it still actually means something. It’s not just about annual take-home pay, either. Politicians and economists talk about the middle class because a strong middle class means certain types of jobs are still being created, economic mobility is more than a pipe dream, and a balance of voters’ economic interests keeps something of a level playing field.

And it’s even helpful, in its own way, that the phrase “middle class” is adopted by so many Americans who probably aren’t middle class. It tells you something about the aspirations and self-perceptions of so many voters. And it’s important ideologically to both sides. Many conservatives hope the middle class can act as a bulwark against both the relentless expansion of the welfare state and crony capitalism at the top, while liberals hope the middle class will join their campaign of economic piracy around which they base their pitchforks-and-torches politics.

Candidates don’t generally overtly go for the “rich vote,” but neither do they pretend the poor represent a strong donor base that can fund their campaigns or a tax base that can fund their initiatives. It’s all about the middle class, even if just rhetorically. So as vague as “middle class” can be when it comes to self-identification, the phrase “everyday Americans” is vaguer still.

And that’s the point. Merriam-Webster defines “gibberish” as “unintelligible or meaningless language” and “pretentious or needlessly obscure language.” The Hillary Clinton campaign’s communications strategy is the dictionary definition of gibberish. Bill Clinton may have deployed this strategy from time to time, but gibberish is all Hillary speaks.

And that’s because Hillary has no rationale for being president outside wanting to be president and believing it’s owed to her. (How’s that for “everyday American?”) So her supporters, who are going to vote for her anyway, want more details from her, and she can’t imagine why she would oblige. From Politico:

“I can’t believe I missed ‘Game of Thrones’ for this,” said one Democrat who sat through the call for former Clinton staffers at 9:30 p.m. EDT Sunday. …

The feeling of an information vacuum extends to Clinton’s campaign website, which still does not list her policies or issue stances, and her schedule remains empty except for a handful of small events in Iowa. On her road trip — during which she is likely making many calls to major donors, said one veteran Clinton ally — she has no pre-planned stops.

The Game of Thrones quote captures the dynamic nicely. Her loyal foot soldiers report for duty, and they simply want enough information to head out into battle. But when it comes to information, especially policy details, Hillary’s response is essentially: Make me.

Why would Hillary have to divulge more information? What are you, Joe Democrat, going to do to about being taken for granted by the Clinton campaign? There’s no serious challenger to Hillary on the horizon, and she’s trying to keep together a broad coalition of interest groups. She has no reason to speak English when she can skate to the nomination speaking gibberish. The most the rest of us can do is not follow her descent into total incoherence.

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The Only Iran Contradictions Are Obama’s

The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

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The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

If critics of the current Iran deal had their way, we wouldn’t roll the situation back to November 2013. Rather, we’d go back to where we were before the president discarded the enormous economic and political leverage it had over the Islamist regime when he signed off on that pact. The interim deal fundamentally altered the landscape of the negotiations because, as critics repeatedly charged at the time, for the first time the West implicitly granted an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium and to hold onto its nuclear infrastructure in a flat contradiction of past United Nations resolutions. It loosened sanctions whose enacting had taken long years of congressional debates over Obama administration objections and foot dragging from allies and frenemies like Russia and China. And it established a model by which Iran would be allowed to hold onto the considerable stockpile of enriched uranium it amassed in a form that could be easily and quickly reconverted for potential use for a bomb.

That result was obtained by a series of breathtaking concessions by the Obama administration that flatly contradicted the president’s 2012 campaign promises about Iran in which he pledged that any deal with the regime would be predicated on the end of its nuclear program. But both the president and Secretary of State Kerry claimed it was the best that could possibly be achieved because the Iranians wouldn’t agree to anything better. More than that, using the president’s trademark straw man style of argument, they asserted the only alternative to bending to the will of the ayatollahs was war. That was, of course, absurd, since the clear alternative was to stick to the tough sanctions that were in place and then tighten them further to squeeze Iran to the point where its failing economy and low oil prices would bring the regime to its knees. Once there it might be expected to be more amenable to restrictions that would actually forestall their efforts to build a bomb.

That was bad, but it was far preferable to the Iranians’ astonishing victory in the negotiations that followed. Building on past concessions extracted from the West, the Iranians are now in a position where they will be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges, their impregnable nuclear plant at Fordow, maintain their pace of nuclear research, and keep their stockpile of uranium in an agreement that will actually expire in 15 years, after which they will be free to do anything they like. Nor does this deal constrain their building of ballistic missiles that could reach the West or force them to stop supporting terrorism, threatening Israel with destruction, or undermining the stability of moderate Arab regimes. On top of that, the Iranians are making it clear they will not allow surprise inspections (the only way the West has a prayer of monitoring compliance) or open up their facilities so the United Nations can assess its progress on military use of nuclear technology, flatly contradicting the assertions about the deal made by Kerry. Compared to this debacle, the November 2013 agreement seems very stout indeed.

We are also told by the administration that the Iranians have abided by the interim deal but given the paucity of Western intelligence about the secret nuclear sites that all the parties openly concede must be there and the lack of real inspections, such assertions are at best conjectures but more likely mere wishful thinking.

Given a choice between maintaining the status quo and agreeing to a new deal that will allow the Iranians to easily cheat their way to a bomb quickly or get one by showing a bit more patience while actually abiding by it, the status quo is far more palatable. But that doesn’t mean that first retreat was wise or serve as a testimonial for a follow-up agreement that doubles down on appeasement in an unprecedented manner.

Having taken us down this road with Iran in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible to stop or even turn back to a situation where the West might regain its leverage over Iran, the administration’s apologists are in no position to claim that their opponents are being inconsistent. The problem here is not a partisan Republican opposition that will disagree with anything the president does but an administration that has piled mistake upon mistake to create a situation that isn’t easily rectified. The baseline established by the interim deal made the concessions of the current agreement inevitable. The United States would be wise to start walking back these mistakes, undeterred by false arguments about war or Iran never agreeing to a better deal. But the president is so committed to the chimera of détente with the Islamist regime he will never admit his initial mistakes. Instead, he claims they were brilliant strokes and press toadies like Milbank applaud such deceptions. The only “Iran Contradictions” here are the ones between Obama’s concessions and his promise to stop them from getting a bomb.

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Why China Won’t Support “Snapback” Iran Sanctions

No one can accuse the Iranian government of being stupid. They entered into negotiations with their economy tanking and very little leverage, and came out of talks with an outright victory. It was the equivalent of a pair of twos beating a full house in poker.

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No one can accuse the Iranian government of being stupid. They entered into negotiations with their economy tanking and very little leverage, and came out of talks with an outright victory. It was the equivalent of a pair of twos beating a full house in poker.

President Barack Obama has famously promised “snapback” sanctions: If Iran doesn’t meet its obligations, then the sanctions that brought Tehran to the table will simply be restored. What Obama ignores, however, is that the United Nations is not an institution in which members leave national interests at the door in order to embrace lofty values, but rather a tool by which the world’s dictatorships launder their cravenness through the illusion of principle.

Hence, for snapback sanctions to be successful, Obama will needs Russian President Vladimir Putin or his representatives not only to agree that the Islamic Republic is in violation but also that snapping sanctions back in place is in Moscow’s interests. That will be a tough hurdle, given Russia’s military and nuclear investment in Iran. Regardless, the Kremlin believes it has found a win-win formula: Support Iran’s nuclear program and make billions of dollars selling goods to the Islamic Republic. If, however, the situation collapses and Israel or some other power launches military strikes on Iran, sending the price of oil and gas through the roof, then Moscow laughs its way to the bank.

China has traditionally approached both the Middle East and Middle Eastern issues at the United Nations with exceeding caution. When most countries vote up or down on issues, China abstains. The Iranian government, however, recognizes that to make China into a reliable ally, it needs to rope China into the Iranian economy in a way that re-sanctioning hurts. And that is exactly the effect of the deal that Iranian authorities have just announced.

Today, according to this Fars News Agency article (alas, still only in Persian), Behruz Kamalvandi, deputy director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced that China will help Iran build a new nuclear power plant, a multibillion dollar exercise. But with Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry releasing nearly $12 billion in previously frozen assets, cash is no longer a problem.

Two years ago, I published an analysis for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office examining Iran’s diplomatic outreach toward Africa. What immediately became clear was that Tehran targeted those countries who sat as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council or were on the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In effect, Iran sought shamelessly to buy their votes.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Obama and Kerry may have overseen the normalization of Iran’s once-covert nuclear program, but the Islamic Republic knows that the United States is a democracy and that the diplomatic duo will soon be lounging in Hawaii or yachting off Nantucket. They do not know who will be in the White House next and so they want insurance; i.e., the Chinese vote in Tehran’s pocket. More importantly, Iran’s efforts to buy votes to ensure that sanctions never snap back is as good an indication as ever that Tehran plans to comply neither with the letter nor spirit of its nuclear agreements.

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Iran’s Terrorist Allies the First to Benefit From Nuclear Deal

President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

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President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

The Channel 2 report detailed that Iran has increased its already considerable flow of weapons and cash to its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as to Hamas. Most troubling is the news that it is not satisfied with helping Hamas rebuild its terror tunnels and replenish its rocket arsenal in Gaza but is also seeking to arm cells of the Islamist group operating in the West Bank. Like Russia’s sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, these moves are part of the inevitable exploitation of Western weakness by an Iranian regime that understands that it has scored a huge victory in the nuclear negotiations. This is a trend that will get only more dangerous as their economy begins to recover after the sanctions disappear.

Administration apologists may claim that Iran’s actions can be seen as a warning to Israel not to act on its own against its nuclear infrastructure. But Tehran knows as well as anyone that the chances of Israel launching a strike against them while the U.S. is engaged in negotiations over their nuclear ambitions is virtually nil. A more realistic analysis of these actions would see them for what they are, more evidence of Iran’s desire to extend its control over the entire region via the actions of its terrorist friends. In particular, it is hoping to use its growing influence to support the most radical Palestinian factions in order to make war with Israel more likely. That is the context in which most Israelis see U.S. efforts to create a new détente between Iran and the West.

The Zionist Union document also illustrates that for all of the demonization of Netanyahu that has been pursued by the administration and its liberal media cheering section, even his most bitter rivals largely accept his positions.

Though Labor and its right-wing antagonists have sniped at each other on Iran as they do on all issues, the Zionist Union paper shares the Netanyahu government’s belief that the current agreement is flawed and must be revised. Though the Obama administration claims that there is no alternative to a negotiation in which they have made concession after concession, mainstream Israeli parties all seem to understand that the choice here is not between diplomacy and war but between weakness and strength that might persuade the Iranians that they can’t count on the U.S. folding on every point as it has in the past. As veteran U.S. peace processer Aaron David Miller—who is no fan of Netanyahu—wrote today in the Wall Street Journal, both Israelis and Arabs understand that what the U.S. is pursuing is an Iran-centric policy that prizes good relations with Tehran over those with its traditional allies.

By choosing not to demand that Iran change its behavior toward other nations, give up terrorism, or drop its calls for Israel’s destruction—a reasonable point considering that nuclear capability theoretically could give it the power to effectuate that scenario—the United States has flashed a green light to Iran for further adventurism in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. The president may pretend that the nuclear issue can be separated from other concerns about Iran, but those who must fear its behavior are not so foolish.

Liberal Democrats in Congress who have proved susceptible to administration talking points about Netanyahu and the Likud allying themselves with the Republicans need to take note of the fact that the same party that the White House was trying to help by means both fair and foul (indirect State Department contributions to anti-Netanyahu groups in Israel) takes more or less the same position on the Iran deal as the prime minister. Those who think hostility to Netanyahu should help them choose to override their instincts to back Israel’s position on the Iran deal should think again.

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ISIS and the Stalingradization of Yarmouk

In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

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In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, not far from Damascus. The refugees, already struggling through Syria’s civil war, found themselves in an almost Stalingrad-like state this month when ISIS laid siege to the camp. CNN describes what happened next:

Besieged and bombed by Syrian forces for more than two years, the desperate residents of this Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus awoke in early April to a new, even more terrifying reality — ISIS militants seizing Yarmouk after defeating several militia groups operating in the area.

“They slaughtered them in the streets,” one Yarmouk resident, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “They (caught) three people and killed them in the street, in front of people. The Islamic State is now in control of almost all the camp.”

An estimated 18,000 refugees are now trapped inside Yarmouk, stuck between ISIS and Syrian regime forces in “the deepest circle of hell,” in the words of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. …

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front control about 90% of the camp. The organization also claims that the Syrian government has dropped barrel bombs on the camp in an effort to drive out armed groups.

The plight of the Yarmouk camp isn’t exactly capturing the world’s attention. And a big reason for that, as even Israel’s critics are now acknowledging, mirrors the Kurdish complaint to Goldberg. The Palestinians of Yarmouk are cursed with three barbaric enemies, none of them Jews. And so the world yawns.

Mehdi Hasan, who would never be mistaken for a Zionist shill, takes to the pages of the Guardian, which would never be mistaken for a pro-Israel bullhorn, to call out the hypocrisy. He explains the terrible condition of the camp and the horrors endured by its residents throughout the civil war. Then he (of course) engages in the requisite throat-clearing about Israel’s “crimes” and the “occupation of Palestine.”

But he finally gets around to his point:

Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, occasionally awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: how different, how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the people besieging Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable.

That is the first of three lessons of the story of Yarmouk: that the world cares about Palestinian suffering when it can be blamed on the Jews. For the sake of posterity, Hasan even runs down a list of atrocities perpetrated on the Palestinians by other Arabs. It’s not a new phenomenon, nor would anybody in his right mind try to deny it. At least Hasan wants to change it.

The second lesson is that the Palestinians and their advocates often have unexpected allies, and rather than embrace even a temporary alliance they live in denial. Hasan illustrates this as well when he writes:

So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition of neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the west want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us resort to a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few are willing to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a temporary cessation of hostilities.

That is an Obama-level false choice hand in hand with a straw man. And it shows just how unwilling Hasan is to make common cause with people he dislikes politically. Neoconservatives are not nearly so pro-intervention in Syria as Hasan suggests (this is a common mistake that virtually every non-neoconservative who talks about the Syria conflict makes). But notice how quickly Hasan seems to change key: it’s a crisis, and has been a burgeoning disaster for years, and yet those who want to intervene are slammed as wanting to “ask questions later.”

Meanwhile, the negotiated track has failed. This is the reality: Assad has the upper hand, and ISIS has had success with their brutality, and neither one is ready to sit down at the table with representatives of Palestinian refugees to shake hands and end the war.

And that brings us to the third lesson, related to the second. Just as the Palestinians’ opponents are sometimes their best allies, the Palestinians’ friends often turn out to be anything but. There is no negotiated solution for the Palestinians of Yarmouk on the horizon because President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have already thrown them to the wolves.

The Obama administration, which happily hammers Israel for every perceived violation of Palestinian rights, has struck a bargain to reorder the Middle East by elevating Iran and its proxies, such as Assad. The plight of the Palestinians in Yarmouk does not interest this president and his team in the least. After all, it can’t be blamed on Israel.

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Rubio’s Path Is Steep But Doable

Marco Rubio’s timing couldn’t be better. A day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the presidency reminded us why the putative Democratic nominee will be running away from what should have been a strength—foreign policy—the Florida senator’s declaration illustrates why the youngest candidate in the field (five months younger than Ted Cruz) has a chance. Just as Clinton’s seeming inevitability is undermined by the sense that she is a stale retread from the ’90s who is looking to serve the third term of either her husband or her former boss, Rubio epitomizes the future of American politics. As a Hispanic and the son of working class immigrants, arguably the Republican candidate with the strongest command of foreign policy among the major contenders, and perhaps the best speaker, Rubio ought to rate serious consideration. But whether he does or not will depend on his ability to withstand the scrutiny and rigors of the big stage as well as that of his rivals.

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Marco Rubio’s timing couldn’t be better. A day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the presidency reminded us why the putative Democratic nominee will be running away from what should have been a strength—foreign policy—the Florida senator’s declaration illustrates why the youngest candidate in the field (five months younger than Ted Cruz) has a chance. Just as Clinton’s seeming inevitability is undermined by the sense that she is a stale retread from the ’90s who is looking to serve the third term of either her husband or her former boss, Rubio epitomizes the future of American politics. As a Hispanic and the son of working class immigrants, arguably the Republican candidate with the strongest command of foreign policy among the major contenders, and perhaps the best speaker, Rubio ought to rate serious consideration. But whether he does or not will depend on his ability to withstand the scrutiny and rigors of the big stage as well as that of his rivals.

There has always been a strong argument in favor of Rubio sitting out the 2016 race. Running now puts him in competition with his former ally and mentor, Jeb Bush, as well as obligating him to give up a Senate seat that could have been his for the indefinite future, something fellow senators Ted Cruz (not up for reelection until 2018) and Rand Paul (he may be able to avoid making a decision about staying in the Senate until after the presidential primaries are decided) may not have to do.

There is also the question as to whether Rubio’s youth and relative inexperience have not quite prepared him for presidential prime time. Though he was promoted as the next great thing by many in the GOP after their 2012 election defeat, he had a very bad 2013 that started with a dive for a water bottle during his State of the Union response speech and then cratered as the party base bitterly rejected his support for a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. By the end of that year as Rand Paul’s stock went up as even many Republicans were prepared to withdraw from engagement from the world, it seemed unlikely that Rubio would run for president, let alone be thought of as a potential first tier candidate.

But in the last year Rubio has rebounded. He managed to back away from the immigration bill by rightly concluding that the surge across the border last summer proved that security had to come first before a path to citizenship could be considered for those here illegally.

More than that, the very factor that undermined Paul’s confidence that the GOP was no longer the party of a strong America has boosted the rationale for a Rubio candidacy. As one of his party’s foremost spokesmen on foreign policy, Rubio offers a clear alternative to the once and future neo-isolationist Paul as well as defense and security neophytes like Scott Walker.

However, the obstacles in his way are formidable.

The first is that he can’t count on any one constituency to fall back on. Where Jeb Bush has the establishment, Rand Paul has libertarians, Ted Cruz has the Tea Party and, he hopes, Christian conservatives for whom he will have to compete with Walker, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, Rubio has no such base.

What he does have is the ability to reach out to all of these constituencies, though many Tea Partiers, who once boosted him in his 2010 Senate run as one of their own, will never forgive him for his past support of immigration amnesty. That’s the conceit of Scott Walker’s candidacy as well, but the Wisconsin governor has not acquired the same enemies on the right that Rubio has made.

Also against him is the Obama precedent. As can also be said of Cruz, Republicans who have been complaining about the country being run by a first-term senator may not want to try the same experiment with a conservative instead of a liberal.

On top of all that is the fact that he must, at best, expect to split Florida fundraisers with Jeb Bush. And with his poll numbers still quite low, raising money may not be easy.

But there’s a reason Rubio seems willing to gamble his Senate seat on chances that some pundits don’t consider good.

Just as Obama didn’t wait his turn in 2008, it’s not crazy to think that Rubio could catch fire too. The fact is, the polls still mean very little right now, a point that Scott Walker should keep reminding himself about. The nomination will hinge on the debates and that ought to stand Rubio in good stead. He may not be able to count on any one sector of the party, but that can help him too since it means he can’t be pigeonholed as either a Tea Party or libertarian extremist who can’t win in November (as can be said of Cruz and Paul) or a product of the establishment or the past (as is the case with Bush). And unlike Walker, he won’t have to learn about foreign policy—the main job we hire presidents to do—on the fly.

The point about a large field with no real frontrunner is that it means that any one of the candidates who can engage the imagination of the voters can win. Rubio might not turn out to have the right stuff to win a presidential nomination let alone the election. But with his immigrant/working class background, Hispanic identity, and impeccable conservative credentials on social and economic issues, he remains the computer model of the kind of candidate Republicans need to nominate. His immigrant narrative is a powerful tool that not only helps him but also hurts Jeb Bush. He is a candidate of change and youth in a way that fellow Hispanic and relative youngster Ted Cruz is not.

Can it work? It has before in American politics when John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama did it. Those are tough comparisons to live up or down. But with chances that are at least as good anyone else’s, there’s no reason for him not to give it a try.

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Iran Sanctions and Missile Defense

That didn’t take long. It’s been less than two weeks since the unveiling of the “framework” agreement at Lausanne between Iran and the West, and already we are seeing one of the consequences of lifting sanctions, with Russia’s announcement that it would finally begin to deliver components of the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran. The Iranians had bought the S-300 in 2007 for $800 million but the deal was suspended because of United Nations sanctions. Now, with the end of sanctions in sight, Russia is predictably rushing in to reap the benefits, regardless of the consequences of further beefing up Iran’s military might.

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That didn’t take long. It’s been less than two weeks since the unveiling of the “framework” agreement at Lausanne between Iran and the West, and already we are seeing one of the consequences of lifting sanctions, with Russia’s announcement that it would finally begin to deliver components of the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran. The Iranians had bought the S-300 in 2007 for $800 million but the deal was suspended because of United Nations sanctions. Now, with the end of sanctions in sight, Russia is predictably rushing in to reap the benefits, regardless of the consequences of further beefing up Iran’s military might.

A couple of points are worth making.

First, this shows how easily sanctions crumble and how hard it is reassemble them in the future. The administration brags about “snap back” provisions in its negotiations with the Iranians, but does anyone seriously believe that a nation like Russia will ever vote on the UN Security Council to hold Iran accountable for violations of a nuclear accord, when by doing so Moscow would be hurting its own economic interests?

Second, this shows how much more formidable Iran will be with sanctions lifted. If Iran ever gets the S-300 operational, that will make air strikes on the Iranian nuclear complex much harder for the United States or Israel. And that’s just a start. Imagine how much military hardware—everything from rockets to tanks to complex cyber weapons—the Iranians will be able to buy with all sanctions lifted. Already Iran is a potent threat to its neighbors. Already Iran is on the verge of dominating the region from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. All of those trends will accelerate with Iran having billions more to spend on its hegemonic power grab.

As a result, the lifting of sanctions, should it occur, will be an irreversible step with momentous consequences for the future. No responsible leader in the West should contemplate such a drastic move unless Iran, at a minimum, makes a full accounting of its past nuclear-weapons work (without which it is impossible to judge its future compliance), agrees to export the uranium it has already enriched, agrees to permanent limits on its nuclear activities, and allows completely unfettered access to international inspections—none of which Iran has yet agreed to, at least not according to the public comments of the supreme leader.

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Why Hillary Must Run Away From Foreign Policy

There was something missing from Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy. Though she ran in 2008 as the adult who could be trusted to take a 3 a.m. crisis call and the most substantive item on her long resume is her term as secretary of state, nary a mention was made of foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this strikes her team as a smart strategy, but the most important is the fact that at a time when the world looks to be falling apart, her ineffectual frequent-flyer routine during her tenure at the State Department is a good argument for voting against Clinton, not voting for her.

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There was something missing from Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy. Though she ran in 2008 as the adult who could be trusted to take a 3 a.m. crisis call and the most substantive item on her long resume is her term as secretary of state, nary a mention was made of foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this strikes her team as a smart strategy, but the most important is the fact that at a time when the world looks to be falling apart, her ineffectual frequent-flyer routine during her tenure at the State Department is a good argument for voting against Clinton, not voting for her.

As John wrote earlier, Clinton’s expected $2 billion dollar election blitz is starting off with a mom and apple pie routine that is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “morning in America” campaign. Americans like their leaders to be optimists, not downers who are constantly telling us we’re doomed (note to file for Rand Paul). It’s also a safe play for someone with no serious competition for her party’s nomination.

Nevertheless, the emphasis on economic issues and income inequality is more than just a bow in the direction of the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. It’s an insurance policy aimed at ensuring that the one person who could derail her coronation in the summer of 2016 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia doesn’t run: Senator Elizabeth Warren. The liberal activist core is clamoring for a challenge to Clinton, a candidate they don’t trust, but in the absence of a credible challenger, she’ll be able to devote her campaign war chest to demonizing the top Republican challengers.

But in spite of these good reasons to stick to domestic issues, the complete absence of even a mention of foreign policy at a time with the Middle East in crisis, terrorism surging, Russia threatening the independence of Ukraine and the Baltic states, and President Obama fully engaged in selling his nuclear deal with Iran is remarkable.

The irony here must be difficult for Clinton to accept. Her personal approval ratings were never higher than during her four years at State, but the mere mention of her tenure there is embarrassing.

Above all, it is a reminder that although Clinton would like to be able to fully engage the same voters that turned out in droves to elect and reelect Barack Obama, she doesn’t necessarily want to remind voters that she was supposedly in charge of administration foreign policy for four years. Running for a third term of an incumbent president would be a difficult task for even a skilled retail politician, but Hillary has shown us repeatedly that this is not her strength. As I wrote yesterday, running for the third term of either Obama or her husband is a thankless task that complicates her efforts rather than easing her path to the presidency.

Though she boasts of her international advocacy for women and girls, the record on most other substantive topics is dismal. The comical “reset” with Russia was the prelude to Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. In the Middle East, Clinton presided over a policy that neglected a war-torn Syria and bugged out of Iraq enabling the rise of ISIS. And that’s not mentioning the debacle in Libya (the one example where Clinton’s alleged advocacy of a more muscular foreign policy was heeded) and the catastrophe in Benghazi that still hangs over her reputation. Being in the room with Obama when Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs won’t be enough to burnish her reputation at a time when it is clear that the president’s boasts about the end of al-Qaeda were false.

Ignoring foreign policy is also a way to escape having to take a stand on Obama’s appeasement of Iran. Iran is a tricky question for a politician who is simultaneously seeking to wrap up the liberal base and appeal to general-election voters. She can’t oppose the president but she also doesn’t want to appear as an extension of his efforts since that damages her ability to present herself as something new, even though she is very much yesterday’s news.

Clinton is correct if she thinks that bread-and-butter issues are always going to influence more voters than foreign affairs even in a time of crisis. But 2016 looks to be more of a foreign-policy election than most and that puts the former first lady at a distinct disadvantage because it is the one area where her record can be taken apart.

The putative Democratic candidate must, like GOP contender Rand Paul, pray that the next year brings no new crises and things become quieter in the war against ISIS and the confrontation with Iranian-backed terrorists in the region. But if not, she’s in trouble. Clinton may try to run away from foreign policy in the next year and a half, but she won’t be able to hide from it.

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Dress Codes and the Naked Public Square

In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

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In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

Over at National Review, Katherine Timpf notes the latest in an ongoing story: the attempt to label school dress codes as part of “rape culture.” This particular incident has to do with a female student at Orangefield County High School in California who was sent home for wearing a shirt over knee-length leggings. But the issue isn’t new, and the branding of dress codes as “rape culture,” as strange as it may sound, is fairly mainstream in American liberalism today.

The idea is that it’s wrong to tell girls to dress in ways that would be less distracting to boys because teenage boys should just keep their eyes on the blackboard. (Teenage boys being famous for their studious self-control in the name of overthrowing an oppressive patriarchal order.) But of course, as Timpf writes, it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition: you can tell girls to dress appropriately while also telling boys to be respectful. (And, by the way, you should tell boys to be respectful.) Additionally, condemning dress codes as stigmatizing is one thing; blaming them for sexual violence is quite another.

And yet the left has made this leap. In 2013, a blog at the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress included the following paragraph:

When most Americans think about “rape culture,” they may think about the Steubenville boys’ defense arguing that an unconscious girl consented to her sexual assault because she “didn’t say no,” the school administrators who choose to protect their star athletes over those boys’ rape victims, or the bullying that led multiple victims of sexual assault to take their own lives. While those incidences of victim-blaming are certainly symptoms of a deeply-rooted rape culture in this country, they’re not the only examples of this dynamic at play. Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently “distracting” to the boys who simply can’t control themselves. That approach to gender roles simply encourages our youth to assume that sexual crimes must have something to do with women’s “suggestive” clothes or behavior, rather than teaching them that every individual is responsible for respecting others’ bodily autonomy.

Notice how the authors have to guide you gently away from reality. When you think of rape, the authors allow, you probably tend to think of rape. But have you considered thinking of things that are not rape, instead?

The more disquieting part of all this is this sentence: “Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently ‘distracting’ to the boys who simply can’t control themselves.”

And what attitudes recognize–sorry, just assume–that boys can be distracted by girls? Well, for one, religious belief. I attended Jewish schools that not only enforced dress codes but also educated boys and girls in separate classrooms. This is in part because, apparently unlike the Center for American Progress, my school administrators had met teenage boys. But it’s also because modesty in dress is part and parcel of a respectful religious atmosphere that recognizes and channels human nature instead of ignoring it.

But the truth is it doesn’t really matter as long as educational institutions can just go their own way. What the left is trying to do with the “rape culture” allegation is to drive those on the wrong end of the false accusation from polite society. Practicing observant Judaism is, according to the left, perpetuating “rape culture.”

The other troubling story is yesterday’s New York Times article on the fear that now governs the public actions of those opposed to same-sex marriage legalization. The left has come a long way from (correctly) pointing out that terrorism-related detainees at Gitmo deserve legal representation just like any other defendant:

Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.

In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.

John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of massacring colonists. But now defending the position held by, among others, Barack Obama just a few years ago is untenable for a major law firm. Again, we’re not even talking necessarily about actually opposing gay marriage in principle. We’re talking about providing legal representation to those who hold that view.

There will be lawsuits stemming from the legalization of gay marriage because religious institutions will want to at least go on practicing their religion in private. But there’s no such thing, anymore. A church or a synagogue or a mosque will be ostracized just as will their legal representation. And traditional religions will be equated with the promotion or enabling of rape.

The future of the public square is bleak.

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Seven Takeaways From the Hillary Announcement Video

1) The video Hillary Clinton released announcing her candidacy is a liberal version of a “baseball, hot dogs, apple pies and Chevrolets” commercial—classic visual cliches evoking the America not of old but of older television commercials, only with single mothers and gay couples added to the mix.

2) The ad the video evokes, oddly enough, is the Ronald Reagan “it’s morning in America” spot from 1984. I say “oddly enough” because the implicit theme of “morning in America” was the comeback of the United States both financially and in its own self-understanding. That wasn’t spin. The ad was released during an economic growth spurt almost unimaginable today (the economy grew by 3.8 percent in 1982, 6.4 percent in 1983 and 6.3 percent in 1984—by 8.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004 alone).

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1) The video Hillary Clinton released announcing her candidacy is a liberal version of a “baseball, hot dogs, apple pies and Chevrolets” commercial—classic visual cliches evoking the America not of old but of older television commercials, only with single mothers and gay couples added to the mix.

2) The ad the video evokes, oddly enough, is the Ronald Reagan “it’s morning in America” spot from 1984. I say “oddly enough” because the implicit theme of “morning in America” was the comeback of the United States both financially and in its own self-understanding. That wasn’t spin. The ad was released during an economic growth spurt almost unimaginable today (the economy grew by 3.8 percent in 1982, 6.4 percent in 1983 and 6.3 percent in 1984—by 8.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004 alone).

3) Reagan could take credit for the changes because he was president. Hillary seems to be attempting to invoke a sense of optimism about the current American condition (at least among Democrats) for which she can realistically take no credit—which is also helpful, because to the extent that people do not feel optimistic, she doesn’t bear any responsibility for the bad feeling either.

4) Optimism is nice. The ad is nice. Hillary probably needs to look nice. She’s trying to look nice. You don’t immediately associate her with the word “upbeat.” Maybe if she spends $500 million to show she’s upbeat, people will come to agree. On the other hand, New Coke.

5) In the end, as E.J. Dionne points out, she has determined to run the way George H.W. Bush ran in 1988—and that Bush ran as “Reagan plus,” with promises to improve education and the environment. But Bush’s “thousands points of light” argle-bargle really had little to do with his landslide victory, as I recounted in my 1993 book, Hell of a Ride (now available on Amazon for the amazing price of one penny). He was Reagan’s third term, pure and simple; in the fall of 1988, Reagan hit an approval rating of 54 percent, and Bush received…53.4 percent. (And this was, of course, a decline of more than five points from Reagan’s 1984 margin of 58.9 percent. In 1986, before he fell into the trough of Iran-Contra, Reagan routinely scored approval ratings in the low 60s—a number Barack Obama has never even approached.)

6) In 1988, all the data suggested the public believed it was “time for a change.” I worked in the Reagan White House at the time, writing speeches for the president, and this was a problem we addressed head on—and helped Bush win as a result. In rally speech after rally speech, Ronald Reagan said, “People say it’s time for a change. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are the change.” The point was that the changes of the 1980s had not fully solidified and Bush was needed in large measure to assure that change was not reversed.

7) The bottom line: If Hillary is to be the second coming of George H.W. Bush, albeit a Democrat, Obama better up his game and fast. In the last quarter of 1988, when people were choosing between Bush or Michael Dukakis, the economy was growing by 5.4 percent. Reagan’s signature policies, from the tax cuts to tax reform to the defense buildup that put the Soviet Union on the track to dissolution, were all judged successes by the electorate. Obama’s signature policy, Obamacare, still polls badly—and his foreign policy isn’t looking any too good either, to put it mildly. To win, Hillary needs to be able to take advantage of the “we are the change” idea. Right now, it would work against her. Pretty badly.

 

 

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See the U.S.A., Mr. Abe

When Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, arrives in Washington D.C. late this month, the cherry blossoms will have just dropped. According to U.S. and Japanese government officials, Abe will travel to Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles after addressing a joint session of Congress. That’s all predictable, and uninspired. Let me offer a more interesting itinerary for Japan’s leader.

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When Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, arrives in Washington D.C. late this month, the cherry blossoms will have just dropped. According to U.S. and Japanese government officials, Abe will travel to Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles after addressing a joint session of Congress. That’s all predictable, and uninspired. Let me offer a more interesting itinerary for Japan’s leader.

At the end of his congressional speech, Abe should look at the representatives of America’s people and say the following:

“My American friends, I now leave your capital city to see your country. Unlike most world leaders, I want to understand as best I can what makes America so strong. I want to take back with me lessons that will help make my economic plan, called “Abenomics,” as successful as possible.

“And so, I am on my way from here to Fargo, North Dakota, to see first hand the incredible shale oil revolution that is transforming your economy and the world’s energy markets. I will be the first foreign leader to visit your shale fields, which may help my own country in its struggle to diversify its energy imports away from the unstable Middle East and increasingly aggressive Russia.

“I want to see the technologies that are opening up the earth’s hidden resources, and understand the business environment that led Fargo to be the fastest growing metropolitan economy in the U.S. last year, with an unemployment rate of just 3 percent.

“After that, ladies and gentleman, I am off to Raleigh, North Carolina, to visit one of America’s great technological centers. As an aging country, Japan must remain at the forefront of technological innovation in everything from healthcare to defense. Japanese must see how the universities of the ‘Research Triangle’ create new ideas and attract some of your country’s best minds. We have our own technology zones, but they have not prevented Japan’s companies from losing their competitiveness over the past two decades. I hope to find some answers to our technological research challenges in Raleigh.

“But ideas only take you part of the way. I have pledged in my economics plan to revitalize Japan’s domestic economy. How do we turn ideas into real goods and services and get them to our people? Despite being the world’s second-largest democratic economy, Japan continues to struggle to improve its national logistics in everything from air travel to telecommunications. And so, I will fly to Jacksonville, Florida, which boasts almost unparalleled links for trains, planes, and automobiles, as well as ships and telecommunications. Japan’s economy must learn to become more efficient and better integrate all elements of our domestic economy, and to make it easier for our companies to trade internationally.

“Yet Japan faces a major challenge of ensuring that all of its regions and cities prosper. I have committed to strengthening local economies and our countryside, as well. So I want to see some of America’s thriving smaller cities. There are many to choose from, but I will head back to your Midwest and visit Lincoln, Nebraska, which is one of the strongest growing small cities, and see how its state university adds to the local economy. Or perhaps Sioux City, South Dakota, whose lower taxes and reduced regulations helps nurture local businesses.

“Maybe we can get some of Japan’s larger companies to consider moving out of Tokyo and to our medium-size cities, if we can learn how parts of America’s heartland continue to attract skilled labor, smaller tech startups, and corporate headquarters. Maybe that will help us grow small business, as well. It may not be a perfect fit with our local economies, but I know that seeing vibrant small American cities will give me ideas for Japan’s.

“I may not visit your most famous cities on this trip, and I won’t be heading to places that give the best photo-ops. But the vibrant nature of America’s economy, from New York to South Dakota, is based on that special combination of individual freedom and entrepreneurial spirit. I know that your energy and dynamism comes not from this city, not from the federal government, but from local economies, small businesses, and educated citizens.

“And just maybe, a Japanese leader visiting your most innovative and economically active areas will remind the members of this Congress and the rest of the American government of just what is unique about your country, and help you, too, to ensure that it is not suffocated by an ever-intrusive, growing national government.

“Maybe, in fact, we can work on that goal together, in both our great countries.”

Now, that would be a trip worth covering.

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The Culture Wars v. the Culture of Life  

A few days ago I wrote a piece warning Republicans of the coming culture wars, led by Hillary Clinton, who will make the “war on women” a centerpiece of her presidential campaign. Liberals believe they can use social issues to bludgeon conservatives into submission and then defeat.

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A few days ago I wrote a piece warning Republicans of the coming culture wars, led by Hillary Clinton, who will make the “war on women” a centerpiece of her presidential campaign. Liberals believe they can use social issues to bludgeon conservatives into submission and then defeat.

There’s no question that in some cultural areas, like gay marriage, traditionalists are losing ground. But when it comes to the issue of unborn life, which has profoundly more important moral implications, notable progress has been made, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Start with the number of abortions, which has dropped from more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.06 million based on the latest data. The abortion rate in the United States is now at its lowest point since 1973. And public opinion continues to shift in a pro-life direction. For example, a recent YouGov poll found that 52 percent of those surveyed think that life begins at conception and 66 percent believe babies in the womb are people. A solid majority support restrictions on abortion, support for late-term abortion remains extremely rare, and more women than men support 20-week abortion ban laws. (Gallup’s data on historical trends, charting opinion since 1996 shows the nation has moved in a more pro-life direction.)

Despite this, the head of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, issued a statement the other day indicating that she believes there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever–which as I understand it is the de facto view held by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and most every leading Democrat. Which means that the truly radical position–a person should have the right to abort any child at any point for any reasons–is the mainstream position of the Democratic Party. (Mr. Obama, while serving as a state senator in Illinois, opposed a bill that would have restricted “abortions” after an infant is born alive. See here and here.)

This offers Republicans the opportunity to advance a culture of life in a way that is principled and shows genuine compassion and care for the most vulnerable members of the human community.

This debate pits utilitarianism against the belief in the inherent human dignity of every individual. The utilitarian approach is an assertion of the power of the strong over the weak; it therefore treats human beings as means rather than as ends. By contrast, the belief in human dignity is rooted in the Jewish and Christian tradition that regards the protection of innocent lives as one of the primary purposes of a just society. A utilitarian society will be dramatically less humane than a society that honors the principle of human dignity and extends it to those in every season and station in life.

The iconic liberal Hubert Humphrey put things this way: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

These are more than lovely words; they speak directly to the moral duties of the state. It seems to me that Republicans and conservatives, even in the current cultural climate, can make a powerful and resonant argument: Unborn children are at the dawn of life, and they deserve the protection of government. They will provide protection to unborn children, even as those on the left believe it is a sacred right to target them.

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The Announcement Isn’t the Real Hillary News

This is the real Hillary news:

This campaign will…build up to an effort likely to cost more than any presidential bid waged before, with Mrs. Clinton’s supporters and outside “super PACs” looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion in a blitz of donations from Democrats who overwhelmingly support her candidacy.

This is the reason Hillary Clinton has effectively cleared the Democratic field and the reason (even if unconscious) so many Democrats are enthusiastic about her: She’s a juggernaut. The fact that her campaign people could seriously be looking at $2.5 billion when the Obama and Romney campaigns together spent a little less than $2 billion just three years ago gives an indication of Hillary’s sheer power.

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This is the real Hillary news:

This campaign will…build up to an effort likely to cost more than any presidential bid waged before, with Mrs. Clinton’s supporters and outside “super PACs” looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion in a blitz of donations from Democrats who overwhelmingly support her candidacy.

This is the reason Hillary Clinton has effectively cleared the Democratic field and the reason (even if unconscious) so many Democrats are enthusiastic about her: She’s a juggernaut. The fact that her campaign people could seriously be looking at $2.5 billion when the Obama and Romney campaigns together spent a little less than $2 billion just three years ago gives an indication of Hillary’s sheer power.

And it makes sense. She has been at the center of the American political consciousness for nearly 25 years. She may be the most famous woman in the world, and, aside from Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the most famous non-president ever to contest for the presidency. That was true in 2008, of course, but remember, she lost the Democratic nomination because she was challenged by a brilliantly conceived campaign to her left. It’s doubtful she would have lost the general election.

Ah, but things change, and this is the point. Right now, polls say three-fifths to two-thirds of the electorate believe it’s time for a change—and if 2016 is a “change” election that will direct a headwind straight into Hillary Clinton’s path:

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll…showed 59% of registered voters believe it’s more important to find a candidate who will bring greater changes to current policies—even if that person is less experienced and tested.

Everyone who opposes her should presume Hillary Clinton will achieve her eye-popping 2016 money goal. This will have several effects.

First, it’s likely Democrats down-ticket are going to have some fundraising problems, as will the Democratic party apparatus. This could provide opportunities in Senate and House races for the Republicans in 2016.

Second, and perhaps most important, it would be disastrous for the Republican party if the nominating process goes on too long, or if an obvious nominee emerges and must still campaign through the end of March or into April because there’s a gadfly staying in. Hillary running unopposed with a virtually limitless supply of money will mean she can start going negative and defining one or more of her Republican opponents almost from the jump in 2016.

If the primary process drains the eventual candidate of money so that he must somehow make it through three months until the convention, effectively penniless—which is what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012—that could be especially problematic. Obama super PACs spent $100 million going after Romney in Ohio on the issue of job-destruction by his Bain Capital, and that money was extremely well-spent in part because it went unanswered.

Hillary Clinton starts the race either as the weakest strong candidate ever or the strongest weak candidate ever. Republicans are going to have to make sure they are in a position to exploit her weakness, because there’s no denying her strength.

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Obama’s the Partisan on Iran, Not the GOP

President Obama had a response ready after Senator John McCain said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when he had the bad manners to point out that Iran was making it clear that they had no intention of agreeing to much of what the U.S. was saying was part of the nuclear deal it had struck with the Islamist regime. Speaking yesterday in Panama, the president praised Kerry and said that for McCain and other Republicans to treat the secretary’s statements about the deal as “somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the supreme leader of Iran, that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” But the problem with that argument is that you don’t have to be a Republican to understand that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei genuinely means what he says while the administration is obfuscating the truth about the Iran deal. Though calling Republicans partisans makes an easy sound bite, the truth is, it’s been Obama that’s been playing the partisan card throughout the debate about Iran.

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President Obama had a response ready after Senator John McCain said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when he had the bad manners to point out that Iran was making it clear that they had no intention of agreeing to much of what the U.S. was saying was part of the nuclear deal it had struck with the Islamist regime. Speaking yesterday in Panama, the president praised Kerry and said that for McCain and other Republicans to treat the secretary’s statements about the deal as “somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the supreme leader of Iran, that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” But the problem with that argument is that you don’t have to be a Republican to understand that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei genuinely means what he says while the administration is obfuscating the truth about the Iran deal. Though calling Republicans partisans makes an easy sound bite, the truth is, it’s been Obama that’s been playing the partisan card throughout the debate about Iran.

The claim of partisanship has been an essential part of the administration’s game plan on Iran. Instead of relying on his less than convincing arguments justifying his indefensible concessions to the Islamist regime, the president made the very smart tactical decision to play offense instead of defense. That worked pretty well when it allowed him to make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on the Iran nuclear threat seem more like a Republican initiative rather than a wake-up call on an issue of paramount importance. And it may work again as he fends off complaints about the nuclear deal he has truck with Iran that Tehran keeps telling us won’t constrain their ambitions in the way Kerry and Obama claim it will.

The president is, after all, faced with a difficult dilemma. The agreement with Iran was only achieved after a breathtaking series of retreats on the part of American negotiators. Obama had pledged when running for reelection in 2012 that any Iran deal would involve the end of its nuclear program. Instead, he has signed off on a deal that will leave them in possession of thousands of centrifuges, all of their nuclear plants (including the impregnable mountainside redoubt at Fordow) and in possession of a large stockpile of nuclear material that can easily be re-converted for use in a bomb. The president has acknowledged that the Iranians will continue to work on nuclear research and that the “breakout” time to a bomb will be less at the end of the deal than at the start. He has also agreed to a sunset clause that will end restrictions on Iranian activity in 15 years enabling Iran to get a bomb by adhering to the agreement even if they don’t take advantage of the ample chances to cheat on it.

So what else can he do but to claim Republicans are just opposing it because they don’t like anything he does? The GOP may be ready to say no to most anything he would try, but the problem for the administration is that if there has been any issue on which there has been a bipartisan consensus these last six years, it is Iran. Large bipartisan majorities were mustered for Iran sanctions that the president opposes, though he now takes credit for those measures bringing Iran to the table. Similarly large majorities existed at the start of the year for more sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen Obama’s hand in the talks and might have given him the ability to resist Iranian pressure to make even more concessions to them. If those majorities have cracks in them today it is only because the White House has worked furiously since January to convince wavering Democrats that opposing sanctions, or even the Corker-Menendez bill that would compel the administration to submit a deal to Congress for approval, would be a betrayal of their party loyalty. The same trick was tried to make Democrats boycott Netanyahu’s speech.

For Obama, Iran has become a test of Democrats’ fealty to his personal rule as an executive who refuses to let his pursuit of détente with Iran be constrained even by the Senate performing its constitutional obligation to ratify foreign treaties.

Can this tactic work? Washington is a city where politics always rules triumphant so there’s no reason to think it won’t. The only problem is that Iran won’t play along, as its supreme leader continues to point out that he will insist on keeping its nuclear secrets, refusing surprise inspections (the only way monitoring of their efforts will have a chance of working) and insisting that sanctions are lifted immediately. Given his track record of folding to Iran at every point in the talks, there’s no reason to believe Obama won’t do it again in order to get the Iranians to sign a written agreement by June. McCain is right about Kerry being “delusional” if he believes the Iranians won’t count on the U.S. backing down again.

But unfortunately, Obama is right about the impact of partisanship. Though he is projecting onto Republicans his own trademark tactic for winning battles, it’s likely that he will be able to use party loyalty to convince enough Democrats to defect from the bipartisan consensus on stopping Iran. Hypocrisy has never stopped him before, even if it means he is, like his secretary of state, being less honest about the deal than the leader of an anti-Semitic, terror-sponsoring Islamist regime.

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Historic Hillary? She’s Running for Someone Else’s Third Term

The keyword for today’s launch of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency is a prefix: re. For Mrs. Clinton, it’s all about re-inventing and re-introducing. What is being described as a “low key” and “small scale” announcement via social media is an effort to learn the mistakes from her failed 2008 campaign. There will be plenty of money raised and a fair amount of adulation from the always-compliant mainstream liberal media that will take seriously her claim to be running because she cares about the economic security of middle-class families. She doesn’t have any serious competition for the Democratic nomination and can still count on the energy that will be generated by the possibility of electing of our first female president. Yet the hoopla about the start of her coronation tour can’t conceal the fact that she has no real rationale for her candidacy other than it may finally be her turn. More troubling for the former first lady and secretary of state is the fact that she will be running for Barack Obama’s third term as well as that of her husband Bill. That’s why all that reinventing and reintroducing are bound to fall flat outside of the precincts of Clinton loyalists.

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The keyword for today’s launch of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency is a prefix: re. For Mrs. Clinton, it’s all about re-inventing and re-introducing. What is being described as a “low key” and “small scale” announcement via social media is an effort to learn the mistakes from her failed 2008 campaign. There will be plenty of money raised and a fair amount of adulation from the always-compliant mainstream liberal media that will take seriously her claim to be running because she cares about the economic security of middle-class families. She doesn’t have any serious competition for the Democratic nomination and can still count on the energy that will be generated by the possibility of electing of our first female president. Yet the hoopla about the start of her coronation tour can’t conceal the fact that she has no real rationale for her candidacy other than it may finally be her turn. More troubling for the former first lady and secretary of state is the fact that she will be running for Barack Obama’s third term as well as that of her husband Bill. That’s why all that reinventing and reintroducing are bound to fall flat outside of the precincts of Clinton loyalists.

Mrs. Clinton has demonstrated repeatedly over the last 15 years of her political career as she tried to emerge from the shadow of the 42nd president, she is not much of a retail politician. Though possessed of great intelligence and a keen political mind, she has no talent for charming the masses as her husband did. She is a policy wonk at heart that longs for achieving big things like health-care reform, but always lacked the ability to sell them to the country. Her new pose of affection for the middle class is a stage prop meant to distract us from the fact that she is merely recycled goods, as she attempts to give the American people a chance to right the wrong they did her when they preferred the fresh and charismatic Barack Obama in 2008 to her.

But the inevitable subtext of her campaign launch is Clinton’s struggle to rally Obama’s loyalists while also trying to strike out on her own. That’s an effort that is bound to fall flat.

Whether it is about emails, scandals, or election cycles, the Clintons always like to think the rules of political life don’t apply to them. Their chutzpah and Bill’s charm enabled them to survive some things that would have destroyed less determined politicians. But Clinton’s problem heading into the 2016 campaign isn’t limited to her Nixonian approach to transparency and her conduct in office. Democrats don’t care about her emails or Benghazi. But as she glides her way to her party’s nomination, the electorate understands that what she is essentially asking them to do is to give her party a third consecutive term in the White House with someone who has been a major figure in the last two Democratic administrations.

Clinton can’t evade the fact that she was a major player in Obama’s first term, albeit while serving as one of our most inconsequential secretaries of state in generations. Nor can she pretend that her talk about the middle class isn’t merely recycled campaign rhetoric left over from Obama, albeit shorn of the hope and change electricity that made it sound so good when coming out of the mouth of a man with genuine political talent (although none for governance) and a sense of his place in history.

As someone who could claim a place in history as important as Obama, her effort ought to seem fresh and exciting. But whether it is all glitz, as it was in 2008, or today’s low-key start, the main point about all this is that there’s nothing new or interesting about her.

While the Republicans have a bevy of interesting and possibly flawed candidates, there is no getting around the fact that whether you love them or hate them, with the exception of Jeb Bush, the most likely contenders have a new car smell about them. That’s why Bush has a heavier lift than most of his establishment backers realize. And it’s also why Clinton’s long wait may ultimately lead to disappointment.

It’s possible that Hillary’s willingness to put herself forward primarily as the first woman president will play better than her 2008 decision not to run as if that was the main reason to elect her to the presidency. You can also make a strong argument that the Democrats’ Electoral College advantage and the potential for the Republicans to nominate someone who can never gain the support of a majority of voters will save her from her flaws as a politician and her sense of entitlement.

But running as the standard-bearer of the third Obama or Clinton terms would be a heavy burden for even a more able politician than Hillary. There’s no way to re-sell the public on a person that they haven’t been able to escape for 23 years. At times they have respected her (as a frequent flying though never successful secretary of state) and at other times they sympathized with her (Monica). But they have never really liked her much. Nor, other than her gender, do they see any reason to elect her beyond the notion of rewarding her for hanging around this long. Though she wants to be seen as a feminist avatar this time, next year she’ll just be the stand-in for Barack and Bill. Unless her Republican foes save her from herself the way the cowardice of her potential Democratic rivals has done (and yes, I’m talking about you, Elizabeth Warren), carrying all the baggage of the last two Democratic presidents isn’t a formula for a successful presidential campaign.

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Kurdish Infighting Threatens Kirkuk, Gains Against Islamic State

Vice President Joseph Biden wasn’t exaggerating: There’s a sense within Iraq that the defeat of the Islamic State is just a matter of time. And while the Iraqi Army and Shi‘ite militias and volunteers fighting alongside them have pushed the Islamic State out of Tikrit and aim to replicate their success in Mosul this summer, the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) isn’t giving up without a fight, hence, the group’s efforts to destabilize Kirkuk.

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Vice President Joseph Biden wasn’t exaggerating: There’s a sense within Iraq that the defeat of the Islamic State is just a matter of time. And while the Iraqi Army and Shi‘ite militias and volunteers fighting alongside them have pushed the Islamic State out of Tikrit and aim to replicate their success in Mosul this summer, the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) isn’t giving up without a fight, hence, the group’s efforts to destabilize Kirkuk.

In the months before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, most analysts believed that Kirkuk would be a flashpoint between Kurds, whom Saddam had forced from the city and who called Kirkuk their “Jerusalem,” Arabs who claimed a majority in the city and its environs, and Turkmens, whose numbers the government of Turkey exaggerated and which Ankara sought to use as a wedge for its own interests.

The reality of post-liberation Kirkuk turned out to be more placid. There was tension, and Kurdish parties maintained their claims, but generally speaking, ethnic and sectarian violence within Kirkuk city was more the exception rather than the rule. After all, many of the Arabs who had replaced Kurds in recent years wished to return to the cities of central and southern Iraq, where they either had living family or the graves of family long since deceased. And many of the Kurds whom Baathist forces had expelled from the city of Kirkuk were not landowners in the first place, but tenants.

The real trouble was in the farmland outside the city, where Kurdish farmers expelled from their fields wished to return immediately, but Arab farmers who had invested their savings in crops were loath to depart before harvesting them. Men like then-Col. (now Lt.-Gen.) William Mayville did a brilliant job working with farmers on a case-by-case basis to resolve such problems in a fair and equitable way.

Still, Kirkuk remained a contested city until late last spring, when Kurdish peshmerga belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) consolidated control over the city. Even then, under the stewardship of PUK-affiliated governor Najmaldin Karim, the Kurds were careful to ensure that Kirkuk remained a city for all ethnicities and religions; ethnic chauvinism played no part in governance and, if taxi drivers are considered good barometers, then both Turkmen and Arabs acknowledge that they have as much if not greater access to resources and investment.

Not surprisingly, then, ISIS has worked constantly over the past several months not only to destabilize Kirkuk, but to control it altogether. After ISIS threatened Iraqi Kurdistan last August, many countries responded to calls to support Kurdistan and help the Kurds defend themselves. The United States offered airstrikes and training, but still declines to provide the Kurds directly with heavy and advanced weaponry out of deference to Baghdad and to avoid encouraging Kurdish separatism. The Europeans, however, have not hesitated to answer the Kurdish requests for weaponry.

Here’s where Kurdish disunity undercuts the fight against ISIS and risks Kurdistan’s security. Kirkuk is central to the ISIS efforts now to attack and destabilize Kurdistan. While the minister of Peshmerga Affairs is from the Gorran Movement, an opposition group which has since relegated much of its reformist calls to rhetoric only and struck a bargain with the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), most weaponry delivered to the Kurdistan Regional Government is directed into the hands of the KDP peshmerga. None of it has found its way to Kirkuk, largely because the Kurdish leadership in Erbil is upset that Kirkukis repeatedly vote for an independent-minded governor and not for the KDP.

In effect, after decades of demanding that Kirkuk should be returned to Kurdistan, once it has been, the political narrow-mindedness of the Kurdish leadership in Erbil seems to prefer to risk Kirkuk’s fall to ISIS rather than see its Kurds choose a political figure from a party other than Masoud Barzani’s party. True, the KDP will use some of the weaponry to prepare for the coming fight in and around Mosul, although at present the Syrian-based Popular Protection Units (YPG) seem to be doing much of the heavy-lifting rolling back ISIS around Sinjar.

Let’s hope that rather than simply heed the Kurdish call for arms and assume such arms will go where needed, European states donating to the Kurdish cause ensure their assistance goes where it is needed and, indeed, refuse to provide arms unless they first receive a firm commitment the arms will fight ISIS rather than be stockpiled for the benefit of a single party or family.

Kurds often complain that they have been victims of history. Alas, as the military abandonment of Kirkuk on the part of the KRG suggests, too often they have been victims not only of outside powers, but also of the short-sightedness of their own political leadership.

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