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When Populism Masquerades As Conservatism

The Donald Trump candidacy has revealed something important about a certain slice of the conservative world. Many right-wing personalities – including Fox’s Eric Bolling and Steve Doocy, radio talk show hosts Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and the writer/commentator Ann Coulter – have come to the defense of Donald Trump when he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” in part because he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” the theory being the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (Forget for now that many people who claim to be “anti-establishment” in fact personify the establishment by any reasonable definition.)

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The Donald Trump candidacy has revealed something important about a certain slice of the conservative world. Many right-wing personalities – including Fox’s Eric Bolling and Steve Doocy, radio talk show hosts Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and the writer/commentator Ann Coulter – have come to the defense of Donald Trump when he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” in part because he’s been criticized by the “establishment,” the theory being the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (Forget for now that many people who claim to be “anti-establishment” in fact personify the establishment by any reasonable definition.)

There have been notable exceptions, but even in the context of Trump’s comments on John McCain, the criticisms of Trump have been extremely muted. There were even some attempts to justify what Trump said. According to Trump’s defenders, his words were taken out of context. They praised Trump for not apologizing. It was Republican “midgets” who were attacking him. The reason Trump is being condemned is because he’s politically incorrect, it’s been said; he won’t play by the rules others do. The real offense was less what Trump said about McCain than the piling on by critics of the television host and hotelier.

“Donald Trump is like a Navy SEAL,” according to Fox’s Steve Doocy. “He never backs down when he’s in a fight.”

To be clear, not everyone I have mentioned supports Trump for president. But they all see things in Trump they admire; they are very reluctant to attack him, and they constantly give him the benefit of the doubt and praise what they consider to be his virtues. They repeatedly point to Trump as someone from whom other conservatives can learn, even someone they should emulate.

Now consider this: Most of the people I’ve mentioned have been critical, and often harshly critical, of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, on the grounds that he’s not a “true” conservative. Some have even argued that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are “two peas in the same pod.”

This is a rather bizarre charge. You don’t have to support Jeb Bush for president in 2016 to acknowledge he was among the most successful and conservative governors in several generations. (Jeb Bush’s record was, as George Will has pointed out, “measurably more conservative” than that of Ronald Reagan during his two-term governorship of California. I’ve documented Governor Bush’s conservative achievements here.)

Now let’s turn to Trump’s record, which I’ve laid out before, and is essential to re-state for the purposes of my argument. Mr. Trump has supported massive tax increases on the wealthy, a Canadian-style single-payer health care system and is a fierce protectionist. He once declared himself “strongly pro-choice” and favored drug legalization. Earlier this year he accused Republicans who want to reform entitlement programs – the essential task for those who favor limited government — of “attacking” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Barack Obama couldn’t have stated it better.

That’s not all. For most of the last decade, Trump was a registered Democrat. As of 2011, he had given a majority of his $1.3 million political contributions to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Chuck Schumer.

Even on immigration, the issue that has won over the hearts of many on the right, Trump has been erratic. In 2012, he criticized Mitt Romney’s “crazy policy of self-deportation, which was maniacal. It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote … He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

Trump also said this:

For people that have been here for years that have been hard-workers, have good jobs, they’re supporting their family — it’s very, very tough to just say, ”By the way, 22 years, you have to leave. Get out.” … I have to tell you on a human basis, how do you throw somebody out that’s lived in this country for 20 years.

And in 2010, this:

You have American interests hiring [illegal immigrants], absolutely. And many cases, they’re great workers. The biggest problem is you have great people come in from Mexico working crops and cutting lawns that I’m not sure a lot of Americans are going to take those jobs. That’s the dichotomy. That’s the problem. You have a lot of great people coming in doing a lot of work. And I’m not so sure that a lot of other people are doing that work so it’s a very tough problem.

These are the kind of statements that, if said today, would cause Ms. Coulter to shake with rage. Yet the author of ¡Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole is among Trump’s strongest supporters.

Nobody in the GOP field has amassed anything like the liberal record of Trump. It makes Susan Collins’s political stands over the years look like Barry Goldwater’s. Yet some of those who fashion themselves as “constitutional conservatives,” principled and uncompromising, the heirs of Reagan, the keepers of the flame, have found themselves far more favorable to Trump than to Jeb Bush — a man who, unlike Trump, has sterling conservative achievements to his name. (What he and other conservatives like Marco Rubio don’t have is the serrated rhetoric of Trump.)

What this demonstrates – and why the whole controversy about Donald Trump is about more than simply Donald Trump – is that some of those who claim to speak for conservatism may not be quite as interested in conservative policies and conservative philosophy as they profess. At least, it’s become subordinate to other considerations. I say that because if policies and philosophy were as important as they claim, it seems reasonable to conclude that these same people would lacerate Trump (as they lacerate so many others they believe are insufficiently pure) rather than embrace and defend him.

There’s no rational reason self-described conservatives who accuse Jeb Bush of being a RINO, a “neo-statist,” and a Hillary Clinton clone would treat Donald Trump with respect and deference and find reasons to defend and praise him. Something quite odd is clearly going on here.

Mr. Trump is given a special absolution – amnesty, if you will – from his past/current liberal deeds and words. And that absolution, that amnesty, is granted by virtue of Trump’s style. He embodies what some on the right apparently believe politics needs more of. And that’s the problem for many of us. Trump embodies crudity and insults, anger and attacks, banalities and “barstool eruptions,” in the withering words of Charles Krauthammer. Yet it turns out that those qualities make a man like Trump, who has held left-wing positions, a star with some on the right. Being perceived as an enemy of the much-loathed “establishment” is a ticket to stardom. Nothing else really matters, or matters nearly as much.

Which leads me to my final point: What appears to be happening is that some of those who claim to be champions of conservatism are actually champions of populism. They are not the same thing, philosophically or temperamentally. (Populism has been defined as “an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice.” It has different manifestations, some more responsible and some less, but resentment is often a key ingredient in populism. It’s also a movement that’s been historically susceptible to demagogues, a concern held by philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to the American founders.)

There is room for populism within conservatism — it can be a “cathartic response to serious problems,” in the words of George Will — but it should not define conservatism. Yet increasing, in some quarters, it is; and the sympathy and support some on the right are giving to Donald Trump is clear evidence of this.

This distinction between conservatism and populism goes a long way toward explaining why different people on the right, who might otherwise agree on a fair number of things, react in fundamentally different ways to Donald Trump. And it’s why the Trump candidacy may well catalyze a broader, clarifying debate about what the true definition of conservatism is. For many of us who are conservative, Donald Trump not only doesn’t define it; he’s antithetical to it.

 

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The Unavoidable Costs of Inaction in the Middle East

Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. This is one of those times. Read More

Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. This is one of those times.
From the Los Angeles Times:

Islamic State militants’ attempts to inspire Americans to launch attacks at home pose a bigger threat to the U.S. than Al Qaeda, the head of the FBI said Wednesday.

From The Hill:

The Army’s top officer said Tuesday it was “frustrating” to watch the gains U.S. troops helped achieve in Iraq unravel with the entrance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and that the chaos “might have been prevented.”

“It’s frustrating to watch it,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Fox News in an exclusive interview weeks away from his retirement after 39 years in the Army.

“I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction,” he said.

Odierno, who commanded at various levels in Iraq during the war, said “I think it would have been good for us to stay,” when asked by Fox News if it was a mistake to pull out.

There you have it: The biggest terrorist threat we face was created, in no small measure, by President Obama’s pullout from Iraq, which was hardly necessary; all indications were that if the president truly wanted to reach a deal to keep U.S. troops, he would have been able to do so. That, combined with Obama’s failure to intervene early on in Syria’s civil war, created the conditions under Islamic State has become such a potent threat.

That is worth keeping in mind the next time that Obama slams the Iraq War or claims that his political adversaries are warmongers. (Which, by my watch, should occur in the next five minutes.)

Yes, it’s true that sometimes getting involved in a war is a mistake, and (based on what we now know in hindsight) the Iraq War was one of those times. It was true, too, that the war was terribly mismanaged until the surge (which Obama opposed), resulting in much needless death and destruction. But what Obama’s tenure in office has shown is that not getting involved in a war — or ending our involvement in a war prematurely — also carries terrible costs. We are seeing those costs now with the rise of ISIS, and also the rise of Iran. Heaven knows what will happen in Afghanistan if the president carries out his pledge to withdraw entirely before he leaves office.

Getting involved in the Middle East carries costs, true. But what we are now seeing is the heavy cost of nonintervention, and it is Pollyannaish to imagine that the price will be paid exclusively by Iraqis or Syrians, or even by the Israelis and Turks, the French and British. Americans, too, will pay the price for the president’s tragically misguided foreign policy which is inadvertently aiding the rise of our enemies

 

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Israel United Against Iran Deal, So Should Those Who Claim to Be Its Friends

This morning during a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to pour cold water on the notion that friends of Israel are obligated to oppose the pact. Citing a Washington Post op-ed titled “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” Kerry treated the piece that cites the opinions of a few retired officials that agree with him as proof that his claim that the result of his two years of negotiating with Iran would benefit the Jewish state as well as the United States. A similar piece in the Forward by J.J. Goldberg quotes some of the same figures. Taken together, they seem to make a strong case that the pro-Israel community ought to either sit out the Iran deal fight in Congress or even support the agreement. But the two articles leave out a couple of important facts about Israeli opinion about the Iran deal. One is that most of those quoted are either disgruntled former officials who hold a grudge against Prime Minister Netanyahu for not keeping them in office, or ideological opponents of the man who has won three consecutive elections. The other is that while Netanyahu’s political foes in the Knesset are as sharply critical of the prime minister as the Obama administration, they have joined him in forming a united front against the Iran deal as a deadly threat to the country’s future. That’s a point that any American that claims to be a friend of Israel needs to consider before they consider backing the administration’s push for détente with the Islamist regime.

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This morning during a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to pour cold water on the notion that friends of Israel are obligated to oppose the pact. Citing a Washington Post op-ed titled “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” Kerry treated the piece that cites the opinions of a few retired officials that agree with him as proof that his claim that the result of his two years of negotiating with Iran would benefit the Jewish state as well as the United States. A similar piece in the Forward by J.J. Goldberg quotes some of the same figures. Taken together, they seem to make a strong case that the pro-Israel community ought to either sit out the Iran deal fight in Congress or even support the agreement. But the two articles leave out a couple of important facts about Israeli opinion about the Iran deal. One is that most of those quoted are either disgruntled former officials who hold a grudge against Prime Minister Netanyahu for not keeping them in office, or ideological opponents of the man who has won three consecutive elections. The other is that while Netanyahu’s political foes in the Knesset are as sharply critical of the prime minister as the Obama administration, they have joined him in forming a united front against the Iran deal as a deadly threat to the country’s future. That’s a point that any American that claims to be a friend of Israel needs to consider before they consider backing the administration’s push for détente with the Islamist regime.

As Jeffrey Goldberg, who has been the administration’s unofficial mouthpiece on Israel issues and their dutiful amanuensis when it comes to smears of Netanyahu, noted in The Atlantic last week, the man that Washington desperately wanted to win the Knesset election in March has turned on Obama. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog was the darling of the White House earlier this year as the administration moved heaven and Earth in a failed attempt to influence the Israeli electorate to reject Netanyahu’s bid for a third straight term as prime minister. As Goldberg wrote, Herzog’s line on the Iran negotiations last winter was that he trusted Obama to get a “good deal” with Tehran. But rather than continuing his effort to cozy up to the administration, Herzog now completely agrees with Netanyahu’s evaluation of the deal. As Goldberg wrote:

In a telephone call with me late last night, Herzog’s message was very different. The deal just finalized in Vienna, he said, “will unleash a lion from the cage, it will have a direct influence over the balance of power in our region, it’s going to affect our borders, and it will affect the safety of my children.”

Iran, he said, is an “empire of evil and hate that spreads terror across the region,” adding that, under the terms of the deal, Iran “will become a nuclear-threshold state in a decade or so.” Iran will take its post-sanctions windfall, he said, and use the funds to supply more rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, more ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, and “generally increase the worst type of activities that they’ve been doing.”

The other major figure in the Israeli opposition, Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party has also chimed in with harsh criticism of the agreement with Iran. In fact, the administration has achieved something that is generally considered impossible: uniting the Zionist parties of the Knesset from right to left. Netanyahu, Lapid, and Herzog and the leaders of the other parties normally can’t agree on anything. But Obama and Kerry have brought them together to denounce a deal that all know makes their region more dangerous while also presenting an existential threat to Israel’s future.

As I noted earlier this week, there is nothing in the deal that will prevent Iran from using the vast windfall it gets from sanctions relief to help fund its terrorist auxiliaries and allies that face off against Israel. Both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza can expect to get a share of the flood of cash that President Obama is allowing Tehran. Kerry’s claims that such transfers won’t be allowed are absurd since even National Security Director Rice conceded, it will be their money.

Nor is anyone of stature in Israel’s political establishment on either side of the left-right divide buying the idea that the loose restrictions that will soon expire can do anything to stop an Iranian bomb. Like American critics of the Iran deal, they consider the administration’s arguments that there are no alternatives to their appeasement policy short of war to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having discarded all the enormous political and economic leverage it held over Iran in 2013, it is disingenuous, if not completely dishonest of Obama and Kerry to say that theirs is the best option. Having effectively spiked a the chances that tougher sanctions would bring Iran to its knees when they began bowing to Iranian dictates in the talks, their current claim that opponents are warmongers has no credibility.

Some Israelis, Lapid in particular, do criticize Netanyahu for his strident opposition to Obama’s Iran strategy over the last two years. Seeking to make political hay out of this catastrophe for Israel, they argue that if Netanyahu had been nicer to Obama or at least not criticized him publicly, the U.S. might not have signed such a horrible deal.

This is nonsense. Netanyahu may have made some tactical mistakes in the last few months, in particular his decision to address Congress in March. He gave a great speech but it did nothing to stop Obama and even served the administration’s interests by diverting attention away from their policies and allowing Democrats to rally ’round their “insulted” president. But President Obama has been determined to create a new détente with the Islamist regime since the day he entered office. In doing so, he has discarded every other U.S. interest in the talks including the need to stop Iranian support for terrorism, its anti-Semitism, its determination to destroy Israel, its quest for regional hegemony and its ballistic missile program, in order to get a deal at any price. Netanyahu had no chance to alter Obama’s course.

But Israel’s rare political unity on the issue should influence Americans who care about the Jewish state. If Netanyahu, Herzog and Lapid all agree that the deal is terrible, no member of the Congress or the Senate who wishes to present themselves as friends of Israel should be allowed to get away with claiming that he knows better than these leaders, no matter how many disgruntled retired Israeli spooks can be assembled to contradict them.

Efforts by the administration’s left-wing allies to undermine the unity of the pro-Israel community should be dismissed out of hand. The deal is a clear and present danger to Israel’s future and should be treated as a litmus test of backing for Israel as well as reliability on U.S. security. All members of the House and Senate — especially those, like Senator Chuck Schumer that have staked their reputations as being guardians of Israel’s security — should be put on notice that they must choose between loyalty to Obama and what is right.

 

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When ‘He Fights’ Matters More Than Whether He Wins

Among the many endlessly repeated refrains from those mesmerized by the solipsistic bombast sufficing for political rhetoric from the soapbox agitator presently sucking all the oxygen out of the 2016 presidential race is that “he fights.” The unfounded implication in this refrain is that his competition is composed of weak-kneed capitulators. What this expression of support does not take into account, however, are victories, losses, or the strategic draws. The fight is, in and of itself, an end. The same might be said for those members of the Greek public that elevated the far-left leader of the Syriza Party, Alexis Tsipras, to prime minister. He and the party he led were “fighters” who would take the Greek public’s dissatisfaction with the terms of their endless bailouts from their European creditors to Brussels. But the Greek leader’s fecklessness did little to improve his country’s position. For the Greeks, however, the fight is apparently more important than any victory. Read More

Among the many endlessly repeated refrains from those mesmerized by the solipsistic bombast sufficing for political rhetoric from the soapbox agitator presently sucking all the oxygen out of the 2016 presidential race is that “he fights.” The unfounded implication in this refrain is that his competition is composed of weak-kneed capitulators. What this expression of support does not take into account, however, are victories, losses, or the strategic draws. The fight is, in and of itself, an end. The same might be said for those members of the Greek public that elevated the far-left leader of the Syriza Party, Alexis Tsipras, to prime minister. He and the party he led were “fighters” who would take the Greek public’s dissatisfaction with the terms of their endless bailouts from their European creditors to Brussels. But the Greek leader’s fecklessness did little to improve his country’s position. For the Greeks, however, the fight is apparently more important than any victory.

Alexis Tsipras promised the Greek public the world. During the campaign, he pledged to end the austerity measures imposed on them from far-flung European capitals. He insisted that he would restore the “dignity” that had been stolen from the Greeks by a Europe that underwrote a lavish lifestyle the modest Greek economy could not sustain on its own. But the stubborn laws of economics did not bend to Tispras’ rhetoric. Politics is the art of the possible, and Tispras’ government overestimated its ability to expand the realm of feasible outcomes. The promises he made sounded lovely and the roaring crowds, fed up with the stark and unpleasant realities of indebtedness, were eager for a fairytale. Syriza spun the yarn.

When he failed to deliver his people to this Promised Land, Tispras returned to the Greek people with a convenient excuse: His best intentions had been thwarted by nasty foreign elements. Only the righteous fury of the Greek public would dissuade Europe from further humiliating them further. So Tsipras and his government abandoned their responsibilities as the leaders of a republican government who are often tasked with choosing the better of two bad options. Instead, they abdicated their roles as national leaders and put a referendum to the people. Would the Greek public accept the terms of another bailout which included further austerity measures or would they demand that the laws of economics be repealed? The outcome was never truly in doubt.

“[W]e have just witnessed Greece stand up to a truly vile campaign of bullying and intimidation,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman averred, “an attempt to scare the Greek public, not just into accepting creditor demands, but into getting rid of their government.” Krugman wasn’t the only liberal celebrating Greece’s definitive “no” vote. The eccentric academic-turned-Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, promised the Greek public that a stunned and broken Europe would amend the terms of new lending that would include debt forgiveness within 48 hours of the referendum. Instead, within 24 hours, he resigned.

In the wake of the Greek referendum, Tsipras seemed to expect that he would stride victorious into the halls of power in Brussels and encounter only chastened bureaucrats cowering before a mighty display of Greek sovereignty. He was wrong. Instead, the terms Europe was prepared to offer Greece in order to ensure that their banks would reopen and it might stay within the European Union were harsher than those the Greek public had just rejected. Tsipras was compelled not only to return home to now sell those pitiless bailout terms, but he was compelled to eject from his party’s governing coalition the idealists who were foolish enough to take Tsipras at his word. In the midst of jubilant celebration in the wake of the Greek referendum, Tsipras claimed that “continued kowtowing” to Europe was over, but it had only just begun.

Bearing the brunt of Syriza’s broken promises, it is reasonable to expect that the Greek public would be irate. They had been misled by political figures with only a tenuous grasp on policy and an unduly inflated sense of their own abilities. That is not the case. “If snap elections were to happen now, 42.5% of Greeks would vote for the Syriza party, nearly double the level of support for the main center-right opposition party, New Democracy, at 21.5%, according to a survey published over the weekend by polling company Palmos Analysis,” the Wall Street Journal reported this week. “Syriza’s support remains high despite the party split, with about a quarter of the party voting against the premier in parliament last week.”

For some – the disaffected, the despondent, the disgusted – the fight is more important than the victory. For some, even quixotic battles are worth fighting, if only to register their dissatisfaction and make known the extent of their cynicism and estrangement. It’s a lesson that some in the United States would do well to internalize. What some might see as a strain of nihilism, an urge to storm the Bastille and tear it down to its foundations, those in the crowd would view as their only remaining option. Even though they know in their hearts that it is ill-fated and desperate, it’s worth the effort. That kind of terrifying hopelessness is dangerous. For the Greeks, Syriza is the physical representation of their desperation. Americans might recognize this as a familiar phenomenon.

 

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The War Crimes Industry

In an earlier post, I flagged my Mosaic Magazine essay on the film Censored Voices, an Israeli documentary that purports to expose Israeli war crimes during the Six-Day War. The filmmakers claim that Israel’s military censor, who cut 70 percent of the original material, had subjected the testimony of soldiers, published in 1968, to “brutal” censorship. Censored Voices, we are told, restores those “silenced” voices. In my essay, I questioned whether there had been any censorship of this magnitude, and asked whether the cases highlighted in the film were true, representative, or added to our understanding of the war.
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In an earlier post, I flagged my Mosaic Magazine essay on the film Censored Voices, an Israeli documentary that purports to expose Israeli war crimes during the Six-Day War. The filmmakers claim that Israel’s military censor, who cut 70 percent of the original material, had subjected the testimony of soldiers, published in 1968, to “brutal” censorship. Censored Voices, we are told, restores those “silenced” voices. In my essay, I questioned whether there had been any censorship of this magnitude, and asked whether the cases highlighted in the film were true, representative, or added to our understanding of the war.

There have been three responses to the essay:

• Fellow blogger Max Boot provides some fascinating insights into why certain conflicts invite charges of war crimes and others don’t—regardless of the facts.

• Journalist and author Matti Friedman analyzes what’s wrong with the flourishing Israeli genre of what he calls “moral striptease.” Among many nuggets: “The fact that the director of Censored Voices has earned complimentary coverage in Israel’s biggest women’s weekly and in El Al’s in-flight magazine hardly suggests a society ‘crushing dissent.’ In fact, it suggests a society where dissent is celebrated even in the heart of the mainstream.”

• Asa Kasher, philosopher and author of the Code of Ethics of the Israel Defense Forces, argues that you can’t judge the justice of a war by how soldiers wage it, and if you make vague charges of war crimes against Israel, you’re making it impossible for the IDF to investigate and ameliorate. That’s immoral.

My own summation is coming up in a week. In the meantime, take in these interesting responses.

 

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Deception or Truth About Planned Parenthood Body Parts Sale?

It took a week, but the left is finally finding its voice about the shocking videos that portray Planned Parenthood officials bargaining for the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses. The initial response from liberals to the controversy was shocked silence that bespoke a hope that an apology from Planned Parenthood would suffice to answer critics. But more videos are becoming available showing other such conversations that betrayed a cynical and mercenary attitude toward the treatment of these tiny bodies that have been shattered and “crushed” by the procedures that they profit from. Thus, Congressional Democrats and liberal organs such as the New York Times are now speaking out both in defense of the organization and the practice of selling the refuse of abortion. The counterattack against the group’s critics attempts to cast the debate as one in which the right to abortion or even research with fetal tissue is being called into question. But the Planned Parenthood videos are shocking because they reveal the barbarism of late-term abortion procedures used on infants that could possibly survive outside the womb and the callous way in which abortion mills profit from them. The issue here isn’t the future of Roe v. Wade or medical research, but the reality of a practice that rightly strikes most Americans as equivalent to infanticide.

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It took a week, but the left is finally finding its voice about the shocking videos that portray Planned Parenthood officials bargaining for the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses. The initial response from liberals to the controversy was shocked silence that bespoke a hope that an apology from Planned Parenthood would suffice to answer critics. But more videos are becoming available showing other such conversations that betrayed a cynical and mercenary attitude toward the treatment of these tiny bodies that have been shattered and “crushed” by the procedures that they profit from. Thus, Congressional Democrats and liberal organs such as the New York Times are now speaking out both in defense of the organization and the practice of selling the refuse of abortion. The counterattack against the group’s critics attempts to cast the debate as one in which the right to abortion or even research with fetal tissue is being called into question. But the Planned Parenthood videos are shocking because they reveal the barbarism of late-term abortion procedures used on infants that could possibly survive outside the womb and the callous way in which abortion mills profit from them. The issue here isn’t the future of Roe v. Wade or medical research, but the reality of a practice that rightly strikes most Americans as equivalent to infanticide.

The Times claims the videos are the product of a “campaign of deception” directed at Planned Parenthood and that the edited versions of the videos initially released distort its position. However, such umbrage about the tactics of those trying to monitor an organization that receives vast amounts of taxpayer dollars is entirely hypocritical. As liberal columnist Kirsten Powers noted in USA Today, no one on the left thought there was anything wrong with someone secretly taping the embarrassing private talk by Mitt Romney in which he spoke of “47 percent” of the public being bought by the Democrats. The Times had no problems with the means by which the tape was produced or the fact that the damning quote was taken out of context. The same standard should apply to Planned Parenthood officials that spoke on tape about their “less crunchy” ways of killing the infants whose body parts they were hawking.

Nor should we be diverted by the Times or Planned Parenthood’s Congressional defenders attempt to claim critics of the group want to ban all medical research with fetal tissue. No one wants to ban research but it is hardly surprising that the videos provoked outrage because what they reveal is that an organization that claims to be about women’s health is actually in the business of mass harvesting human organs. That is a point that isn’t refuted by claims in the unedited versions of the videos that the group only seeks to get its “expenses” back from the sales.

What Planned Parenthood’s apologists don’t understand is that the issue here isn’t deception but morality. The group’s Deborah Nucatolla, its senior director of medical research, was caught on tape saying that it could produce more saleable body parts by performing more late-term abortions. If that is indeed what they have been doing, and there is no reason to believe that this is not unusual, then it is clear that Planned Parenthood is engaged in a practice that is deliberately seeking to promote abortions under circumstances that are morally dubious because of the survivability of the fetus and which have nothing to do with the health of the mother.

While most Americans still support keeping abortions during the first trimester legal, the outrage about the tapes worries the Times and the abortion industry precisely because it focuses attention on an aspect of the issue on which the vast majority of the public is not on their side. Late term abortion is rightly opposed because, in an era of ultrasounds and medical advances that make it possible for many infants that have been in the womb for more than 20 weeks to survive, the practice is morally indefensible. And, if most Americans think killing such infants is horrific, how much more despicable is a taxpayer-funded group that sells the body parts of these babies?

The problem here isn’t whether knowledge about the way Planned Parenthood thinks and operates helps those who would like to ban all abortions. The real issue is whether we have become a culture that is indifferent to immoral medical practices aimed at producing body parts for sale. Defense of the practice isn’t so much a matter of abortion rights as a willful effort to prevent us from even considering the moral dimensions of the issue. That those who believe an unrestricted right to abortion under any circumstances is the only principle worth defending are ready to defend such gruesome practices is deeply troubling. No matter where you stand on the question of legal abortion, there are some things that no decent society should tolerate. Congress would do well to investigate this matter and defund Planned Parenthood.

 

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Sanctuary Cities Show Why Immigration Won’t Help Dems in 2016

This week the Senate held a hearing that highlighted the crimes committed by illegal immigrants that had avoided deportation because officials in self-declared “sanctuary cities” refused to hand them over or notify federal officials of their presence. The father of Kathryn Steinle, a young San Francisco woman who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been freed by city officials complying with its sanctuary rules, asked senators to support a bill defunding those municipalities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. Yet what was interesting about the hearing is not so much the slim chances of the bill becoming law. Rather, it was the way Democrats and the liberal media did their best to ignore the issue. Listening to activists that view the focus on sanctuary cities as a thinly veiled effort to demonize immigrants, the political left is still convinced that the issue not only works to their advantage but also will help ensure victory in 2016. But their tone-deaf response to grieving parents like Jim Steinle betrays a flaw in their political strategy. If the debate shifts from foolish talk about “self-deportation” to reasonable efforts to enforce the law, immigration stops being about respecting Hispanic voters and starts becoming a liability for a party that is all in on amnesty for illegals.

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This week the Senate held a hearing that highlighted the crimes committed by illegal immigrants that had avoided deportation because officials in self-declared “sanctuary cities” refused to hand them over or notify federal officials of their presence. The father of Kathryn Steinle, a young San Francisco woman who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been freed by city officials complying with its sanctuary rules, asked senators to support a bill defunding those municipalities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. Yet what was interesting about the hearing is not so much the slim chances of the bill becoming law. Rather, it was the way Democrats and the liberal media did their best to ignore the issue. Listening to activists that view the focus on sanctuary cities as a thinly veiled effort to demonize immigrants, the political left is still convinced that the issue not only works to their advantage but also will help ensure victory in 2016. But their tone-deaf response to grieving parents like Jim Steinle betrays a flaw in their political strategy. If the debate shifts from foolish talk about “self-deportation” to reasonable efforts to enforce the law, immigration stops being about respecting Hispanic voters and starts becoming a liability for a party that is all in on amnesty for illegals.

Most Americans are sympathetic to immigrants and rightly despise nativist rhetoric. To the extent that Republicans become identified with anti-immigrant attitudes, it will not only hurt their ability to win the votes of Hispanics but also alienate many other voters. But the Steinle murder and similar crimes that were highlighted in the Senate hearing shifts the conversation away from prejudice and instead illustrates the problem of a policy stance that treats the law as a detail to be flouted at will.

Some Democrats grasp the inherent danger that sanctuary cities pose to their party. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who helped make San Francisco a sanctuary city during her term as mayor back in the 1980s, has put forward her own proposal on the issue. Her bill would not penalize cities with that designation but still would force them to cooperate with federal authorities. Yet even that seemingly anodyne proposal earned her furious denunciations from activist groups who oppose what they say is its “criminalization of immigrants.” But while the left profits from sympathetic illegals such as the so-called Dreamers who were brought here by their parents, the willingness to extend blanket amnesty even to lawbreakers reveals the danger for Democrats.

The problem is that if they are so in thrall to pro-illegal immigrants that they are prepared to defend the indefensible in the form of a sanctuary city policy that lets murderers walk, they will find themselves on the wrong side of a highly emotional issue. As much as responsible observers have denounced Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about Mexicans who come here illegally, it would be foolish for members of either party to assume that there is no cost to amnesty policies that, like sanctuary cities regulations, treats the law as something to be flouted with impunity. As I noted earlier in the month, Hillary Clinton’s open support for sanctuary cities may yet haunt her in 2016. Her assumption that there are no votes to be lost in the center on this issue may yet prove a colossal mistake.

Republicans still need to be careful on this issue. To the extent to which Donald Trump uses his celebrity to position himself as the loudest voice on the right about the issue, as he did when he announced his presidential candidacy with remarks about most Mexican illegals being rapists and drug dealers, they will find themselves marginalized. But if, as party leaders fervently hope, Trump is but a bad memory for the GOP next year, the ability of immigrant groups to force Democrats to stick with them on outrageous stands on sanctuary cities may prove a far greater problem for them than the reality star is for the Republicans.

 

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EU Should Be Pushed on Treatment of ‘Occupied Territories’

Responding to today’s Times of Israel interview with Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, legal expert Eugene Kontorovich tweeted, “you got to ask #Bensaouda questions & didnt ask about an inquiry into settlements in Cypru[s]?” But Bensouda could actually offer a reasonable response to this challenge about double standards. The people who couldn’t – and who should therefore be hounded about it at every conceivable opportunity – are senior European Union officials who insist that any facilitation of Israeli activity in the “occupied West Bank” is illegal, yet happily facilitate Turkish activity in occupied Northern Cyprus, Moroccan activity in occupied Western Sahara, Chinese activity in occupied Tibet, and much more. Read More

Responding to today’s Times of Israel interview with Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, legal expert Eugene Kontorovich tweeted, “you got to ask #Bensaouda questions & didnt ask about an inquiry into settlements in Cypru[s]?” But Bensouda could actually offer a reasonable response to this challenge about double standards. The people who couldn’t – and who should therefore be hounded about it at every conceivable opportunity – are senior European Union officials who insist that any facilitation of Israeli activity in the “occupied West Bank” is illegal, yet happily facilitate Turkish activity in occupied Northern Cyprus, Moroccan activity in occupied Western Sahara, Chinese activity in occupied Tibet, and much more.

Just today, Reuters revealed that an influential European think tank is urging the EU to go beyond its current drive to label Israeli settlement products and impose numerous additional sanctions, from restricting interaction between European banks and Israeli banks that do business in the settlements (i.e. all of them) to refusing to recognize degrees from Israeli educational institutions in the West Bank. The European Council of Foreign Relations is technically an independent organization, but, as Reuters correctly noted, its “proposals frequently inform EU policy-making.” In 2013, the council proposed five different measures against Israeli activity in the West Bank; two years later, three of the five have been largely adopted, either by the EU itself or by individual member states: excluding settlement produce from EU-Israel trade agreements, severing contact with Ariel University (which is barred from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research program) and advising European companies against doing business in the settlements.

But as Kontorovich has pointed out repeatedly, the EU has no qualms about facilitating activity in other territories that it deems occupied. For instance, the EU has an entire program to direct funding to Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus; inter alia, the program finances infrastructure projects, scholarships for students and grants to businesses. And lest one think this is equivalent to EU projects to help Palestinians, think again: Turkish settlers, who constitute anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the population (depending on whose estimates you believe), are eligible; nor is the program barred from funding projects that directly or indirectly benefit these settlers. That’s in sharp contrast to the West Bank, where European countries refuse to fund any project that might benefit Israeli settlers, even if it benefits the Palestinians far more.

Similarly, Kontorovich noted, the EU reached an agreement with Morocco in which it actually pays Morocco for access to fisheries in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. In short, the EU is paying the occupier for the right to deplete the occupied territory’s natural resources.

And, of course, numerous European companies and organizations do business in such territories; from French conglomerates like Total and Michelin to British universities.

Nor can the EU argue that Palestinians are unique in objecting to such activity. Indeed, the PLO’s Western Saharan counterpart, the Frente Polisario, is currently suing in the Court of Justice of the European Union over the Morocco fisheries agreement, yet the EU is vigorously defending the deal.

Moreover, Israel has a far stronger legal claim to the West Bank than do any of the “occupiers” the EU has no problem doing business with. The League of Nations awarded this land to a “Jewish national home,” and that international mandate was preserved by the UN Charter’s Article 80; the territory had no other recognized sovereign when Israel captured it from an illegal occupier (Jordan) in a defensive war; and UN Security Council Resolution 242 explicitly reaffirmed Israel’s right to keep at least part of the captured territory. Thus if the EU were going to discriminate among “occupied territories,” it should by rights discriminate in Israel’s favor rather than against it.

Bensouda could reasonably respond that a prosecutor has no business commenting on hypotheticals; she can only address actual cases that arrive on her doorstep. But the EU can’t use the excuse that the issue is hypothetical; it’s already neck-deep in discriminatory treatment.

This issue should, therefore, be raised with every EU official at every possible opportunity – by Israeli officials, journalists, and American Jewish leaders. It might not influence EU policy, but at least it would lay bare to the world what actually lies behind it. There’s a name for treating Jews differently than all other peoples. It’s called anti-Semitism.

 

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Hillary Clinton May Have to Scorch the Earth to Win the White House

Polls at this point in the presidential race do not mean a thing. That is, of course, except when they do. The latest Quinnipiac University poll of three swing states – Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado – is one such poll. In all three states, the poll shows that Clinton’s favorability ratings have plummeted, voters no longer trust her, and, against three of the GOP’s top-tier candidates, she is losing. No, polls at this stage of the race are not predictive, but they do set expectations and they focus the minds of the donor class who don’t want to throw good money after bad. If this survey is a portent of things to come, it foreshadows a general election campaign that will make the president’s brutal, no-holds-barred 2012 reelection effort appear the height of cordiality by comparison.  Read More

Polls at this point in the presidential race do not mean a thing. That is, of course, except when they do. The latest Quinnipiac University poll of three swing states – Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado – is one such poll. In all three states, the poll shows that Clinton’s favorability ratings have plummeted, voters no longer trust her, and, against three of the GOP’s top-tier candidates, she is losing. No, polls at this stage of the race are not predictive, but they do set expectations and they focus the minds of the donor class who don’t want to throw good money after bad. If this survey is a portent of things to come, it foreshadows a general election campaign that will make the president’s brutal, no-holds-barred 2012 reelection effort appear the height of cordiality by comparison. 

It’s not the head-to-head matchups in Quinnipiac’s latest survey that should trouble Democrats – it’s the rapid deterioration of Clinton’s image among voters. Even in the state that proved definitively for the left that demography is destiny, Virginia, majorities have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton. Substantial majorities told pollsters they do not trust the prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee. But the worst numbers, the one that is surely prompting bouts of hushed panic among Democratic operatives, were the responses generated when voters were asked if Clinton “cares about the needs and problems of people like you.” Among swing-state voters in Iowa, Virginia, and Colorado, solid majorities believed that Clinton did not care about them. By contrast, the 2012 exit polls revealed that Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama on every issue with the exception of the intangible matter of caring more about the little guy. Obama beat Romney on that issue by an astounding 63-point margin, and he rode that perceived empathy all the way into another four-year term in the White House.

Hillary Clinton has been a prominent figure in American politics for a quarter-century. She is already, perhaps unalterably, defined in the minds of voters. The Republican candidates, meanwhile, are not. Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter observed that Clinton and her fellow Democrats would do all within their power over the course of the nearly yearlong presidential campaign to define the nominee in negative terms. The natural headwinds confronting Democrats in their effort to secure a third consecutive term in the White House will ensure that the process of “defining” the GOP nominee is a pitiless one. But those natural headwinds are compounded by the fact that Hillary Clinton is not the political talent that Obama was.

It’s a bit trite, but it’s worth considering the substantial “coolness” deficit that Democrats are about to face. After almost eight years of branding itself as a vibrant, youthful institution whose leader was as apt to be seen in the Oval Office as he was on the set of a late-night comedy program, Democrats are about to hemorrhage some of that accumulated hipness. The tortured effort by some young progressives in the media to craft a trendy brand around the octogenarian Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg exposes the terrifying shallowness of the left’s bench of fashionable political figures. Democrats who watched a recent video released by Hillary Clinton, in which the candidate hawked her campaign’s branded “chillery” beer cozy and declared that she was “just chilling” herself, must have cringed; an android in a Philip K. Dick novel struggling to mimic human emotion could display more charisma and sincerity. Like the 82-year-old “Notorious R.B.G.,” Clinton will require a transparently fabricated campaign to be perceived as current and something that appeals to a younger generation. Among Democrats with ample national name recognition, only Joe Biden effortlessly projects the kind of approachability and nonchalance that drew young voters to Barack Obama, and he is not in the race. Yet.

If Clinton sacrifices even a modest amount of support among young voters, that must be made up on other fronts. The demographic perhaps most amenable to Clinton’s overtures are women, and the former secretary of state has already ramped up the gender-centric attacks on her adversaries. Speaking to a group of Kentucky voters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently observed that Clinton pitch relies extensively on the candidate’s gender and has focused conspicuously on women’s issues. “You may recall my election last year,” McConnell said of his vanquished opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, “the gender card alone is not enough.” Clinton’s team responded by playing the gender card with even more reckless abandon.

“There is a gender card being played in this campaign,” Clinton wrote on Facebook. “It’s played every time Republicans vote against giving women equal pay, deny families access to affordable child care or family leave, refuse to let women make decisions about their health or have access to free contraception.” Her team followed up with a web-based advertisement featuring McConnell’s remarks and scolding several members of the GOP’s 2016 field for supporting measures Clinton’s campaign dubbed “anti-women.”

The other pillar of Barack Obama’s coalition that Clinton must ensure remains intact if she is to win in 2016 are the minority voters who turned out in substantial numbers to ensure the nation’s first African-American president won two terms in the White House. The time will come when the Clinton campaign must turn the Hispanic community against the Republican nominee – a substantial task if the GOP nominates Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio – but, for now, the former secretary of state is focused on her support among African-American Democrats.

In June, Clinton called voter identification laws and efforts to curtail early voting to within two weeks of Election Day “a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people from one end of our country to the other.” She went further by contending that Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Rick Perry were “deliberately trying to stop” black voters from exercising the franchise. “Note the language here,” Fox News analyst Chris Stirewalt observed. “It’s not a misguided effort with an unfortunate result, it is a deliberate effort to prevent minorities from voting. That’s not just racist, that’s evil.”

This is a theme that you can expect the likely Democratic nominee to pound repeatedly over the course of her campaign in the uphill effort to ensure African-American turnout in 2016 matches the rates set in 2008 and 2012.

The stakes are high in 2016 – more so for Democrats than they were in 2012, when Barack Obama’s allies went so far as to accuse Mitt Romney of complicity in negligent homicide. We may come to look back on that campaign as an epoch of civility. If the GOP nominates a competent candidate, and they have a variety from which to choose, Hillary Clinton and her allies will have to scorch the earth in order to win. The torches are already lit.

 

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Obama Lobby Smear in Iran Deal Debate Cannot Go Unanswered

The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

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The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

Obama’s claims that the only alternative to his appeasement of Iran would be war have always been a false choice. Having cornered Iran into negotiations after being forced by Congress to accept harsher sanctions than he wanted, Obama immediately discarded all the West’s political and military leverage by agreeing to Iranian demands about allowing them to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure in secret talks in 2013. This came only a year after he had pledged in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that any Iran deal would require them to give up their nuclear program. Over the course of the next two years, he systematically abandoned nearly every previous U.S. on the issue and eventually agreed to a pact that expired after ten years and even guaranteed the Iranians the right to continue nuclear research and with an inspections program that gave them 24 days notice. Having undermined the international consensus in favor of isolating Iran, he now accuses critics of wanting war. But all they have been asking for is the sort of tough diplomacy that would have avoided the kind of proliferation that his deal makes inevitable.

The analogies with Iraq and the invocation of the name of former Vice President Dick Cheney is a punch line, not a coherent argument. There is no comparison between a willingness to allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state and to enrich the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But it is an attempt to signal to Democrats that Obama sees Iran appeasement as a core partisan issue on which no dissent should be tolerated. And that is the context in which Obama’s cracks about money and lobbyists and who makes the sacrifices should be viewed.

In 1991, when the elder President Bush was seeking to undermine support for Israel, he let loose with a memorable rant to the White House press corps about being “one lonely little guy” fighting a big powerful AIPAC. That was a gross distortion of reality, especially since AIPAC’s power could not be compared to the influence of the oil industry and the pro-Arab lobby with which the president was apparently more comfortable. Pro-Israel and Jewish groups that saw him as invoking arguments that smacked of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes rightly excoriated Bush. Buchanan was similarly criticized for the same kind of sleight of hand when he falsely tried to cast the argument about the first Gulf War as one in which Jews were pushing other Americans to fight a war they would sit out.

Though the case for the Iran deal is weak, it is one on which a civil debate is possible. But the administration’s line that opponents want war is not only misleading, it is an attempt to avoid rational debate and to demonize the president’s critics. Yet the fact that Obama is now using the same sort of language that once was clearly labeled as out of bounds when they were employed by Republicans is not only reprehensible. It is a challenge to pro-Israel and Jewish Democrats that they cannot ignore.

Jewish Republicans and other pro-Israel conservatives never forgave George H.W. Bush for his slur about AIPAC and he paid a heavy political price for it in his 1992 re-election bid. It is too late to hold Obama accountable in a similar manner but that does not relieve Jewish liberals and Democrats from warning Obama to stand down on his attempt to employ the same kinds of smears against supporters of Israel on the Iran deal. While Obama’s goal is to make Iran a partisan issue on which pro-Israel Democrats will choose loyalty to the president over principle, it does not excuse members of his party from their obligation to stand up against these sort of vile tactics. If they fail to speak out against the Obama lobby smear, they will not merely be acquiescing amid the marginalization of the pro-Israel community, they will be giving a seal of approval to the sort of behavior that they were quick to denounce when Republicans were the offenders.

 

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The Second-Tier GOP Debate May Be the One to Watch

Fox News delivered yet another blow to the presidential hopes of those Republican candidates polling relatively poorly ahead of the first televised presidential debate. Those six candidates who do not make the top 10 in the most recent national surveys will fail to qualify for the prime time debate. They will have their own separate and decidedly unequal contest. On Tuesday, Fox News revealed that the debate of second-tier Republican presidential prospects would occur in the late afternoon on Thursday, August 6, giving more viewers a chance to watch, but it would also be truncated from 90 to just 60 minutes. But fret not, also-rans; yours could end up being the debate to watch. Read More

Fox News delivered yet another blow to the presidential hopes of those Republican candidates polling relatively poorly ahead of the first televised presidential debate. Those six candidates who do not make the top 10 in the most recent national surveys will fail to qualify for the prime time debate. They will have their own separate and decidedly unequal contest. On Tuesday, Fox News revealed that the debate of second-tier Republican presidential prospects would occur in the late afternoon on Thursday, August 6, giving more viewers a chance to watch, but it would also be truncated from 90 to just 60 minutes. But fret not, also-rans; yours could end up being the debate to watch.

It’s unlikely that a debate broadcast at 5 p.m. ET featuring six candidates, none of whom are drawing more than 2 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, will draw as many viewers as the prime-time debate later that evening. From Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio, from Jeb Bush to Scott Walker, and, of course, Donald Trump, the debate promises to be a slugfest. It is no stretch to suggest that this debate will be the most anticipated political event of the summer. But if Trump’s rambling Dadaist speech in South Carolina on Tuesday is any evidence, Trump will devour much of the attention and provide the press with all the ratings-generating mindless mud-slinging they could want. It will be a spectacle. While the GOP candidates who emerge from that debate will benefit from having their sharper edges softened by standing alongside Trump, the process will tarnish the image of the party they are vying to lead.

By contrast, the second-tier debate promises to be a far less entertaining event and, as a happy byproduct, a vastly more enlightening one. Unless the political winds shift rather dramatically in the next month, an outcome that is entirely possible as more and more peripheral Republican primary voters begin to tune into the race, the runner-up debate stage will consist of six talented and accomplished political actors: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, and former New York Governor George Pataki. None of these candidates has exactly lit a fire under Republican primary voters, but each of these candidates are credentialed enough to deserve the party’s nomination.

What’s more, the debate format eliminates the incentive for these candidates to punch wildly upward at the Republicans who are performing better in the polls. While it’s likely to expect the debate participants to make reference to those Republican candidates who will be battling it out later that evening, it would be wasted effort if any of these debaters did not use their fleeting hour before a national audience to make a positive case for themselves. And each candidate has a positive case to make; one unique to themselves and often radically divergent from their fellow second-tier candidates.

Santorum performed better than any other candidate running for the party’s nomination in 2012, and his socially conservative views are and are not well represented in the current crop of leading candidates. Jindal, too, could make a claim to represent the socially conservative wing of the party, but his compelling personal story has the potential to appeal to marginal general election voters who would otherwise not give the GOP a second glance. Fiorina has proven especially adept on the campaign trail, and polls suggest her rising favorability rating among Republicans provides her with the most room for her support to grow. Kasich has adopted the Jon Huntsman approach to winning the nomination. He will advocate for a style of compassionate conservatism that might have fallen out of favor, but which also last won the GOP the White House. Graham will undoubtedly advocate for a robust approach to foreign affairs and will devote much of his focus to the myriad challenges facing America overseas. Pataki, a three-term governor of one of the bluest states in the nation, can tout his ability to work with the opposition party in order to generate consensus for conservative reforms. Should fortunes shift, one or two of these candidates might be replaced with the likes of a Texas Governor Rick Perry or a New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which would make this debate even more of a must-see moment in the 2016 campaign.

There is a reason each of these candidates has failed to capture the imaginations of the Republican electorate – the field is too crowded, too accomplished, too dynamic. The second string of debate participants would be foolish to waste this moment of earned media attention flailing impotently at the Republicans polling at or near the top. In contrast to the prime time debate that, if the egotist leading the pack has his way, will fast devolve into a food fight, the second-tier debate could turn out to be a clarifying and policy-oriented affair. By virtue of its novelty, that debate will draw substantially more viewers than is warranted by virtue of the participants’ support in the polls. There is an opportunity here for some of these candidates to jump out of the also-ran pack and make a name for themselves with GOP primary voters.

It’s counterintuitive, but the second-tier debate may be the one to watch and the one that has the most effect on the trajectory of the race.

 

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The Menendez Defense Transcends Iran or New Jersey

For critics of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear program, the federal indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges earlier this year seemed highly suspicious. In a single stroke, the Justice Department silenced the most vocal Democratic opponent of the president’s foreign policy as well as forcing him to step down as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But though the takedown of Menendez served the administration’s interests, the investigation into his dealings with Doctor Salomon Melgen, a friend and wealthy contributor, predated the debate about the Iran deal or even the senator’s public feud with the White House over its attempts to spike sanctions on the Islamist state. While Menendez’s fans stood by him, most of the country considered the case as just one more example of the sleazy political culture that has long prevailed in New Jersey. But Menendez’s response to the indictment in court on Monday raises some interesting issues that transcend his own fate. Though corruption in New Jersey politics seems unremarkable the decision of the Justice Department to treat routine constituent service that is not, in and of itself, illegal as subject to prosecution, can be seen as an attempt to subvert the separation of powers as well as to call into question the right of citizens to contribute to political campaigns.

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For critics of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear program, the federal indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges earlier this year seemed highly suspicious. In a single stroke, the Justice Department silenced the most vocal Democratic opponent of the president’s foreign policy as well as forcing him to step down as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But though the takedown of Menendez served the administration’s interests, the investigation into his dealings with Doctor Salomon Melgen, a friend and wealthy contributor, predated the debate about the Iran deal or even the senator’s public feud with the White House over its attempts to spike sanctions on the Islamist state. While Menendez’s fans stood by him, most of the country considered the case as just one more example of the sleazy political culture that has long prevailed in New Jersey. But Menendez’s response to the indictment in court on Monday raises some interesting issues that transcend his own fate. Though corruption in New Jersey politics seems unremarkable the decision of the Justice Department to treat routine constituent service that is not, in and of itself, illegal as subject to prosecution, can be seen as an attempt to subvert the separation of powers as well as to call into question the right of citizens to contribute to political campaigns.

The prosecution of Menendez hinges on the senator’s intervention with the government to ease the way for Melgen to receive reimbursements from Medicare as well as his efforts to support a port security deal from which the doctor would profit. Neither of those actions is per se illegal. But the indictment considers them to be payment in exchange for Melgen’s $600,000 contribution to a pro-Menendez political action committee even though they have no smoking gun document or evidence proving that this was a quid pro quo agreement.

Is it reasonable to assume that such a large gift meant that Menendez was more inclined to assist Melgen in his dealings with the government than he might otherwise be? Sure. But it is one thing for something to look fishy. It is quite another for the government to destroy the career of a prominent senator on such an assumption. After all, if the same standard were applied to the actions of the Hillary Clinton State Department with regard to the interests of donors to the Clinton Family Foundation, the former First Lady would be in the dock with Menendez and not be the presumptive Democratic candidate for president in 2016.

Moreover, the further assumption on the part of the government that independent contributions are, by definition, necessarily corrupt is based on a view of campaign finance law that runs afoul of the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of political speech as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the prosecution of Menendez is portrayed in the press as being above politics and unrelated to the debate on Iran, it is a direct result of the administration’s anger about the court’s Citizens United decision and a backhanded attempt to undermine or overturn it.

It may be too much to ask ordinary citizens with a cynical view of politics to view this as a constitutional issue. But whatever you may think about the obviously cozy relationship between Menendez and his wealthy friend, if the Justice Department can criminalize his actions on a mere assumption then no member of either the House or the Senate is safe from similar attentions. And if that doesn’t bother liberals and Democrats who don’t like Menendez and are inclined to support any aim pursued by Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, they should ponder how they would feel about the next Republican-run Justice Department scrutinizing liberals who get big contributions from donors.

Though the Menendez case seems like something out of “The Sopranos,” it is, in fact, an unprecedented intrusion by the executive into the rights of the legislative branch. Moreover, there is no principle in law that regards Menendez as having a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to see that their money is well spent, rather than being directed to his friends. If there were, then the entire Congress would be under indictment.

This case won’t be resolved any time soon. Indeed, Iran may well have a nuclear bomb long before Menendez’s efforts to have the charges thrown out and then a possible trial and appeals are finished. But the principle at stake actually transcends the battle over Iran or even campaign finance laws. If Menendez can be singled out in this fashion, then any legislator or office holder will be easy prey for prosecutions from hostile administrations or U.S. Attorneys looking for prominent scalps to hang on their walls.

 

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ISIS’s Evil Cannot Be Contained

“Evil isn’t always defeated.”

So says former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin about ISIS. “It suddenly just occurred to me, if you add everything up, that these guys could win,” he told the New York TimesRead More

“Evil isn’t always defeated.”

So says former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin about ISIS. “It suddenly just occurred to me, if you add everything up, that these guys could win,” he told the New York Times

He isn’t the only one thinking along those lines. Stephen Walt of Harvard, notorious for his attacks on pro-Israel supporters as a Fifth Column, recently penned an essay entitled, “What should we do if the Islamic State wins?”

It is accurate to point out that ISIS has been withstanding a year’s worth of ineffectual American air attacks — that it has actually expanded its domain during the time it has been under low-level American assault. It certainly makes sense to worry that on the current trajectory the Islamic State, notwithstanding its extreme brutality (or perhaps because of it), will have a dismayingly long life.

But the question is what conclusion do you draw from these accurate observations? My conclusion is that we need to do more to defeat ISIS. Walt and others among the chattering classes, however, seem to be falling prey to a corrosive defeatism that holds that an ISIS victory is no big deal.

Sure, ISIS burns prisoners alive and beheads them. Sure, it enslaves and rapes women, murders Shiites and non-Muslims en masse, and destroys priceless antiquities. But, hey writes Walt, who are we to object when our own ancestors “massacred, raped, and starved Native Americans”? And that’s to say nothing of those really bad guys, “the Zionists who founded Israel.”

Sure, ISIS is guilty of excesses, but so were other revolutionary movements such as the Bolsheviks and Chinese communists, who were ostracized for decades by the West before they calmed down and assumed their rightful place in “the international community.” Why can’t we look forward to the day when ISIS will have a seat at the United Nations?  Walt suggests that we practice “containment” until ISIS, too, cools down and starts acting like a normal state.

Where to begin with an argument so spectacularly misguided? Perhaps it’s worth pointing out the obvious — that while Americans, Britons, and lots of other people did things in centuries past that we would today consider abhorrent, they were, by contemporary standards, pretty civilized. While it’s true, for example, that English settlers massacred Indians, it’s also true that Indians massacred English settlers. It was a more brutal world back then.

The groups that ISIS most resembles historically are not the Americans or Britons, but rather berserkers such as the Mongols and Vikings and Huns who wiped out the civilizations they encountered. And, yes, it’s true that in the long run they blended with more settled societies and settled down — but then, as they say, in the long run, we are all dead.

So, too, more contemporary monsters such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong eventually tired of mass murder. After their deaths, the states they created became less savage. But that’s scant comfort to the tens of millions of people who were the victims of these tyrants.

And it is not just Russians or Chinese who suffered. The U.S. was drawn into World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War — conflicts that cost us hundreds of thousands of fatalities — as a result of the communist victories in Russia and China. (Stalin helped Hitler rearm in the 1930s and agreed with him to partition Poland, the act which launched World War II. After the war, China and Russia gave Kim Il-Sung and Ho Chi Minh the go-ahead to launch their wars of aggression.) It is hardly comforting to know that today Russia and China are more civilized — especially because they aren’t that civilized. China is still ruled by communists and Russia by a former KGB agent, and both are still threats to their neighbors and the United States.

Another example makes the same point: The Iranian revolution is pretty long in the tooth now (it’s been in power since 1979), but Iran’s revolutionary zeal has not dimmed. It’s still supporting brutal proxies such as Hezbollah and Bashar Assad who have been responsible for more than 200,000 deaths in Syria’s civil war. Now, of course, its war of aggression against its neighbors is going to receive a massive injection of resources by way of the nuclear deal that President Obama has just negotiated, so we can expect Iranian attacks to grow.

Thus, the notion that we can sit back comfortably and wait for ISIS to moderate is pretty farcical. Perhaps that will happen in a hundred years, but who will live long enough to see it? How many innocents will have been tortured and murdered in the meantime?

This is not just a human rights issue for those unfortunate enough today to live in the Islamic State. Remember that the emergence of revolutionary regimes in Russia and China (or for that matter in France in 1789), was not just a matter of concern for their own citizens. Those regimes sparked wars and spread revolutions that affected their neighbors — and in the case of the communist regimes, states from Africa to Latin America.

Likewise today ISIS is busy sprouting “provinces” from Libya to Afghanistan and inspiring lone-wolf jihadists to murder their neighbors wherever they may live. Like Taliban-era Afghanistan, the Islamic State has become a magnet for foreign extremists, some of whom are sure to receive training that they will put to use in their home countries. ISIS has already done much to destabilize its neighbors — having spread from Syria to Iraq, it is also now carrying out suicide bombings in Turkey and elsewhere. And the threat is getting worse all the time.

This is not a threat that can be “contained.” If we can’t stop foreign fighters from going into Syria, how do we stop them from coming out? How do we prevent ISIS from using the Internet and cell phones to communicate with fighters around the world? (That’s gotten especially hard to do because of Edward Snowden’s revelations.) How can we stop ISIS’s rabid ideology from spreading murder and mayhem not only across the Middle East but around the world wherever Muslims might be radicalized by its message?

The answer is we can’t. The only way to dim ISIS’s ideological appeal – and, hence, end its reign of terror — is, as Graeme Wood argued in The Atlantic, to destroy its caliphate. Mercifully that is a realistic objective because ISIS is not as remotely as powerful as the Soviet Union or Red China. Yes, in the case of those superpowers, we had to accommodate ourselves to evil. But ISIS is not yet a superpower — and it will never be if we do more to destroy it today while it still remains vulnerable.

 

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Iran Deal’s Debut: Tepid Support, Technical Problems, Teheran Gloats

On the day the Iran deal was announced, Republican Senator Tom Cotton analogized it to the big spending packages Congress passes in the dead of night, where the good stuff is announced on day one followed by the people discovering the details hidden in the arcane language. He predicted Americans would not like a deal in which “a terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American outlaw regime will keep its nuclear program, and we will eliminate sanctions … [and] even the conventional arms embargo, [and] the ballistic missile embargo, will be lifted … [so] if Iran follows the agreement down to every specific detail, they will still be a nuclear-armed state with a ballistic missile program, a healthy economy whose military has been enriched with tens of billions of dollars, and that’s to say nothing of whether they will follow the agreement … and what they’ll do [when they are] flush with that cash and ascendant in the Middle East.” One week later, the Pew Research Center poll shows that of the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the deal, only 38 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove (14 percent have no opinion). And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not even begun its hearings yet (the first one is tomorrow). Read More

On the day the Iran deal was announced, Republican Senator Tom Cotton analogized it to the big spending packages Congress passes in the dead of night, where the good stuff is announced on day one followed by the people discovering the details hidden in the arcane language. He predicted Americans would not like a deal in which “a terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American outlaw regime will keep its nuclear program, and we will eliminate sanctions … [and] even the conventional arms embargo, [and] the ballistic missile embargo, will be lifted … [so] if Iran follows the agreement down to every specific detail, they will still be a nuclear-armed state with a ballistic missile program, a healthy economy whose military has been enriched with tens of billions of dollars, and that’s to say nothing of whether they will follow the agreement … and what they’ll do [when they are] flush with that cash and ascendant in the Middle East.” One week later, the Pew Research Center poll shows that of the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the deal, only 38 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove (14 percent have no opinion). And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not even begun its hearings yet (the first one is tomorrow).

The Pew survey was conducted July 14-20, so it does not reflect: (i) the rush to incorporate the deal into a binding UN resolution adopted without any debate, much less analysis; (ii) the disingenuous explanation for disregarding bipartisan calls to delay that action (“the world made us do it”); and (iii) four reports issued yesterday by the highly-regarded Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) — one of which finds ambiguities in Iran’s obligation to reduce its relatively large stock of near 20 percent enriched uranium; another that finds the exceptions to the cap on low enriched uranium have “grown since the Lausanne agreement and some of them could undermine the very value of the cap”; a third report on a lack of clarity on “possible military dimensions” (PMD) that suggests an “inability to resolve disputes over this issue,” with provisions “left to an interpretation by the parties and the IAEA that is not yet clear”; and a final report that indicates a rapid plutonium path:

In a potentially significant change from Iran’s commitment in the April 2015 U.S. fact sheet describing the Lausanne Framework of parameters, Iran has committed not to reprocess spent fuel or separate plutonium for only 15 years. The commitment was stated to be indefinite in the April framework. This means that after year 15 Iran could separate plutonium from irradiated fuel or perhaps targets, providing another way to rapidly build nuclear weapons. [Emphasis added].

Meanwhile, Teheran may be interpreting the deal in a manner that elides entirely all these technical questions. The indefatigable Omri Ceren of The Israel Project emails about remarks yesterday by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Iran’s parliament, in which Zarif boasted about his “refusal to allow inspection or refusal to accept any restrictions in the defense and missile spheres,” which Zarif told parliament “has been fully achieved through the deal.” So the problems of interpretation with this deal may be more than technical.

This is what happens when you negotiate a deal in secret, have it incorporated immediately into international law without hearings, try to circumvent Congressional review, and dismiss dissenters as warmongers. And we are only on Day Three of the 60-day period for Congressional consideration.

 

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Can Schumer Finesse His Iran Deal Vote Dilemma?

For a politician who normally would do anything for publicity or attention, Senator Chuck Schumer has been mighty quiet the last week. The reason isn’t a mystery. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal has put Schumer into a tight spot. As the designated successor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Schumer is obligated not to lend assistance to the effort to stop a pact that is President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Yet, at the same time, he is under enormous pressure to make good on his past promises to oppose a weak Iran deal and to stand up in defense of the State of Israel, whose security is compromised by the administration’s appeasement policy. Schumer has spent his entire political career positioning himself as an outspoken supporter of Israel as well as a fearsome partisan Democrat. Under most circumstances, that needn’t be a contradiction in terms, but with President Obama lobbying Congress hard to back his deal, they are now. For once, Schumer must choose. But the question is not only what choice will he make but also whether his attempts to keep his feet firmly planted in both the pro-Israel camp and that of the administration can possibly succeed.

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For a politician who normally would do anything for publicity or attention, Senator Chuck Schumer has been mighty quiet the last week. The reason isn’t a mystery. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal has put Schumer into a tight spot. As the designated successor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Schumer is obligated not to lend assistance to the effort to stop a pact that is President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Yet, at the same time, he is under enormous pressure to make good on his past promises to oppose a weak Iran deal and to stand up in defense of the State of Israel, whose security is compromised by the administration’s appeasement policy. Schumer has spent his entire political career positioning himself as an outspoken supporter of Israel as well as a fearsome partisan Democrat. Under most circumstances, that needn’t be a contradiction in terms, but with President Obama lobbying Congress hard to back his deal, they are now. For once, Schumer must choose. But the question is not only what choice will he make but also whether his attempts to keep his feet firmly planted in both the pro-Israel camp and that of the administration can possibly succeed.

Though the administration is seeking with the assistance of left-wing groups to promote the notion that the Iran deal is good for Israel that flimsy argument is deceiving no one. The pact grants Western approval for Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state enriches it via the collapse of sanctions and provides few safeguards (a 24-day warning period for inspections makes promises about monitoring cheating a joke) against its eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapon once the deal expires. The deal will not only enable Iran to give more support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists but will assist Tehran’s goal of regional hegemony.

It is one thing for those whose support for Israel has always been secondary to their left-wing ideology or pro-Obama partisanship (such as the J Street lobby or the National Jewish Democratic Council) to endorse this brazen act of appeasement. For Schumer, a man who has staked his career on being the shomer (Hebrew for guardian) of Israel’s security in Congress, it would be a stunning betrayal that he would never live down.

As I wrote back in April, Schumer’s stance on the Iran deal won’t be the whole story. Even if he chooses to vote in favor of a resolution that seeks to nullify the pact, he may also work behind the scenes to ensure that at least 34 Democrats back the president so as to ensure that an Obama veto won’t be overridden. Such vote trading is routine in Congress and allows House members and senators to tell constituents that they voted one way when they are really conspiring to help those who are working against that goal.

But whether he finesses this vote in that manner or not, it would be mistaken to think that there won’t be serious political consequences for Schumer no matter how he votes.

It may be that the administration will give Schumer a pass for voting against the deal provided that he ensures that other Democrats give the president the votes he needs. But Schumer must also know that his succession as minority leader may be threatened by a vote against Obama. The Senate may be the world’s most exclusive club, but it is entirely possible that his vote will be reason enough for some liberal colleague to challenge him. Any senator that does so will be counting on the active support of the party’s increasingly ascendant left wing that regards Schumer as an ally of Wall Street.

On the other hand, the cost of doing Obama’s bidding could be even higher for Schumer. New York has become a virtual one-party state and Schumer faced only token opposition from Republicans while gaining re-election in 2004 and 2010. But if he were to vote for the Iran deal, it would virtually guarantee that his 2016 re-election race would become very interesting if not competitive. While there is no obvious formidable challenger on the horizon, Schumer knows that the GOP wouldn’t have much difficulty finding one and that such a person would have no trouble raising all the money needed for a race that would become a referendum of Schumer’s possible betrayal of Israel on the Iran nuclear threat.

The first shot fired over his bow comes today in the form of what pro-Israel activists hope will be a massive demonstration in New York’s Times Square. Billed as a “Stop Iran Now” rally, the purpose will be to ensure that Congress knows that the overwhelming majority of the pro-Israel community is united behind the effort to oppose the deal.

If Schumer, and other pro-Israel Democrats stick with Obama they will be allying themselves with J Street over AIPAC, a strategic decision that would be the moral equivalent of choosing a water pistol to use in a fight with a tank when it comes to future electoral support.

But the real problem for Schumer and other Democrats goes beyond the danger of alienating pro-Israel donors. Only those so blinded by their support for Obama fail to see that the Iran deal vote is one of those rare Congressional decisions that present a clear moral choice. If Schumer sticks with Obama, that may secure his future as the Democrats’ Senate leader. But if will come at the cost of his reputation as a defender of Israel and make his seat a lot less safe than it might otherwise be.

 

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Cementing Iran’s Hold on Iraq

After the Iran deal was announced, my old boss Leslie Gelb (who is well connected with the Obama administration) confirmed what Michael Doran and I have been writing for a while. “According to top administration officials,” Gelb wrote, “Mr. Obama has always been after something much bigger than capping Iran’s nuclear program, and he got it — the strategic opportunity to begin converting Iran from foe to ‘friend.'” Read More

After the Iran deal was announced, my old boss Leslie Gelb (who is well connected with the Obama administration) confirmed what Michael Doran and I have been writing for a while. “According to top administration officials,” Gelb wrote, “Mr. Obama has always been after something much bigger than capping Iran’s nuclear program, and he got it — the strategic opportunity to begin converting Iran from foe to ‘friend.'”

Such naive hopes should have been dashed by the Supreme Leader’s response to the Iran deal.

“Our policy regarding the arrogant U.S. government will not change,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised address on Saturday, while his supporters chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” “We don’t have any negotiations or deal with the U.S. on different issues in the world or the region.”

For good measure, he added, “We will not give up on our friends in the region.” That would be “friends” like Bashar Assad whose forces are now said to be dropping naval mines — the kind designed to destroy warships — on civilian areas. Or like Hezbollah, which is not only fighting to preserve the brutal Assad regime but also stockpiling at least 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel. How many more missiles will Hezbollah be able to afford when it receives its share of Iran’s $100 billion first-year windfall, one wonders?

Yet the Obama administration seems blithely untroubled by evidence – both in rhetoric and action – showing that Iran has no intention of giving up its mantle as the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Instead, the U.S. is acting as if Iran is really our de facto ally not only in nuclear arms control but also in fighting terrorism.

The latest evidence of the administration’s misguided faith in the Islamic Republic is its decision to deliver the first four F-16s to Iraq, which it did just before the Iran deal was signed. Thirty-two more F-16s are scheduled to arrive in Iraq eventually. Assuming that these advanced warplanes are not captured by ISIS (as has been the case with many Humvees, MRAPS, and even Abrams tanks that the U.S. has provided to Iraq), they will be operated by an Iraqi regime that has been thoroughly subverted by Iran’s agents and proxies.

The most powerful man in Iraq is not the ineffectual prime minister but rather Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, who (in yet another boost for Iranian regional designs) will be taken off the European and U.N. sanctions lists by the terms of the Iran deal. The second most powerful man is probably his close ally, Hadi al-Ameri, the minister of transportation and head of the Badr Corps, the Shiite militia that has become more powerful than the Iraqi armed forces. As a Sunni politician said earlier this year, “Iran now dominates Iraq.”

It is more than a bit shocking that the Obama administration is willing to deliver such advanced aircraft to an Iranian-dominated regime. That makes no sense unless the administration thinks the airplanes will be used to fight ISIS, a battle in which the US and Iran supposedly have a common stake. It may well be that the aircraft will be used to bomb ISIS. Or perhaps they will be used to randomly bomb Sunni population centers, as Assad’s aircraft do on a daily basis in Syria.

Whatever the case, of one thing we can be sure: The aircraft will further increase the power not of Iraq’s moderate Sunnis, Kurds, or even Shiites, but rather the power of the Iranian-backed radicals who are in de facto control in Iraq. The aircraft could even wind up in Iranian hands, allowing Iran to get a head-start on breaking the arms embargo that is due to expire in no more than five years anyway.

From the American standpoint, that is about as self-defeating a strategy as it possible to imagine. As I’ve argued repeatedly, any increase in Iranian power actually redounds to the benefit of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other Sunni radicals who can then posture as defenders of their communities against “Persian” aggression. We should be arming and supporting real and potential partners such as the Kurds and the Sunni tribes in Anbar Province. Instead, we are assisting Iran in extending its growing empire.

Even if Congress can’t stop the Iranian nuclear deal, it should stop further F-16 deliveries to Iraq as long as Iran continues to dominate in Baghdad.

 

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Who’s Holding America’s Credibility Hostage?

As the 2016 presidential primary season heats up, Republicans desperate to find an alternative to Jeb Bush and Democrats similarly apprehensive about nominating Hillary Clinton won’t be surprised to discover that the People’s Republic of China is not on their side. Read More

As the 2016 presidential primary season heats up, Republicans desperate to find an alternative to Jeb Bush and Democrats similarly apprehensive about nominating Hillary Clinton won’t be surprised to discover that the People’s Republic of China is not on their side.

“The ruling Chinese Communist Party is deeply sensitive to charges that it is non-democratic and the playground of ‘princelings’— a pejorative term for the class of Chinese business tycoons and political power players who trace their lineages to Communist veterans,” read a provocative analysis via Politico’s Aaron Mak. From the view of the PRC bureaucrats in Zhongnanhai, a Bush-Clinton race provides the most propagandistic value because it best allows them to contend that American meritocracy is a sham. If a second-generation American like Marco Rubio can secure his party’s presidential nomination, much less the presidency itself, it suggests that America’s promise is no lie. If, however, a Bush and a Clinton again make it to the top of the ticket in 2016, the Chinese communists would claim that their system is no more or less meritocratic than America’s.

It’s a specious argument, but the Chinese will grasp at whatever straws they have available. The contention the PRC is advancing is that America’s credibility as the Shining City on a Hill is at stake. What’s more, only Democratic and Republican primary voters can rescue it. It’s nonsense, but it’s not all that dissimilar from a contention that Secretary of State John Kerry is advancing.

In an appearance on NPR on Monday, after having gone to the United Nations which summarily and with little debate ratified the terms of the nuclear accord with Iran, America’s chief diplomat warned the U.S. Congress that it was in the nation’s best interest if they fell in line. “I’m telling you, the U.S. will have lost all credibility,” Kerry said of the prospect of two-thirds of both chambers of the federal legislature rejecting the deal.

“We will not be in the hunt,” Kerry added. “And if we then decided to use military [after a deal fails], do you believe the United Nations will be with us? Do you think our European colleagues will support us? Not on your life.”

What brazen extortion; and of a supposedly co-equal branch of the federal government at that. These were precisely the consequences that the administration sought when they went to the United Nations with an Iran resolution (circulated before the deal was even revealed publicly), and now they are spelling out the ramifications of their actions as though they were acts of nature. How perfectly galling.

If the United States needed to take military action against Iran, they would in all likelihood not have had United Nations approval – the Russians or the Chinese would have exercised their veto power in the Security Council. As for Europe, who suspects the continent will back military strikes on Iranian nuclear targets now that their commercial ties with the Islamic Republic are all but re-established?

The virtues of Kerry’s arguments are nil, and he knows it. According to reporting, the secretary of state lobbied his boss to allow his former colleagues in the Congress the opportunity to have a vote on the Iran deal before it was submitted to the United Nations. The outcome of that vote was almost certainly not going to be a bipartisan revolt of the legslators and a veto-proof in both the House and the Senate. But Obama wouldn’t gamble with his coveted legacy achievement.

Kerry is right in one sense: a true test of America’s credibility is before it. The ideals of the Founding generation and the will of the voters will not be reaffirmed if the legislature is compelled by coercion and cowardice to subordinate its prerogative to the executive branch. The president wants to see American sovereignty diminished and its absolute authority affirmed, and the legislature would be foolish if it did not resist such an encroachment. Some modest rebuke is called for, and, even though it would not prevent the implementation of this deal, Congress should refuse to legitimize this accord. There is precedent for such a course of action, and it would serve as modest but deserved comeuppance for an administration as imperial as this one.

 

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ISIS Picks the Wrong Fight

ISIS may well come to regret the day it chose to mess with Turkey.

A suicide bomber, believed to be an ISIS member, has killed at least 31 people in the southern Turkish town of Suruc near the Syrian border. The victims — including three beautiful young women who took a selfie together moments before they were killed — were members of socialist youth groups who had congregated to work on rebuilding the town of Kobani in northern Syrian, which had been taken by Kurdish fighters from ISIS in January after a bloody months-long fight. Read More

ISIS may well come to regret the day it chose to mess with Turkey.

A suicide bomber, believed to be an ISIS member, has killed at least 31 people in the southern Turkish town of Suruc near the Syrian border. The victims — including three beautiful young women who took a selfie together moments before they were killed — were members of socialist youth groups who had congregated to work on rebuilding the town of Kobani in northern Syrian, which had been taken by Kurdish fighters from ISIS in January after a bloody months-long fight.

Turkey has long had an ambivalent relationship with ISIS. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is a Sunni Islamist who has called for the overthrow of Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime, which is backed by Shiite Iran. In the fight against Assad, Erdoğan has thrown in his lot with the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. He has not exactly supported ISIS, at least not insofar as we know, but he has not done much to stop it either. He has been notoriously lax on border security, allowing many thousands of foreign recruits to cross from Turkey into Syria. And when the fight in Kobani was going on, directly visible from the Turkish border, he did nothing to help the Kurdish fighters because he doesn’t want to boost Kurdish separatism.

But in recent days, Erdoğan had ordered a roundup of ISIS activists, and that may have helped trigger this suicide bombing.

Let us hope that the Suruc suicide bombing will further awaken Erdoğan to the danger posed by ISIS. Because if Turkey gets serious about fighting ISIS, there is rather a lot it can do. It could, for a start, use its substantial army to create “safe zones” across the border in Turkey which could not be threatened either by ISIS or Assad — safe zones where the more moderate Syrian opposition could establish itself. If Turkey were really on the warpath, its army could probably destroy the entire caliphate, at least the part on the Syrian side of the border, in fairly short order. Turkish participation in the Syrian civil war could be a game changer, conceivably even leading to a peaceful resolution of the conflict as Syria’s own involvement in the Lebanese civil war in the 1990s did.

The problem, from Turkey’s perspective, is that as a Sunni state it is not going to fight ISIS if that redounds to the advantage of Assad. If the hints delivered from Erdoğan are to be believed, he has been looking for Washington to endorse a more balanced policy that is both anti-Assad and anti-ISIS. Under those circumstances, Turkey might be convinced to play a more active and positive role in Syria. But, of course, the odds of President Obama stepping up in Syria are scant — especially not when he is in the midst of a grand rapprochement with Iran which doesn’t care much about ISIS one way or the other, but that does desperately want Assad to remain in power.

Thus in all likelihood this opportunity to harness Turkish outrage will pass, allowing Iran and ISIS to continue dividing up Syria between them.

 

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Nuclear Deal Will Enable Iran-Sponsored Terrorism

With the world’s attention focused squarely on the Iran nuclear talks, the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza has largely gone unnoticed in the international press. However, the steady pace of tunnel building and arms imports into the strip has not escaped the notion of Israel’s defense establishment. Hamas has bragged of its ability to maintain the pace of construction at the Israeli border on tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks. While Israelis hope that Hamas is serious about maintaining the cease-fire that has held since last summer’s war, they rightly worry about whether dissatisfaction with its rule will lead the leadership of the group to conclude that another round of violence is the best to stay in power as well as to undermine its Fatah rivals in the West Bank. But one aspect of the deal that Congress needs to thoroughly explore before it votes on the agreement is the degree to that the money that will flood into the Islamist regime once sanctions are lifted may serve to provide another major incentive that could provide the spark for another war.

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With the world’s attention focused squarely on the Iran nuclear talks, the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza has largely gone unnoticed in the international press. However, the steady pace of tunnel building and arms imports into the strip has not escaped the notion of Israel’s defense establishment. Hamas has bragged of its ability to maintain the pace of construction at the Israeli border on tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks. While Israelis hope that Hamas is serious about maintaining the cease-fire that has held since last summer’s war, they rightly worry about whether dissatisfaction with its rule will lead the leadership of the group to conclude that another round of violence is the best to stay in power as well as to undermine its Fatah rivals in the West Bank. But one aspect of the deal that Congress needs to thoroughly explore before it votes on the agreement is the degree to that the money that will flood into the Islamist regime once sanctions are lifted may serve to provide another major incentive that could provide the spark for another war.

The situation in Gaza is generally depicted in the international press as one of squalor and deprivation. But economic problems have not prevented Hamas from diverting a significant portion of the aid the strip receives away from reconstruction of homes destroyed in last year’s war towards the rebuilding of their military infrastructure. Rather than hiding its plans, Hamas has repeatedly boasted in public about efforts to build more tunnels under the border that would be used for murder and kidnapping raids inside Israel. The partial blockade Israel tries to enforce with help from Egypt is geared toward preventing Hamas from bringing in materials that could be used for either tunnel building or the construction of strongholds that would shield terrorists and their armaments from counter-attack. But to their chagrin, the Israelis have discovered that some of the material used for this purpose is actually being brought into Gaza via the daily convoys from Israel that are supposed to deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military items.

That’s a troubling breakdown for the Israelis that, as the Times of Israel reports, helps to explain how Hamas has maintained the steady work on the tunnels despite heat and lack of pay for the hundreds slaving away underground on the project reportedly with heavy engineering equipment. If, as Israeli authorities now assume, Hamas has at least one tunnel already completed that has not yet been detected, the stage is already set for a terrorist outrage that could set off another rocket barrage on Israeli cities in the coming months. Hamas may fear that a new war might lead the Israeli government to decide to act decisively against them this time. Yet they also know that pressure from an Obama administration that wants nothing to undermine its pact with Iran will continue to serve as a decisive restraint on Israeli policy.

Israel and the U.S. may hope that Hamas will see the maintenance of the cease-fire as in their interests as well as that of the residents of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza But Iran may have other ideas. Its rapprochement with Hamas in the last year was made possible in no small measure by the Obama administration’s soft approach to Syria. Hamas broke with Iran over Assad but has backtracked now that it’s clear that efforts to install an Islamist regime in its place have failed due to Tehran’s military intervention and the West’s decision to do nothing but talk about the need for Assad to go. Hamas-Iran reconciliation gives Tehran a southern ally to go with its Hezbollah auxiliaries that threaten Israel from the north.

This is important because of Iran’s predilection for making mischief in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. But the flood of cash into Iran’s coffers that will follow the completion of the nuclear deal will significantly enhance its ability to shower aid on its allies. Not even the Obama administration denies that Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. With Israel being the leading voice against the Western push for détente with Tehran, the ayatollahs have every reason to try to ratchet up the pressure on the Jewish state via new attacks from Hamas that might, unlike the case with last summer’s fighting, be coordinated with rocket launches from Hezbollah in the north.

The administration has been trying to deny that their diplomacy will have an impact on Hamas and Hezbollah. But, as Israeli blogger Jeffrey Grossman noted yesterday, they’re having trouble keeping their stories straight. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Iran would not be allowed to use their new riches to help their terrorist allies. But National Security Advisor Susan Rice has conceded that there would be nothing to stop them from sending funds (but not arms as they already do) to Hamas. Meanwhile the Iranians are making it clear that nothing in the deal will stop them from doing whatever they like with regard to helping their terrorist friends. They’re right about that. Nothing in the agreement will prevent Iran-sponsored terrorism.

The pact deserves to be rejected on the nuclear issue alone since it gives Iran a clear path to a bomb even if it observes its terms with a short 10 to 15 year period. The lack of transparency and the failure to set up a meaningful inspections procedure that would provide the anytime, anywhere access that the administration once promised was a given means it is a blatant act of nuclear appeasement. But even as we rightly focus on the nuclear threat, the short-term impact of its terms on Iran’s ability to aid terrorism is equally important. An Iranian bomb may have to wait until it reaps all the benefits of President Obama’s foolish desire for détente with Tehran. But a new war from a Hamas aided by its powerful Iranian friend may be the first calamity that will result from this fiasco.

 

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Has John Kasich Been Trumped?

Ohio Governor John Kasich entered the presidential race today with a loaded resume and a strategy aimed at getting him onto the first tier debate stage on Fox News next month in Cleveland. Kasich’s credentials as a veteran House member, Fox News host, and a successful governor ought to make him a serious contender for 2016. And his decision to wait until only a couple of weeks before the August 6th debate before officially announcing his entry into the race ought to ensure that an announcement bump in the polls will help him make the cut. That may yet happen and Kasich — the 16th and probably the last GOP candidate to declare — could come from out of nowhere and have chance to win next year. But the resume and the timing don’t appear to be having the impact he hoped for. Rather than following in the footsteps of his idol Ronald Reagan as the leader of the conservative movement, Kasich enters the race being seen by much of his party’s base as the second coming of Jon Huntsman, whose disastrous 2012 presidential run is a model of everything a Republican shouldn’t do. And rather than benefit from his timing, Kasich’s announcement lands smack in the middle of the Donald Trump media frenzy meaning that, unlike other candidates, he may not benefit much from the late start.

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Ohio Governor John Kasich entered the presidential race today with a loaded resume and a strategy aimed at getting him onto the first tier debate stage on Fox News next month in Cleveland. Kasich’s credentials as a veteran House member, Fox News host, and a successful governor ought to make him a serious contender for 2016. And his decision to wait until only a couple of weeks before the August 6th debate before officially announcing his entry into the race ought to ensure that an announcement bump in the polls will help him make the cut. That may yet happen and Kasich — the 16th and probably the last GOP candidate to declare — could come from out of nowhere and have chance to win next year. But the resume and the timing don’t appear to be having the impact he hoped for. Rather than following in the footsteps of his idol Ronald Reagan as the leader of the conservative movement, Kasich enters the race being seen by much of his party’s base as the second coming of Jon Huntsman, whose disastrous 2012 presidential run is a model of everything a Republican shouldn’t do. And rather than benefit from his timing, Kasich’s announcement lands smack in the middle of the Donald Trump media frenzy meaning that, unlike other candidates, he may not benefit much from the late start.

Given Kasich’s strong conservative credentials dating back to his earlier support for Reagan and his impressive record in the House, any comparison to a man like Huntsman that served in the Obama administration and then ran against the GOP base seems deeply unfair. But the analogy fits and not only because he seems to have hired many of the same consultants that guided the former Utah governor’s fiasco of a campaign. Kasich’s stands on common core and Medicare expansion, as well as his willingness to challenge the base on social justice issues, has given him the aura of a Jeb Bush-lite. That positions him to compete against both Bush and Chris Christie for moderate Republican voters but without the advantage of spending the last several months out on the campaign trail trying to establish his candidacy.

The Huntsman example is instructive for more than just Kasich. In both 2008 and 2012, Republicans nominated moderates rather than conservatives. But in neither of those cases did either John McCain or Mitt Romney run against the party base. No matter how many right-wingers are competing for the loyalty of the Tea Party and seemingly leaving an opening for a moderate to win, antagonizing those who make up the backbone of your party is a formula for disaster, not victory.

But the biggest problem at the moment for Kasich is the way the timing of his announcement has been Trumped by the media’s Donald obsession. Throughout the spring, each announcement has given each candidate a bump in the polls though some have been bigger than others. But even a minor boost in the polls would be a lifesaver for Kasich if it enabled him to break into the top ten and thus ensure his place on the main stage at the Fox debate. Kasich currently ranks 11th in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. If that doesn’t change, he’s going to be left on the sidelines on August 6th along with Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and George Pataki.

But it’s not clear that with arguments about Trump dominating the news that Kasich will get much attention. Nor, to be fair to the media, is it likely that the Ohio governor’s lengthy and rambling announcement speech likely to generate much enthusiasm among the voting public the way the speeches from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker did. In a weaker field that might not matter, but our first impression of Kasich was of man who couldn’t match his competition in terms of his ability to speak about his vision for the country or the rationale for his candidacy.

There may have been a rationale for a John Kasich candidacy but his decision to play the moderate rather than compete for conservative votes and his collision with the Trump juggernaut may reproduce the same results a far less worthy candidate like Huntsman obtained. Waiting until July may have seemed smart in the spring, but it turned out to be a serious mistake that will lengthen the odds against him.

 

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