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What Can Conservatives Do About the Gay Marriage Decision?

In the wake of Friday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriage as a constitutionally protected right, a lot of conservatives are fumbling for an effective response. So far, the results are far from encouraging. Understandably social conservatives feel marginalized. But the majority’s shaky legal reasoning rightly discourages even those on the right who have no strong feelings against gay marriage or actually support it. The willingness of Justice Anthony Kennedy and his four liberal colleagues to bypass both the legislative process and the verdict of voters (both of which were trending in the direction of the pro-gay marriage movement) in order to make new law with only a tenuous connection to constitutional principles strikes even libertarians who are pleased with the results of the decision as a dangerous usurpation of authority. But how can any political movement or party successfully fight on an issue where both popular culture and the political environment have both shifted against you? To listen to some prominent voices, the choices facing the right seem to boil down to impotent rage or sullen silence about the gay marriage decision. But here are four simple suggestions that offer Republicans a way out of what seems a lose-lose situation.

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In the wake of Friday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriage as a constitutionally protected right, a lot of conservatives are fumbling for an effective response. So far, the results are far from encouraging. Understandably social conservatives feel marginalized. But the majority’s shaky legal reasoning rightly discourages even those on the right who have no strong feelings against gay marriage or actually support it. The willingness of Justice Anthony Kennedy and his four liberal colleagues to bypass both the legislative process and the verdict of voters (both of which were trending in the direction of the pro-gay marriage movement) in order to make new law with only a tenuous connection to constitutional principles strikes even libertarians who are pleased with the results of the decision as a dangerous usurpation of authority. But how can any political movement or party successfully fight on an issue where both popular culture and the political environment have both shifted against you? To listen to some prominent voices, the choices facing the right seem to boil down to impotent rage or sullen silence about the gay marriage decision. But here are four simple suggestions that offer Republicans a way out of what seems a lose-lose situation.

First, don’t try to fight a battle you can’t win. Let’s face it, even if you think the gay marriage decision was an affront to your religious beliefs and/or your constitutional principles, there simply is no getting around the fact that most Americans seem to be well pleased with it. It’s true that a liberal popular culture echo chamber is orchestrating the way everything in the country seems to be bathed in rainbow hues the last few days. But if a critical mass of Americans hadn’t already come to the conclusion that treating the desire of two men or two women to have the state recognize their union as a marriage, the scrapping of traditional notions about the institution wouldn’t have succeeded. The plaintiffs in the case won because they appeared as ordinary citizens seeking equal rights rather than as radicals or revolutionaries. That is something that conservatives must accept. Any response to such an appeal that doesn’t sympathize with those sentiments and recognize their power is bound to come across as hard-hearted if not bigoted. Conservatives may be forgiven for not understanding how things could change so quickly but whereas support for gay marriage was restricted to the margins of our political life only a few years ago (isn’t that right former gay marriage opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?), it now commands the support of most voters. Any response to the decision that isn’t rooted in that fact is a formula for political disaster in terms

Second, don’t let this issue become a defining issue for 2016. Nevertheless, that is advice some presidential candidates will ignore and with good reason. Some, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum see anger about the decision as a way to get social conservative voters motivated to go out and vote. That may work for them in the primaries, but other Republicans should be wary about their citing the 2004 election as the reason why their anger on the issue should be the keynote of the GOP in 2016. It’s true that revulsion at the thought of changing the law to legalize gay marriage helped mobilize support for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign as conservatives turned out in numbers that exceeded their showing in the next two presidential campaigns. But while Republicans failed to energize their base in 2008 and 2012, sensible conservatives understand the ground has shifted on them since 2004. The GOP can win in 2016 but not by pushing the same buttons they used then. The economy and foreign policy after eight years of President Obama’s disastrous policies offer better options for winning issues. The next president doesn’t have to be a fan of the Supreme Court’s decision (and none of the Republicans are) and can back traditional marriage, but that can’t be a major theme of the campaign if the GOP is to win the independent votes they need to carry swing states.

Third, conservatives must defend, not fight the Constitution. The willingness of Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz to talk about changing the way the high court is chosen or altering the tenure of the justices is red meat for the base but it is also the opposite of the tone conservatives should adopt. The same goes for Scott Walker’s talk about a constitutional amendment opposing the gay marriage decision.

Everybody gets angry at the Supreme Court and often with good reason. That is especially true after a week in which Chief Justice twisted himself into a pretzel in order to find a reason to keep ObamaCare operating and his fellow conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy adopted a tone in his gay marriage decision that made him seem more like a pop culture philosopher or advice columnist than a constitutional scholar.

But anyone who tries to alter the composition of the court by extreme measures always loses the argument. The Founders would not recognize the legal reasoning used at times by Roberts, Kennedy, and the four liberals who are always happy to accept their votes to form a majority. But the role of the judiciary in our constitutional system must be respected. Conservatives who start to sound like a latter-day version of those who wanted to impeach former Chief Justice Earl Warren because of his liberal decisions are marginalizing themselves.

Fourth, and most important, defend religious liberty. As many Republicans have learned on the issue of abortion. Attacking what most Americans think is reasonable — legal abortion in the first months of a pregnancy — isn’t a political winner. But seeking to halt late term abortions that strike an equally large majority as akin to infanticide is both reasonable and puts liberals in the position of having to defend the indefensible.

The same principle applies to gay marriage. Stopping gays from marrying is a political loser, but defending the rights of religious institutions, schools, and ordinary citizens to defend their religious principle that demand they either avoid involvement or sanction in such ceremonies is strong ground to defend. As I wrote last week, the court’s willingness to adopt such a broad conclusion about marriage at the Constitution puts believers in peril of being not just outliers but outlaws. Will schools that ban gay relationships or cohabiting or not recognize gay partners be branded as law-breakers and deprived of tax-exempt status? This issue came up in the oral arguments earlier this year before the court, and the statements of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli make it clear that no one and nothing is safe from the long arm of the law when it is arrayed against liberal orthodoxy, even a newly-minted one like that in favor of gay marriage.

The only thing preventing such an outrageous abuse of government power right now is the whim of the president and the Justice Department that could use the court’s decision in any way it likes. The challenge for the GOP is to stake out the moral high ground in which it can seek to limit the ability of big government liberals to bully those who aren’t interfering with the right of gays to marry but don’t wish to be co-opted by it. You don’t have to be opposed to gay marriage to recognize this threat just as you didn’t have to be against contraception to realize that compelling those who opposed it to pay for it against their will was an affront to religious freedom.

If conservatives stick to these principles, they may not be able to reverse something that most of their fellow citizens back. But they will limit the damage, both to the law and to their political chances in 2016.

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The GOP 2016 Field Prepares New Assaults on ObamaCare

If those who declared debates over the onerous Affordable Care Act dead and buried in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict in King v. Burwell had any sense of history, they would have known that their prediction was more a statement of faith than objective assessment of prevailing political realities. ObamaCare will never be the “settled law” its supporters wish it were until the public sheds its suspicion of it. Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that the Court’s decision in King likely preserves elements of the law as part of the American social compact, although that was probably the case the moment the bill was signed. Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is groundless. In fact, the Court’s decision in King has only made it more likely that the GOP will continue its crusade against Barack Obama’s health care reform law. Read More

If those who declared debates over the onerous Affordable Care Act dead and buried in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict in King v. Burwell had any sense of history, they would have known that their prediction was more a statement of faith than objective assessment of prevailing political realities. ObamaCare will never be the “settled law” its supporters wish it were until the public sheds its suspicion of it. Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that the Court’s decision in King likely preserves elements of the law as part of the American social compact, although that was probably the case the moment the bill was signed. Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is groundless. In fact, the Court’s decision in King has only made it more likely that the GOP will continue its crusade against Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

Republicans are rightfully aghast at the deplorable logic the majority of Supreme Court justices used to justify yet another reinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act. The Court abandoned its role as a neutral arbiter of legal text, ignored precedent, and virtually rewrote the statute so that the federal government could do legally what it had been doing illegally for months. The GOP’s more cynical elements are surely thanking the Supreme Court under their breaths, however, for this latest bit of jurisprudential gymnastics. If the Court had ruled in the opposite direction, Republicans would have faced a dramatic political conundrum. They would have been compelled to reintroduce those subsidies the Court stripped from the law into the majority of states that did not elect to establish their own federal insurance exchange marketplace. They would have been forced to endorse, all or in part, the mandates that oblige Americans to purchase a product from a private service provider at gunpoint. They would have invited a civil war that would have torn the party apart and might have cleaved the conservative wing away from the GOP permanently. The Roberts Court rescued the Republican Party from this trap.

The Affordable Care Act now continues its fraught implementation without having any bipartisan imprimatur. The GOP put not a single fingerprint on this law in 2010, and they were not compelled to lay a hand on it in the intervening years. As such, Republicans can continue to campaign against this law in whole rather than in part, and a variety of prominent 2016 candidates have elected to do just that.

The next stage in the GOP’s fight against the Affordable Care Act will be a legislative one. It has centered on the expansion of the “nuclear option” invoked by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013. While in the majority, the outgoing Democratic Senate leader altered Senate guidelines so that rule changes need only be approved by a simple majority and then eliminated the minority right of filibuster for judicial nominations. Now, a handful of Republican 2016 candidates contend that this rule change should be expanded so that the filibuster cannot prevent a narrow GOP majority from repealing the ACA altogether in 2017.

“I think we Republicans first need to unify behind the replacement,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told radio host Hugh Hewitt last week. When asked if he would be open to breaking the filibuster to “ram though repeal and replacement,” Bush said that he would “consider that.”

Another frontrunner in the race to secure the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, endorsed the idea more emphatically.

“There are a lot of Republican Senators who love the filibuster. Rick Santorum told me you don’t need to break the filibuster to repeal ObamaCare,” Hewitt asked the Badger State governor. “But if it’s necessary to do so, will you urge your Republican colleagues to invoke the Harry Reid rule that he used last year that he used to break the filibuster to repeal ObamaCare root and branch?”

“Yes,” Walker replied. “Absolutely.”

Expect this new line of attack against ObamaCare to soon become part of the Republican Party’s 2016 platform.

When Democrats sacrificed the rights of the minority in the Senate for fleeting and temporary gain, they knew they would be inviting this sort of backlash. But, despite myriad provocations, the GOP Senate majority has thus far declined to give their colleagues a dose of their own medicine. In February, Democrats successfully blocked a proposal to defund elements of the Department of Homeland Security that would forestall the implementation of the president’s constitutionally dubious executive actions on immigration. The move was so brazen that it “radicalized” even otherwise temperate voices within the party like the columnist Charles Krauthammer. “Go bold. Go nuclear. Abolish the filibuster,” he advised. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to scorch the earth.

His was a move that proved prescient; if the GOP accelerates the pace of the dilution of minority rights in the upper chamber begun by Democrats, they should do so only when the party’s governing coalition is at stake. If a Republican presidential candidate won the White House in November 2016, he or she would almost certainly also have Republican majorities in Congress. To fail to do all within their power to dismantle ObamaCare in that eventuality would rightly be seen as a gross betrayal of the new governing majority’s mandate.

Let’s be clear: there is a lot not to like about the virtual abolishment of the filibuster. Minority rights are a cherished parliamentary tool, and growing factionalism in Congress will only be exacerbated by the filibuster’s effective elimination. Moreover, it’s quite untoward for presidential contenders like Walker and Bush to fail to observe that their province as president ends at the steps of the Capitol Building. It would perhaps have been more republican if they had responded to this line of inquiry by deferring to the leader of the Senate in the 115th Congress, whoever that might be. But the estimable era of Coolidge-esque stoicism is over. It is now the role of America’s chief executive to lead on virtually all matters of state, including those that should be the exclusive domain of the legislative branch.

The fight over the Affordable Care Act is far from over, although the nation might have witnessed the end of the beginning last week. The battle over the future of this controversial law and its impact on American society now shifts back to the political battlefield, onto the shoulders of the field of presidential contenders and, ultimately, the 2016 electorate.

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Iran’s Nukes are Iraq’s Moment of Truth

Iranian influence in Iraq has grown greatly since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Shortly after I returned to Iraq in July 2003, I had driven with Iraqi friends down to see the marshes which Saddam Hussein had ordered drained in order to try to extinguish the Marsh Arabs’ thousands-year way of life. On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit and drink stand on the outskirts of Kut. Peeking out from behind a bunch of bananas was a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader. A month later, I stopped unannounced at a tribal leader’s house in al-Amara. When I had scheduled a visit with him through local Coalition Provisional Authority officials a week before, he was obsequious to the Americans; when I came back unannounced, there in his reception room where he had served us tea a week before was a huge portrait of Khomeini. Then, of course, there was the time in Baghdad when I was visiting an Iraqi politician. It was getting late and so I took his offer to sleep on a couch in his living room rather than traverse Baghdad after curfew. On the other couch when I woke up? An Iranian official, who had even more reason to avoid getting caught by the American army breaking curfew. And then, there was the time when I was exploring Basra in December 2003. I stayed at a local hotel, and was wandering along the trash-strewn local canals which decades before had made Basra the “Venice of the Gulf.” Sharing the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) office was Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. Read More

Iranian influence in Iraq has grown greatly since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Shortly after I returned to Iraq in July 2003, I had driven with Iraqi friends down to see the marshes which Saddam Hussein had ordered drained in order to try to extinguish the Marsh Arabs’ thousands-year way of life. On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit and drink stand on the outskirts of Kut. Peeking out from behind a bunch of bananas was a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader. A month later, I stopped unannounced at a tribal leader’s house in al-Amara. When I had scheduled a visit with him through local Coalition Provisional Authority officials a week before, he was obsequious to the Americans; when I came back unannounced, there in his reception room where he had served us tea a week before was a huge portrait of Khomeini. Then, of course, there was the time in Baghdad when I was visiting an Iraqi politician. It was getting late and so I took his offer to sleep on a couch in his living room rather than traverse Baghdad after curfew. On the other couch when I woke up? An Iranian official, who had even more reason to avoid getting caught by the American army breaking curfew. And then, there was the time when I was exploring Basra in December 2003. I stayed at a local hotel, and was wandering along the trash-strewn local canals which decades before had made Basra the “Venice of the Gulf.” Sharing the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) office was Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy.

The irony here is that, for all the attempts Iran made to infiltrate Iraq — successfully in some cases — most Iraqi Shi’ites resented them or soon came to due to the Iranian leadership’s arrogance and its deaf ear to Iraqi nationalism. The bulk of the Iraqi Army at the front lines during the Iran-Iraq War were Shi‘ite conscripts who fought honorably to defend Iraq; they neither defected to Iran out of sectarian loyalty nor were they in position to question the justice of a war which Saddam Hussein started. On January 6, Iraqi Shi‘ites alongside Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Sunnis commemorate Iraqi Army Day, celebrating the institution, not the previous regime that often abused it. Within hours after the war began, Iran violated an agreement struck between its UN ambassador (now Foreign Minister and chief negotiator) Mohammad Javad Zarif and American diplomats Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad and inserted a number of proxies and its own men into Iraq. One of their missions was to seize personnel records in the Defense Ministry and then proceed to hunt down and kill any veteran pilot from the Iraq-Iran War on the assumption that they had bombed Iran. The Iranian Red Crescent participated in this assassination wave, providing yet one more reason why the Iranian government and its NGOs should not be taken at their word.

Ever since President Barack Obama ordered a complete withdrawal from Iraq in order to fulfill a 2007 campaign pledge, Iranian influence has grown in Iraq. The reason for this has less to do with the hearts of Iraqis than their minds: Because they could no longer balance American and Iranian influence and demands in order to preserve their independent space, they needed to make greater accommodation to Tehran. It’s one thing to push back on over-the-top Iranian demands when several thousand American troops are garrisoned around the country. It is quite another to tell Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani to shove his demands where the sun don’t shine when he has the wherewithal to kill anyone who stands in his way and every Iraqi regardless of sect or ethnicity knows that the United States really does not have their back. Hence, Iraq allowed some Iranian overflights to support and supply Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria (the same regime to which Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry now appear prepared to accommodate). And Iraqis also traveled to Syria to support the Assad regime against Jabhat al-Nusra and/or the Islamic State (again, which the United States now appears to be doing, having demanded that ‘moderate’ Syrians whom U.S. forces train not target Assad). More recently, Americans have criticized the role that Iranian-backed militias play in the Iraqi security forces. This concern is certainly warranted, although every time a politician, journalist, or think-tank analyst recommends arming Sunni tribes directly, they simply drive the Iraqi public away from moderates like Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has been solicitous of American interests and concerns, and into the hands of harder-line pro-Iranian politicians.

So what can Iraq do to signal that it is not simply an Iranian proxy like so many of its critics say? Taking a public stance against the Iranian nuclear program would be a good first step. Under no circumstances, can the Iranian nuclear program be an Iraqi interest. Forget the Washington talking points: Everyone in the Persian Gulf, Arabs and Persians alike, know that the deal currently being finalized secures a path to an Iranian nuclear breakout. They also have a far more realistic assessment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) than the Obama administration. Not only is it unlikely that the IRGC will abide by any agreement, but it is also likely that if Iran does acquire a nuclear capability, it will find itself so overconfident behind its own nuclear deterrence that it will further erode Iraqi sovereignty.

Iran may not like Iraq siding, in this instance, with almost every member of the Gulf Cooperation Council but Oman (which feigns neutrality), but certainly it must expect that any Iraqi government — even one which reflects the Shi‘ite majority of Iraq — will stand up for Iraqi national interests and oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions with the same cautionary statements heard from Saudi, Emirati, and Kuwaiti diplomats and officials.

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The Intellectual Dishonesty of John Roberts

I’ve written before about confirmation bias — the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. But rarely have I seen it more on public display than in the case of the majority decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by Chief Justice John Roberts. Read More

I’ve written before about confirmation bias — the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. But rarely have I seen it more on public display than in the case of the majority decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by Chief Justice John Roberts.

To quickly summarize: In King v. Burwell, the Court, in a 6-3 ruling, determined that the language in the ACA limiting insurance subsidies to “an Exchange established by the State” really means “an Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.” Justice Scalia’s withering dissent shows how neither the plain text of the Act nor the context of the text justifies the majority’s decision. In reading the majority opinion, one senses that even Chief Justice Roberts doesn’t believe his own arguments; that even he knows that the reason the words “by the State” were included in the Act was to limit credits to state Exchanges. As Justice Scalia methodically pointed out, “Under all the rules of interoperation … the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.”

And so it has been, twice now, thanks to Chief Justice Roberts. For reasons that only he must know, Roberts decided to take it upon himself to salvage the Affordable Care Act by rewriting it. He decided to become a legislator in order to repair a failing law, which is not the proper role of a Supreme Court justice. And in the process John Roberts decided to become the Supreme Court’s version of Jacques Derrida. (Derrida, a French philosopher, was the originator of a form of analysis known as deconstructionism, a theory that questions the ability of language to represent reality and emphasizes that a text has no stable reference or identification.)

In this case, Roberts decided that the clear meaning of words counts for nothing at all. They can be twisted and reinterpreted and reinvented to his heart’s delight, to the point that “an Exchange established by the State” means “an Exchange not established by the State.” All in order to save the Affordable Care Act. That was the Roberts mission.

Chief Justice Roberts succeeded in that mission, although in the process he did irreparable damage to his reputation. His decision was not just shallow but downright intellectually dishonest. He has to know he manufactured extraordinarily weak justifications to save the Affordable Care Act. And if he ever forgets that, he only needs to read Antonin Scalia’s devastating dissent to remind him.

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Is Erdoğan Preparing a Coup?

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no advocate of democracy, having once famously compared it to a street car: ‘You ride it as far as you need and then you step off.” But, he is a man on a mission. While he once parroted the rhetoric of economic reform and democracy, today it is apparent that self-enrichment trumps reform, and he has long since acknowledged that his goal is to “raise a religious generation.” That goal — and its fulfillment of a religious dream — trumps any sort of democratic legitimacy or accountability. Erdoğan will never allow voters to prioritize Kurdish identity or secularism to derail what his behavior suggests he sees as a divine mission. Read More

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no advocate of democracy, having once famously compared it to a street car: ‘You ride it as far as you need and then you step off.” But, he is a man on a mission. While he once parroted the rhetoric of economic reform and democracy, today it is apparent that self-enrichment trumps reform, and he has long since acknowledged that his goal is to “raise a religious generation.” That goal — and its fulfillment of a religious dream — trumps any sort of democratic legitimacy or accountability. Erdoğan will never allow voters to prioritize Kurdish identity or secularism to derail what his behavior suggests he sees as a divine mission.

Over the last 12 years, Erdoğan has had an amazing political streak. With multiple secular parties dividing the vote but almost all failing to surpass the 10 percent threshold, Erdoğan was able to amplify a 34 percent vote into a supermajority. Through talent, constituent services, and perhaps a Gulf Arab-provided slush fund as well, he had an amazing political streak, not only winning successive elections, but also often adding to his majority.

That changed, of course, earlier this month when, despite his fierce and, given his supposedly apolitical position as president, illicit campaigning, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority. Some journalists and pundits jumped the gun with their optimism. Here, for example, is Foreign Policy’s David Kenner calling it a “body blow for Turkey’s ruling party.” Vox’s Zack Beauchamp was equally effusive, not considering much the possibility of no government being formed with repeat rather than simply early elections.

The reality is, however, that Erdoğan will undercut any coalition. He has no desire to share power; if he did, it would be short-term and tactical in order to have a scapegoat. The question then turns to new elections. Erdoğan probably believes the most recent elections to be a fluke. Everyone else may know otherwise, but Erdoğan will never admit it. He has constructed such an alternate, conspiratorial reality; he cannot fathom honest rejection. That said he will ensure there are no more speed bumps in his quest to implement his transformative agenda.

Hence, his most recent comments about doing whatever it takes to prevent a Kurdish state in Syria. First, make no mistake, there already is a Kurdish federal entity in Syria. Turkey may have opinions about Syria and Kurds, but the Syrian Kurds are not Turkish and there is little Turkey can do about “Rojava” absent a full-scale invasion (and that would only bog Turkey down in guerilla conflict in Syria and insurgency in Turkey like nothing it experienced in the 1980s and 1990s). But, by hyping the Syrian Kurds as an enemy, Erdoğan hopes to foment a crisis domestically. After all, it was the triumph of the People’s Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) in the most recent elections that forced the AKP into defeat. The HDP makes little secret of its sympathy to Syrian Kurds. Both are essentially proxies of the broader Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK), a group that once waged insurgency inside Turkey and which the Turkish government considers terrorists, but with which it is now engaged in a peace process. If Erdoğan hypes the Syrian Kurdish threat and goes on war footing, then he can essentially use emergency powers to disqualify or dirty tricks to suppress the Kurdish vote in any re-count. Selahattin Demirtaş, the charismatic co-head of the HDP, better have good security. It is a Catch-22 for him. He knows threats against his life are real, but if he restricts his public appearances, then Erdoğan wins.

Erdoğan believes that by means of crisis and a new election, he can regain his majority, after which he can push forward his path to constitutional change that will formalize his role, essentially, as Turkey’s dictator. Call it what it is: a self-coup. It happened in Peru in 1992, it happened in Pakistan in 1997, and it may just well happen in Turkey in 2015.

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ISIS Attacks in America Are Coming

By its own depraved standards, last Thursday and Friday were gruesomely successful days for ISIS. On Thursday, a suicide squad of ISIS fighters infiltrated Kobani, the Syrian town it had previously lost to Kurdish militia, and killed 145 residents. Then, on Friday, ISIS was linked to two massacres at different ends of the Middle East: in Tunisia a gunman armed with an Ak-47 killed at least 47 vacationers at a beach resort, while in Kuwait a suicide bomber killed at least 24 Shiites at a mosque. ISIS may also be connected to the French Muslim attacker who beheaded the manager of an American-owned chemical plant in France and tried to blow up the entire facility. All this only a few days after ISIS released another of its patented snuff films showing prisoners being drowned alive in a cage. Read More

By its own depraved standards, last Thursday and Friday were gruesomely successful days for ISIS. On Thursday, a suicide squad of ISIS fighters infiltrated Kobani, the Syrian town it had previously lost to Kurdish militia, and killed 145 residents. Then, on Friday, ISIS was linked to two massacres at different ends of the Middle East: in Tunisia a gunman armed with an Ak-47 killed at least 47 vacationers at a beach resort, while in Kuwait a suicide bomber killed at least 24 Shiites at a mosque. ISIS may also be connected to the French Muslim attacker who beheaded the manager of an American-owned chemical plant in France and tried to blow up the entire facility. All this only a few days after ISIS released another of its patented snuff films showing prisoners being drowned alive in a cage.

The exact connections between ISIS and the foreign attacks remains to be determined but the fact that ISIS claimed credit for the Kuwait and Tunisia attacks suggests that it is expanding its attention, from Syria and Iraq toward a more international wave of terror designed to better compete with Al Qaeda, which has long been focused on the “far enemy” (i.e., the U.S. and its allies). Already ISIS sympathizers have been linked to attacks in the U.S. such as the thwarted attempt to shoot up an exhibition of Mohammad cartoons in Texas. It’s a safe bet that the U.S. will not be exempt from ISIS’ growing foreign focus, and that some future attacks will succeed.

How should the U.S. respond? There will be calls, of course, for greater international cooperation against the ISIS threat, and that’s fine as far as it goes. But no amount of international policing can stop every nutcase who, inspired by ISIS’s example, decides to kill some of his neighbors. There is only one way to dispel the appeal of ISIS, and that is to destroy its self-styled caliphate. Even suicide bombers are reluctant to fight in a losing cause. ISIS has been so appealing of late, especially to foreigners (more than 1,000 of whom flock to join its ranks every month), precisely because it has been so successful.

But dispelling that aura of success will require doing a heck of a lot more than the U.S. is doing at present. Michele Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense in the Obama administration, has just co-authored an op-ed with Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, which offers some sensible suggestions. They suggest, among other steps, providing arms directly to Sunni tribes and the Kurdish peshmerga, without channeling all aid through Baghdad as the U.S. is now doing; allowing Special Operations Forces and forward air controllers to accompany Iraqi forces into battle, intensifying air strikes, and increasing support to the non-jihadist Syrian opposition.

These are all sensible ideas, which echo suggestions long put forward by many other analysts (including me). But they all have one thing in common: They haven’t been implemented by the Obama administration, because he is putting his non-interventionist ideology ahead of the need to destroy ISIS (a goal that Obama explicitly set for the U.S. armed forces).

I hope that President Obama pays greater attention to the advice offered by one of his own erstwhile high-level appointees than to the views of the rest of us, but I’m not terribly optimistic. Obama, despite sending 350 more personnel to Iraq recently, appears to be in a holding pattern with ISIS, doing some damage but not doing enough to defeat it. That’s a recipe for disaster because as long as ISIS appears secure in its caliphate it will be free to extend its international reign of terror.

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Reciprocity, Responsibility Must Govern Iran Educational Exchanges

The independent, non-profit Institute of International Education (IIE) has announced that it sent a “historic” delegation of university representatives to meet with Iranian counterparts in the Islamic Republic last week. Its press release described its goals: Read More

The independent, non-profit Institute of International Education (IIE) has announced that it sent a “historic” delegation of university representatives to meet with Iranian counterparts in the Islamic Republic last week. Its press release described its goals:

“Educational diplomacy is at the forefront of opening up dialogue between two countries, often before full diplomatic relations have been restored,” said [IIE President and CEO] Dr. [Allan E.] Goodman. “This was the case with China and Vietnam, and IIE has been leading these efforts in recent years, first with Myanmar and Cuba and now with Iran.” The new IIE Iran Higher Education Initiative will take a multi-pronged approach aimed at expanding educational cooperation with Iran. In addition to last week’s delegation, the initiative will include a series of activities over the course of the next year, including bi-national conference calls, a white paper on opportunities for developing university partnerships and understanding the regulations that control the establishment of these relationships, workshops for university administrators, and activities aimed at increasing exchanges of students and faculty members. The goal is to share resources and knowledge that will bring higher education institutions in the U.S. and Iran closer together, ultimately to enrich the academic experiences of students, faculty, staff, and administrators from both countries.

Like many academics basking in what they believe to be new geopolitical relevance, Goodman ignores history. Educational exchanges with Iran — including multi-university ones — are nothing new; I participated in two during the 1990s while I was studying Persian and conducting research for my Ph.D. in Iranian history. Many Iranian students study in American universities; in the 1990s, I studied with them. Multiple controversies over visa status and availability for Iranian students could not have occurred if exchanges did not happen. Indeed, educational exchanges have long been staples of people-to-people efforts. George W. Bush-era Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, for example, actively sought to bring more Iranians into the country for study. “We’ve all seen the huge, long-term impact of having someone study in our country and get to know the American people and what that means in 30, 40 years,” he explained.

What Goodman and the IIE ignore, however, as they kowtow to the Islamic Republic in order to keep access is educational discrimination. The Islamic Republic of Iran severely restrains if not forbids Iranian Baha’is to pursue higher education in Iranian universities (or to qualify for state scholarships to pursue education abroad, such as they may be). Likewise, Iranian Jewish students in Iran complained to me about severe discrimination in Iranian universities to the point where they were unsafe living in Iranian student dormitories. Missing from the IIE press release is any conception that such discrimination occurs, or that the IIE and the universities participating in this delegation—Ball State University, Pitzer College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the University of Southern California (USC), and Wayne State University—will make free access regardless of religion to be a defining principle of any exchange. Ideological fealty cannot be allowed to trump academic qualification for Iranians seeking university admission and scholarships in the United States. Unless the Iranian government allows Americans to administer exams for admission and scholarships, only the regime’s most trusted supporters will benefit.

The IIE ignores how the Iranian government has tried to hijack past academic exchanges. In 2000, during the height of the Dialogue of Civilizations, the United States granted Iranian passport holders approximately 22,000 visas; the Iranians reciprocated by granting U.S. passport holders less than 1,000. The discrepancy has only grown with time. Those who criticize Iranian policy receive no visa, while those who wish to ensure access parrot the Iranian line. According to the Iranian news website Asr-i Iran, George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr went so far as to encourage Tehran to use its leverage to purge Iranian studies of Jews and Bahai’s.

So what should the IIE do? They are absolutely correct that academic exchanges and cooperation can be valuable. But, to benefit all, they must be based on reciprocity. Iranian students, for example, should not receive multiple entry visas to the United States unless American students receive the same status of visas to Iran. Likewise, there cannot be a discrepancy in visa numbers as during the much heralded but ultimately substance-less “Dialogue of Civilizations.” There should be no more opportunities for Iranian students visiting the United States than for American students visiting Iran.

University administrators of both nationalities should also sign statements ensuring that there will be no discrimination toward any student based on his religion, sexual preference, or any other factor. Iran hangs gays for the crime of being homosexual. How will the IIE mitigate the threat to American students who might happen to be gay? Likewise, what fate will await an Iranian student who does not conform to the Islamic Republic’s declared mores during his or her time in the United States?

There are very real reasons why U.S.-Iranian relations have been strained for 36 years. The reason for geopolitical tension is not simply because American officials from both parties haven’t had the foresight to realize that dialogue can solve everything; rather, it is because until now they have not been willing to ignore Iranian behavior. If the IIE’s desired exchange is really to achieve the goals it sets out, then it is imperative that it not ignore Iranian regime or university behavior either.

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No Victory against ISIS with Erdoğan in Turkey

Friday, the one-year anniversary of the Islamic State’s declaration of its caliphate, was a horrible day across the region. The Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) launched terrorist attacks that have killed innocents in Tunisia, Kuwait, and France. Terrorists seek out soft targets. They search for the unprotected and undefended in order to commit the unexpected. While the U.S. counterterrorism community has perfected defending against the last terrorist attack — hence the obsession with bottled water and more than three ounces of shaving cream at airport checkpoints — large bureaucracies are poor at thinking outside the box. Hence, there will always be another terrorist attack no matter how vigilant police might be. Read More

Friday, the one-year anniversary of the Islamic State’s declaration of its caliphate, was a horrible day across the region. The Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) launched terrorist attacks that have killed innocents in Tunisia, Kuwait, and France. Terrorists seek out soft targets. They search for the unprotected and undefended in order to commit the unexpected. While the U.S. counterterrorism community has perfected defending against the last terrorist attack — hence the obsession with bottled water and more than three ounces of shaving cream at airport checkpoints — large bureaucracies are poor at thinking outside the box. Hence, there will always be another terrorist attack no matter how vigilant police might be.

But what happens when the government that is supposed to secure the flank actually decides to encourage and enable terrorist attacks? No, this is not some Noam Chomsky-esque study in moral equivalence with regard to the United States. Rather, it is apparently the reality of what happened yesterday in Kobani, the Kurdish-held Syrian town alongside the border with Turkey. Islamic State terrorists infiltrated into Kobani from across the Turkish border and massacred almost 150 civilians.

After months of criticism about allowing Turkish territory to be transformed into a figurative highway for foreign Jihadis, the Turkish government promised that it would interdict those seeking to join the Islamic State. Just as Pakistan arrests an occasional foreign fighter and then claims it is serious about combating terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan, so too did Turkey point to its occasional arrest of a European teenager and say that such action proved it was serious about stemming the flow of recruits into Syria.

The latest Kobani massacre, however, puts that lie to rest. Evidence continues to mount that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish officials answering to him in the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT), Turkey’s intelligence service allowed Islamic State fighters to traverse through Turkey and attack Kobani from Turkey, a flank the largely Kurdish residents of Kobani felt was secure by nature of it being an international border belonging to a NATO member that had pledged its security. This apparent collaboration between Turkey and the Islamic State increasingly is the rule rather than the exception.

There was, for example, the leak of MİT documents showing Turkish support of Al Qaeda. And, rather than give medals to the Turkish soldiers who intercepted truckloads of weaponry destined for Syrian radicals, Erdoğan ordered their arrest. These are among the topics that the Erdoğan regime has forbidden the Turkish media from reporting.

The problem appears two-fold. First, Erdoğan sympathizes ideologically with the Islamic State. That may sound preposterous; after all, Erdoğan is the elected leader of a NATO member, but evidence regarding his antagonism to the West and a more secular order is overwhelming. And, secondly, Erdoğan is antagonistic to Kurds. The peace process was about politics. Erdoğan derived great benefit both domestically and abroad for appearing sincere in his efforts to end old animosities. This was a cynical ploy, however. Like Atatürk, Erdoğan is perfectly happy to embrace Kurds so long as they abandon their ethnic identity. The only difference between the two is that Atatürk wanted Kurds to subordinate their identity to Turkish nationalism while Erdoğan expected them to subordinate themselves to a common religious identity.

As to evidence of Erdoğan’s antagonism toward the Kurds: There was the unresolved Roboski massacre, as well as overwhelming evidence—including telephone intercepts—showing Turkish security to be behind the assassinations of three Kurdish activists in Paris, France.

More than nine months ago, President Barack Obama promised to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. Despite ordering airstrikes against Islamic State targets, it is unclear whether Obama is committed to doing what it will take to fulfill his pledge. Obama is right, however, that military strategies alone will not lead to victory. There must be a diplomatic component as well.

Diplomacy isn’t simply about talking to one’s partners and adversaries; it is also about achieving goals that cannot or should not be achieved militarily. If the defeat of the Islamic State is a goal — and, given the terrorist attacks of today it must be—then part of a comprehensive diplomatic strategy must be the end of the Erdoğan era. The recent elections — despite the false and naïve optimism of some journalists — were not a “body blow” to Erdoğan but rather a hiccup. If no coalition can be formed, Turkey will head into new elections, ones in which Erdoğan will take no chances.

But how to achieve regime change in Turkey? Direct diplomatic intervention is both unwarranted and unwise. Turks are also nationalist, and so any direct involvement will backfire. But nationalism plays both ways, and many Turks are disgusted about what Erdoğan has done to their country. Indeed, many Turkish political analysts attribute unease over Erdoğan’s Syria policy (and his embrace of radicals) for his party’s disappointing showing in elections earlier this month.

Still, there are tools open to Washington. Back in 2008, the Turkish courts considered banning the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for its constitutional violations. In the end, single justice saved the party—apparently after receiving a large sum of money wired into his bank account by a Turkish businessman who sought to resolve favorably a long-simmering dispute with the AKP. That businessman’s name is whispered among Turks, and Turkish journalists acknowledge the last minute cell phone call that preceded the change of the Turkish judge’s vote. If such information is known, why not make it public? Saving the Turkish president or his ruling party from the exposure of its actions shouldn’t be a goal of the United States. Delegitimizing them in the public sphere is imperative.

Likewise, the AKP has been plagued by corruption scandals allegedly involving Erdoğan, senior advisors, cabinet ministers and parliamentarians. Again, this should be the subject of public discourse, if not in Turkey than from the bully pulpit of the State Department and the White House. If Erdoğan, his children, or ministers and their families, or members of the AKP are believed complicit in corruption or financing terror, they should be sanctioned and banned from the United States. Would such action undercut Turkish participation in the fight against ISIS or in NATO? Perhaps. But, after the massacre in Kobane, it’s time to ask whether the costs of that partnership outweigh the benefits. Regardless, the problem isn’t Turkey but rather its leader and those who blindly do his bidding in the AKP. It may be an uncomfortable conversation, and perhaps many diplomats and analysts will disagree with the policy prescription but it is time to acknowledge one salient reality: There will be no victory over the Islamic State so long as Turkey remains a Trojan Horse betraying those who fight against it.

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Hillary Clinton’s Evaporating Support

When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to the scene of the bitterly contested 2008 Democratic presidential primary’s most divisive battleground, South Carolina, she found that tensions had not entirely abated over the years. State Representative Boyd Brown, an outspoken supporter of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, described Clinton’s support in his state as “a mile wide but it’s only an inch deep.” It was a prescient observation, albeit not Brown’s alone. Clinton has campaigned aggressively for a nomination that should, by rights, already be hers. She has contorted herself wildly, recanted her past policy preferences, and all but condemned her husband as a sellout to the cause; all in pursuit of the elusive support of the liberals who robbed her of the nomination once already. And, yet, that seemingly unnecessary posturing has not solidified her support among Democrats. In fact, it appears to be ebbing. Read More

When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to the scene of the bitterly contested 2008 Democratic presidential primary’s most divisive battleground, South Carolina, she found that tensions had not entirely abated over the years. State Representative Boyd Brown, an outspoken supporter of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, described Clinton’s support in his state as “a mile wide but it’s only an inch deep.” It was a prescient observation, albeit not Brown’s alone. Clinton has campaigned aggressively for a nomination that should, by rights, already be hers. She has contorted herself wildly, recanted her past policy preferences, and all but condemned her husband as a sellout to the cause; all in pursuit of the elusive support of the liberals who robbed her of the nomination once already. And, yet, that seemingly unnecessary posturing has not solidified her support among Democrats. In fact, it appears to be ebbing.

The Democratic Party’s leftward drift over the course of the last 15 years has been observable both in anecdotal and quantitative terms. Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in September of last year, a roundtable of Iowa Democrats uniformly expressed reservations about Clinton’s perceived closeness to Wall Street and her hawkish approach to matters related to foreign affairs. “I’m looking for someone that’s a little more liberal,” one politically active student told Mitchell.

That student is in good company. “In 2015, the proportion of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who said they were both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal reached 47 percent,” wrote Real Clear Politics analyst Matthew Disler this month. “Thirty-nine percent of participants in this group answered similarly in 2008, and only 30 percent did so in 2001.”

Many speculated that Clinton’s massive lead over her prospective challengers has been amassed by default. Not only was it “her turn,” as former Obama campaign advisor Jim Messina once said, but she was also easily the most electable candidate in an otherwise lackluster Democratic field. Some suspected that, as a result, Clinton’s support among liberals was ephemeral or even illusory. They might have been right.

Despite Clinton’s theatrical attempts to placate her party’s restive left flank, her support in the key early primary states appears to be fleeting.

A shocking CNN/WMUR survey of New Hampshire’s Democratic primary voters released this week revealed that the most attractive alternative to Clinton for liberals, the self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is surging. In the state that Clinton’s team views as her backyard, the place where she managed to stage a comeback win after Barack Obama and John Edwards stole both first and second place finishes in Iowa in 2008, Clinton secured just 43 percent support compared with Sanders’ 35 percent. Against her primary competitor, a politician with far less political acumen or general appeal than Obama circa 2008, Clinton’s 52-point lead in February has been cut down to just 8 points. Only 13 percent of Granite State Democrats said they had planned to support Sanders as recently as May.

“Believe it or not,” ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis observed, “Hillary’s lead over Sanders in WMUR/CNN poll in NH is narrower (43-35) than her lead was over Obama in June ’07 (36-22).” Among Democrats, only 54 percent of respondents said they had permanently determined which candidate they planned to vote for – down from 76 percent in February. 11 percent of Democrats in New Hampshire said they would not vote for Clinton under any circumstances while just 6 percent said the same of Sanders. “Clinton’s net electability score is +31%, followed closely by Sanders at +29%,” WMUR’s write-up read. “No other Democratic candidate has net favorability ratings above +2%.”

This phenomenon is not merely isolated in New Hampshire. In every survey taken of likely Democratic caucus-goers or registered Democrats in Iowa since February, Clinton’s net lead over her nearest competitors had never fallen below 41 points – until this week. For the first time, a Bloomberg survey conducted by the respected Selzer & Co of Des Moines found Clinton with only a bare majority of support – 50 percent – compared to Sanders’ 24 percent. On issues like “will take on Wall Street” and “is authentic,” Hawkeye State Democrats backed Sanders over Clinton by double-digit margins. The two candidates were statistically tied when voters were asked which candidate “will fight for the average person” and “cares about people like me.” Only on matters related to general electability did Clinton maintain her formerly prohibitive advantage over Sanders.

Few believe that Clinton could lose her party’s nomination, let alone to a marginal figure like Sanders. But what once looked like a coronation has become a fight. It’s clear that Democrats are simply not that enthusiastic about Clinton’s candidacy. If this trend continues, the Democratic Party will have to confront the fact that the primary process is going to yield a battered candidate who had to lurch much farther to the left in order to secure the nomination they would probably have preferred.

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Destroying International Law by Tying the West’s Hands

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week. Read More

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week.

On the military side, the goal was already clear last week, thanks to an interview by Israel’s Channel 2 television with international law expert William Schabas, who headed the HRC’s Gaza inquiry until being forced out in February over a conflict of interests. “It would be a very unusual war if only one side had committed violations of laws of war and the other had engaged perfectly,” he declared. “That would be an unusual situation and an unusual conclusion.”

In other words, it’s virtually impossible for any country fighting terrorists to avoid committing war crimes, however hard it tries, because as currently interpreted by experts like Schabas, the laws of war are impossible for any real-life army to comply with. Thus, a country that wants to avoid international prosecution for war crimes has no choice but to avoid all wars; its only option is capitulation to the terrorists attacking it.

The report ultimately issued by Mary McGowan Davis, who took over the inquiry after Schabas resigned, achieved his goal through a neat trick: replacing the presumption of innocence – the gold standard for ordinary criminal proceedings – with a presumption of guilt. As Benjamin Wittes and Yishai Schwartz noted in their scathing analysis for the Lawfare blog, despite admitting that Hamas routinely used civilian buildings for military purposes, the report nevertheless concluded that any attack on a civilian building is prima facie illegal absent solid proof that the building served military purposes.

But as the report itself admits in paragraph 215, in a quote attributed to “official Israeli sources,” such proof is virtually impossible to produce, because “forensic evidence that a particular site was used for military purposes is rarely available after an attack. Such evidence is usually destroyed in the attack or, if time allows, removed by the terrorist organisations who exploited the site in the first place.”

In short, it’s impossible for any country to comply with the laws of war when fighting terrorists, because it will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent, and the only evidence acceptable to prove its innocence is by definition unobtainable. And lest anyone miss the point – or labor under the delusion that this precedent won’t be applied to other countries as well – Davis underscored it in a subsequent interview with Haaretz. Asked what solution international law does offer “to a situation in which regular armies of democratic countries fight against terror organizations in the heart of populated areas,” she replied scornfully, “My job is not to tell them how to wage a war.” The claim that “international law needs to develop standards that more accurately deal with military operations” is unacceptable, she asserted; the only acceptable changes are “to make protection of civilians stronger” and thereby make waging war even more impossible.

But the self-appointed interpreters of international law are targeting nonmilitary tools against terrorism no less vigorously, as another development this week made clear. Responding to a bill approved by Israel’s cabinet last week to allow jailed terrorists on hunger strike to be force-fed, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political affairs declared that such legislation would be “a contravention of international standards.” The Israel Medical Association’s ethics chairman similarly declared the bill a violation of international law, saying force-feeding has been defined as a form of torture.

Yet letting hunger-striking prisoners die in detention is equally unacceptable to the self-appointed experts. So what solution does that leave? MK Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party put it perfectly: “Instead of force-feeding them, which humiliates them and puts their lives at risk, we must address their demands.” After all, if you can neither force-feed them nor let them die, capitulation is the only option left.

Thus the bottom line is the same as that emerging from the UN’s Gaza inquiry: International law leaves democracies no options in the face of determined terrorists except capitulation. You can’t fight them, because then you’re guilty of war crimes. But you also can’t arrest and jail them, because they can simply start a hunger strike, which entitles them to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The result, as Prof. Amichai Cohen perceptively noted in a report submitted to Davis’ commission, is that these self-appointed experts are destroying the very idea of international law with their own two hands. Because why should Israel – or any other country – make an effort to comply with international law “if the international system itself does not recognize [the effort’s] efficiency?”

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The Price of Sycophancy

Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is having a bad month. After spending millions of dollars lobbying Washington to supply arms directly to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the Congress reversed course and, to the surprise of Barzani and the Kurds who seemed just days before to consider approval a done deal, voted not to send weaponry directly to the Kurdistan Regional Government. It was the right call: Barzani and his government not only had already acquired weaponry directly from Iran and several European countries, but they also have a troubling tendency to stockpile weaponry to empower themselves vis-a-vis Kurdish political rivals rather than deploy them where needed. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk, long called the Kurdish Jerusalem by factional leaders like Barzani and rival Jalal Talabani, is probably the city most in the crosshairs of the Islamic State and yet the Kurdistan Regional Government has yet to supply it with the weaponry it needs. The weaponry isn’t in Baghdad or missing, but rather warehoused in Erbil. Former Parliamentary Speaker Kemal Kirkuki, a Barzani loyalist, may tell foreign journalists otherwise; he is lying and simply taking advantage of the fact that most journalists now parachute in for only a short period of time. Read More

Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is having a bad month. After spending millions of dollars lobbying Washington to supply arms directly to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the Congress reversed course and, to the surprise of Barzani and the Kurds who seemed just days before to consider approval a done deal, voted not to send weaponry directly to the Kurdistan Regional Government. It was the right call: Barzani and his government not only had already acquired weaponry directly from Iran and several European countries, but they also have a troubling tendency to stockpile weaponry to empower themselves vis-a-vis Kurdish political rivals rather than deploy them where needed. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk, long called the Kurdish Jerusalem by factional leaders like Barzani and rival Jalal Talabani, is probably the city most in the crosshairs of the Islamic State and yet the Kurdistan Regional Government has yet to supply it with the weaponry it needs. The weaponry isn’t in Baghdad or missing, but rather warehoused in Erbil. Former Parliamentary Speaker Kemal Kirkuki, a Barzani loyalist, may tell foreign journalists otherwise; he is lying and simply taking advantage of the fact that most journalists now parachute in for only a short period of time.

Nor is Barzani’s desire for family rule going as smoothly as he planned. Barzani has led the Kurdistan Regional Government since his return from exile against the backdrop of Operation Provide Comfort, the U.S.-led effort to create a safe-haven in 1991. He agreed to a two-term limit from 2005; that expired in 2013. He received a legally questionable two-year extension on his second term back in 2013, but that is soon to expire. Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) over which he maintains autocratic control has been working to extend his rule indefinitely but has been facing increasing resistance from the two other major regional parties: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Goran. Harem Karem and Kamal Chomani, two of the most professional independent Kurdish journalists, have an excellent piece in the Kurdistan Tribune discussing the crossroad which Kurdistan now faces between democracy and autocracy. Needless to say, neither Barzani nor the KDP is happy with any resistance. A KDP parliamentarian, for example, attacked a Goran parliamentarian for speaking against the extralegal extension of Barzani’s term. An undisclosed medical emergency which sidelined Barzani a couple weeks ago — and forced him to cancel all appearances — only added fuel to the debate, given Barzani’s efforts to lay the groundwork for dynastic succession.

Finally, despite all the hype about Kurdistan’s oil potential, Kurdish officials find themselves perhaps $17 billion in debt, without any explanation as to where the money — owed to the oil companies for their share of the royalties — have gone. Apparently, Barzani’s government is gambling that the oil companies have invested too much already in Kurdistan to pull of stakes and accept their loss. While such a strategy might enrich some officials in the short-term, it is corrosive to long-term investor confidence in Kurdistan. This has forced Kurdistan to seek a $5 billion loan just to keep afloat.

Clearly, not all is going well for Barzani either in Kurdistan, in the United States or with investors. That he seems so surprised, however, illustrates one of the greatest Achilles’ heels of dictatorships: Sycophancy.

Barzani surrounds himself with yes-men. Those who parrot his line 100 percent are friends; those who only agree with him 90 percent of the time he and his staff consider enemies. He lives on a mountain top complex, which was once a public resort before Saddam Hussein seized it for himself. That Barzani appropriated it after Saddam was forced from the region was problematic. His staff argue that he needs it for security, but the optics have always been horrible and the cynicism of ordinary Kurds palpable. When living a couple dozen kilometers from the people he claims to represent, and when he seldom circulates among people, he might as well be ruling Kurdistan from the moon.

The problem of distance and sycophancy is compounded by the behavior of his staff. Why did they so greatly underestimate the atmosphere in Washington, D.C.? Last month, when Barzani visited Washington, his staff insisted host organizations run their invitation list past the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure there would be no attendees who might ask difficult questions. The Center for New American Security (CNAS), on whose board a lobbyist for Kurdistan sits, systematically disinvited multiple analysts, writers, and academics whom they feared might ask difficult questions. (In a Washington Post piece earlier this week, CNAS President Richard Fontaine and Chief Executive Michèle Flournoy repeat the trope that Baghdad does not provide Kurdistan weapons in a timely matter. As the White House, Pentagon, and, increasingly, Congress know, this complaint has no basis in reality, and so it is curious that CNAS continues to repeat it. The Atlantic Council, where the daughter of Barzani’s chief-of-staff works, likewise ensured an ingratiating audience. It certainly crosses a line to allow a foreign entity to control the audience in the middle of Washington, D.C.

As a result, Barzani was confronted not with questions about governance, oil policy, or press freedom, but rather with statements about what a most amazing man he was. His aides might consider that a successful trip, but it reflected as much the reality of Washington, as Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole reflected the garden party above.

Nor is Barzani able to understand reality by reading critical columns in the Kurdish press. After being peppered with lawsuits by the Kurdish government claiming unfair criticism, Awene, one of the region’s most respected independent newspapers, is about to close. Security forces controlled by Barzani’s eldest son Masrour have beaten and even allegedly murdered writers for other independent newspapers. Most parties publish their own organs which simply amplify party propaganda in the belief that if repeated enough, it must be true. Parties and individual politicians control television stations. When any government suffocates the press, it loses perhaps the most important mirror to reflect true public concerns short of holding free and fair elections.

Now, I don’t mean to single out Barzani or the Kurds — it’s simply the sharpest example of a true disconnect between government perception and reality. The same has held true of Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan eviscerated the press, sought to control audiences not only in Turkey but also while traveling abroad, including in the United States. Think tanks which hold theoretically open and academic events in Istanbul systematically exclude the Turkish opposition, even if they represent half the population; they understand that is the price of Ankara’s cooperation and any minister let alone Erdoğan himself showing up. Turkey has gone beyond even the Kurds, trying to silence foreign critics with ultimately irrelevant lawsuits filed in Turkish courts. The Turkish embassy, meanwhile, long ago stopped representing Turkey and today represents only the ruling party. Fortunately, other Turkish parties have sent their own representatives and often do their outreach better than the professional Turkish diplomats.

I am supportive of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, despite his path to power. While critics abound in Washington, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to the sincerity of his desire for reform. But, as he increasingly limits press freedom, constrains civil society, and uses the judiciary as a tool against opposition, he risks losing touch as he is no longer able to escape the bubble created by his sycophants. At some point, he will reach a tipping point when public opinion shifts against him. If he only discovers that months or even years after the fact, the resulting violence can be extreme.

Against this backdrop, what should the United States do? It’s important to support free press among both friend and foe. It should be the position of the United States always to support free speech abroad so long as it does not incite violence or genocide as during the dark days of the Rwanda genocide or wars resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Furthermore, while systems may be indispensable, leaders never are. And while entourages may like to shield leaders from the reality of public opinion at home, it should not be the job of any truly independent or academic organization in the United States to aid and abet that bubble. One thing is certain: When rulers insulate themselves behind layers of yes-men, the result is never the adulation of the people or an accurate sense of one position in the world. Rather, it is often quite the opposite.

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Palestinian Leaders Deserve to be Hauled Into the International Criminal Court

As expected, the Palestinian Authority made good on its threat to open a new front in its war on the state of Israel. By submitting material to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the PA is hoping to add to the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state in Europe and to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. While the ICC appears somewhat leery about diving headfirst into a political conflict that cannot be neatly contained, it’s likely that the PA provocation will reap it some of the benefits it seeks in terms of whipping up anti-Israel sentiment. But while there’s no doubt that such any international court will be biased against Israel and judge it by a double standard in terms of its measures of self-defense or settlement policy, the Palestinians also need to be reminded of an old truism: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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As expected, the Palestinian Authority made good on its threat to open a new front in its war on the state of Israel. By submitting material to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the PA is hoping to add to the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state in Europe and to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. While the ICC appears somewhat leery about diving headfirst into a political conflict that cannot be neatly contained, it’s likely that the PA provocation will reap it some of the benefits it seeks in terms of whipping up anti-Israel sentiment. But while there’s no doubt that such any international court will be biased against Israel and judge it by a double standard in terms of its measures of self-defense or settlement policy, the Palestinians also need to be reminded of an old truism: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The United States roundly condemned the Palestinian move today. The administration did so not out of affection for Israel, but because the decision to go to the court is evidence that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah clique have no intention of returning to peace talks with Israel no matter what inducements the Obama administration offers them. The president is still hoping to embark on one more bout of pressure on Israel in order to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians even though every previous such effort has been met by indifference on the part of the PA. But another power play directed against Israel becomes that much harder to justify if the PA is directly contradicting its past commitments to the United States to refrain from seeking to litigate in court issues that must be decided by direct negotiations.

One element of the PA strategy that should be noted is that Israel is not the only potential target of this effort. Abbas knows that even if the court takes up bogus war crimes allegations against Israel, it will be obliged to address the far more substantial charges that can be laid at the door of his Hamas rivals. It was Hamas, after all, that started last summer’s war and launched thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli cities and town intended to kill and maim as many civilians as possible. While the PA won’t assist efforts to investigate Hamas, that would be a fringe benefit of incitement against Israel.

But Hamas is not the only Palestinian force that is guilty of crimes worthy of investigation. The PA has also funded terrorists and incited terror via its official media. Moreover, shining a light on the terrorism conducted by Palestinians last summer may also land Abbas and aide Jibril Rajoub in court. The Israel Law Center is preparing to send the ICC its own indictments of the PA leadership for acts of terror committed by Fatah affiliates directly under Abbas’s control.

Using their formidable propaganda machine assisted by an international press that is always prepared to judge Israel affair, Palestinians have been able to demonize the Jewish state in the court of international public opinion. But any real court, even one as biased as the ICC against Israel will also have to look at the far more credible criminal charges that can be laid at the feet of both sets of Palestinian tyrants. Once investigations begin, PA is as vulnerable as Hamas no matter how much sympathy they generate in a Europe where anti-Semitism is on the rise. By going to court, they have opened a Pandora’s Box with consequences that few can predict.

Meanwhile, even an administration that is as biased against Israel as that of President Obama must look on this pointless exercise with dismay. Those who refuse to admit that the Palestinians are not interested in peace have ignored their repeated refusals to accept offers of statehood from Israel. But ignoring an effort to prosecute Israel rather than negotiate with it won’t be quite as easy. It’s time for President Obama to do more than have spokespersons condemn the court gambit. He needs to warn Abbas that he stands to be finally cut loose by an administration that has wasted too much political capital and good will in fruitless efforts to aid the Palestinians at Israel’s expense.

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Last Gasp in Paris

Writing in Hypervocal in March, Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin opened with a jarring observation. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” The old ways that are not already dead are dying. Those organisms that thrived in a bygone period must evolve or go extinct. But rather than go gentle, those who were for so long coddled by a state that insulated them from life’s harsher realities have opted to rage violently in response to their suddenly suboptimal circumstances. Read More

Writing in Hypervocal in March, Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin opened with a jarring observation. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” The old ways that are not already dead are dying. Those organisms that thrived in a bygone period must evolve or go extinct. But rather than go gentle, those who were for so long coddled by a state that insulated them from life’s harsher realities have opted to rage violently in response to their suddenly suboptimal circumstances.

The West Bank of the Seine more closely resembled the West Bank of the Jordan this week when hundreds of masked protesters took the streets of Paris intent on engaging in violence. Rioters burned tires, flipped over cars, attacked passersby, and barricaded roads leading to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those cars that remained in the roads were pelted from overpasses with potentially deadly projectiles. “[T]hey’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They’re beating the cars with metal bats,” Tweeted a distraught Courtney Love who was caught up in the chaos. “[T]his is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

Surely, these were members of the disaffected underclass raging against imperialism, inequality, institutional racism, or any of the other phantoms that haunt the left’s collective imagination? Not quite. These were taxi drivers, members of the Collectif des Taxis Parisiens union, in fact. They were reacting with violence to the entry of Uber Technologies vehicles into a marketplace in which they had once enjoyed a monopoly. What’s more, their grievance was not with a government that is unduly accommodating toward Uber. President Francois Hollande’s administration has gone out of its way to limit Uber’s freedom of action in France by making it harder for non-union drivers to operate a taxi service. They were rioting because the government has not banned the service outright.

“The government will never accept the law of the jungle,” Hollande told his fellow Frenchman in a televised address on Thursday night. But, of course, the jungle won out in the end. The country’s interior minister soon banned the use of the driving service inside Paris city limits. “France ordered a nationwide clampdown on UberPOP [the mobile application’s European version] on Thursday, siding with taxi drivers who blockaded major transport hubs in angry protests against the popular online ride-sharing service, Reuters reported. “[Hollande] also ordered local police chiefs and prosecutors to clamp down on what he said was a failure by Uber to pay social and tax charges in France.”

The mob’s veto once again carried the day, although the French president’s refusal to banish the service from his country entirely will continue to agitate the aspiring totalitarians terrorizing Parisian streets.

“The escalating fight in France comes as Uber is facing regulatory opposition in markets across the world,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Courts in Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have banned UberPOP. Earlier this week, Indonesian police said they had opened an investigation into the firm.”

Such a childish outburst of violence from modernity’s losers might seem unthinkable in the United States, but there are those in positions of authority here who are equally indebted to unions and would forestall the unpleasant effects of consumers’ choices on their privileged constituents. In May, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the self-styled champion of all that represents progress, moved to block Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and other firms that would steal business from the city’s livery union and car-for-hire companies from innovating at their current pace. His proposal would force these firms to request and obtain city approval each time they update their mobile applications, and to pay the city $1,000 for the privilege each time they do so.

In an Orwellian twist, Ira Goldstein, executive director of the Black Car Assistance Corp., told Bloomberg News that the proposed rule would “help level the playing field” against the upstart competitor that has only secured roughly 20 percent of hired driver business in New York City.

“We now have a clear choice as to how our future will look: Will it resemble the taxi commissions and the labor unions and the government departments that were founded in the 1930s, or will it resemble Silicon Valley?” National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke asked last month. The choice is, unfortunately, far more stark. The Uber genie can no more be put back in the bottle than can the splitting of the atom. Uber’s business model, as well as that of firms like Alibaba, Facebook, and Airbnb, is self-evidently viable; it cannot be done away with but through state-sponsored coercion or the invention of the better mousetrap. The latter is anathema to the Parisian rioters and their sympathizers, so it must be the former. But history suggests that innovation in a free society can only be temporarily contained. In Paris, two incompatible creatures are competing with one another over the same space, and one is far more adapted to the present environment than the other. The ultimate outcome of this brutal Darwinian arithmetic can only be forestalled for so long.

Even in nations like France, where cradle-to-grave entitlements and freedom from laborious exertion is perceived as a birthright, this clash could not be prevented forever. The choice ahead of Americans might not be between Silicon Valley or the Tennessee Valley but civilization and Paris.

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Clapper Walks Back Downplaying of Iranian Terror

In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

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In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

In his letter to Senate Intelligence Committee obtained by Fox News’s Catherin Herrige Clapper admits that terror conduct by Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries “directly threatens the interest of the United States and its allies.” Moreover, he also pointed out what has long been common knowledge: Iran and Hezbollah have been instrumental in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, which serves as a lynchpin for their efforts to wage war against Israel. He also noted that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq pose a direct threat to other groups in that country as well as to U.S. personnel and interests.

While not conceding that he lied by not mentioning Iran in his testimony, he did own up to the fact that, “A specific reference to the terrorist threat from Iran and Hezbollah – which was not included in any of the drafts of the testimony – would have been appropriate.” That’s true, especially since he now claims that his view of Iran as a threat has been a consensus position within U.S. intelligence for decades.

The Bush administration was widely and often unfairly accused of manipulating intelligence assessments, especially in terms of information that was released to the public. But here we see that it is the Obama administration that has sought, fortunately, in vain to cover up accurate intelligence about Iran in the hope of making Congress more receptive to its efforts to create an entente with the Islamist regime with a weak nuclear deal as its centerpiece.

If, as is almost certainly to be the case, the U.S. strikes a nuclear deal with Iran in the coming month, the result will be the complete collapse of sanctions on Tehran. That will start with the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the U.S. in what will amount to a large cash bonus to the regime that will flood it with cash after being isolated for so long. In response to concerns about Iran’s terror connections, administration apologists claim that specific groups or individuals will remain affected by international sanctions. But what they conveniently omit from their arguments is that money is fungible, especially in an authoritarian regime like that of Iran.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the deal President Obama is pushing is that as loose as the provisions about the nuclear threat may be, it completely ignores other aspects of Iran’s behavior. Contrary to the president’s efforts to segregate terrorism from the discussion about the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program may play a pivotal role in strengthening their terrorist auxiliaries and allies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. By letting Iran keep its infrastructure, the U.S. may eventually acquiesce to a potential nuclear umbrella over terrorist groups. Just as bad, by strengthening Iran’s economy by ending sanctions, the West is indirectly funding the same terror groups that its intelligence services are trying to stop.

This admission by Clapper provides yet another good reason why Congress can and must refuse to ratify any agreement that fails to address the issue of Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terror. Just as the details of the pact fall short of Obama’s own criteria for a good deal, one that doesn’t even mention terrorism should be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

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Common Sense Gas Decision a Triumph for Israel

Like most democracies but only more so, Israel’s political system is a confusing and often frustrating mess. So when the country began to develop the enormous reserves of offshore natural gas in recent years, the only impediment to the nation becoming an unlikely energy giant came from within, not from without. The legacy of the socialist economics practiced by it’s Labor Party founders and the cumbersome bureaucracy they created that existed more to regulate and retard development rather than speed stands as an ever-present threat to its ability to remain the world’s Start-Up Nation. The only obstacle to Israel successfully exploiting the seemingly miraculous discovery of vast reserves of gas within its grasp was always the government itself. Unfortunately, that fear was realized last December when an anti-trust regulator ruled that the Noble Energy and its Israeli partners, the Delek Group, were acting as a monopoly, putting an effective freeze on development of the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But after six months of inaction and negotiation, the Netanyahu government has invoked a never-before-used legal clause that allows the Security Cabinet to override an anti-trust commissioner by reason of national security. The result is that Israel’s progress towards becoming a major player in the energy field is back on track.

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Like most democracies but only more so, Israel’s political system is a confusing and often frustrating mess. So when the country began to develop the enormous reserves of offshore natural gas in recent years, the only impediment to the nation becoming an unlikely energy giant came from within, not from without. The legacy of the socialist economics practiced by it’s Labor Party founders and the cumbersome bureaucracy they created that existed more to regulate and retard development rather than speed stands as an ever-present threat to its ability to remain the world’s Start-Up Nation. The only obstacle to Israel successfully exploiting the seemingly miraculous discovery of vast reserves of gas within its grasp was always the government itself. Unfortunately, that fear was realized last December when an anti-trust regulator ruled that the Noble Energy and its Israeli partners, the Delek Group, were acting as a monopoly, putting an effective freeze on development of the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But after six months of inaction and negotiation, the Netanyahu government has invoked a never-before-used legal clause that allows the Security Cabinet to override an anti-trust commissioner by reason of national security. The result is that Israel’s progress towards becoming a major player in the energy field is back on track.

As Arthur Herman wrote in the March 2014 issue of COMMENTARY:

Israel is poised not only for future energy independence, but for becoming a major regional energy player—maybe even, if it uses its resources wisely, the next energy superpower. The looming question, however, is not whether the world is ready for Israel to be the next Texas. It’s whether the Israelis are ready.

Herman wrote that Noble Energy, a Houston-based company with expertise in deep water drilling, braved a possible Arab boycott (a not unreasonable fear in an industry dominated by companies that invariably do business in the Arab and Muslim worlds) responded to an Israeli offer to work on their offshore fields and to make some money while helping the Jewish state. But despite the obvious benefits of a nation without natural resources becoming rich in gas, there were plenty of critics of the project. Some objected on environmentalist grounds. Others feared that oil wealth would change the nature of the country. Still others worried about an oil boom that would be exploited too quickly and then leave the country’s economy worse off than it had been in the first place.

But it turned out the biggest obstacle to development came from a regulator who decided that the risky arrangement that Noble undertook was a restraint of free trade rather than a necessary deal without which the gas would stay in the ground.

Fortunately, the government has now ended this logjam and, after negotiations, resulted in a deal that will force Noble and Delek to give up control of smaller fields to competitors and dilute their hold on the two big ones that are under development. But it will still leave Noble with enough of a share that will justify their investment and risk.

For all of the pessimism that is often heard about Israel’s future from naysayers who lament the lack of peace with the Palestinians and the country’s internal divisions, natural gas offers the Jewish state and the region unprecedented opportunities for both development and cooperation. If properly exploited and managed, the Israeli natural gas fields will give the country energy independence as well as make it a significant exporter of energy to European markets that are currently dependent on Russia. It also offers the potential of cooperative economic relationships with both the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries, assuming they are capable of holding up their ends of the bargain or of being willing to do business with Israel.

Neither natural gas nor the reserves of shale oil also awaiting development that have been discovered in Israel offer a panacea to the question of peace. A prosperous Israel is no more tolerable to those who wish to destroy it than a poor Jewish state. But these natural resources (in a country that once joked about Moses foolishly leading the Children of Israel to the one place in the region without oil) do give Israel the means to strengthen itself immeasurably and ensure that the Start-Up Nation remains a First World economy and democracy in a sea of Third World poverty and tyranny.

Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves credit for taking the bull by the horns and doing what needed to be done to get this project going again. It will be up to him and his government to see that nothing stops it again.

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Erasing History? There’s an App for That

There is no cause so noble it can’t be made ridiculous by 21st-century activism. The Confederate flag debate is fast becoming another chapter in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taking Offense. According to toucharcade.com, Apple has removed American Civil War games from its App Store because they show the Confederate flag. They don’t celebrate the South or encourage racism. They simply show the flag in its proper historical context. “As of the writing of this story,” writes Tasos Lazarides, “games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow – Civil War games are nowhere to be found.”

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There is no cause so noble it can’t be made ridiculous by 21st-century activism. The Confederate flag debate is fast becoming another chapter in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taking Offense. According to toucharcade.com, Apple has removed American Civil War games from its App Store because they show the Confederate flag. They don’t celebrate the South or encourage racism. They simply show the flag in its proper historical context. “As of the writing of this story,” writes Tasos Lazarides, “games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow – Civil War games are nowhere to be found.”

But if swastikas are your thing, you’re all set. As these still shots from the iPhone version of Wolfenstein 3-D reveal, Apple is still ok with games that show the Nazi symbol:

 

Hitler swastika

The point is not that those of us offended by Nazism should now fight to enjoy the same sanitized game environments as those who are troubled by the Confederate South. It’s that this micro-policing—indeed self-policing—of the culture does not spring from serious moral reflection but from headline-driven cowardice.

Taking a stand against the honoring or legitimizing of evil is a moral obligation. As the writers on this blog have said repeatedly, take down the Confederate flags that fly over state capitals. But erasing all representations of a particular evil is a moral offense that turns justice into self-righteous sport. What’s more, it cuts us off from dark realities that we forget at our own peril. Worst of all, the obscurantism will never stop. Once we decide we’re simply uncomfortable with historical reality, history becomes a grand project of erasure. What makes video games different from movies or books or television shows? In the end, they’ll all be smothered by the big “shush.” And the Union will have won a strange victory for freedom indeed if it prohibits all reference to its greatest blow against human bondage.

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Don’t Fear Donald Trump on the Debate Stage

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race. Read More

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race.

Given that early polling is basically an exercise in gauging name recognition, it should come as no surprise that Trump’s level of voter support has spiked to the low double-digits both in national and early primary state polling. And while he might have the lowest ceiling of support of any of the prospective nominees, securing the backing 11 percent of the GOP electorate puts Trump on par with top-tier candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. What’s more, Trump’s polling stature almost certainly gives him access to the debate stage in August and possibly after that.

The prospect of Trump appearing on stage alongside the party’s groomed and capable 2016 candidates has horrified many observers. “The National Review called Trump a ‘ridiculous buffoon’ and ‘an ass of exceptionally intense asininity,’” Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur observed. “The conservative group Club For Growth said he “should not be taken seriously” and urged that he be excluded from the debates.”

Some have toyed with the idea of amending the debate rules to ensure that Trump and Trump alone is excluded from the process. Some of those, “like prohibiting candidates who gave money to Clinton’s past campaigns,” as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote, create criteria for participation in the debates that nakedly targets Trump individually. But the stakes are so high that such duplicitous rule bending seems justified.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called the notion of giving Trump a platform like a sanctioned GOP presidential debate a “nightmare” for the party. “He will interrupt, bully and seek to dominate the debate in ways that will make it impossible to get a word in edge-wise,” Cillizza wrote. “And, if past is prologue, the sorts of things he does say when he gains control of the debate floor will be stuff that appeals heavily to the Republican base and turns off, well, almost everyone else.”

And all that is true but is that really a “nightmare” for the GOP? While seeing Donald Trump share equal stature with Republican governors and senators will be a lamentable sight, there could be an upside that few seem to have entertained.

First, Cillizza is absolutely correct: If Donald Trump’s Twitter presence is any guide, Trump will bark and bleat, submit childish barbs and withering personal slights aimed at his GOP competitors, and lurch impractically to the right on every issue. After all, the man is deeply unprincipled, and he need not fear any consequence for embracing unworkable policy positions only to abandon them later with a shrug; it’s his style. And it seems the majority of Republicans are aware of that. The same national Fox News poll of Republican primary voters that found 11 percent backing Trump (putting near the top of the field of candidates, just below Jeb Bush) also revealed that 64 percent do not trust The Apprentice star.

In 2012, the commentary class on the left and right observed that the GOP’s presidential primary process had put their party’s nominee at a disadvantage. “It’s the primaries that push their presidential nominees far to the right,” former Politico reporter Jonathan Martin wrote in 2013, putting his finger on the conventional wisdom. It’s a myth but nevertheless a persistent one that holds Mitt Romney, a moderate Massachusetts man at heart, was dragged to the right by a grueling primary process that ultimately rendered him unelectable in the general election. If there is a kernel of truth to that notion, Donald Trump will only benefit Republicans by serving as a caricature of a populist conservative who merits no response, much less self-contortion on the part of his rivals.

Let’s examine a few of The Donald’s most recent jabs:

“Governor Rick Scott of Florida did really poorly on television this morning,” Trump said of the Florida governor who was asked for his opinion on the real estate mogul’s presence in the race and refused to comment. “I hope he is O.K.”

“I hear that dopey political pundit, Lawrence O’Donnell, one of the dumber people on television, is about to lose his show,” Trump averred of the longtime MSNBC host. “[N]o ratings? Too bad.”

“The ratings for The View are really low,” he added. “Nicole Wallace and Molly Sims are a disaster. Get new cast or just put it to sleep. Dead T.V.”

And this is just in the last 24 hours.

Anything short of effusive ego-boosting praise for this man yields a tirade of puerile taunts. How do you respond to this? Why would you respond to this? If this is the personality that Trump brings to the debate stage, it would be near impossible for any of his GOP competitors to muster a cogent response if only because they are so removed from their days in primary school.

And as for Trump’s policy positions, insofar as he has any, they are equally vapid. On illegal immigration: “I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” On trade relations with China: “The way you’re tough is they sell all of their products in this country, and if they don’t behave and act fairly we start taxing all their products coming into this country.” On Russian aggression: “They are all talk, no action.”

This isn’t policy; it’s deluded bluster. There is nothing here that merits a response. Trump may attract a few of the GOP’s populist voters with this kind of empty rhetoric, but his ceiling of support is low enough so that his fellow Republicans do not have to worry about losing much of their support to him. There is no getting to the right of Trump – he will always outbid you. The GOP field can safely allow Trump to stake out unprincipled, unrealistic policy positions in order to elicit applause lines and make a cogent case for their sober policy preferences to the remaining majority of persuadable and reasonable GOP primary voters.

“Trump presents a great opportunity for those who will seize it: The chance to become a better, tougher, calmer, readier candidate earlier in the cycle,” the GOP consultant Liz Mair posited. Maybe. Those who do confront him will do so in good humor; there is, after all, only one way to disarm a hothead, and a skilled debater knows it well. But most will be better served by ignoring him and allowing him to implode without assistance. And when he does, he will take the GOP’s self-defeating populist strain down with him.

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Stop Gambling on Dictators

Last month, former American Task Force on Palestine director Ghaith al-Omari and freelance journalist Neri Zilber, both currently affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published an important piece in Foreign Affairs examining what happens after the death of Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Read More

Last month, former American Task Force on Palestine director Ghaith al-Omari and freelance journalist Neri Zilber, both currently affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published an important piece in Foreign Affairs examining what happens after the death of Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

They wrote:

Palestinian President Abbas recently turned 80 and is known to be an industrious smoker. His successor by law is the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas official Aziz Duwaik. Duwaik is currently imprisoned in Israel, but even if he were free, there would be no chance of a parliamentary speaker from Hamas taking the reins of power in the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian parliament has not met in over seven years, and Abbas himself is now a decade into a four-year presidential term that began in 2005. Laws regulating transitions of political power are thus irrelevant: Abbas rules by presidential decree in the West Bank; Hamas rules by the gun in the Gaza Strip. No clear successor has come to the forefront, however, let alone one that has been officially designated by the party.

Across administrations, the State Department has preferred to work with autocrats simply because they believe that it is easier to deal with autocrats. When making peace, the logic goes, dictators can deliver, especially when the population has been poisoned by decades of incitement. Hence, while the first Palestinian “intifada” between 1987-1993 was largely a grassroots movement, first the George H.W. Bush administration and then the Clinton administration reached out to the more radical, exiled PLO leadership believing that it would be easier to make a deal with Yasir Arafat than with those Palestinians who had lived alongside Israelis, spoke Hebrew, and better understood Israel. Arafat liked having the trappings of office and power, without making either the compromises inherent in peace or preparing the Palestinian political and popular culture for the compromises of peace. In 2000, at the Camp David II summit, he rejected a peace deal to which his own negotiators had acquiesced and refused to make any counter offer. Under his leadership, Palestinian terrorism grew more frequent, Palestinians suffered greater deprivation against the backdrop of his and his Fatah cronies’ thievery, and the general situation worsened.

But it’s not just Arafat. Iraqi Kurdistan looked like an oasis of peace and stability a two decades ago. Successive administrations worked with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani and sang his praises, at least publicly. Former government officials were willing to embrace the Kurdish leader in exchange for business opportunities or cash. But today, Barzani is in the 11th years of his eight-year presidency and, like so many dictators before him, has just this month decided the Kurdish people aren’t yet ready for elections. That’s all well and good for those who consider Barzani indispensable, but the flipside of the indispensability is the supposition or acknowledgment that no other potential leader exists. To accept that Kurdistan is not ready for elections is to recognize that chaos or a son with poor judgment and temperament might succeed Barzani.

The United States has also fallen into the dictator-chic trap with Bashar al-Assad. Who can forget that just eight years ago Nancy Pelosi dismissed White House and State Department requests to desist and insisted on breaking Assad’s isolation? Or that just six years ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was testifying to Assad’s reformism? While, all along journalists were playing up the fact that Assad was Western-educated? The Damascus spring is a distant memory; in hindsight, it looks almost as if Assad feigned reform in order to see what he was up against before targeting those who dared stick their necks out.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likewise became an indispensable man in whom the West put great faith to usher in real reform. What he did in reality was quite the opposite: He unraveled checks and balances and deconstructed a system that, while imperfect, had kept potential extremisms at bay for decades. In 2006, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, symbolized the U.S. embrace of strongman rule and disdain for democratic opposition when he dismissed Turkey’s secular opposition parties as little more than a “cacophony.”

The United States may be making the same mistake in Egypt. While I supported the coup that overthrow Mohamed Morsi who, as president, had tried to implement a one-man, one-vote, one-time system, there’s a danger in placing all hope in Abdel Fattah el-Sisi no matter how successful he will be in his quest to jumpstart a reformation. And while I’m willing to give Sisi benefit of the doubt, no diplomat, journalist, nor Sisi himself can truly gauge his popularity since the crackdown on opposition has muted criticism and silenced what could have been a useful pressure valve. If Sisi is the new Atatürk, American policymakers need to consider what happens in Egypt if a single bullet fells the leader, leaving no clear successor behind.

The list goes on. True believers in the Obama administration’s Iran strategy — reportedly Hillary Clinton aide Jake Sullivan, for example — see in Iran a Deng Xiaoping moment. They believe first that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a reformer and, second, working through him can marginalize hardliners. This is nonsense, of course, and misunderstands Rouhani and the Iranian system. Still, even if we were to accept it as true, it doesn’t address the concern about what happens if Rouhani dies or is removed from the scene. Both George W. Bush and especially Hillary Clinton likewise had great faith in Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush saw a soul, and Clinton saw a partner for reset. Many Russians welcomed his strongman-style after the uncertainty if not chaos of the Boris Yeltsin years. Putin shows the old adage that it’s essential to be careful of what one wishes for. Putin has so eviscerated the system that there really will be no filling the vacuum once he dies without either continuing a paranoid, confrontational dictatorship under the likes of Dmitry Rogozin or by suffering a period of instability while Russia rebuilds.

The list is pretty long, but the lessons remain the same: Basing national security on individual rulers is at best a short-term solution with dire long-term consequences. It might be much harder to accomplish, but ultimately it should be an overwhelming national interest to encourage the creation of a system that can endure even when key figures die or move on. Leadership does not mean taking short-cuts, or sacrificing long-term security for ephemeral, short-term gain.

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For the Iran Nuclear Deal, ‘the Game Is Pretty Much Up’

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran. Read More

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The administration has rolled out three arguments for why the Saudis won’t go nuclear.

(1) ‘They’re too poor to go nuclear’ – this argument has appeared a couple of times in print in recent weeks. The assertion is difficult to square with the North Korean experience, where the DPRK has built industrial-scale nuclear infrastructure despite having functionally no economy.

(2) ‘They’re afraid of an international backlash, including an oil embargo’ – there are a couple of NSC staffers who are fond of this argument. I think it’s fair to say that the administration has had trouble getting people to accept that the West will forgo Saudi energy.

(3) ‘American security assurances will be sufficient to reassure the Gulf, so they won’t chart their own course’ – this was the point of the Camp David summit between the President and the Gulf states. There have been claims that it worked. According to what former Defense Secretary William Cohen told Bloomberg View this morning, it very much didn’t:

The administration’s intent was to have a counter-proliferation program. And the irony is, it may be just the opposite… Once you say they are allowed to enrich, the game is pretty much up in terms of how do you sustain an inspection regime in a country that has carried on secret programs for 17 years and is still determined to maintain as much of that secrecy as possible… [the Syria CW red line] was mishandled and everybody in the region saw how it was handled. And I think it shook their confidence in the administration… The Saudis, the UAE and the Israelis were all concerned about that… They are looking at what we say, what we do, and what we fail to do, and they make their judgments. In the Middle East now, they are making different calculations.

Remember how Saudi nuclearization plays out. It’s not just that the Sunnis will acquire nuclear weapons, and within a few years there will be a polynuclear unstable Middle East – although that’s a disaster all on its own. It’s also that Saudi nuclearization will rebound and destroy the JCPOA deal with Iran that started the cascade in the first place. There is no chance that the IRGC will sit on the sidelines while the Saudis go nuclear. Nobody pretends otherwise. They’ll back off the deal and match the Saudis.

That makes the deal all cost and no gain: the administration will have seeded a polynuclear Middle East, detonated Washington’s alliances with its traditional allies, and shredded the sanctions regime – and it won’t even have a denuclearized Iran to show for it. Instead of the status quo of no deal and no nukes, it’ll be a world of no deal but yes lots of nukes.

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Wait Until 2017? ObamaCare Likely to Live Forever Now

Just as he did three years ago in the original case affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts found a way to avoid having the U.S. Supreme Court bear the responsibility for stopping the Affordable Care Act. By declaring that the language in the law saying that insurance subsidies would be made available in exchanges “established by the states” was ambiguous rather than a seemingly straightforward rule, the chief justice allowed the subsidies to continue coming directly from the federal government in the states where no exchanges were set up. Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is a huge victory for President Obama’s legacy and assures ObamaCare’s survival unless Republicans are able to repeal it by taking the presidency and retaining control of Congress in 2016, and even then it is not certain that they’d be able to repeal it without coming up with a viable alternative, something they are unlikely to be able to do. But it is also a tactical political win for the GOP since the overturning of the subsidies would have put Congress in a position of having to come up with a fix that would have allowed millions of Americans to keep their insurance.

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Just as he did three years ago in the original case affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts found a way to avoid having the U.S. Supreme Court bear the responsibility for stopping the Affordable Care Act. By declaring that the language in the law saying that insurance subsidies would be made available in exchanges “established by the states” was ambiguous rather than a seemingly straightforward rule, the chief justice allowed the subsidies to continue coming directly from the federal government in the states where no exchanges were set up. Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is a huge victory for President Obama’s legacy and assures ObamaCare’s survival unless Republicans are able to repeal it by taking the presidency and retaining control of Congress in 2016, and even then it is not certain that they’d be able to repeal it without coming up with a viable alternative, something they are unlikely to be able to do. But it is also a tactical political win for the GOP since the overturning of the subsidies would have put Congress in a position of having to come up with a fix that would have allowed millions of Americans to keep their insurance.

As it was in 2012, one has to try and read between the lines to understand the tortured reasoning supporting Roberts’ majority opinion. The assertion that the plain English of “established by the states” is hard to credit. But, like his insistence that ObamaCare mandates were a tax (a position that neither the government nor those suing to have it overturned held) rather than a clearly unconstitutional infringement of the Constitution, Roberts has managed to come up with a rationale that allows the court to let ObamaCare survive in spite of the strong legal reasons why it should be halted. Yet, in doing so, rather than keeping the court out of politics, the chief justice has actually done more to undermine its credibility than any controversy stemming from its overturning of the statute would have done. In his stinging and brilliant dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia rightly says that the law ought now to be called “SCOTUScare” rather than ObamaCare since it is only alive due to the judicial somersaults that Roberts turned to keep it going. The idea that the court upholds the law without respect to political fears was always a tenuous hope, but now it is completely dead.

As for the future of the law, it must be conceded that the chances are good that it is now a permanent part of the country’s legal landscape. Should Republicans sweep both Congress and the presidency next year, it is likely they would take up repeal in January 2017. But just as the possibility of the subsidies being taken away set off a divisive battle inside the GOP over what to do about the plight of the millions who would then lose their insurance, repeal is no longer merely a matter of starting over from scratch. Any attempt to overturn a law that would have already been in operation for years will be a perilous undertaking fraught with political danger for Republicans. Their presidential candidates will all pledge to throw it out in the coming campaign, but that will be easier said than done. The odds are that John Roberts has ensured that this legal monstrosity will live forever.

In the short term ObamaCare survival is a boost for Republicans since a win for the plaintiffs would have meant that Congress would have been forced to wrestle with the difficult problem of finding a patch that would have let the subsidies stay in place. That would have been an impossible task as conservatives would never have endorsed anything that let ObamaCare linger on in any form, and the president wouldn’t have signed even the most reasonable of compromises. Their inevitable failure to deal with the problem would have given Democrats a powerful cudgel with which they could have abused the GOP next year. The millions who lost their insurance as a result of the overturning of the subsidies would have become poster children for Republican heartlessness.

But while they may be breathing a sigh of relief over dodging this bullet, conservatives should be mourning what Roberts has done in his two ObamaCare decisions.

By twisting itself into a pretzel in order to let the law stand, the court has allowed the Democrats to massively expand the power and the reach of government in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. The ObamaCare mandates create a dynamic that does more than offer cheap insurance to more people than would have otherwise been covered. It also allows the federal government to embark on a path in which it will be making far-reaching decisions about the future of American health care. It has already created rules that infringe on religious liberty and create distortions in the marketplace that will lead to massive increases in premiums while also losing jobs. While many, especially among the poor, are net winners, it has also created a large number of net losers who will never be compensated for the president’s broken promises about keeping their insurance and doctors if they liked them.

President Obama’s legacy as the man who pushed a health care law through Congress that few understood is now secure. Some Americans will benefit from this, but many others will be paying dearly for this unwieldy law. Most of all, future generations will recognize the court’s decisions as a crucial moment when our liberties were diminished. That is something for which all those involved in passing and preserving this disaster should be held accountable by history, if not the ballot box.

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