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Will Obama Throw Lifeline to Bankrupt Iranian Media?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Steep Costs of an Iran Nuclear Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Mauritania be the New Terrorist Haven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turkey Reportedly Plots Invasion of Syria… to Stop the Kurds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chris Christie Buys a Presidential Lottery Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Flotillas Sail to Gaza, Not Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is the Iran Inspection Process Really Unfettered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Increasingly Autocratic EPA Encounters a Roadblock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Hillary’s Emails Still Matter

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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The Greek Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to be an interesting summer.

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To Defeat Racists, Finance Them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ben Wattenberg, 1933-2015

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

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

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Iran’s Coming Betrayal and Our Jilted Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Ways Conservatives Can Move Forward After Last Week

1. Know Thine Enemy. The problem isn’t someone on Twitter who gloats about Obamacare and gay marriage and the triumph of left-liberalism. The problem isn’t even disgusting people who spit on a priest walking past the gay pride parade in Manhattan this weekend. The problem is governance by an unelected elite. Read More

1. Know Thine Enemy. The problem isn’t someone on Twitter who gloats about Obamacare and gay marriage and the triumph of left-liberalism. The problem isn’t even disgusting people who spit on a priest walking past the gay pride parade in Manhattan this weekend. The problem is governance by an unelected elite.

John Roberts ruled, effectively, that the IRS had the power to define Obamacare however it needed to in order for it to work. He is unelected, as are the IRS officials whom he so empowered (and the bureaucrats who will be empowered by this precedent in future cases). It was the notorious Jonathan Gruber of MIT whose imprudent public statements revealed Obamacare’s design was to force compliance at the state level and lie about it.

Similarly, in the case of gay marriage, a matter of cultural controversy was resolved, with the imperial words “it is so ordered,” by five unelected justices of the Supreme Court. The “right to gay marriage” has now become constitutional, something non-gay marriage never was. The change in prevailing views on gay marriage wasn’t happening quickly enough for the justices so they hastened it — in effect imposing a revolutionary change that could simply have been evolutionary if allowed to work its way over the next decade through an altered country.

I support gay marriage, but I don’t support this way of doing business. I support the death penalty, too, but that doesn’t mean I support posses stringing people up and hanging them. And even if I didn’t support gay marriage, I would find its legislative successes impossible to argue with, whereas Justice Kennedy’s ludicrously sentimental and lawless opinion can and will be argued over for decades.

2. Invoke basic American governing rules and the rule of law. What unites these policies, and certain strains of Obamaism, is the impatience with the democratic process and the rule of law. That was what liberated the president from the customary bounds of executive power when he announced he was imposing the rules of the Dream Act under the logic that because Congress wouldn’t make this law he so wanted he’d just make it himself. Conservatives can easily unite under the banner of the notion that we are a nation of laws and that we are being captained into lawless waters whose rocky shoals could entirely upend the ship of state.

3. The problem is Washington. What happened with the Confederate flag in South Carolina last week is a good example of how change can come about quickly and almost without controversy so long as Washington is not involved. When Washington gets involved, the battle lines harden, the money machines get cranking, and the system becomes sclerotic to benefit the players. Obamacare is a Washington tentacle. The Supreme Court’s imposition is a Washington tentacle. Keeping the focus on the Washington aspect of the problem is necessary to frame the difference between Right and Left.

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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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