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Max Boot: Nothing Else Like COMMENTARY

There is more commentary in the world than ever before—whether in print, on the air, or on the Internet. But there is still a dearth of serious, informed commentary that reports, analyzes, and argues without ever stooping to name-calling or vitriol. If you further narrow down the segment of the commentariat that looks at the world from a conservative and Jewish perspective—well, you’re left with only one choice. The magazine you are now reading. COMMENTARY has changed over the years—for instance, it now publishes this blog—but one thing that has not changed is its steadfast commitment to providing the best analysis from the most informed writers of the most important ideas in the world, all written in clear prose that appeals to a general audience. There is nothing else like it. Never has been, never will be.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

There is more commentary in the world than ever before—whether in print, on the air, or on the Internet. But there is still a dearth of serious, informed commentary that reports, analyzes, and argues without ever stooping to name-calling or vitriol. If you further narrow down the segment of the commentariat that looks at the world from a conservative and Jewish perspective—well, you’re left with only one choice. The magazine you are now reading. COMMENTARY has changed over the years—for instance, it now publishes this blog—but one thing that has not changed is its steadfast commitment to providing the best analysis from the most informed writers of the most important ideas in the world, all written in clear prose that appeals to a general audience. There is nothing else like it. Never has been, never will be.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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What Else Was on Hillary’s Second E-Mail?

When we found out that Hillary Clinton used a private email for work purposes while serving as secretary of state, it was possible to argue that there was nothing improper about it even if it was hard to explain. The deletion of tens of thousand of those emails that were said to be personal and the wiping of the home server on which they were contained was a lot to harder to explain and raised questions about what might have been on the missing messages. But the news that Clinton had a second active private email account during this same period despite assurances to the contrary from her lawyer and the presidential candidate that there was nothing more to learn about this affair should set off even more alarms. The use of the second address was discovered in the investigation of the involvement of veteran Clinton machine hit man Sidney Blumenthal in formulating policy toward Libya during the period preceding the Benghazi terror attack. The deeper we dive into the tangled affairs of the Clintons, the more complications and lies we discover.

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When we found out that Hillary Clinton used a private email for work purposes while serving as secretary of state, it was possible to argue that there was nothing improper about it even if it was hard to explain. The deletion of tens of thousand of those emails that were said to be personal and the wiping of the home server on which they were contained was a lot to harder to explain and raised questions about what might have been on the missing messages. But the news that Clinton had a second active private email account during this same period despite assurances to the contrary from her lawyer and the presidential candidate that there was nothing more to learn about this affair should set off even more alarms. The use of the second address was discovered in the investigation of the involvement of veteran Clinton machine hit man Sidney Blumenthal in formulating policy toward Libya during the period preceding the Benghazi terror attack. The deeper we dive into the tangled affairs of the Clintons, the more complications and lies we discover.

The existence of another account is not, in and of itself incriminating. But the Clinton Camp’s insistence that there was only one private account that she worked on when the story about her emails broke in March is now coming back to haunt her. After assuring the country that the [email protected] address was the only one that contained both her work and private messages, we now know there was another — [email protected] — that was employed for communicating with Blumenthal and distributing the memos he wrote about Libya to State Department staffers.

As I wrote yesterday, the Blumenthal story is a startling example of how the world of Clinton Cash works. Blumenthal was a former high-ranking staffer in Bill Clinton’s White House who was well known for his attempts at character assassination of the president’s critics. He remained part of the Clinton orbit and was, by 2012, working for the Clinton Foundation as well as private groups promoting Hillary’s political agenda. At the same time, he was also serving as an advisor to Secretary of State Clinton on Libya policy, bringing up serious conflict of interest issues. But the conflict went further than just that. While seeking to influence Hillary on Libya, Blumenthal was involved in a business proposition in that country that required State Department help to succeed. The scheme fell through but his involvement with the secretary was still highly improper and open to serious questions about whether lines that should have separated private financial interests and public policy were crossed.

But now we have the additional question of what other sort of business was being conducted on the second email and why Clinton and her camp didn’t acknowledge its existence or purpose when she initially sought to defuse the issue. This is not merely, as Clinton’s use of private email for official work was, a breach of protocol. The revelations now move the story into one about lies and conflicts of interest that must be fully explained.

In a sign of the pressure Clinton is starting to feel from the momentum of a scandal that is beginning to snowball on her that she actually took five questions from the press today at a campaign event in Iowa. This interlude of talk in what was, as far as transparency was concerned, a silent movie of a presidential campaign, didn’t give us much information. She spoke about wanting the State Department to speed up the release of the 55,000 pages of emails that she returned to the government after leaving office. That’s all well and good, but still left unexplained are the tens of thousands of emails that were deleted because she and her staff claim they were personal. Nor did we get an explanation about the use of the second email other than her somewhat disingenuous claims that Blumenthal’s emails to her were “unsolicited.” A consultant’s emails of advice about Libya — a country about which he knew little other than the information that his business associates fed him — for which he was being paid are solicited by definition. So even as she sought to deflect criticism for her refusal to answer questions for weeks, she added to the pile of inconsistencies

In the days and weeks ahead, partisan Democrats will continue uttering their mantra that there is no proof that what Clinton did was illegal. But the Blumenthal story has begun a process in which previous Clinton statements are starting to be exposed as fallacious. Americans have a right to know why a man being paid by the Clinton family foundation — which acted as a slush fund for Bill, Hillary and Chelsea — was also being employed by the State Department to advise her on an issue on which he had a private business interest. Just as important, we need to know what other emails were sent from the second account and how many of them were permanently deleted by the former First Lady’s staff in violation of State Department procedures.

It is still possible to believe that the Blumenthal emails uncovered by the New York Times were not part of a wider correspondence that might shed light on the Clinton Cash allegations of conflict of interest by Bill and Hillary involving the massive sums that were paid to them in speaking fees and donations to a foundation that is a thinly veiled political slush fund. But until we have these questions answered, an ethical cloud will continue to hang over the Clinton presidential campaign.

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As Jews Worldwide Go Conservative, How Long Will U.S. Jews Buck the Trend?

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

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There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Greenfield’s answer is that non-Orthodox American Jews care less about Judaism that their counterparts overseas, and therefore inevitably care less about Israel. And certainly, that’s part of the answer: A 2013 Pew poll showed that Jewish affiliation has declined markedly among American Jews, with only 68% of Jews born after 1980 considering themselves “Jews by religion,” compared to 93% of those born in 1914-27. And among the 32% that define themselves as “Jews of no religion,” a whopping 67% raise their children “not Jewish,” 79% have non-Jewish spouses, 54% say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, and 55% feel little or no attachment to Israel.

Nevertheless, young Jews in other countries also intermarry more and are less Jewishly identified than their grandparents. So even if the decline has been steeper in America than elsewhere – an assumption for which Greenfield brings no evidence – it’s hard to see that alone as sufficient to explain this political divergence.

What’s missing from Greenfield’s answer, of course, is America itself: the anomalous fact that non-Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That certainly isn’t the case in Europe. And as an annual BBC poll shows, it isn’t even true in Canada and Australia, whose current conservative governments are staunchly pro-Israel.

Consequently, Democratic politicians are rarely as anti-Israel as their counterparts overseas, because being anti-Israel is still bad politics in America. Thus, for instance, they routinely support arms sales to Israel, whereas left-wing politicians abroad routinely oppose them. Nor does the American left’s animus against Israel spill over into blatant anti-Semitism as often as it does in, say, Europe. So for now, liberal American Jews still feel as if they can support the left without having to repudiate their Zionism or their Judaism – something that’s increasingly no longer possible overseas.

But even in America, that may not be true for long. As Sohrab Ahmari and Noah Pollak explained in detail in COMMENTARY this month, the Obama Administration and its Democratic cheerleaders have been steadily defining pro-Israel downward. During last summer’s Gaza war, for instance, the administration relentlessly criticized Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties, halted arms shipments in the middle of the fighting and urged Israel to accept a cease-fire dictated by Hamas patrons Qatar and Turkey, all while declaring itself to be unstintingly pro-Israel.

And on American college campuses, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing. See, for instance, the case of UCLA student Rachel Beyda, who was rejected for a post on the university’s judicial board solely because she was Jewish, until a faculty adviser intervened.

Thus if American Jewish liberals don’t want to go the way of their counterparts overseas – i.e., if they want to be able to continue voting left without feeling that they are thereby sacrificing their Jewish and Zionist identity – they need to mount an urgent campaign to convince their own political camp that any good liberal should also be pro-Israel. That’s far from an impossible case to make, since it has the advantage of being true, as I explained in detail in a COMMENTARY article in March. But conservatives can’t do the job for them; only liberals can persuade their fellow liberals.

And if American Jewish liberals don’t make that case, then in another decade or two, those that still care about Judaism and Israel are liable to find themselves exactly where their British, Canadian, Australian and French counterparts are now: forced to hold their nose and vote conservative, because anything else would be a betrayal of their Jewish identity.

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Can Obama Repair the Damage He’s Done to Race Relations Before Leaving Office?

Heady optimism, embedded as it is in the American genetic code, was perhaps never more pronounced than in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Even the most cynical among us looked forward to the effect that the election of the first black president would have on lingering racial disparity and antipathy. Six and a half years later, and that sanguinity seems as misplaced as was the belief that the president’s very aura would force the tides to recede. Americans believe that Barack Obama has failed to live up to his promise on the issue of race, and polls suggest racial comity has receded to its lowest point since before Bill Clinton took office. The president and his administration bear much of the blame for this condition, but can Obama repair his legacy on race relations before he leaves office?

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Heady optimism, embedded as it is in the American genetic code, was perhaps never more pronounced than in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Even the most cynical among us looked forward to the effect that the election of the first black president would have on lingering racial disparity and antipathy. Six and a half years later, and that sanguinity seems as misplaced as was the belief that the president’s very aura would force the tides to recede. Americans believe that Barack Obama has failed to live up to his promise on the issue of race, and polls suggest racial comity has receded to its lowest point since before Bill Clinton took office. The president and his administration bear much of the blame for this condition, but can Obama repair his legacy on race relations before he leaves office?

The spate of urban violence that rocked the nation over the course of the last nine months has led political observers to wonder whether the defining themes of the 2016 election would closely resemble those in 1968, when a losing war abroad and unrest at home propelled the “law and order” candidate into the White House. The present urban tension has its roots in fertile soil composed of chronically high black unemployment, a disproportionate African-American male prison population, and racial agitation on the part of this president and his administration.

The president’s allies spent much of the 2012 election campaign tearing at the American social fabric, particularly on the issue of race, in order to propel the beleaguered president back into the White House. Former Attorney General Eric Holder might be the worst offender in this arena. America’s chief law enforcement officer has in the past insisted that the nation was composed of “cowards,” merely because they failed to come to his preferred conclusion on matters racial. He denounced the treatment he and the president had received from Republicans as “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly, and divisive” before a predominantly African-American audience at Rev. Al Sharpton’s tax-evading charity. Holder has insisted that the ubiquitous and anodyne political petition to “take the country back” has a racial component when uttered by Republicans, though he was curiously silent about Hillary Clinton’s use of this phrase.

The president’s supporters in the media dutifully mimicked their allies in the administration, and proceeded to perfect the art of racial agitation. 2012 was the lamentable year in which the pet project of divining racial animus from everyday language was refined in liberal venues like MSNBC. “Coded” racial language became a pet fascination for the carnival barkers in the left-leaning opinion press. Words like “golf,” “Monday,” “apartment” and even “Constitution” were dubbed racially suspect.

All of this agitation has undoubtedly had far-reaching repercussions. But as the president begins to contemplate his legacy, he is perhaps looking to retroactively validate his approach to addressing racial grievances.

On Monday, the president restricted some of the surplus military equipment that could be purchased by local police forces; a policy aimed at reducing tensions between law enforcement and the communities they police. While justifying that policy shift, the president made note of the fact that racial tensions cannot be tackled comprehensively if we are unwilling to speak honestly about the subject.

One of the things I also want to focus on is the fact that a lot of the issues that have been raised here and in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York goes beyond policing. We can’t ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about. If we as a society don’t do more to expand opportunity to everybody who is willing to work for it, then we’ll end up seeing conflicts between law enforcement and residents. If we as a society aren’t willing to deal honestly with issues of race, then we can’t just expect police departments to solve these problems.

If communities are being isolated and segregated without opportunity and without investment and without jobs, if we, politicians, are simply ramping up long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes that end up devastating communities, we can’t then ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able bodied men in the community. Or kids are growing up without intact households.

There is no shortage of irony in this statement from a president who once said Florida teen Trayvon Martin looked like the son he never had, a clear implication that there was a racial element to his killing, well before the jury that would eventually acquit George Zimmerman of wrongdoing was even empanelled. But these are praiseworthy comments, nonetheless.

“Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Obama said courageously before a black audience in 2008. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

Obama largely abandoned that premise over the course of his presidency, but his return to the theme is noble. Obama’s embrace of criminal justice reforms, particularly those relating to the practice of creating felons out of non-violent drug offenders, is equally laudable.

Americans are optimists, and that characteristic is perhaps evident in praise for the president’s most recent attempt to tackle lingering racial resentment. In concert with Obama’s post-presidential goal of serving as a role model for disaffected black male youth, the president seems to have made it a priority to at long last have a positive effect on interracial relations in America. Let’s hope he succeeds in that endeavor.

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John Bolton: COMMENTARY Is Repeatedly Ahead of the Crowd

COMMENTARY has played an invaluable role in American political discourse for decades, offering thoughtful analysis on issues rather than sound bites or bumper stickers. Especially when it comes to U.S. foreign and defense policy, COMMENTARY has time and time again been ahead of the crowd, anticipating trends and developments that others react to only after the fact. I can’t imagine not being a COMMENTARY subscriber.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

COMMENTARY has played an invaluable role in American political discourse for decades, offering thoughtful analysis on issues rather than sound bites or bumper stickers. Especially when it comes to U.S. foreign and defense policy, COMMENTARY has time and time again been ahead of the crowd, anticipating trends and developments that others react to only after the fact. I can’t imagine not being a COMMENTARY subscriber.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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Egypt’s Life and Death Struggle

Few could have been surprised when an Egyptian court sentenced Mohammed Morsi, the country’s former president, to death on Saturday. But the announcement generated condemnations from most of the West including a pointed denunciation from the State Department on Monday. The U.S. said the verdict was “unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” Given the arbitrary nature of both the trial and the sentence, it’s hard to argue with that statement. The announcement was merely the culmination of a prosecution that bore little resemblance to a search for justice. But those who seek to use the sentence as a reason to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt are equally wrong. However harsh the government’s methods, it seems to understand something that many of its foreign critics as well as Obama administration often forgets: It is locked in a life and death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in which there can only be two outcomes: allowing the Islamists another shot at transforming Egypt into an Islamist tyranny or the continuation of military rule. The latter is clearly the lesser of two evils even if the military’s methods are deplorable.

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Few could have been surprised when an Egyptian court sentenced Mohammed Morsi, the country’s former president, to death on Saturday. But the announcement generated condemnations from most of the West including a pointed denunciation from the State Department on Monday. The U.S. said the verdict was “unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” Given the arbitrary nature of both the trial and the sentence, it’s hard to argue with that statement. The announcement was merely the culmination of a prosecution that bore little resemblance to a search for justice. But those who seek to use the sentence as a reason to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt are equally wrong. However harsh the government’s methods, it seems to understand something that many of its foreign critics as well as Obama administration often forgets: It is locked in a life and death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in which there can only be two outcomes: allowing the Islamists another shot at transforming Egypt into an Islamist tyranny or the continuation of military rule. The latter is clearly the lesser of two evils even if the military’s methods are deplorable.

The death sentence is just the latest sign that the military government led by former General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is determined to wipe out every vestige of resistance from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood regime Morsi led. Morsi is just one of many who have been railroaded in trials whose outcome was predetermined. These verdicts won’t win Sisi many friends abroad. Nor will they conciliate radical Muslims to accept his rule since killing Morsi will just give them another martyr. But as much as his death won’t do Cairo much good, Sisi isn’t interested in half measures with the Brotherhood or its Hamas allies in Gaza. In a real-life Game of Thrones scenario, the former general seems to think letting Morsi live would be to ultimately prolong a bloody struggle.

Though the trial was a parody of justice, what was interesting was the fact that among those condemned for the prison break that sprung Morsi from prison in 2011 during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak were 70 Palestinians. These were apparently members of Hamas who came into Egypt from Gaza via smuggling tunnels determined to help their Brotherhood cousins seize power. They succeeded in toppling Mubarak and then helping elect Morsi in what was at least superficially a democratic election. These details illustrate both how closely tied the Brotherhood (which tried during its bid for power to deceive the West about its alleged moderation) is with fellow Islamist terrorists and why the military has been so adamant about isolating Gaza since then.

What followed was a nightmarish year in which the Brotherhood sought to consolidate power and to forestall any effort to replace them by democratic means. This led to a mass uprising that sent tens of millions of Egyptians into the streets against Morsi triggering the military coup that brought Sisi to power. Critics of Sisi are right when they call him an autocrat and his government repressive. But he also seems to have the acquiescence of most Egyptians if not their support because they realize the only alternative to the military would not be liberal democracy, but another round of Islamist tyranny.

If President Obama had not forfeited the trust of most Egyptians, he might be in a position to save Morsi. But after torpedoing Mubarak and then supporting the Brotherhood government and condemning the coup and threatening aid cuts, few in Egypt, let alone Sisi, are interested in his opinion. If Egyptians aren’t listening to Americans talking about human rights violations it is because they see such advocates as hypocrites, since they were perfectly willing to let Morsi hold onto power and thereby plunge Egypt into the darkness of an Islamist regime.

Though refraining from transforming Morsi into a martyr would be smart, those who advocate for isolating the Sisi government in order to force clemency aren’t helping Egypt or the cause of human rights. The only hope for ultimate liberalizing Egyptian society is for the Brotherhood to be so utterly crushed that there is no chance of it trying again for power. Until then, the military will persist in its draconian tactics and probably have more the majority of Egyptians on their side.

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Video Ban Gave Killers Free Speech Veto

Yesterday a federal appeals court overturned a dangerous precedent on a legal technicality. The judges on the 9th Circuit ruled by a 10-1 vote that a lower court was wrong to grant an injunction to an actress in “The Innocence of Muslims” who wished to have a trailer for a film that will forever be associated with the Benghazi terror attack to be taken down from YouTube. The court decided the case on a question of copyright law, not the First Amendment rights of the film’s producer. But the question now is whether Muslims who are angry about the possibility that the trailer for an anti-Islam film might be shown again on YouTube, will respond to this decision with more violence. We pray that this won’t be the case especially in light of the way al-Qaeda connected terrorists used protests about the video as a pretext for the murder of four Americans. But no matter what they do, let’s hope the court decision will ultimately contribute to a defense of the First Amendment against those who seek to silence those who offend Muslims, whether or not we agree with what they’re saying.

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Yesterday a federal appeals court overturned a dangerous precedent on a legal technicality. The judges on the 9th Circuit ruled by a 10-1 vote that a lower court was wrong to grant an injunction to an actress in “The Innocence of Muslims” who wished to have a trailer for a film that will forever be associated with the Benghazi terror attack to be taken down from YouTube. The court decided the case on a question of copyright law, not the First Amendment rights of the film’s producer. But the question now is whether Muslims who are angry about the possibility that the trailer for an anti-Islam film might be shown again on YouTube, will respond to this decision with more violence. We pray that this won’t be the case especially in light of the way al-Qaeda connected terrorists used protests about the video as a pretext for the murder of four Americans. But no matter what they do, let’s hope the court decision will ultimately contribute to a defense of the First Amendment against those who seek to silence those who offend Muslims, whether or not we agree with what they’re saying.

The case, Garcia v. Google, involved the effort by a woman who had a brief appearance in the video under what were clearly false pretenses. She had no idea she was acting in an anti-Muslim screed and someone else’s voice was dubbed in that made it appear as if she was making an offensive remark about the Prophet Muhammed Lawyers for Cindy Garcia, argued that the actress retained the copyright to her performance and that airing it without her permission infringed on her rights. But the majority sensibly ruled that despite her justified fears about possible attacks from irate Muslims didn’t give substance to a weak copyright claim or justify a decision that would amount to censorship.

Up until now, efforts to silence the film have been met with legal success and the support of the U.S. government. Islamists eager to stoke anger at the West among Muslims exploited the existence of this obscure video into an international cause célèbre. Riots in various cities caused death and damage and in one case, let to the looting of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. But contrary to the assertions of the Obama administration in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, that crime was not another instance of film criticism run amuck. Rather, it was a concerted attack by terrorists who were using anger about the film as a pretext for even darker purposes.

The administration should have made it clear that, however much most Americans deprecated attacks on the Muslim religion, the U.S. protected even offensive speech from persecution and censorship. But instead it sought to pressure YouTube to take down the video and some prominent officials, including reportedly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, promised that the producer of the film would be punished. As it happens, he was. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was soon jailed on an unrelated charge. Ironically he remains in prison even though the persons responsible for the killing of four Americans in Benghazi have escaped justice.

The key principle here is that using legal fictions such as Garcia’s non-existent copyright claims to censor a film that is an embarrassment or even a danger to the U.S. can never be justified. However crude the film might have been or despicable its content, a nation that allows mobs to shut down free speech is in danger of no longer being free. As with the controversy over the “Draw Muhammed” cartoon contest that led to an abortive terror attack in Garland, Texas earlier this month, efforts to suppress unpopular opinions grant terrorists an undeserved victory and implicitly threaten the rights of all Americans to free speech.

Silencing the video or stopping people from drawing Mohammed only encourages Islamists in their belief that they have the right to censor Western behavior. Such violence must not only be condemned. It must be confronted by a vigorous defense of the right to criticize Islam or any other faith. Continuing a ban of this video, no matter what the pretext, gave murderers a veto over American freedoms. That is something that the courts must never allow to stand.

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How Did Clinton Conflict of Interest Schemes Work? Ask Sidney.

For the past two years, liberals have been laughing at Republican attempts to link Hillary Clinton to something incriminating or at least embarrassing about the Benghazi terror attack. But, as we saw with the issue of her emails that was uncovered by the investigatory efforts of the House special committee on Benghazi there is still plenty for her to be concerned about. Today, the latest shoe dropped in a depressing drip, drip, drip of scandal. As the New York Times reports, longtime Clinton family hit man Sidney Blumenthal was simultaneously advising Hillary on Libya during her time serving as secretary of state while also by employed by the Clinton Foundation and also working for other independent groups that were laying the groundwork for her presidential campaign. At best, this blatant conflict of interest raises questions, in the words of the Times, about the “blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years.” At worst, it’s another sordid example of the corruption and bad judgment at the heart of the Clinton machine’s style of governing.

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For the past two years, liberals have been laughing at Republican attempts to link Hillary Clinton to something incriminating or at least embarrassing about the Benghazi terror attack. But, as we saw with the issue of her emails that was uncovered by the investigatory efforts of the House special committee on Benghazi there is still plenty for her to be concerned about. Today, the latest shoe dropped in a depressing drip, drip, drip of scandal. As the New York Times reports, longtime Clinton family hit man Sidney Blumenthal was simultaneously advising Hillary on Libya during her time serving as secretary of state while also by employed by the Clinton Foundation and also working for other independent groups that were laying the groundwork for her presidential campaign. At best, this blatant conflict of interest raises questions, in the words of the Times, about the “blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years.” At worst, it’s another sordid example of the corruption and bad judgment at the heart of the Clinton machine’s style of governing.

That Blumenthal, a disreputable political assassin who earned notoriety for his antics while serving in the Clinton White House, worked as a paid consultant to the State Department on Libyan affairs is interesting by itself. It would take a Venn diagram to adequately illustrate the conflicts his employment by Clinton involved. Yet as the Times notes, he had already been barred from a job in the State Department by intervention by aides to President Obama who apparently had a more highly developed sense of smell, if not impropriety than Mrs. Clinton. But his role at the State Department involved more than a questionable taste in advisors:

Much of the Libya intelligence that Mr. Blumenthal passed on to Mrs. Clinton appears to have come from a group of business associates he was advising as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government. The venture, which was ultimately unsuccessful, involved other Clinton friends, a private military contractor and one former C.I.A. spy seeking to get in on the ground floor of the new Libyan economy.

The projects — creating floating hospitals to treat Libya’s war wounded and temporary housing for displaced people, and building schools — would have required State Department permits, but foundered before the business partners could seek official approval.

It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton or the State Department knew of Mr. Blumenthal’s interest in pursuing business in Libya; a State Department spokesman declined to say. Many aspects of Mr. Blumenthal’s involvement in the planned Libyan venture remain unclear. He declined repeated requests to discuss it.

But interviews with his associates and a review of previously unreported correspondence suggest that — once again — it may be difficult to determine where one of Mr. Blumenthal’s jobs ended and another began.

The Times goes on to detail the rather tangled web that Blumenthal and his associates wove. But the main questions we should be asking is what on earth was someone knee deep in a bizarre Libyan business scheme acting as an advisor to the secretary of state about a country with which he had previously had little to do.

Blumenthal was writing intelligence memos about Libya that were largely the product of the opinions of his business associates. Some of the memos he wrote made sense. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who would be murdered by terrorists in the Benghazi attack, shot others down. But whether or not they made sense, Clinton circulated them to her department as gospel, appended with notes praising their insight. But whether they were right or wrong, it is simply astonishing that someone who was on her family foundation payroll as well as working for other political outfits aimed at furthering her political future was put in a position where he could influence policy related to his business interests.

At the very least, this merits serious questions about the Clintons’ already notorious lack of ethics. We don’t know where one Blumenthal job ended and another began. All we do know is that he was getting paid by a number of different sources as well as the government while seeking to make profits enabled by the whims of Hillary’s State Department. The fact that the scam fell through before he could start raking in the profits is beside the point.

As the Times reports, Blumenthal’s role also breached a number of normal barriers intended to prevent conflicts of interest as well as measures that might seek to probe the reliability of intelligence sources.

This story illustrates how the Clinton Cash way of governing works. Clinton’s defenders rightly say there is no “smoking gun” proving that the secretary paid off donors to her family foundation with favors or biased decisions. But the way Blumenthal snaked his way through a complicated labyrinth of consulting jobs for the foundation, political operations and the government illustrates how unnecessary it was for there to be such a piece of damning evidence whether or not it was ultimately deleted from Clinton’s infamous home email server.

We know the Clinton Foundation was used as an informal political slush fund for Bill, Hillary and their daughter to which wealthy foreign donors hoping for and sometimes getting favors contributed. But the more we learn about the Blumenthal connection and other Clinton Cash hijinks, its clear that the once and would-be future First Family and their cronies consider philanthropy and the government just two interchangeable ATM’s they can use at will.

While Democrats may continue to dismiss all questions about the propriety of this sordid tale, even many liberal partisans must be beginning to wonder about what sort of person it is that they are trying to put back into the White House.

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Can the Left Be Baited to Attack Hillary?

The silence of many on the left about their misgivings about the Democratic Party’s putative 2016 presidential candidate is a tempting target for conservatives. As the New York Times noted over the weekend, some mischief-making conservatives have been using social media to prod liberals into criticizing Hillary Clinton on a host of issues where they may have profound differences with the former First Lady. As the Times notes, some of these efforts have met with success. But Republicans shouldn’t get too excited about these small triumphs. The left may not like the Clintons, but so far there is no sign that a critical mass of liberals are prepared to give in to the temptation of examining her views or the corrupt manner with which she and her husband have conducted their affairs. Until proven otherwise, this generation of liberals appears to be focused solely on winning elections in a way that many conservatives still are not.

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The silence of many on the left about their misgivings about the Democratic Party’s putative 2016 presidential candidate is a tempting target for conservatives. As the New York Times noted over the weekend, some mischief-making conservatives have been using social media to prod liberals into criticizing Hillary Clinton on a host of issues where they may have profound differences with the former First Lady. As the Times notes, some of these efforts have met with success. But Republicans shouldn’t get too excited about these small triumphs. The left may not like the Clintons, but so far there is no sign that a critical mass of liberals are prepared to give in to the temptation of examining her views or the corrupt manner with which she and her husband have conducted their affairs. Until proven otherwise, this generation of liberals appears to be focused solely on winning elections in a way that many conservatives still are not.

It is true that there have been signs that a Democratic Party that has been marching in lockstep since nominating Barack Obama is about to implode. The trade bill currently before Congress has illustrated a profound split between those Democrats dedicating to governing and those elements in the party still in thrall to either traditional left-wing institutions like the unions or to populist liberal ideology. The exchange between President Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren showed that there was plenty of fodder for a Democrat civil war that could, if it were not restrained by the fact that most Democrats feel a sense of personal loyalty to the president, blow up into something pretty nasty.

It is that breach that Senator Bernie Sanders and perhaps former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley would like to exploit as they prepare to challenge Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination. But though Clinton’s political rust, arrogance and the appalling sense of entitlement that characterize her halting progress toward 2016 would seem to offer an inviting target for a true-believing liberal, so far the challengers show little sign of making much progress.

Indeed, O’Malley was hurt more by his association with tough police procedures in Baltimore during his past terms as mayor than Clinton has been by any effort to tie her to the Iraq War and inconsistencies about trade, let alone the scandalous Clinton Cash allegations. That Democrats would be screaming bloody murder about the conflicts of interest noted in Peter Schweizer’s book if they were about a Republican goes without saying. But the silence of liberals who know they are not in step with Hillary on many issues is a tribute to the Democrats’ party discipline.

It is particularly significant that liberals who have been talking about going to the mat against Obama on the trade bill have been remarkably quiet about Clinton’s refusal to take a position. Hillary is terribly vulnerable on the issue since she is a past ardent supporter of free trade. But rather than hounding her stealth campaign demanding that she declare herself one way or the other, most of the same people moving heaven and earth to sabotage Obama’s efforts to pass the trade bill haven’t uttered a peep about Clinton’s strange silence.

That’s especially significant because if Warren were really tempted to challenge Clinton, this might be the issue on which she would start to tentatively attack her opponent at her weakest point. If Warren were seriously contemplating getting into the presidential sweepstakes, she’d be putting Clinton’s feet to the fire being lit by unions and other left-wing special interests on trade. That would be the way to either smoke Hillary out as an ally of big business and Wall Street or to force her to back their opposition to the bill.

But Warren, the one Democrat that most observers think could give Clinton a run for her money, has left her alone. The same goes for the unions that have, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, been using their members’ dues to funnel money to the Clinton Foundation that has been operating as a political slush fund for the former First Family.

So while, as the Times reported, stray left-wingers have been goaded into sniping at Hillary on Twitter by clever provocations from the right, most liberals are sticking to the party line about their candidate. Though Clinton’s weak start to her campaign showed she is not going to be the general election juggernaut that Democrats anticipated, she remains ahead of potential primary challenges by 40-50 percentage points. While Republicans are still struggling with the question of whether it is okay to nominate a candidate who strays from the consensus on the right on any issue, Democrats are interested only in victory. So long as Clinton is seen as a likely winner, a proposition that, as our Noah Rothman writes, may be in doubt, her party faithful will continue to ignore her faults and her positions, no matter how hard Republicans beg them to take note of them.

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Hillary Clinton’s Incredible Shrinking Electoral Targets

It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

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It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

The election was still two years away when Talking Points Memo’s Dylan Scott allotted 386 Electoral College votes to Clinton. That heady dispatch quoted extensively from the sequestered camp of prospective Clinton campaign staffers. They were certain that the former secretary of state would not merely revive Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition, but she would significantly augment it.

“Clinton has a record of appealing to white working-class voters — especially women — and they could be enough when paired with the Obama coalition to pull out a win,” Scott wrote. That appeal to working-class whites as well as traditional Democratic constituents like minorities and single women would yield Clinton victories in states like Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Arizona.

Much of that initial excitement has been dramatically tempered by the intervening scandal-plagued months. Today, Clinton is hoping – no, “banking on” the fact that the members of Obama’s coalition of voters will reassemble one last time to propel her back into the White House.

The Washington Post’s Anna Gearan observed on Monday that Clinton has been lurching toward the left recently despite a lack of a viable primary challenger solely in order to appeal to the dwindling true believers who made up the 2008 and 2012 electorates. To that end, embracing progressive priorities like universal paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage, debt-free college attendance, and publicly funded early childhood education make some degree of sense.

It is, however, optimistic to suggest that the recitation of liberal programmatic objectives rather than the historic nature of President Obama’s identity as the first black president contributed to assembling the last two winning Democratic coalitions. In fact, that belief may appear as ill considered in the coming weeks as Scott’s anticipation of a Clinton landslide in 2016 does today.

“The strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign,” Gearan observed. “Clinton will have to expand Hispanic support, increase turnout among independent women and still hold on to a large share of black voters who were drawn to the first African American major-party nominee.”

Few objective political observers believe Clinton will be able to turn out the president’s voting base merely because she can claim to be the first woman to have a credible shot at winning the White House. 28 percent of the electorate that turned out in 2008 was made up of minority voters. Four years later, the minority share of the electorate dropped to 26 percent. Though it is true that Hispanics and Asians voted in larger numbers for Barack Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008, it’s unclear that Clinton can recreate that performance without Mitt Romney on the ballot. Indeed, the 2014 midterm election exit polls suggested that Hispanic and Asian voters swung toward the GOP by 12 and 50 points respectively.

As for the young, unmarried women who are supposedly destined to turn out for Clinton in record numbers next year, to suggest that she can outperform Barack Obama is equally as dubious. In 2012, the president managed to win the support of between 50 and 68 percent of women voters in every state surveyed by Edison Research’s exit pollsters. “Obama already did better among female voters than almost any other Democratic candidate since data are available in 1976,” The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein noted. “In 2004, Kerry only won women by 3 points, but Obama won them by 13 points in 2008 and 11 points in 2012.” And this was amid the fabricated Republican “War on Women” that has since lost much of its luster.

Many bright political observers are equally skeptical that the working-class whites that abandoned Obama will nevertheless form a central pillar of Clinton’s electoral coalition. Chief among them is the co-author of the oft-cited Emerging Democratic Majority, John Judis. “These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced,” Judis wrote of blue-collar voters in the wake of the Democratic rout in 2014.

The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called “the office economy.” In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)

“The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans,” Judis added.

Clinton is banking on the notion that government-provided services for middle-and lower-income working professionals will lure them away from the Republican camp. But is the upshot enough to convince those toiling away in “the office economy” to endure the associated increase in their tax burden? The issue is certainly not as clear-cut as those who see Clinton winning Arkansas in 2016 would like to believe.

Formerly sanguine Democrats are certainly taking more sober stock of Clinton’s electoral prospects ahead of 2016. And Republicans haven’t even settled on a nominee yet.

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‘Palestine’ is a Civil War Waiting to Happen

As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. Because “Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

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As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. Because “Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

Just last week, for instance, Hamas blamed Fatah for a series of recent bombings in Gaza and arrested 12 Fatah members as suspects. Last November, Hamas reportedly bombed the homes and vehicles of several senior Fatah officials in Gaza, as well as the site of a planned Fatah rally to mark the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death; as a result, Fatah canceled both the rally and a planned visit to Gaza by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Last month, PA ministers who did visit Gaza left in a huff after Hamas placed them under house arrest in their hotel. The previous month, Abbas and one of his senior advisors separately urged Arab states to bomb Hamas out of Gaza.

Both sides routinely arrest each other’s members, and then accuse each other of torturing the detainees (usually accurately in both cases). Both also routinely accuse each other of collaborating with Israel – the worst crime in the Palestinian lexicon. Needless to say, none of this contributes to Hamas-Fatah brotherly love.

Indeed, the parties are so busy feuding with each other that they can’t provide for their people’s most basic needs, like reconstructing Gaza after last summer’s war with Israel. The reconstruction has made almost no progress in the eight months since the war ended, and astoundingly, everyone except Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth agrees that this is the fault of the feuding Palestinian governments rather than Israel. That, for instance, is the stated view of the Arab League, which is usually quick to blame Israel for anything. And it’s also the stated view of the European Union, which is generally equally quick to blame Israel for everything.

That the violence has remained relatively low-level despite the intensity of this hatred is due to one thing only: Israel. Hamas’s main fighting strength is concentrated in Gaza, while Fatah’s is concentrated in the West Bank, and these territories are currently separated by an impassible barrier – some 37 kilometers of Israeli territory. Moreover, Israeli troops in the West Bank have prevented Hamas from building up its forces there: Last August, for instance, Israel arrested dozens of Hamas operatives in the West Bank whom both Israel and Abbas said were plotting a coup against the Fatah-led government.

But both those barriers to war would disappear if the world had its way: Israeli troops would vacate the West Bank, and some kind of corridor through Israel would be created to link the West Bank to Gaza. At that point, there would be nothing to stop Hamas and Fatah from all-out war. Indeed, that’s precisely what happened after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005: Months of escalating violence ultimately erupted into war.

That war was bloody but swift. One week later, Hamas-ruled Gaza, 600 Palestinians were dead and thousands more had fled to the West Bank (Israel allowed the refugees through its territory). But since then, both sides have built up their forces considerably, so the next war might well be longer and bloodier. And I have yet to hear anyone explain quite how enabling such a war would benefit the Palestinians.

Thus anyone who really wants to create a Palestinian state should start by pressuring both Hamas and Fatah to address basic needs like reconstructing Gaza instead of spending all their time and energy feuding. That way, if and when such a state does emerge, it might actually be a good thing for the people who have to live in it rather than a disaster. And it would surely do far more to help the Palestinians right now than the empty recognition of a nonexistent state does.

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America Needs a Commander-in-Chief, Not a Historian

In the months that precede the genuine open of a presidential race, it is inevitable that unserious candidates and frivolous issues will dominate the political discussion. The United States will be utterly unaltered if the next president would or would not attend a same-sex wedding or has a strong opinion about Bruce Jenner’s gender identity.  The passion with which these and other insignificant sensations are debated on Good Morning America is often inversely proportional to their relevance to policy makers. America is fortunate to have been privy to a happy exception to that rule in the last week in the form of a debate over the Iraq War, although the institutional press does not deserve much credit for this condition. Republicans would serve themselves and the public well if they were to usurp the media’s retrospective and self-serving debate over an old war in order to address the present conflict.

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In the months that precede the genuine open of a presidential race, it is inevitable that unserious candidates and frivolous issues will dominate the political discussion. The United States will be utterly unaltered if the next president would or would not attend a same-sex wedding or has a strong opinion about Bruce Jenner’s gender identity.  The passion with which these and other insignificant sensations are debated on Good Morning America is often inversely proportional to their relevance to policy makers. America is fortunate to have been privy to a happy exception to that rule in the last week in the form of a debate over the Iraq War, although the institutional press does not deserve much credit for this condition. Republicans would serve themselves and the public well if they were to usurp the media’s retrospective and self-serving debate over an old war in order to address the present conflict.

Over the course of the last week, political reporters have been consumed with re-litigating the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It would be unfair to blame this new myopia entirely on the media’s penchant for like-thinking tunnel vision. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s inexplicably poor footing on the legitimacy of the Iraq War invited a duplicative review of distant history in which the country is again engaged. But quite unlike the media’s fascination with parochial social matters, the GOP’s introspection on the issue of Iraq is of some value.

Bush’s stumbles over whether his brother’s signature achievement in office was justified have sparked a deluge of retrospection and self-criticism from the 2016 field of GOP candidates. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has taken the opportunity to promote his peculiar brand of paleo-conservative detachment from global affairs. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) asserted that, today, “everyone accepts” that the invasion was imprudent. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have made note of the fact that Congress would never have authorized the Iraq War if the pre-war intelligence had not mistakenly augmented Saddam Hussein’s WMD capabilities. “A dozen years later,” the Associated Press averred, “American politics has reached a rough consensus about the Iraq War: It was a mistake.”

But Republicans are wandering into a trap by attempting to assuage the journalistic establishment’s insatiable desire to see Republicans repent for the last GOP president’s nation-building exercise in Iraq. It is a fortunate accident of fate that the media has decided to review the legacy of the Iraq War and the Republican Party’s prosecution of that conflict at precisely the same moment that Middle Eastern country is coming apart. After more than nine months of U.S-led coalition airstrikes targeting the virulent Islamic State militia, the culmination of that effort has been the fall of a second great Iraqi city. Just 70 miles from Baghdad, the American servicemen and women who bled over Ramadi appear to have fought and fallen in vain.

Despite the protestations of self-satisfied scolds for whom no metric could satisfy their desire to see the American project in Iraq fail, uniting Iraq’s political and tribal leaders against Islamist insurgents in their midst was a historic victory. The West’s hard-won achievement in Iraq has been sacrificed by President Barak Obama’s eternal pursuit of the path of least resistance.

The Republican Party’s presidential aspirants now have a political opportunity that they would be careless not to exploit. For the better part of a week, the press has been reviewing the Iraq War’s legacy. As the Iraq Security Forces retreat to defensible positions around Baghdad and Iran consolidates its grip on the Iraqi capital and the nation’s Shia-dominated regions, Republicans would do well to make a compelling case for their approach to warfighting as commander-in-chief.

Contrary to all his fatuous self-pity, President Obama inherited a relatively pacified Iraq when he took the oath. His successor will not be so lucky. The 45th President of the United States will prosecute a brutal conflict against the richest terrorist organization in human history. The next commander-in-chief must convince the American public to back the prosecution of a war against an unimaginably brutish entity with an unbroken hold on territory ranging from Aleppo to the suburbs of Baghdad. The war in which the public must invest is one that is characterized by the battlefield use of chemical weapons, has become yet another proxy conflict between the region’s great Sunni and Shiite powers, and is typified by genocide and the deliberate destruction of humanity’s collective heritage.

The present spate of collective handwringing over how the events of the last decade might have been better managed is the historian’s prerogative. The United States is not electing a lecturer; the public will not make that mistake again. America will need a commander-in-chief of the armed forces who will effectively and efficiently prosecute this conflict to which the country is already committed.

It is not merely in Iraq but in Eastern Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Southeast Pacific that challenges to global security are proliferating. Both state and non-state actors threaten the international order that replaced retreating Soviet-style communism not a quarter-century ago. The press will be satisfied with nothing less than a denunciation of a robust defense of American interests overseas from the GOP’s presidential aspirants, if only to retroactively validate Obama’s vacillating and diffident approach to the application of American hard power. Republican presidential candidates would be well advised to turn the tables on their duplicitous interlocutors.

Rather than issue obsequious mea culpas for the imagined sins of their long-retired fellow party members, Republicans should be using this renewed media interest in the last war in Iraq to remind the public we are busily losing the present one. President Obama will bequeath the next president a Middle East in tatters. The media isn’t interested in that inconvenient subject; it will be up to the GOP to comprehensively outline what is at stake in Iraq.

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Terry Teachout: COMMENTARY As Intellectual Graduate School

COMMENTARY was my graduate school, the place where I learned the intellectual and cultural ropes. Now that I “teach” there myself, I appreciate all the more fully what it meant to me when young, and what it continues to mean to a new generation of readers. No magazine has done more to point the way to those in search of the right directions for America and the world. Nothing makes me prouder than to be a part of its great work.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

COMMENTARY was my graduate school, the place where I learned the intellectual and cultural ropes. Now that I “teach” there myself, I appreciate all the more fully what it meant to me when young, and what it continues to mean to a new generation of readers. No magazine has done more to point the way to those in search of the right directions for America and the world. Nothing makes me prouder than to be a part of its great work.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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Will Team Obama Members Profit From the Iran Nuclear Deal?

One of the calumnies embraced by some on the left with regard to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was that it was a war fought for oil. This was nonsense, of course. Nor was United States military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan (to just name the Muslim majority countries) motivated by oil. Kuwait is no exception to this rule, as every time in recent history when one country has invaded another for the purpose of annexing it in its entirety—North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam, for example—the United States has become involved.

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One of the calumnies embraced by some on the left with regard to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was that it was a war fought for oil. This was nonsense, of course. Nor was United States military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan (to just name the Muslim majority countries) motivated by oil. Kuwait is no exception to this rule, as every time in recent history when one country has invaded another for the purpose of annexing it in its entirety—North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam, for example—the United States has become involved.

Still, Washington is not the most ethical of towns. Both Bush administration officials and some Democrats who supported the war have sought to translate their support or the contacts they made into a golden parachute. It may not be illegal, even if it is unseemly. Nor is Iraq a special case. Too many U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia have turned around and gone to work for Saudi interests in their retirement from the diplomatic service. Many U.S. ambassadors to Turkey have done likewise. David Welch, a top Bush-era diplomat handling the rapprochement with Libya, upon retirement turned around and used his contacts both to garner business from Libya and, behind the scenes, also worked to advise Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Whether or not the Iran deal comes off—the ball is in Tehran’s court as the U.S. Congress has played into President Obama’s hands and effectively traded its say for the sake of a symbolic vote—only one thing is certain: In January 2017, there will be a new president in the Oval Office. Whether or not there has been rapprochement with Iran, many who have been active on the Iran account among Obama’s staff, Secretary of State John Kerry’s staff, the State Department’s negotiating team and, if she fails to win the presidency, Hillary Clinton’s staff as well will be looking for new jobs. Many will enter the private sector.

It’s time to put Team Obama and Kerry on the spot: Will they eschew any possibility that they will work for companies working in the Iranian market? Such a pledge may not be legally binding, but perhaps it’s time for the chief proponents of the Iran diplomacy and the architects of the collapse in the sanctions regime to assure the public that their motivation does not include a golden parachute based on the contacts with senior Iranian officials that they have made over the course of the Obama administration. If they lie to the press after the fact, then at least they can suffer some embarrassment for their actions and a lesson can be learned for future efforts to bring rogue regimes in from the cold.

It was unseemly and wrong during the Clinton administration when officials traded on their contacts with Saudi Arabia, the PLO, and Turkey, and wrong in the Bush administration when diplomats and military officers did likewise with the Kurds, Iraqis, and Turks. It’s time for assurance that only American national security interests and nothing else now drives diplomacy with Iran.

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Time for Military to Admit ISIS is Winning

Is ISIS on the defensive and about to lose? To listen to U.S. military commanders, you would think the answer is yes. On Friday, as Ramadi was falling, Brigadier General Thomas D. Weidley (USMC), Chief of Staff, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, and Colonel Steve Warren, Director, Defense Press Office, gave a surreal news conference. Said General Weidley:  “We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria … It’s the CJTF’s assessment that the Iraqis, with coalition support, are making sound progress.” Sadly, the only progress that Iraqi troops are making is in rapidly retreating before the ISIS onslaught which has led the Islamic State to capture not only Mosul and Fallujah but now Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

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Is ISIS on the defensive and about to lose? To listen to U.S. military commanders, you would think the answer is yes. On Friday, as Ramadi was falling, Brigadier General Thomas D. Weidley (USMC), Chief of Staff, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, and Colonel Steve Warren, Director, Defense Press Office, gave a surreal news conference. Said General Weidley:  “We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria … It’s the CJTF’s assessment that the Iraqis, with coalition support, are making sound progress.” Sadly, the only progress that Iraqi troops are making is in rapidly retreating before the ISIS onslaught which has led the Islamic State to capture not only Mosul and Fallujah but now Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

If you listen to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ramadi doesn’t matter. A month ago he told reporters that Ramadi “is not symbolic in any way. … I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of a campaign should it fall.” In the real world, Ramadi does matter and its fall is a sign that Operation Inherent Resolve, as the U.S. campaign against ISIS is called, is failing.

Yet rather than engage this stark reality military leaders prefer to engage in ludicrous spinning that is sadly reminiscent of what their predecessors did while the Iraq War was being lost from 2003 to 2006. Who can forgot the statements made by Gen. George Casey, then commander of US forces in Iraq, while the situation was spinning out of control? For example, on March 19, 2006, General Casey said, “In 15 of the 18 provinces, there are six or less incidents of violence a day — (and) that’s not just sectarian (violence), that’s all kinds of violence. … So the country is not awash in sectarian violence. … I’m fairly confident that what we’re doing here in Iraq will be successful. … There’s a lot of hard work still to be done here in Iraq. But I’m optimistic that we will ultimately be successful.”

Those comments came just a month after the bombing of the Samarra mosque, the point at which Iraq headed toward the abyss of all-out civil war. But even as violence escalated out of control, Casey blithely claimed that all U.S. troops could be pulled out within 18 months and Iraqis could take charge of their own security.

Such optimism seems ludicrous in hindsight, except that we are now hearing equally nonsensical assessments from senior military figures. By claiming that everything is going just fine, military commanders are guilty of “dereliction of duty.” That was the name of a best-selling history of the Joint Chiefs during the Vietnam era, written by now-Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, which accused those generals of not doing their duty by not speaking up about failure of U.S. strategy in Vietnam. Today another generation of generals is staying similarly mute even as the U.S. is losing another war.

I understand why President Obama is refusing to take steps that might reverse the disastrous course of the war effort in Iraq—he doesn’t want to be drawn into another war, even if it means ceding much of the Middle East to Sunni and Shiite fanatics. But why are the generals enabling his dubious decision-making by pretending that the current war effort is making progress when it isn’t? Granted, generals serve the commander-in-chief but they also have a responsibility to the Constitution and to the men and women under their command to level with the public and especially Congress about what’s really going on. It is nothing short of a disgrace that no uniformed military personnel are willing to concede the obvious—that we’re losing, not winning, against ISIS.

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Who’s Stopping Kurdish Independence?

Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, visited Washington, DC, earlier this month to meet with President Barack Obama. Barzani came knowing his chance of success–he wanted direct provision of weaponry–was poor. Kurds could read it in the tea leaves: When Barzani feels he’s going to get what he wants, he brings only his sons and a few hangers-on from his political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) over which he presides with an iron first. That way, he can claim all the credit for himself, his family, and the party. When he knows his trip isn’t going to be successful, however, he includes in his entourage token members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or the Goran Movement, the region’s other major parties, so that he doesn’t need to shoulder blame himself.

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Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, visited Washington, DC, earlier this month to meet with President Barack Obama. Barzani came knowing his chance of success–he wanted direct provision of weaponry–was poor. Kurds could read it in the tea leaves: When Barzani feels he’s going to get what he wants, he brings only his sons and a few hangers-on from his political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) over which he presides with an iron first. That way, he can claim all the credit for himself, his family, and the party. When he knows his trip isn’t going to be successful, however, he includes in his entourage token members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or the Goran Movement, the region’s other major parties, so that he doesn’t need to shoulder blame himself.

Before he came to Washington, Barzani’s office told Kurds back in Iraqi Kurdistan that he would push Obama for independence. He actually didn’t talk about independence at the White House—he never does—but speaking later to a hand-picked audience at the Atlantic Council, where the daughter of his chief-of-staff works, he reiterated that he would steer Kurds to realize their dreams of independence.

The Kurds deserve independence, but Barzani will never deliver it. He has always used independence as a rhetorical tool around which to rally Kurds and increasingly he uses the lack of independence as an excuse against reform (he is currently serving the tenth year of his eight year presidency).

While it is the policy of the United States to oppose Iraq’s division (just like President George H.W. Bush once opposed the Soviet Union’s division), should the Kurds declare their independence in Iraqi Kurdistan, both the United States and Turkey would likely support them. For Obama, red lines are rhetorical only. There never will be a green light, but Barzani could run the yellow if he so chose.

But even if Barzani was willing to forgo the billions of dollars he receives from the Kurdish share of southern Iraq’s oil revenue, he knows deep down that he cannot declare independence. The problem is not Washington, but rather Tehran. When the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) seized Mosul, the Kurds unilaterally took control of Kirkuk and many other disputed territories. In short, by fait accompli, they possessed most of over what they once had negotiated. It was Iran that threw cold water on to the optimism Kurds felt.

On July 6, 2014, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian declared:

“This talk about breaking apart Iraq is a Zionist plot… We should not forget that in recent days, the only place that joyfully supported the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and urged the region to secede was Netanyahu. We will never allow the dreams of Netanyahu in Iraq and our region for the breaking apart of the critical region of West Asia to come true.”

Amir-Abdollahian’s comments, like so much that drives Iranian foreign policy, may be conspiratorial nonsense, but Barzani knows that the Qods Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps charged with export of revolution and which has free reign over Iraqi Kurdistan, would sooner kill Barzani than allow any referendum to move forward let alone independence. The problem isn’t division of Iraq so much as the precedent for Iran. Just in the last week, mass protests have erupted in Iranian Kurdistan after an Iranian intelligence ministry employee attempted to rape a Kurdish maid in a Mahabad hotel. Iranian Kurds have a history of separatism, as do Iranian Azerbaijanis, Baluchis, and Arabs. That doesn’t mean the majority of Azeris, Baluchis, and Arabs want to split from Iran—the sense of Iranian nationhood predates the ethno-nationalism around which so many countries organized themselves in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Iran has, however, been traumatized by separatist movements which today make it half the size many Iranians believe Iran should be if it were not for past ‘historical injustice.’

In short, Barzani can talk about independence all he wants when he’s in Washington, Hungary, or the Czech Republic. The true test of Barzani’s seriousness, however, will be when he talks about independence while in Iran. They are the real obstacles to Iraqi Kurdish independence, and no one else.

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The Pope’s Better Angels of Peace

It turns out Pope Francis may not have called Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace.” That was the quote reported by the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and the New York Times on Saturday night and led to my response here criticizing the pontiff for uttering such an egregious comment the following morning. Speaking the way about a man who was a Holocaust denier, a funder and organizer of terrorism, presides over a government and media that routinely foments hatred of Jews and Israel and who has repeatedly rejected peace would be outrageous. But if, as Tom Gross pointed out in the Weekly Standard, most of the Italian press reported that the pope actually said, “you could be an angel of peace,” that puts the exchange in a very different light. That led Gross to claim those mainstream media outlets that spread the original story did so because they are prejudiced against Israel and for the Palestinians. Gross is on to something there since media bias on the Middle East is real. But before we file this story away as merely another example of this problem, let’s put it in context. If the Times and other outlets that picked up the quote haven’t yet corrected their stories, it’s also because the event during which the pope spoke led them to think that’s what he meant. In this case, the fault may belong as much to the Vatican as to those reporters who spread the misquote.

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It turns out Pope Francis may not have called Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace.” That was the quote reported by the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and the New York Times on Saturday night and led to my response here criticizing the pontiff for uttering such an egregious comment the following morning. Speaking the way about a man who was a Holocaust denier, a funder and organizer of terrorism, presides over a government and media that routinely foments hatred of Jews and Israel and who has repeatedly rejected peace would be outrageous. But if, as Tom Gross pointed out in the Weekly Standard, most of the Italian press reported that the pope actually said, “you could be an angel of peace,” that puts the exchange in a very different light. That led Gross to claim those mainstream media outlets that spread the original story did so because they are prejudiced against Israel and for the Palestinians. Gross is on to something there since media bias on the Middle East is real. But before we file this story away as merely another example of this problem, let’s put it in context. If the Times and other outlets that picked up the quote haven’t yet corrected their stories, it’s also because the event during which the pope spoke led them to think that’s what he meant. In this case, the fault may belong as much to the Vatican as to those reporters who spread the misquote.

As Gross noted, there is now good reason to think the pope did not call Abbas an “angel of peace.” The Italian press quoted the pope as saying, “Lei possa essere un angelo della pace” — which is translated as “you could be an angel of peace.” The  pope giving Abbas a gift of a medallion that shows an angel of peace “destroying the bad spirit of war” (apparently a standard event for all visitors) and led to the pontiff saying that Abbas could do the same thing. That not only doesn’t sound bad, it could be spun as the pope challenging Abbas to do something that he has not done before. Even more, some have pointed that in addition to the medal, the pope also gave Abbas a copy of his 2013 encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, a document that included language that spoke of Judaism with respect. That could lead some to think the pope was actually sending the PA leader a critical message rather than a pat on the back. If true, that should generate applause from friends of Israel rather than criticism.

But there’s a good reason why the mainstream press has been slow to amend their original stories: the Vatican hasn’t sought a correction. As the Times of Israel pointed out today, neither the Vatican website nor its official news agency specified what the pope said to Abbas on Saturday. Nor did they note the widespread discrepancies in the coverage of that event with many publications making the claim that the pope praised Abbas and others using the more equivocal quote. Nor is that likely to happen.

As much as many of us are rightly predisposed to think that the AP or the New York Times willfully distorted the pope’s words, the Vatican doesn’t appear to be displeased about the misquote. Moreover, it’s hard to be too tough on reporters who got the quote wrong in that manner because praise of Abbas and the Palestinian cause seemed to be exactly the purpose of the visit and other events surrounding the canonization of two Arab nuns who lived in the country when it was under Ottoman rule during the 19th century.

The Vatican’s decision to join much of the rest of Europe and recognize Palestinian independence without first insisting that Abbas (and/or his Hamas rivals that rule Gaza) make peace with Israel was a signal not just of approval for the PA leader but of contempt for efforts to hold him accountable for his behavior. It is a good thing if Pope Francis did not actually call Abbas “an angel of peace.” But by approving the PA’s end run around the peace process at the United Nations, the pope has already done something that is morally equivalent to such an outrageous statement.

Were the pope really interested in challenging Abbas to become an angel of peace, he would not be authorizing the Vatican to conclude a treaty recognizing Palestine while its leaders refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The church had an opportunity to stand for peace by refusing to join the rush to recognize a government that has no control over the territory it claims and much of which is under the thumb of an Islamist terror group with which the PA has tried to forge an alliance. If the Vatican hasn’t asked for a correction about the misquote, it’s because it seems to be perfectly happy to let the world think the pope is an ardent backer of the PA.

So as much as we are right to criticize the Times, the AP and Agence France Pressse for their mistake, the real fault lies with a Vatican that staged a happy photo op with a leader with Abbas’s checkered past and present opposition to peace talks. No one who knows much about Abbas thinks he could ever be an angel of peace. But Pope Francis, a good man whose good intentions deserve our respect, could be one. But in order to do it, he would have to step back from a policy that aligns the Vatican with those seeking to unfairly pressure Israel and gives the PA a pass for rejecting peace.

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COMMENTARY is an incandescent magazine, the best of its kind in the world. For more than a half-century it has published the finest minds writing on the most important issues facing America, Israel, and the world. COMMENTARY knows what to stand for and what to stand against–and it does so with piercing intelligence, rigorous and persuasive arguments, integrity and courage. One cannot help but be struck by the breadth and quality of the articles, which are always relevant, never trendy, monuments to excellence. There are very few genuinely indispensable magazines; COMMENTARY is one of them. It has earned your trust; it deserves your support.

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Was the Iraq War a Mistake?

It’s become the gotcha question for Republicans seeking to win their party’s nomination for the 2016 presidential campaign: Knowing what we know now, would you have ordered U.S. forces into Iraq?

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It’s become the gotcha question for Republicans seeking to win their party’s nomination for the 2016 presidential campaign: Knowing what we know now, would you have ordered U.S. forces into Iraq?

Max Boot has tackled the question here, in short arguing that the situation the world faces in Iraq today was not inevitable but was rather the result of subsequent poor decisions, such as President Obama’s decision to order a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq.

That’s all true, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s face it, the intelligence was largely wrong. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Colin Powell did not lie, however. The root of the problem was two-fold: First, Saddam Hussein bluffed so convincingly that his own lieutenants believed he had an active WMD program. Therefore, when the CIA or DIA debriefed defectors, they did not register as deceptive when they spoke about WMD. Their accounts also reinforced intercepts and other signals intelligence. Because the faulty intelligence became a political football, there still has been no sustained effort to prevent such a problem from reoccurring.

But, what is absolutely certain and incontrovertible is that all the documents seized from Saddam Hussein’s government upon its collapse showed that the Iraqi leader planned to reconstitute his weapons programs as soon as sanctions collapsed. There is no arguing this point. The idea that Bush’s choice was to go to war or continue the status quo is false, as the status quo was collapsing. If Bush did not act militarily, Iraq might very well have the most robust unconventional arsenal in the Middle East. So, when presidential candidates say they would not in hindsight have made the same decision that Bush made, they are effectively saying they would have acquiesced to an empowered Saddam with weapons of mass destruction.

What about some of the other issues? Would Saddam have been a force for stability? He would have been 78 years old and, given the prevalence of heart disease and diabetes in Iraq (they were the leading causes of death even under sanctions), it’s not clear he would be alive today. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ruled Syria with as much of an iron hand, and that did not immunize Syria from the winds of the Arab Spring. It must be nice to believe that Saddam was some smiling strongman who would have steered Iraq clear of the troubles sweeping the region, but it would also be nice to believe in unicorns. Bashar al-Assad was once considered a smiling strong man–and a reformer to boot–a notion that seems ridiculous given his use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs against his own people.

Would the Islamic State have existed if the United States had not gone to war? Saddam Hussein turned toward religion and privileged radical clerics in the wake of his defeat in Kuwait. That’s the time when he put “Allahu Akbar” on the Iraqi flag and commissioned a Koran made from his blood. According to the State Department Human Rights reports, Fedayeen Saddam was rampaging through Baghdad beheading women it accused of loose morals in the years before the U.S. invasion. And then, of course, there was the case of Laurence Foley, a U.S. diplomat assassinated in Amman in 2002 on the orders of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man responsible for Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State. Foley’s assassination shows the group to have been active before the war.

It is embarrassing that Governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, and others are so ill prepared for the Iraq War question, but it is also embarrassing that the media also conflates so many decisions about the Iraq war into one. First, there was the decision about whether to use military force to oust Saddam. (My take: the right call). Second, there was the decision about whether to replace Saddam with a more democratic structure or his sons or a strongman general (My take: Bush made the right call). Third, was the decision about whether to spend tens of billions seeking to reconstruct and develop Iraq (My take: huge mistake). The world is better without Saddam. Most of the Iraqi deaths following the invasion were caused not by the United States but by the terrorists and Iranian-backed militias whom American forces were fighting. George Bush understood that the proper course of action, as the “Iraq war mistake” question implies, was not to give those terrorist free reign over Iraq. It is sad that so many Democrats and now Republicans give in to what amounts to a journalistic auto-da-fé in which candidates accept a twisted and inaccurate narrative imposed by journalists guided more by politics than fact.

Secretary of State John Kerry, while running for president, famously said he was with the war before he was against it. What a sad reflection about America’s politics that now an entire class of Republican candidates are so unprincipled and unaware of what Saddam’s own documents show his intentions to have been that they effectively hold Kerry up as the standard to emulate.

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A Raid Doesn’t Make Up for Loss of Ramadi

The White House didn’t have much to say about the fall of Ramadi on Friday. Hardly surprising since this was a demoralizing blow to Operation Inherent Resolve whose mission is to “destroy” ISIS. But the White House was more than happy to take credit for a raid by Delta Force into Syria on Saturday that resulted in the death of Abu Sayyaf (a nom de guerre), described as a mid-level figure in ISIS who was responsible for its finances, and the capture of two women–Abu Sayyaf’s wife and Yazidi slave.

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The White House didn’t have much to say about the fall of Ramadi on Friday. Hardly surprising since this was a demoralizing blow to Operation Inherent Resolve whose mission is to “destroy” ISIS. But the White House was more than happy to take credit for a raid by Delta Force into Syria on Saturday that resulted in the death of Abu Sayyaf (a nom de guerre), described as a mid-level figure in ISIS who was responsible for its finances, and the capture of two women–Abu Sayyaf’s wife and Yazidi slave.

The raid was a real achievement but a limited one. No doubt “sensitive site exploitation” (i.e., the computers and papers found in Abu Sayyaf’s house), along with potential interrogation of Mrs. Sayyaf, will reveal more information about ISIS’ structure and operations. The operation would have been even more successful if Abu Sayyaf had been taken alive for interrogation and if the White House had held off on its desire to take credit, giving the Joint Special Operations Command more time to digest the collected intelligence before ISIS reacted by shutting down any operations that might have been compromised.

But let’s not get carried away. Even if the raid had killed a far more senior ISIS leader it would not have made a strategic difference. After all back in 2006, JSOC killed Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of AGI (predecessor of ISIS), and that did not prevent AQI from becoming stronger than ever. It took a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign in 2007-2008 to bring AQI to the brink of defeat and it will take a similar campaign today to defeat ISIS.

In this Council on Foreign Relations policy innovation memorandum I outlined what such a campaign would look like “Leadership targeting,” i.e., mounting more of the kind of raids that killed Abu Sayyaf, is an important line of operations but it’s only one line of operations.

More important is to create Sunni military forces in both Syria and Iraq that are able and willing to fight against ISIS with American help. But there is scant sign of progress on this front, because the Obama administration has held U.S. policy in Iraq hostage to the dictates of Baghdad, where the Shiite sectarians who are in control are, to put it mildly, unenthusiastic about arming Sunnis.

That’s why Ramadi fell and why there will be little success in rolling back ISIS’ gains in Syria and Iraq–because Sunnis still see ISIS as the lesser evil compared to domination by Shiite extremists armed and supported by Iran. That is the fundamental strategic problem that must be addressed in order to make progress against ISIS. Special Operations raids, no matter how successful, are of scant importance by comparison.

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