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The GOP’s King v. Burwell Trap

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act are licking their chops at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King v. Burwell case against the government. By doing so, the Court would strip ObamaCare of the very rule that make so many ACA-related plans “affordable”: namely, the federal subsidies for those insured who purchased their plans in states that elected not to establish their own insurance exchange marketplaces. Thousands would instantly find the already dubiously named health care reform law prohibitively expensive, making an already unpopular law even more so. But Republicans are, for the most part, agreed that to allow those who were tricked into buying an unsustainable health insurance plan to go uncovered would be both morally wrong and politically disastrous. Until a more permanent solution is worked out, even conservative lawmakers agree the subsidies must be restored, albeit temporarily. But this is a fraught course, and Republicans would do well to take stock of the high stakes should they pursue it. Read More

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act are licking their chops at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King v. Burwell case against the government. By doing so, the Court would strip ObamaCare of the very rule that make so many ACA-related plans “affordable”: namely, the federal subsidies for those insured who purchased their plans in states that elected not to establish their own insurance exchange marketplaces. Thousands would instantly find the already dubiously named health care reform law prohibitively expensive, making an already unpopular law even more so. But Republicans are, for the most part, agreed that to allow those who were tricked into buying an unsustainable health insurance plan to go uncovered would be both morally wrong and politically disastrous. Until a more permanent solution is worked out, even conservative lawmakers agree the subsidies must be restored, albeit temporarily. But this is a fraught course, and Republicans would do well to take stock of the high stakes should they pursue it.

The following is, of course, premised on the notion that the Supreme Court elects to rule on the law as it is written rather than to rewrite it entirely. It is not as though there is no precedent for the latter. In 2012, the Roberts Court effectively ignored the administration and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli who argued that the penalty associated with not purchasing insurance was not a tax and ruled that it was, in fact, a tax. The Court could easily determine that the intent of the law was clear (though the justices must ignore one of its framers in order to reach this conclusion), restore the subsidies to states that operate only a federal exchange, and leave ObamaCare intact.

If the Court rules in the alternative, however, the GOP’s course is clear. They will communicate to the public that this law is hopelessly flawed, and it must be fully repealed. They will note that the only way that can be done is when this recalcitrant president, who views this law that has created so much hardship as a legacy item, is gone. As part of the party’s 2016 pitch, they will note that only a Republican-led Congress and a Republican president will fully repeal the ACA. Only then will congressional Republicans embark on a course of restoring subsidies to those states that lost them until early in 2017.

But grassroots conservatives will resent and stridently oppose a clean reinstitution of ObamaCare subsidies, so the GOP in Congress will seek a concession from the president. And it will have to be substantial. Anything other than a clean restoration of subsidies will be met with a veto threat from the president, so Republicans are advised to go for broke. The repeal of the individual or employer mandates — preferably both – would do the trick. Even the elimination of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) might be a palatable tradeoff for conservative voters. It would be an uphill battle to force Senate Democrats to sign on to this approach, but Republicans would do well to try and to try hard. If the GOP cannot send a bill to the president’s desk that seeks substantial changes to ObamaCare, the consequences for the party will be significant.

“Can’t see GOP voting to re-victimize millions of people by legalizing the mandates,” wrote American Commitment President Phil Kerpen. “I’d give up on the party.” He wouldn’t be alone. Republicans are in a politically advantageous position with regards to the ACA insofar as not a single Republican has so much as a fingerprint on it. It is a wholly-owned Democratic enterprise, and the members of the president’s party have coveted that condition figuring that, some day, they will eventually get credit for the law’s net positive effects. If Republicans fail to secure a presidential veto on the repeal of one of this law’s more odious mandates and kicks the whole can down the road into 2017 – mandates and all – conservatives and liberals will declare that Republicans have abandoned their traditional antipathy toward those mandates and legitimized them. And they will have a point.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse saw much of this coming. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in mid-March, and in subsequent legislation, he proposed an 18-month Cobra extension for workers who lose their health coverage in the wake of a verdict in King that cuts against the administration. “Second, Republicans need to unify around a specific set of constructive, longer-term solutions, and then turn the 2016 presidential election into a referendum on two competing visions of health care,” the senator wrote.

But even this will be met with virtually the same criticism from the right if the GOP simply extended the law in its present form. “Sasse’s plan reinforces the notion that we have an uninsured problem rather than a price-controlled marketplace problem that needs less government interference,” The Federalist’s David Harsanyi contended in a reply to Sasse’s op-ed. “Once you’ve acquiesced to the idea that billions in subsidies are needed, the idea becomes bipartisan.”

There is almost no way to escape this criticism without coalescing behind and promoting a comprehensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have been unable to do that, and they squandered precious weeks in which they could have been making the case for a conservative alternative to the ACA to the public. Today, Republicans have few viable options available to them that could preserve the noble opposition to ObamaCare that they secured in 2010. One would be to force the president’s hand and compel him to veto a repeal of the ACA’s burdensome mandates before inevitably bowing to political realities. The Congressional GOP, a deeply unpopular set of prominent targets, will still draw fire from their conservative base voters and even a few 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls for allegedly “embracing” ObamaCare, but it will be baseless criticism. If, however, they merely reintroduce subsidies and the mandates with a modest concession like the repeal of the medical device tax, Republicans will invite a mutiny. And they would deserve it.

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Rand Paul’s Flat Tax Plan II

When I wrote about Senator Rand Paul’s new tax plan that he outlined in the Wall Street Journal on June 17th, I wrote that he advocated a 14.5 percent tax on both individual and corporate incomes. But that turns out to be not quite true, for Paul was more than a little disingenuous, as the New York Times pointed out Tuesday morning.  Read More

When I wrote about Senator Rand Paul’s new tax plan that he outlined in the Wall Street Journal on June 17th, I wrote that he advocated a 14.5 percent tax on both individual and corporate incomes. But that turns out to be not quite true, for Paul was more than a little disingenuous, as the New York Times pointed out Tuesday morning. 

Paul wrote,

I would also apply this uniform 14.5% business-activity tax on all companies—down from as high as nearly 40% for small businesses and 35% for corporations. This tax would be levied on revenues minus allowable expenses, such as the purchase of parts, computers and office equipment. All capital purchases would be immediately expensed, ending complicated depreciation schedules.

Since he is talking about bringing the taxes on corporations “down from as high as nearly 40 percent…” most people read that to mean the corporate income tax would be reduced to 14.5 percent. But notice, which I did not, the phrase “business-activity tax.” That is a euphemism for a value-added tax, or VAT. And a VAT is a very different beast than a corporate income tax.

The corporate income tax is laid on corporate profits. If a corporation makes a pretax profit of $1 million, it would owe the government $350,000 in taxes (ignoring all the infinite complications of the tax code). Since corporations are pieces of paper, corporate income taxes are actually paid by stockholders, in lower profits; workers, in lower wages; and customers, in higher prices. The particular distribution of the tax burden depends on the particular competitive situation of the company. (Figure out a formula for reliably determining the distribution in each case and you will have a Nobel Economics Prize on your mantel.)

A VAT works very differently. To oversimplify for purposes of illustration, say a bakery buys a plain cake for $2.00 and icing for $1.00. It ices the cake and plans to sell it for $5.00, a “value added” of $2.00. But with a VAT of 14.5 percent, the price tag on the cake would be $5.73. That 73 cents in tax is paid entirely by the customer. In other words, a VAT is a consumption tax not an income tax at all. Lay a 14.5 percent VAT and the price of everything goes up 14.5 percent the next morning. It would be indistinguishable from a severe bout of inflation.

And consumption taxes are inherently regressive, falling more heavily on the poor than on the rich and, indeed, the poorer you are, the more heavily they fall on you. The poor, by definition, must spend their entire income on necessities. So a VAT tax of 14.5 percent would reduce the purchasing power of the poor by 14.5 percent. Thanks, Senator. The rich, on the other hand, do not spend all their income, and the richer they are, the less of their income they spend, banking the rest. If a family has a take-home income of $10 million, they might live like kings on $2 million a year and add $8 million to their capital. So the man just getting by pays tax on 100 percent of his income while the Wall Street banker pays taxes on 20 percent of his income.

Governments love the VAT tax because, unlike a sales tax, which shows up on the receipt, it is hidden in the price of everything. Thus, it is politically easier to raise it as, again, it would appear as inflation. Every member of the OECD has a VAT, including Canada (5 percent) except the United States. We should keep it that way and not increase the tax burden on the poor.

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Obama Cedes Iraq to Iran

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli LakeRead More

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli Lake

It is all part and parcel of the Obama policy of tilting toward Tehran that has been evident for several years now — a trend that Michael Doran and I noted in January 2014 in this New York Times op-ed and that Doran had identified even earlier. This strategy has been evident at least since the president’s decision in the fall of 2013 not to bomb Iran’s client, Bashar Assad, for violating a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. Instead, Obama reached a deal with Assad for the peaceful removal of his chemical weapons — a deal that has made the U.S. complicit in Assad’s continuance in power even as Assad has continued to drop chlorine gas and barrel bombs on civilians.

Since then, the administration has bombed in Tikrit in support of an offensive mounted, for the most part, by Iranian-backed militias rather than Iraqi troops. It has cut funding to anti-Hezbollah Shiites in Lebanon. And, of course, it has continued to make crippling concessions to Iran in order to get a nuclear deal — even if the terms of the deal only increase Iran’s breakout time from two months to three months.

The administration is not vocal about what it is up to, but it is consistent: It is trying to realign the strategic chessboard of the Middle East so that Iran becomes a de facto partner of the U.S. rather than its adversary. Amazingly enough, the president does not seem to be deterred by the meager returns on his strategy so far: a region in flames.

There is every indication to believe that, as Doran and I predicted, the administration outreach to Iran is only exacerbating the sectarian divide and emboldening extremists of both Sunni and Shiite persuasion. The problem will become much more severe once a nuclear deal is concluded with Iran, because that could well spur Saudi Arabia to seek its own nuclear weapons and it will provide billions of dollars more that the mullahs can use to subvert their neighbors.

It is still not too late for the administration to reverse course — to demand more of Iran at the negotiating table and to take actions against Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq. A good beginning would be to ground Assad’s air force and declare safe zones along the borders where the moderate opposition can organize. But the intertwining of U.S. forces and Shiite militias in Iraq makes such a decision more dangerous because it will be all too easy for Iranian militias to attack U.S. forces again as they have in the past. Not that it matters: Obama has shown no desire to check Iranian designs. As long as that’s the case, the Iranian militias will happily coexist with U.S. troops because they will perceive, correctly, that the American presence is actually aiding their power grab.

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Did Ted Cruz Just Pull a John Kerry on Trade?

Senator Ted Cruz started off his presidential campaign with a bang but, in recent weeks, he’s been falling back in the polls as other candidates have gotten most of the publicity. Part of that stemmed from the ability of his competitors to steal the spotlight with their own announcements as well as the ability of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio to inch ahead of the pack and form what looks like a top tier in a race that may eventually include up to 20 candidates. With only four percent of Republicans supporting him in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Cruz seems to be lagging in the competition for his natural constituency: Tea Party voters. So in order to recapture their affection, Cruz needs to do something to illustrate once again that he is the true rebel against the GOP party establishment. His answer: come out against the fast-track trade bill currently working its way through Congress. A stand geared toward exploiting conservative animus toward President Obama and illegal immigration may give him a boost. But the only problem with this decision is that Cruz already voted for the Trade Protection Authority (TPA) bill back in May. He’s claiming that nefarious secret deals between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democrats are motivating his switch. But a Ted Cruz flip on trade could undermine the key element to his political identity as the one man in Washington who will never compromise on his principles. Read More

Senator Ted Cruz started off his presidential campaign with a bang but, in recent weeks, he’s been falling back in the polls as other candidates have gotten most of the publicity. Part of that stemmed from the ability of his competitors to steal the spotlight with their own announcements as well as the ability of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio to inch ahead of the pack and form what looks like a top tier in a race that may eventually include up to 20 candidates. With only four percent of Republicans supporting him in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Cruz seems to be lagging in the competition for his natural constituency: Tea Party voters. So in order to recapture their affection, Cruz needs to do something to illustrate once again that he is the true rebel against the GOP party establishment. His answer: come out against the fast-track trade bill currently working its way through Congress. A stand geared toward exploiting conservative animus toward President Obama and illegal immigration may give him a boost. But the only problem with this decision is that Cruz already voted for the Trade Protection Authority (TPA) bill back in May. He’s claiming that nefarious secret deals between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democrats are motivating his switch. But a Ted Cruz flip on trade could undermine the key element to his political identity as the one man in Washington who will never compromise on his principles.

As Cruz notes in his Breitbart.com op-ed explaining his change of heart, he is an ideological supporter of free trade. But he took a lot of criticism from some Tea Partiers for his vote in favor of TPA who seem to think anything that President Obama favors should be opposed. In the piece, Cruz exploits fears about trade leading to efforts toward amnesty for illegal immigration and sounds a populist note about opposition to reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank whose fate has become tied to that of TPA. Sounding more like the Ted Cruz who took the GOP down the rabbit hole of the government shutdown than the more reasonable senator who voted for a trade bill that most of his party has always supported, Cruz now says the whole thing must be stopped.

Trade appeared to be the one issue on which common ground could be found between the administration and the Republican leadership in Congress. Though the left wing of the Democrats and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has so far prevented passage of TPA, the vote today to end debate on the measure in the Senate (on which Cruz was on the losing side) seems to ensure that it will ultimately be passed and signed into law.

Cruz’s enlistment to the ranks of those trying to stop the trade bill does not appear to have derailed the legislation. But that does not appear to be his main objective. Instead, Cruz is making a cold hard calculation that he can rally a critical mass of his party’s base to his candidacy by positioning himself in opposition to the party establishment. The Ex-Im bank issue doesn’t have a lot of resonance with the grassroots, but merely mentioning immigration in connection with the name Obama may be enough to convince a lot of Republicans that Cruz is once again leading the charge against a party establishment they despise. Running against “backroom deal-making” is always popular, and most Tea Partiers already like Cruz and think any cooperation with the Obama White House is wrong in principle.

But there’s something of an air of desperation to this move that makes me think that Cruz’s normally deft touch with the party base may be slightly out of order here.

It’s all well and good to accuse Mitch McConnell of being a slippery customer or criticizing House Speaker John Boehner of acting the tyrant in punishing House Republicans who rebelled on this issue. But it is just as easy to accuse Cruz of putting himself into a tacit alliance with Pelosi and the labor unions in an effort to halt much needed international trade as it is to label supporters of TPA as being closet Obama-lovers. As much as many Tea Partiers have opposed the bill because of the Obama connections, standing up against free trade is still a better tactic to win the Democratic nomination than that of the Republicans.

Moreover, Cruz is also setting himself up for a classic putdown in the presidential debates. Every one of his competitors will hope for a chance to call out Cruz for pulling a John Kerry on trade by saying he opposed it after he voted for it. That’s not a winning formula for Cruz, who hopes to parlay a brilliant speaking style (and champion debating skills) into a shot at the Republican nomination. Up until now, the one thing you could never accuse Ted Cruz of doing is flip-flopping on the issues. With his turnabout on trade, that record is broken.

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Chinese Cyber Attack on OPM Goes Unpunished

So, the penetration of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems is even more pervasive than previously reported.

CNN reported yesterday: “The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.” Read More

So, the penetration of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems is even more pervasive than previously reported.

CNN reported yesterday: “The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.”

The hack is not only gigantic and appalling but also inexplicable. CNN also reported:

OPM’s internal auditors told a House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee last week that key databases housing sensitive national security data, including applications for background checks, had not met federal security standards.

“Not only was a large volume (11 out of 47 systems) of OPM’s IT systems operating without a valid Authorization, but several of these systems are among the most critical and sensitive applications owned by the agency,” Michael Esser, OPM’s assistant inspector general for audits, wrote in testimony prepared for committee.

Yet, faced with this terrible failure, which exposes the most intimate data of countless Americans (including pretty much all of our national security officials, past and present) to Chinese espionage, what has been the Obama administration response?

Yesterday an official identified only as “senior State Department official” was asked about the issue at a press conference — and specifically what the US is doing to redress this Chinese intrusion. Here is what he or she said:

So we have had discussions ongoing with the Chinese in multilateral fora, in bilateral fora about all of the various aspects about cyber security, the activity of IT companies in China, in the United States, et cetera. It’s a very wide-ranging, obviously, topic. It’s a fast-changing area, and it’s an ongoing topic of discussion. We’re the two biggest users of the internet. We both have huge global sort of interests in seeing the internet be secured. I understand that iPhone – more iPhones were sold in China last year than in the United States. So it’s a huge area of interest for both of our countries, and we have ongoing conversations about all aspects.

That’s weak even by State Department standards. The notion that the U.S. and China have shared interests on the Internet is farcical, since China has emerged as the No. 1 hacker of American computer systems for both commercial and national security advantage. Saying that Washington and Beijing have a shared interest in Internet security is like saying that a cop and a robber have a shared interest in law enforcement.

Little wonder that members of Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, are frustrated with the administration attempts to minimize the size and severity of this breach. At a hearing last week in the House, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), told OPM chief Katherine Archuleta: “I wish that you were as strenuous and hardworking at keeping information out of the hands of hacker as are at keeping information out of the hands of Congress.”

What’s truly dismaying here is that this is hardly the first breach of cyber-security experienced by this administration. Recall that the massive breaches committed by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden occurred since President Obama took office. That’s not to suggest that the president is personally to blame for this negligence, but he is certainly as much to blame for these failures as President George W. Bush was for failures to respond to Hurricane Katrina and to a growing insurgency in Iraq. Yet, so far, the Obama administration has largely managed to avoid the kind of censure and wrath that the Bush administration earned for its handling of Katrina and the Iraq War.

Granted, these cyber breaches have not resulted in massive casualties and catastrophes that can be seen in video footage and photos. But these are catastrophes nevertheless that have done great (if hidden) damage to American security, and it’s high time that the public took this more seriously and demanded that high-level officials be held to account. At least FEMA director Michael Brown was fired over Katrina and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was ultimately ousted over Iraq. Who, if anyone, is going to be held accountable for the massive cyber-breaches the government has been suffering of late?

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Assessing Shi’ite Militias in Iraq

The rise of the Shi‘ite militias has complicated if not undercut American policy from the 2003 occupation of Iraq to the present. Shortly before U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq, then-National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad and State Department official Ryan Crocker (both future ambassadors to Iraq) met with Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif (now foreign minister) in Geneva. Zarif promised non-interference: there would be no direct Iranian intervention, nor would Iran allow the militias which its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trained to interfere. Read More

The rise of the Shi‘ite militias has complicated if not undercut American policy from the 2003 occupation of Iraq to the present. Shortly before U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq, then-National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad and State Department official Ryan Crocker (both future ambassadors to Iraq) met with Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif (now foreign minister) in Geneva. Zarif promised non-interference: there would be no direct Iranian intervention, nor would Iran allow the militias which its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trained to interfere.

Zarif, of course, either lied or was powerless to prevent the IRGC from acting autonomously (it is ironic, therefore, that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are so willing to trust Zarif despite his previous refusal to uphold diplomatic agreements). Even Iranian journalists remarked about how quickly the IRGC inserted itself and militias like the Badr Corps into Iraq. Meanwhile, for all the chatter about why Washington policymakers erred by working with Iraqi politicians who had spent some time in exile, the most powerful insider, firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, sought power by leveraging a militia equally anti-American, violent toward other Iraqis, and engaged in criminal enterprise.

During the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. forces just as often found themselves in conflict with Shi‘ite militias as with Sunni insurgents. Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a Qods Force operative who worked as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, oversaw the smuggling into Iraq of explosively-formed projectiles used to kill hundreds of Americans. Then, in 2007, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-sponsored militia, kidnaped five American soldiers, and then tortured and executed them. They and Kata’ib Hezbollah still undermine rule-of-law and government authority in Iraq.

In the wake of the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh)and the collapse of several units of the Iraqi army, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for volunteers to help defend Iraqi Shi‘ites (and non-Shi’ite Iraqis) and protect both the shrine cities and the capital from ISIS’ advance. The resulting Popular Mobilization Forces (alHashd al-Shaabi) are often treated almost cartoonishly among many Western commentators. They describe them as uniformly Shi‘ite (they are not, even if Shi’ites make up the vast majority) and Iranian proxies (certainly, Iranian officials would like to co-opt them and perhaps do some but most are at heart Iraqi nationalists). Contrary to some reports, there was no widespread abuse, looting, or burning of homes in Tikrit when the volunteers defeated ISIS.

At any rate, if the goal is to fight and defeat ISIS and if Iraqis cannot rely on outside powers to help with any consistency, then they would be foolish to sit around and wait to conduct full military training, nor do many ordinary Iraqis have any wish to make a three-year commitment to the Iraqi army. The training program announced by President Obama for Syrians to fight ISIS has gone nowhere, but perhaps that was the point, and so the Hashd has become an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem. Does that mean the United States, Iraqis, or others should be sanguine about the Hashd? No. They are a short-term solution which will pose a long-term threat to Iraq, as many will expect a reward or patronage position for their service.

Norman Cigar, perhaps the most skilled and precise linguist and military analyst of the Middle East (whose work I have previously cited here) is out with a new publication through the United States Army War College Press entitled “Iraqi Shi’a Warlords and Their Militias,” which is a free .pdf here. It’s probably the most complete, nuanced, and realistic take to date on both the various militias and the issues raised by their existence, especially in the post-ISIS order. He addresses key questions such as how the militias are mobilized, and the breakdown between those used to fight versus those deemed unfit and perhaps instead relegated to guard duty. He breaks down the numbers in each militia and, for all the talk about leveraging tribes, he discusses how various tribes delivered volunteers for the militias. He also addresses training, equipping, maintaining, and feeding the militias, the logistical elements seldom discussed.

Looking to the future, Cigar is realistic. Iraqis will continue to embrace the militias unless there is a significant foreign military force that can supplant them to counter the Islamic State challenge. Americans like to condemn the militias, but at the same time there is no appetite in the White House or Congress for a significant military deployment back into Iraq. That means the militias are here to stay. The Kurds provide no substitute. Not only is Cigar realistic about the capabilities of the Peshmerga, but he also recognizes the political limitations given Kurdish disunity and disinterest in combatting ISIS in territories in which the Kurds have no interest. Then the question turns into how the militia reality might impact future organization. Will, he ponders, the militias be folded into an organization much like Iran’s Basij? Indeed, for better or worse, this might be the model that most Iraqis are familiar. And if, alternately, there is demobilization, how will that occur?

A decade ago, no one foresaw the rise of the Islamic State or, conversely, of the Hashd. And while the Islamic State needn’t be a fact-of-life if the United States and regional powers were serious about defeating it, the Hashd are now here to stay. Simply condemning them all as Iranian agents is neither accurate nor productive. Rather, it’s time to confront the new reality and craft policies to accommodate or perhaps alter it. Either way, Cigar’s monograph is unique, essential, and a great place to start.

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Capitalism at Work

The secret of capitalism is free entry to the marketplace. In theory in a capitalist economy, if you have an idea for a product that you think you can sell at a profit, you need merely produce it and take it to market. If you are right, you create wealth for yourself and others. If you’re wrong, you lose money. (In the real world, of course, government often restricts access to the marketplace, requiring licenses and certificates of need for all sorts of goods and services.) Read More

The secret of capitalism is free entry to the marketplace. In theory in a capitalist economy, if you have an idea for a product that you think you can sell at a profit, you need merely produce it and take it to market. If you are right, you create wealth for yourself and others. If you’re wrong, you lose money. (In the real world, of course, government often restricts access to the marketplace, requiring licenses and certificates of need for all sorts of goods and services.)

There have been some spectacular miscalculations, such as New Coke and the Edsel, but also equally spectacular home runs, such as the iPhone and, in the 1980’s, the video cassette recorder (VCR).

There have also been no shortage of silly, but fleetingly profitable, ideas such as the Pet Rock introduced in 1975. And, of course, many a profit has been made off human gullibility and ignorance. It is an abiding characteristic of free markets that fools and their money are soon parted.

Yesterday I ran across a great example of this. At my local supermarket, you can now buy water for $2.50 a quart. Milk at this supermarket costs $1.48 a quart, $2.44 a half gallon.

Water

The market (DeCicco’s) is, admittedly, a rather upscale one, with lots of fancy cheeses, pâtés, microbrewery beers, and organic and gluten-free everything. They even have gluten-free ice cream, which is interesting as ice cream doesn’t have gluten in it to begin with. Gluten is a protein found only in wheat, barley, and rye products. But DeCicco’s also has everything from Wheaties to Hamburger Helper.

The marketing gimmick here is that a box made from recycled whatever is more eco-friendly than the ubiquitous plastic bottles supermarket water usually comes in. The water itself is merely an afterthought. It doesn’t come from some secret spring in the Austrian Alps known only to yodeling goatherds. Indeed, there is no indication where the water comes from, which means it comes from the tap at the factory.

So the business plan for “Boxed Water” is that there are people out there so anxious to save the planet that they will fork over $2.50 for a quart of tap water.

I admit to having a double dose of the Scottish frugality gene, but really. Who would be that stupid (and affluent) to pay $2.50 a quart for tap water? Apparently quite a few as, according to the check-out girl, it is selling quite briskly. P. T. Barnum, call your office.

Perhaps the next attempt to capture the damn-fools-with-too-much-money market will be organic, gluten-free air, packaged in recyclable balloons, $2.50 a lungful.

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The Beatification of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s effort to run among the most anodyne, milquetoast campaigns for the presidency in American history is apparently paying off. A candidate who dares not speak much, and when she does says only aphorisms universally beloved by the left-leaning constituents she is courting, should inspire frustration among those tasked with speaking truth to power: namely, the political press. Instead, when Clinton dares to open her mouth on even a modestly controversial subject, she is lauded as a figure of unparalleled bravery and poise. Meanwhile, those candidates who have traversed objectively stormy seas, navigated political minefields, taken legitimately controversial stands, and stared down their constituents are given sideways glances by their chroniclers in the media. The latest example of this phenomenon from the Washington Post is nothing short of a disgrace. Read More

Hillary Clinton’s effort to run among the most anodyne, milquetoast campaigns for the presidency in American history is apparently paying off. A candidate who dares not speak much, and when she does says only aphorisms universally beloved by the left-leaning constituents she is courting, should inspire frustration among those tasked with speaking truth to power: namely, the political press. Instead, when Clinton dares to open her mouth on even a modestly controversial subject, she is lauded as a figure of unparalleled bravery and poise. Meanwhile, those candidates who have traversed objectively stormy seas, navigated political minefields, taken legitimately controversial stands, and stared down their constituents are given sideways glances by their chroniclers in the media. The latest example of this phenomenon from the Washington Post is nothing short of a disgrace.

Reporters often loathe being accused of crafting or husbanding a “narrative.” For obvious reasons, they would prefer to think of themselves as neutral arbiters of facts and stewards of balance. But the disbelief one is required to suspend to maintain that fiction while reading Washington Post reporters Phillip Rucker and Anne Gearen’s latest dispatch is too much to suffer. Their latest, “While GOP candidates stammer, Clinton directly confronts race,” is not inaccurate so much as it is a transparent hagiography of the prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee. Her accomplishment? Nobly committing to endure the absolute minimum level of discomfort expected of a presidential candidate.

In assessing the political impact of the aftermath of the atrocity in Charleston, South Carolina perpetrated by an anachronistic racist terrorist, Rucker and Gearen make no pretense of their cause: They came to praise Clinton and to bury those Republicans vying to challenge her next year.

Noting, also not inaccurately, that Republican 2016 hopefuls largely “stammered and stumbled,” or even “lacked sensitivity” when addressing the violence, these Washington Post reporters maintained that Clinton “has forcefully initiated a conversation about race and bigotry.” Quite the “contrast,” they add in a piece that is ostensibly straight reportage.

“The candidates have been balancing the political imperative to present a welcoming face to minority and moderate voters with hesitancy to turn off conservative white voters who see the Confederate flag as a representation of their family heritage and Southern traditions,” The report added. “Clinton’s allies said that her focus on race relations was in keeping with her life’s journey. She grew up during the 1960s civil rights movement and has said that going to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Chicago as a teenager was a formative moment.”

It’s almost as if that “contrast” these reporters are observing is one that they are also committed to enabling.

At no point in this piece did the reporters note the Clintons, too, have a complex relationship with the Confederate flag. A Clinton-Gore button from 1992 graced with the Confederate battle flag has led many to wonder if Hillary Clinton’s husband’s campaign endorsed it. But the likely Democratic standard-bearer’s campaign has thus far refused to comment on that matter. How courageous.

There are reasons to believe that Bill Clinton might have embraced this and other campaign buttons that cast him and his Tennessee-based running mate as sons of the South. As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton  signed a bill affirming that one of the stars on his state’s flag would stand in commemoration of the Confederate States of America. Even former Clinton advisor Paul Begala insisted that Hillary Clinton “absolutely” has to answer for standing by her husband’s decision on that matter all those years ago. The Post, however, seems unconcerned with Clinton’s silence on this issue, too.

As narratives go, the Post’s reporters made a conscious effort to embrace one over another equally compelling version of the aftermath of the Charleston shootings. The reporters spent an inordinate amount of time, perhaps reluctantly, noting that Clinton was forced after lagging behind events to praise Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for having the real courage to defy her constituents and demand that the rebel flag be furled forever. Haley is, after all, a Southern Republican governor — a woman and a minority — taking down the flag that was erected first by one of her Democratic predecessors in 1962. Republicans purged the South of the scourge of slavery amid a bloody civil war; Republicans oversaw the dismantling of Jim Crow and the desegregation of the Deep South; and now Republicans, from South Carolina to Mississippi, are flouting some of their more recalcitrant voters and ridding the South of that symbol of rebellion once and for all. The last time Clinton called for the Confederate flag to be lowered in the South was, her campaign insists, 2007. Such bravery.

This narrative didn’t seem to interest the Post’s neutral and dispassionate political reporters. Instead, what captured their imaginations was a speech Clinton gave to a room full of liberal supporters where she lamented persistent racial tensions and gun violence in America. What courage is there to be found in a liberal telling a room full of like-minded fellows what they already believe? It takes an empirical, objective political reporter to see it. For Rucker who was among the many reporters seen celebrating at the wedding of a Ready for Hillary staff member and her campaign’s director for grassroots engagement over the weekend, you would think he would display a bit more decorum. Apparently, modesty and an adversarial relationship with those on whom you are required to report is no longer a value that the nation’s journalistic class is prepared to uphold or enforce with much vigor. Unless, of course, that subject is a Republican.

The Post is not alone in effusively praising the pabulum on race that passes for courage from Hillary Clinton. New York Times reporter Amy Chozick averred yesterday that “frank discussions” on race have characterized Clinton’s whole career in politics, and she will continue those discussions this week. Assertions from Clinton like her pledge to make “voting easier” for African-Americans and her lament that “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished” are not brave displays, as Chozick contends. They are, in fact, rather unsubstantial polemics. There are real hard questions and thorny issues relating to race in America. On specific and potentially alienating policy preferences that would be required to address them, Clinton has largely chosen to remain silent. It should now be clear that this is a feature, not a bug, associated with Hillary Clinton 2.0.

Republicans like Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn who are telling their voters that they are wrong, that they have made a virtue of vice, and to suffer the associated consequences is truly courageous. To preach shibboleths before roomfuls of the already converted is something else entirely. For reporters in desperate need of a story that paints Clinton in a favorable light, however, the latter will do in a pinch.

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It’s Not France, But an Obama Diktat That Israel Fears

With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

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With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

On Friday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack in the West Bank applauded by Hamas. On Sunday, a West Bank Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem in another of what are actually fairly routine incidents of terror. Though the Netanyahu has recently relaxed security measures intended to forestall such attacks, Palestinian assaults on Israelis are so commonplace that U.S. newspapers like the New York Times mention them only in passing and sometimes not all.

While a two-state solution would be ideal and is favored, at least in principle, by most Israelis, terror incidents highlight why large majorities regard the prospect of a complete withdrawal from the West Bank or a partition of Jerusalem are seen as madness. It’s not just that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly shown that it has no intention of ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor that Hamas, though it might endorse a continuation of the cease-fire along the Gaza border is utterly committed to war to destroy Israel. It’s also that both the PA and its Hamas rivals routinely broadcast hate and sympathy for terrorists who slaughter Jews. It is that culture of violence and rejection of coexistence still governs Palestinian politics making a two-state solution impossible even if their leaders were prepared to try to make peace.

As President Obama’s fruitless attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction showed over the last six years, more initiatives aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians actually lessened the chances of peace rather than strengthening them. That’s because each such gesture that demonstrated the unfortunate daylight that Michael Oren wrote about in his memoir only convinced the Palestinians that they need only wait for the West to deliver Israel’s surrender to them on a silver platter. That’s as true today as it has ever been.

The danger here is not just of French or European meddling that will encourage the Palestinians to keep refusing to return to direct negotiations with Israel. It’s that a proposal put forward in the next few months (assuming that Iran is off the table by then) will give President Obama a chance to demonstrate whether the off-the-record comments of administration aides that predict a U.S. abandonment of Israel at the UN are accurate. Obama has been sending clear signals to Israel and its supporters — even as he seeks to disarm their justified alarm at his Iran entente — that this administration intends to take at least one more shot at bludgeoning the Netanyahu government into submission,

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s warning to Fabius that Israel will never accept a “diktat” on matters that concern its security was entirely justified. In response, Fabius said diktat wasn’t a word that was part of his French vocabulary. But it’s not a French initiative that worries Netanyahu but the very real possibility of an Obama diktat that lurks behind it. Though President Obama may not speak German, Netanyahu is right to fear that the lame duck in the White House understands the word all too well.

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Why the State Department Won’t Discuss ‘Parameters’ for Iran

Another day, another attempt to have the State Department – one week before the deadline for a deal – state the U.S. position regarding Iran’s obligation to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. At yesterday’s press conference, the State Department spokesperson was asked to clarify his comments from Friday, which he had made in response to requests that he clarify his comments from Wednesday, and once again he declined to answer a basic question about the deal:

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Another day, another attempt to have the State Department – one week before the deadline for a deal – state the U.S. position regarding Iran’s obligation to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. At yesterday’s press conference, the State Department spokesperson was asked to clarify his comments from Friday, which he had made in response to requests that he clarify his comments from Wednesday, and once again he declined to answer a basic question about the deal:

QUESTION: … In your responses to us on Friday, you alluded to the possibility that the final deal could contain – your word now – “parameters” for IAEA access. And I just want to nail this down with you so that there is clarity. Could it be the case that any final deal that we would negotiate and ink would itself contain parameters for access that would be subject to further negotiation after the finalization of the final deal?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to talk about what the final deal will or will not look like. Again, negotiators are hard at work right now, and I think we need to give them the space to do that work. What I – what is true, however, is that at Lausanne in April, it was agreed that Iran would provide the parameters to allow the necessary access by IAEA inspectors. That was agreed in April, and that agreement is still in effect. That does not constitute the final deal, though, James, and that’s what they’re working out right now. And that’s really as far as I can go with it today.

Actually, the April 2, 2015 “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” does not contain the word “parameters” in the bullet point regarding the IAEA’s longstanding concerns about Iran’s PMDs. The bullet point provides as follows: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program” (emphasis added).

In four successive press conferences, reporters have asked whether the deal is going to contain the “measures,” or just “parameters”; whether requiring Iran to “address” the IAEA concerns means Iran must resolve them, or just make some response to the IAEA (since Iran has been stiffing the IAEA’s questions for years); whether the IAEA’s concerns regarding PMDs need to be fully resolved before sanctions are eased or removed or suspended; etc. In the four days, no less than seven reporters have been asking the questions, and none of the questions has been answered.

Perhaps reporters will try a fifth time, but there is a reason the State Department spokesperson will not answer these questions. Whatever the administration is able to negotiate with Iran, the administration is going to call a “good deal.” If it were to state now that the deal must contain specific measures enabling the IAEA to fully resolve its concerns about the PMDs before sanctions are eased, removed, or suspended, the administration will have provided Congress a standard by which to judge whether the deal is a good one. But it has become obvious that the administration believes that any deal is better than no deal, so that any deal is – by definition – good, even if it only has “parameters” that “address” PMD concerns but do not resolve them, and even if sanctions relief is not dependent on such a resolution.

After four days of questions that could easily be answered if the administration were concerned about having its demands met, rather than having a deal done, it is clear that the almost comic refusal of the State Department spokesperson to answer direct questions, posed multiple times by multiple reporters day after day, is a reflection of the colossal collapse on PMDs, which itself is simply the latest in the cascade of concessions by an administration desperate for a deal. There will be more.

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Anbar Sleeps Once More

For years, the United States has been throwing away the hard-won successes of the Iraq Surge. They were, however, previously discarded largely as a result of President Barack Obama’s ambivalence toward their value. Today, the president abandons America’s gains in Iraq actively and with insight into the dire consequences of his actions. It’s time to abandon Hanlon’s Razor; for the sake of political expediency, this White House is prepared to bequeath his successor not just an Iraq in tatters but also a region in flames.

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For years, the United States has been throwing away the hard-won successes of the Iraq Surge. They were, however, previously discarded largely as a result of President Barack Obama’s ambivalence toward their value. Today, the president abandons America’s gains in Iraq actively and with insight into the dire consequences of his actions. It’s time to abandon Hanlon’s Razor; for the sake of political expediency, this White House is prepared to bequeath his successor not just an Iraq in tatters but also a region in flames.

One of the great gains of the Surge is what came to be known as the “Anbar Awakening.” In late 2006 and into 2007, Sunni Arab leaders in the restive western Anbar Province that had once tolerated the heavy hand of al-Qaeda in Iraq in order to prevent encroaching Shiite influence united against their oppressors. Contrary to the popular mythology espoused by al-Qaeda leadership, the United States had demonstrated that it was a Middle Eastern power. It would not simply retreat amid a slow bloodletting at the hands of the insurgency. As Bing West observed, the American military showed that it was “the strongest tribe,” and the region’s leaders were prepared to throw their lots in with America.

Today, with the fall of Ramadi to ISIS apparently representing a new status quo, there is no doubt about who is the strongest tribe in Anbar. Many of the region’s Sunni clerics and tribal leaders who resisted ISIS’s advance were exiled or slaughtered by the renewed insurgency. Those who remain have now accepted their overlords. “A number of Sunni tribal sheikhs and tribes in Iraq’s Anbar province have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group,” Al Jazeera reported earlier this month. “The sheikhs and tribal leaders made the pledge on Wednesday in Fallujah in a statement read out by Ahmed Dara al-Jumaili, an influential sheikh, after a meeting.”

The gains of the Surge are lost. Anbar is again asleep.

Compounding the impression among Anbar’s Sunni elites that a Shiite conspiracy is afoot that will only further undermine their influence in their home governorate is the fact that the United States has so flagrantly traded expediency for strategic competence by, reportedly, inviting Iran-backed Shiite militias into Anbar. Not only are militias loyal to Tehran operating inside Anbar, they are doing so alongside U.S. service personnel and within the same base.

“Two senior administration officials confirmed to us that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both using the Taqqadum military base in Anbar, the same Iraqi base where President Obama is sending an additional 450 U.S. military personnel to help train the local forces fighting against the Islamic State,” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported. “Some of the Iran-backed Shiite militias at the base have killed American soldiers in the past.”

As galling as that last sentence may be — and it is galling — it is even more disheartening to know that the Sunni leaders in Anbar now have even more reason to tacitly or even openly welcome the ISIS insurgency, regardless of how brutal it might be. It’s hard to square the revelation that American troops and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power’s September 2014 contention that “we are not coordinating military operations or sharing intelligence with Iran.” The direct communication between forces that take orders from the Pentagon and those that are loyal to Tehran is now overt.

What’s harder to comprehend, however, is how this strategy would lead to a lasting victory against ISIS in Iraq. What seems more likely is that it would sow the seeds of a new civil war, and a real one, in the vacuum that would follow ISIS’s retreat and America’s second withdrawal from Iraq.

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As the Flag Comes Down, the Civil War May Finally Be Over

Let’s hope South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley finally put an end to the debate over the Confederate flag Monday afternoon with her announcement that, “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” Long viewed by African Americans and others as an offensive symbol of racism, the flag became an issue again last week when a lone wolf racist terrorist entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine black Americans at prayer. Alleged murderer Dylann Roof had embraced the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy on his website where he also spewed racist and anti-Semitic hate. The response from some was that we should respect the flag as part of Southern heritage and a piece of history. But, fortunately, the impulse among some in South Carolina to reject these calls as Yankee interference was overcome both by grief over the murders and common sense. But beyond the imperative of the moment to make some symbolic gesture against hate (that also simplifies things for Republicans who feared to cross conservatives who might still revere the flag), the governor’s decision signals that, even in some parts of the Southern imagination, the Civil War is finally over. This isn’t political correctness or revisionism; it’s closure that was long overdue. And it’s absolutely vital if we are to rise above a persistent racism that President Obama cited in an interview that, like many of his pronouncements on race, seemed designed more to inflame sentiments than heal them.

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Let’s hope South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley finally put an end to the debate over the Confederate flag Monday afternoon with her announcement that, “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” Long viewed by African Americans and others as an offensive symbol of racism, the flag became an issue again last week when a lone wolf racist terrorist entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine black Americans at prayer. Alleged murderer Dylann Roof had embraced the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy on his website where he also spewed racist and anti-Semitic hate. The response from some was that we should respect the flag as part of Southern heritage and a piece of history. But, fortunately, the impulse among some in South Carolina to reject these calls as Yankee interference was overcome both by grief over the murders and common sense. But beyond the imperative of the moment to make some symbolic gesture against hate (that also simplifies things for Republicans who feared to cross conservatives who might still revere the flag), the governor’s decision signals that, even in some parts of the Southern imagination, the Civil War is finally over. This isn’t political correctness or revisionism; it’s closure that was long overdue. And it’s absolutely vital if we are to rise above a persistent racism that President Obama cited in an interview that, like many of his pronouncements on race, seemed designed more to inflame sentiments than heal them.

One must respect the respect for history on the part of those who, like our John Steele Gordon, see honoring the legacy of those who fought for the Confederacy as distinct from the pro-slavery cause or the post-war atrocities committed in the name of the so-called “lost cause.” As our Max Boot rightly pointed out earlier today, the myths about the Confederacy helped fuel a political culture that created despicable Jim Crow laws and segregationist practices that were a blot on America’s honor for a century.

Part of the debate about the symbols of the Confederacy was an attempt to paint the Civil War as being a conflict primarily motivated by the defense of state’s rights as opposed to slavery. That was always dubious history, but it fed the idea that that two sides to the war were essentially both justified or at least not involved in a conflict between good and evil. It is true that the North had no monopoly on righteousness, especially when one takes into account the crucial role those in the free states had in keeping slavery alive and even profitable. But lost in the attempt to bridge the divide between the two sides and make them both equally heroic, if not right, was the fact that those who fought for the Confederacy were fighting to keep slavery even if they were not slaveholders. Though we cannot judge them by the standards of our own day (a scrutiny that even Lincoln might not withstand), neither should we accept the conceit that both sides were engaged in an equally glorious endeavor. African-Americans rightly believed that the embrace of the Confederacy was not only offensive but also a denial of the basic truth that in a war over slavery. We should not be honoring both sides equally.

For a century, some southerners kept the war alive. At first, it was to rationalize their mad decision to destroy their region in a war that couldn’t be won. Then, it was to justify Jim Crow. As Max wrote, that South is dead. It lives on only in the fever swamps where extremists like Roof rage and neo-Confederates confuse legitimate contemporary arguments about the abuse of power by the federal government with illegitimate ones against the efforts of the Lincoln administration to preserve the Union. Those who want to celebrate the heritage of the South might do well in the future to refocus their hero-worship on the many Southerners that kept their oaths to the United States and fought for the Union rather than to destroy it to preserve an evil that still should still horrify us.

It took 150 years but Governor Haley’s promise that as of the next July 4th, only the flags of the United States and South Carolina would fly over state property was a much needed official acknowledgement in the place where the Civil War started that any governmental embrace of these symbols is outdated and harmful. While individuals have as much right to wave the Confederate flag as they do to burn an American one, let this be the end of the argument as well as an end to any idea of treating the Confederacy as anything but an embarrassing stain on American history.

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Losing the Eastern Mediterranean to Russia?

While Greece has been a member of NATO since 1952, anti-Americanism has often run high in Greece. In 1974, Greek leftists assassinated the CIA’s station chief in Athens (after the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank still operating in Washington, DC, outed him). During the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, popular Greek sentiment often leaned toward the fellow Orthodox communities rather than the Catholic or Muslim communities often supported by NATO members. Read More

While Greece has been a member of NATO since 1952, anti-Americanism has often run high in Greece. In 1974, Greek leftists assassinated the CIA’s station chief in Athens (after the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank still operating in Washington, DC, outed him). During the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, popular Greek sentiment often leaned toward the fellow Orthodox communities rather than the Catholic or Muslim communities often supported by NATO members.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras is openly flirting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. For Putin, foreign policy and diplomacy are zero sum games. Flipping Greece, withdrawing it from NATO or, more dangerously, keeping it in NATO as a consensus-busting Trojan horse at a time when political tension if not conflict looms between Putin’s Russia and many European states and NATO members formerly under Soviet tutelage.

Much of the discussion about losing Greece to Russia, however, overlooks some major issues. The United States has exactly one naval facility in the Eastern Mediterranean, and it is on the Greek island of Crete at Souda Bay. It is not unreasonable that a price Russia would demand in exchange for keeping Greece solvent would be the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Crete. After all, Putin previously used financial leverage to force American forces out of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Russia has also been putting the moves on Cyprus, which also finds itself in dire financial straits. Earlier this year, for example, Russian officials floated the idea of a base on Cyprus, a move that would enable it to project power more regularly in the region. While the Russian navy withdrew from the Eastern Mediterranean in 1992 in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, in May 2013, Putin announced a permanent 16-ship Russian Mediterranean task force. A base in Greece or Cyprus would also provide useful backup to the existing Russian base at Tartous, in Syria.

Of course, it’s not simply a matter of grabbing territory wherever it might. The Eastern Mediterranean is becoming increasingly strategic and valuable for energy purposes. Eastern Mediterranean gas is not simply theoretical but is now a fact of life. It also provides the best mechanism, whether through off-shore gas fields or the pipeline terminal in Ceyhan, Turkey, for Europe to bypass the stranglehold Russia has on gas to Europe.

President Obama can talk about a “pivot to Asia,” but increasingly it’s not a simple choice about whether to emphasize defense in the Persian Gulf or Asia: The whole world is in play and adversaries—Russia, China, and Iran—smell the blood of American weakness in the water and prepare to launch a strategic feeding frenzy unseen in half a century, if not more.

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Inside Obama’s Head With Michael Oren

Michael Oren has been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse from the Obama administration for his memoir in which the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States detailed Washington’s hostility to the Jewish state over the past six years. But the second wave of attacks on Oren’s memoir has gone beyond the efforts of administration figures seeking to deny reality about the way the president sought to downgrade the alliance with Israel and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and Iran. Now the battle over Oren’s embarrassing revelations and all-too sharp insights has shifted to false charges alleging that his criticisms of Obama were “insensitive” because of his attempt to understand the president’s thinking as well as efforts to claim that the current member of Knesset made false charges against the New York Times or a prominent Jewish critic of the Israeli government. All these allegations against Oren are false. More to the point, the attack on Michael Oren says a lot more about the liberal imperative to destroy any critic of America’s dear leader than they do about Oren’s judgment or credibility.

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Michael Oren has been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse from the Obama administration for his memoir in which the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States detailed Washington’s hostility to the Jewish state over the past six years. But the second wave of attacks on Oren’s memoir has gone beyond the efforts of administration figures seeking to deny reality about the way the president sought to downgrade the alliance with Israel and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and Iran. Now the battle over Oren’s embarrassing revelations and all-too sharp insights has shifted to false charges alleging that his criticisms of Obama were “insensitive” because of his attempt to understand the president’s thinking as well as efforts to claim that the current member of Knesset made false charges against the New York Times or a prominent Jewish critic of the Israeli government. All these allegations against Oren are false. More to the point, the attack on Michael Oren says a lot more about the liberal imperative to destroy any critic of America’s dear leader than they do about Oren’s judgment or credibility.

The most damaging allegation against Oren comes from someone who is normally a bulwark of support for Israel: Abe Foxman, the outgoing head of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman claims in an ADL press release that Oren’s essay in Foreign Policy magazine published last Friday contained a passage that he labeled with the most damning phrase that can be uttered against someone in this all-too-politically correct age: “insensitive.”

What did Oren say? He had the chutzpah to speculate as to what had driven the clear animus against Israel that Oren observed in an up close and personal fashion during his four years as his government’s envoy in Washington. As he did in his book, Oren said he devoted a great deal of thought to trying to figure out what was at the roots of the president’s insatiable and generally unrequited (with the exception of Iran’s regime in the nuclear talks) desire for outreach to the Muslim world that was exemplified in his 2009 Cairo address and his clear belief that America should distance itself from Israel. His primary answer was that Obama was the product of the elite academic institutions where he studied, such as Columbia University where radical Palestinian intellectual Edward Said shaped attitudes toward Islam and Israel. He also noted that the president’s personal experiences had made him more predisposed to view Islam as fundamentally unthreatening and to be uncomfortable with confronting the religious roots of Islamist terrorism even to the point of refusing to label the attacks in Paris this past January as being anti-Semitic.

In addition to its academic and international affairs origins, Obama’s attitudes toward Islam clearly stem from his personal interactions with Muslims. These were described in depth in his candid memoir, Dreams from My Father, published 13 years before his election as president. Obama wrote passionately of the Kenyan villages where, after many years of dislocation, he felt most at home and of his childhood experiences in Indonesia. I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.

Merely referencing Obama’s family and his connections to Muslims (or even his middle name Hussein) is considered evidence of prejudice by many of the president’s supporters. But it was particularly egregious of Foxman to claim these words showed Oren was engaging in “conspiracy theories.” But Oren wasn’t claiming the president was a Muslim rather than a Christian or an agent of Islam, as some rabid Obama-haters claim. As a historian, he was merely exploring the president’s own autobiography to see what in his background helped formed a mindset that led him to see an Islamist regime like Iran as a worthy focus of American engagement.

Oren may well be accused of engaging in amateur psychoanalysis in the manner that many political observers employ in trying to get inside the head of leaders. But Oren is neither a birther nor a borderline racist, as Foxman seems to imply. Nor is it somehow prejudicial to Muslims, African-Americans, or even the president as an individual to comb his best-selling memoir for information that might explain an otherwise puzzling set of policy preferences and behaviors. Moreover it was simply false of Foxman to allege that speculation about the president’s background was Oren’s primary thesis when he spent far more space in both the Foreign Policy article and his book discussing other possible reasons. Though he claims to have often been a critic of the president’s policies toward Israel and Iran (though he has rarely been as personal or as publicly vocal in doing so as he has been in attacking Oren) Foxman seems to be following a more common pattern of behavior which consists of kowtowing to whichever party is in power in order to preserve his group’s access to the White House.

Equally egregious were other press attacks. In the Forward, Larry Cohler-Esses claims Oren wasn’t truthful when he relates a damning conversation in his book with New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal. Oren said that Rosenthal defended his decision to allow Mahmoud Abbas write a piece that, “suggested that the Arabs had accepted the U.N.’s Partition Plan in 1947 while Israel rejected it.” To Oren’s surprise and incredulity, the editor said this historical fact was a matter of opinion. Cohler-Esses then offers a link to the Abbas piece and says Oren’s charge was untrue and that Abbas had made no such claim. Those who don’t click on the link may accept the writer’s conclusion and agree that other facts in the book might be similarly suspect. But Oren is correct. Abbas speaks of the United Nations passing a partition plan that was followed by an Israeli invasion of Palestinian land and expelling the Arabs. The passage not only omitted that the Arab and Muslim world declared war on the partition resolution and that five Arab armies invaded Israel on the day it was born. He also clearly implied that it was the Israelis who rejected the UN vote and the Arabs who were its supporters. The only person whose credibility — or reading comprehension — that is at fault here is Cohler-Esses. Oren’s charge against the Times and Rosenthal stand up to scrutiny. But for some liberals attacking the Times is just as offensive as calling out Obama for his policies.

Another such example comes from Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, who writes that Oren compared former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier’s antagonism to Prime Minister Netanyahu to anti-Semitism. But, here again, the critics are distorting the truth. It was Wieseltier who admitted that his attitude was “pathological.” Ravid tries to paint Oren as attacking all liberal Jews as self-hating or fearful when the book says nothing of the kind, but does point out that some on the left had abandoned Israel, a statement so obviously true that it doesn’t need any defense.

The point here of these attacks on Oren by the left as well as groups that clearly fear the wrath of the administration is that they are not content to argue against the former ambassador’s straight-forward and painfully obvious thesis about Obama. Some on the right, like Israel Hayom’s Ruthie Blum, think Oren is far too soft on Obama. Oren absolves him of any feelings of hatred toward Israel and often cites examples of his support in what seems like a self-consciously even-handed approach to the subject. But for the sin of pointing out the president’s clear decision to distance the U.S. from Israel and to unsuccessfully embrace the Muslim world and trying to find a reason for this decision, Oren’s must be not merely be criticized by the left, the historian-turned-diplomat-turned-Knesset member must be destroyed.

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The White House’s Latest ObamaCare Lie

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was pitched and eventually sold to the American public on a foundation of lies. Many of the most egregious examples of the calculated mendacity of ObamaCare’s designers were exposed by the law’s very implementation, but a few of its more subtle deceptions and the duplicity of the law’s authors was revealed in a series of videos featuring the refreshingly honest Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and health care policy advisor Jonathan Gruber. It is fitting that, just days before the Supreme Court issues what might be its most far-reaching verdict regarding the ACA’s fraudulence, Gruber is again in the news. Read More

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was pitched and eventually sold to the American public on a foundation of lies. Many of the most egregious examples of the calculated mendacity of ObamaCare’s designers were exposed by the law’s very implementation, but a few of its more subtle deceptions and the duplicity of the law’s authors was revealed in a series of videos featuring the refreshingly honest Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and health care policy advisor Jonathan Gruber. It is fitting that, just days before the Supreme Court issues what might be its most far-reaching verdict regarding the ACA’s fraudulence, Gruber is again in the news.

As soon as the Affordable Care Act was implemented and revealed its hideous, multifarious visage to the public, the lies at the heart of the law became apparent even to observers committed to ensuring its success.

Premiums rose both for those on and off Affordable Care Act-related plans. Patients began losing their cherished and long-patronized doctors. The Supreme Court virtually rewrote the law when it ignored the administration and the solicitor general when it determined that the government had no right to penalize the public for failing to purchase health insurance. None of this would have come as a surprise to anyone who attended one of Gruber’s many lectures.

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” the health care policy advisor conceded, because “if CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”

As for the substance of the case the Court will rule on before the end of the month in King v. Burwell, Gruber appeared to validate the claims of those who believe the law was intentionally crafted to deny states the subsidies they presently enjoy if they did not set up a state-run insurance exchange. “There’s a lot of responsibilities on the states to set up these exchanges, like we did in Massachusetts, to regulate them and run them,” Gruber insisted in 2011. “Will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange, you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens?”

Later that year, Gruber expanded on his frustrations with those Republicans who opposed this monstrous social engineering scheme that had taken the form of a health care reform bill. “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens doesn’t get their tax credits,” he noted.

Most infamously, Gruber insisted that none of this would have been possible if not for him and his fellows’ faith in the “stupidity of the American voter.” He added “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

Perhaps fearing the obvious political fallout that would eventually result from these acerbic statements, those who invested their futures in the ACA rushed to insist that they had never heard of the man once praised by Democrats as the most accomplished man in his field. “I don’t know who he is,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Gruber. “He didn’t help write our bill.”

“I just heard about this,” President Barack Obama insisted amid growing national scandal. “The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is no reflection on the actual process that was run.”

According to emails belatedly obtained by House Oversight Committee investigators, however, Gruber had more fingerprints on the bill than its crafters would have preferred to admit. “The emails show frequent consultations between Mr. Gruber and top Obama administration staffers and advisers in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services on the Affordable Care Act,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. “They show he informed HHS about interviews with reporters and discussions with lawmakers, and he consulted with HHS about how to publicly describe his role.”

The emails show Mr. Gruber was in touch with key advisers such as Peter Orszag, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House that oversaw federal programs.

He was also in contact with Jason Furman, an economic adviser to the president, and Ezekiel Emanuel, who was then a special adviser for health policy at OMB.

One email indicates Mr. Gruber was invited to meet with Mr. Obama. In a July 2009 email, he wrote that Mr. Orszag had “invited me to meet with the head honcho to talk about cost control.”

“Thank you for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment,” according to Sept. 9, 2009 email to Mr. Gruber from Jeanne Lambrew, a top Obama administration health adviser who worked at HHS and the White House. In a November 2009 email, she called Mr. Gruber “our hero.”

The report quotes a Health and Human Services spokeswoman who adopted the supremely cynical tactic of insisting that all these new revelations contained in emails that the administration sought to keep secret amounted to “old news.” The transition from the Obama to Clinton White House appears to be proceeding apace.

It’s appropriate that Gruber would again become the focus of national controversy with just days to go before the Court decides whether it will again rewrite this hastily crafted law passed only as a result of parliamentary trickery. With just hours to go before that fateful moment, the nation was again reminded of the dishonesty that taints this law. Every step of the way, this White House has tried to foist onto the public legislation that would have long ago been scrapped had they been honest about its designs and effects. This latest bit of compulsive mendacity from the administration is sadly all too familiar.

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Saudi Wikileaks a Reality Check on Iraq

There has been surprising little press attention in the United States to the massive hack and exposure by Wikileaks of 60,000 Saudi diplomatic documents detailing behind-the-scenes maneuvering between Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab countries.

In Iraq, the exposure of Saudi documents has gotten significant attention, however, as it confirms a number of suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s continuous efforts to undermine Iraqi security and democracy and also debunks slightly some of the myths that consume many American policymakers. Read More

There has been surprising little press attention in the United States to the massive hack and exposure by Wikileaks of 60,000 Saudi diplomatic documents detailing behind-the-scenes maneuvering between Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab countries.

In Iraq, the exposure of Saudi documents has gotten significant attention, however, as it confirms a number of suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s continuous efforts to undermine Iraqi security and democracy and also debunks slightly some of the myths that consume many American policymakers.

One Saudi cable, for example, depicts how Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, sought to intercede with Iran to force then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to concede to the Kurds additional oil rights. Maliki refused to listen to the Iranians, however. Perhaps the former prime minister did put Iraqi interests first and foremost. The Saudis weren’t willing to put all their eggs in Barzani’s basket, however; the cables also reveal that in 2012, the Saudis contributed $500,000 to the Islamic Movement, Kurdistan’s more radical and sometimes violent Islamist movement.

Then, of course, was this cable in which the Saudi Foreign Ministry urged the Saudi King to host Barzani to encourage Barzani’s continued opposition to Maliki. Of course, when the Saudi king hosts a regional leader from whom it wants something, it seldom involves letting that politician return home absent a significantly augmented bank account. Iraqi politicians are seemingly unwilling to compromise post-election. Perhaps the problem was Shi‘ite intransigence after all. The cables also suggest that Barzani led a press campaign against Maliki on behalf of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

The Saudi dalliance in Iraqi politics was not simply limited to the Kurds. Ayad Allawi has long been a darling of certain diplomatic and military circles in Washington even though he has declining credibility in Baghdad, where he has cultivated a reputation for being lazy and for wanting to be coronated as Iraqi leader through the political intervention of regional states rather than working, campaigning, and competing in the democratic arena along with everyone else. Indeed, there’s an Iraqi joke about how Maliki once confiscated Allawi’s “Green Zone” pass, but Allawi didn’t realize it for seven months (the implication being he never showed up in Baghdad). Well, now it seems that Allawi was on the Saudi payroll as well: The documents appear to show that the Saudis gave Allawi 2,000 Hajj permits which he could distribute. (Not everyone can simply board a plane and show up for the Hajj; as part of their crown control, the Saudis allocate a quota to each country. Some countries distribute these by lottery, others sell the permits, and some simply use them as patronage). If Allawi sold his permits, he could reap quite a windfall.

Over the course of the last decade, the Iraqis have been resilient, surprising almost all diplomats and analysts who predicted doom and gloom. And while many of Iraq’s current political problems may be self-inflicted, the Saudi revelations show that a major reason why Iraqis seem unable to coalesce is that Saudi Arabia has given prominent politicians favors if not money in order to undermine any consensus. How ironic it is then that so many pundits continue to insist that the current or former leadership in Baghdad is the problem, while they put forward the very politicians that appear to have an unhealthy and unethical relationship with the Saudis as a solution.

To be fair, however, while there is no serious suggestion that the Saudi document cache is fraudulent, it is important to remember the parable of the blind men each describing different parts of the elephant. Saudi malfeasance does not mean exculpation of Iran, for which there is overwhelming evidence of bribery, extortion, and other methods of coercion. When I was preparing to do my Ph.D. at Yale, the faculty unofficially but persistently promoted a 30-year-rule: no serious academic work could be conducted without the passage of decades and without access to the full array of documents shaping those events. To do otherwise would simply be journalism rather than scholarship. The leak of Saudi documents shows once again that academics or journalists who believe they have written the history of the Iraq war and post-war period absent a full array of documents show how faulty their premise to be.

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UN Gaza War Report Leaves No Room for Israeli Self-Defense

After months of anticipation, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council about last summer’s Gaza war is out today and its contents are no surprise. While the UNHRC acknowledged that Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns were acts of terrorism, it concentrated most of its fire on Israel’s attempts to defend its territory and citizens. The UNHRC not only described Israeli actions as “disproportionate and indiscriminate” but also considers the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of Palestinian human rights and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. But while the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths was a tragedy, the UN Gaza war report is predictably skewed not just in terms of its mischaracterization of what were, in fact, highly restrictive rules of engagement that often put Israel Defense Forces personnel in danger, but also seeming to grant Hamas impunity to wage a terror war against Israel’s existence. In effect, what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that allow Hamas to hide amid a civilian population, using them as human shields, and then to claim those trying to stop terror are the real criminals. The United States must not only reject this dangerous precedent, but it ought to withdraw from a biased UN agency that seems to exist largely to single out the Jewish state for unfair treatment.

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After months of anticipation, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council about last summer’s Gaza war is out today and its contents are no surprise. While the UNHRC acknowledged that Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns were acts of terrorism, it concentrated most of its fire on Israel’s attempts to defend its territory and citizens. The UNHRC not only described Israeli actions as “disproportionate and indiscriminate” but also considers the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of Palestinian human rights and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. But while the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths was a tragedy, the UN Gaza war report is predictably skewed not just in terms of its mischaracterization of what were, in fact, highly restrictive rules of engagement that often put Israel Defense Forces personnel in danger, but also seeming to grant Hamas impunity to wage a terror war against Israel’s existence. In effect, what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that allow Hamas to hide amid a civilian population, using them as human shields, and then to claim those trying to stop terror are the real criminals. The United States must not only reject this dangerous precedent, but it ought to withdraw from a biased UN agency that seems to exist largely to single out the Jewish state for unfair treatment.

The UNHRC takes the view that the large number of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli fire around or in their homes is, almost by definition, proof that the IDF misbehaved. Just as wrongheaded is the claim that Israel’s efforts to warn Palestinians to leave specific areas or even specific structures is insufficient to ward off charges of war crimes. But as this feature by Willy Stern published this month by the Weekly Standard shows, the legal process by which IDF strikes are approved is geared toward saving civilian lives goes beyond any notion of what international law requires. Indeed, the Israeli rules, which often endanger Israeli soldiers and allow terrorists to escape simply because of the possibility that civilians might be harmed, are such that they go well beyond the practices what other Western nations, including the United States in its conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq observe.

But when one boils down the UN report to its essentials, it comes to this: The only sort of Israeli action in Gaza that might pass the HRC’s test would be if Israeli soldiers knocked on every door and politely asked if there were any terrorists there and then left if they were told there weren’t. The fact that Hamas deliberately fires its rockets amid and from civilian structures places those in those buildings in harm’s way. Israel tries to warn civilians to leave and even goes to extreme measures such as firing duds at buildings in order to get noncombatants to evacuate them. But Hamas made it clear to civilians that those fleeing the fighting would be considered collaborators if they didn’t stay put. That’s a death threat that Gazans rightly treat as more worrisome than the prospect of being caught in a firefight involving the Israelis. The UNHRC standard is damaging to Israel, but it also hurts the Palestinians since it effectively leaves them at the mercy of the Islamist tyrants that have seized control of Gaza.

Moreover, asking the Israelis not to use heavy weapons in urban areas essentially gives Hamas a further incentive to dig in, as it did, in residential neighborhoods and then dare the Israelis to try to root them out. The results of such actions are sometimes tragic. Though any such deaths are awful, given the scale of the fighting initiated by Hamas, a death toll of even the number of civilians claimed by the UNHRC (other reports place the number of civilians much lower since the UN wrongly allows the Palestinians to declare many Hamas personnel to be noncombatants) is actually quite low. As I noted last week, the fact that other reports and even the verdict of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States is that Israel not only acted properly but also constituted a model for the conduct of armed forces in asymmetrical conflicts illustrates the UNHRC’s bias.

But the main question to be asked here is how a war launched by a terrorist organization operating an independent Palestinian state in all but name can be defended against by the victims of their attacks without incurring some civilian casualties. The point is not just that Hamas’s goal is to kill as many Jewish civilians as possible while the IDF goes to extreme lengths to avoid such deaths. Rather, it is that once a terrorist group sets up operations in an area under its control, sovereign nations attacked by these killers must have the right to conduct defensive operations intended to halt rocket fire and the use of tunnels for kidnapping and murder. If the soldiers of such nations are to be deemed war criminals for using heavy weapons or for mistakes that inevitably happen in the heat of battle amid the fog of war, then what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that give the terrorists impunity.

Moreover, if blockades of areas run by such terrorists bent on destroying their neighbors — the purpose of Hamas’s “resistance to Israel is not to adjust its borders in the West Bank, but to eliminate the Jewish state — are also illegal, then such criminal groups will likewise be granted impunity to set up such states and conduct wars without fear of international sanctions. That Israel’s blockade of Gaza ensured that food and medical supplies continued to flow into the strip even during the war proves how absurd the UN standards are when applied to Israel.

It is that last phrase that is the operative concept at work here. We know that the UN would not dare label any military operation such as the one conducted by Israel as illegal were it carried out by any other nation. The UNHRC largely ignores real human rights crises elsewhere in the world (including next door to Israel in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died) in order to concentrate its condemnations on the Jewish state. The fact that the chair of this commission who guided it for most of its life was a bitter critic of Israel and issued statements prejudging its outcome made this bias even more explicit.

In the end, the UNHRC report does nothing to clarify how nations should conduct wars. But it does tell us everything we need to know about the need for civilized nations to cease supporting an agency that purports to speak in the name of human rights but instead bolsters hate.

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Will the United Church of Christ Declare Israel an Apartheid State?

Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson draws attention to the latest anti-Israel extremism to emerge out of our dying mainline Protestant Churches. Last year, it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year it is the United Church of Christ, representing 4/10 of one percent (and shrinking) of the adult U.S. population. At its 30th General Synod, taking place in Cleveland from June 26-30, three anti-Israel resolutions will be considered. Read More

Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson draws attention to the latest anti-Israel extremism to emerge out of our dying mainline Protestant Churches. Last year, it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year it is the United Church of Christ, representing 4/10 of one percent (and shrinking) of the adult U.S. population. At its 30th General Synod, taking place in Cleveland from June 26-30, three anti-Israel resolutions will be considered.

As Jacobson reports, two of the three resolutions are very similar. Both call for divestment from certain companies said to profit from the “occupation of Palestinian territories” and both call for a boycott of products of those territories. A third goes further, though it is perfectly in keeping with the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement that is in the background of the other resolutions, and calls on the Church to “recognize the actions of Israel against the Palestinians as apartheid.”

Having dealt with this sort of thing before, I will not address the substance of the resolutions here. Instead, I want to note that, as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has its Israel-Palestine Mission Network driving its anti-Israel activities, so the UCC has its Palestine/Israel Network, and its page is, or should be, an embarrassment to everyone involved in UCC. Consider what the Network considers a trustworthy source on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We get, among other things, an article from Countercurrents on “How U.S. Tax Breaks Fund Israeli Settlers.” Countercurrents has also published the authoritative “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews,” which begins “the geopolitical situation demands that the world must confront Jews particularly the ones who hold absolute sway over arms sale [sic], media and the Zionists” (I can’t bring myself to link it, but if you don’t believe me, go to Countercurrents and search for “Jewish.”)

The site also links not once, not twice, but three times, to Counterpunch, a journal with its own issues with anti-Semitism. Although the divestment resolutions both refer to UCC’s 2001 resolution, confessing to the sin of anti-Semitism and denouncing it, the UCCers who are their primary movers appears not to have let that affect their reading habits. Of course, it’s not surprising that they would turn to alternative media sources because as the title of a video they link to, “The Zionists Won’t Let You See This On Your TV,” implies, they believe, or at least are happy to publicize the views of those who believe, that the Zionists control the mainstream media. The video is, by the way, about the Rachel Corrie story. Granted, the media blackout on her case has been disturbing; when you search the New York Times for mention of her, you get only 113 hits.

The gang that produced this helpful guide to educating oneself on the conflict is the gang that has been engaged in educating the United Church of Christ on the issue. I’d like to say that the Church will notice the stench. But as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) showed, many mainline Protestant leaders do not have strong senses of smell when it comes to anti-Semitism.

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Charleston and Our Tragic Impotence

The reaction to the slaughter of nine members of an African-American church in South Carolina demonstrated by the members of the affected community has been one of unfathomable transcendence. The residents of Charleston, guided by divine faith, have responded to unspeakable violence with forgiveness and behaved in a manner that is beyond admirable. The reaction to this event from those who were not immediately affected by it has been quite different. Some have embraced divisiveness, aggression, and litigiousness while others succumbed to fatalism and despair.  These reactions to this act of terror have been muted expressions of torment at the horrible understanding that none of us could have, or likely ever will be able to, prevent evil people with wicked intentions from doing their worst. Read More

The reaction to the slaughter of nine members of an African-American church in South Carolina demonstrated by the members of the affected community has been one of unfathomable transcendence. The residents of Charleston, guided by divine faith, have responded to unspeakable violence with forgiveness and behaved in a manner that is beyond admirable. The reaction to this event from those who were not immediately affected by it has been quite different. Some have embraced divisiveness, aggression, and litigiousness while others succumbed to fatalism and despair.  These reactions to this act of terror have been muted expressions of torment at the horrible understanding that none of us could have, or likely ever will be able to, prevent evil people with wicked intentions from doing their worst.

From almost the moment the news of this barbarity broke (an earthquake is a “tragedy,” this was something else entirely), the commentariat on the left began asking why we as a nation do not call this kind of attack an act of “terrorism.” Of course, we do. A variety of analysts from across the political spectrum condemned this cruel act a terrorist attack. In a definitional sense, the Charleston shootings do not vary discernably from those executed by ISIS or al-Qaeda-inspired lone wolf attackers.

When a 32-year-old ISIS devotee shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo outside the Canadian National War Memorial and stormed parliament in October of Last year, his attack terrorized a community. It was preceded just days prior by hit-and-run attack on two Canadian soldiers executed by a similarly inspired individual. A 16-hour hostage drama in Sydney, Australia, also had its roots in Islamist ideology and terrorized a city. When two gunmen executed a strike on the provocative conference planned by Pamela Geller’s group in Garland, Texas, it was also terrorism. And when a Bosnian man drove a car into a crowd in Austria, emerging from the wreck only to stab passersby until he was subdued, that, too, was a terrorist attack.

The terrorizing effects of all of these events are not distinct from the impact the assault on black parishioners in South Carolina has had on the African-American community. Many on the right made these links, but that did not satisfy those who were supposedly asking why the Charleston attack was not universally dubbed “terrorism.” Their refusal to take yes for an answer exposes the dishonest nature of the question. What they would ask if they possessed the courage is why the United States does not regard the fight against virulent and violent racism like that espoused by the Charleston shooter as the same national military priority and moral imperative as is global war on Islamic radicalism.

Perhaps they do not ask this aloud because the answer is self-evident. Michael Rubin noted recently that the legal definition of terrorism is something distinct from that which you might find in Miriam-Websters. This is one reason FBI Director James Comey refused to call Roof’s attack “terrorism.” Furthermore, those incidents above are dramatically divergent from one recent example of the kind of Islamic terrorism the West is presently fighting a war against: the Charlie Hebdo massacre. That attack, in the planning stages for years after being mandated by an al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, was conducted by two foreign-trained militants. What’s more, that attack was probably evitable since one of the attackers was both known to and monitored by global counterterrorism agencies.

Another distinction between Charleston and the Islamic radicalism spreading from the jungles of the Philippines to the shores of North Africa is that the latter appears ascendant. For decades, radical Islamic terrorism has been a feature of geopolitics, but the rise of nascent Islamic caliphates across the Middle East and North Africa has created an attractive veneer of novelty for aspiring recruits to the cause. By contrast, Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was a proud anachronism. He flew and revered the flags of regimes like the Confederacy, Apartheid South Africa, and Rhodesia – long defunct states that embraced discredited ideologies undone by decades of military and socio-economic pressure from without. Critics of the war on terrorism would do well to internalize the generational scale that characterizes successful wars against ideologies that would compete for legitimacy with Western democratic liberalism like those that eventually undid both the Confederates and the National Party.

But the commentary class has not engaged in much of this substantive and valuable debate. Instead, they have thrashed impotently in their heartache at old grievances and tired hobbyhorses.

In the wake of the shooting, many on the left including the President of the United States demanded a renewed push for federal gun control legislation. But the left is certainly not interested in elevating Roof’s minor pending drug charge to a felony, which would have prevented him from legally purchasing or owning a gun. What they demand is a reprise of the “national conversation” about gun laws that followed the Newtown shootings; a conversation that ended decisively — and badly for gun control advocates — months later when a Democrat-led Senate failed to approve even modest amendments to federal gun ownership laws.

Many have also begun to indict the old Confederate battle flag that flies ignominiously over South Carolina’s state capital. Many commentators and political actors from both sides of the aisle, mostly from the North and West, have demanded that the flag be furled following this attack. The value of this dubious symbol is a fine debate to have, but it is beside the point. If we are to take Roof’s word for what inspired him to engage in this affront to human decency, which is we all have, then we must also accept that his hatred for the United States as presently constituted is also rooted in its disrespect for long extinct Southern segregationist culture. If the charge that some are making is that the state of South Carolina is somehow complicit in these brutal murders, that is an extraordinary claim wanting for similarly extraordinary evidence. Those leveling such a charge will find the evidentiary hurdles necessary to prove it impossible to overcome. According to the FBI’s 2013 crime statistics, less than one percent of the murders committed that year were by whites targeting blacks. That meager figure is a trend, not an aberration. What’s more, despite the fact that the South has more violent crime than any other American region, this statistic indicates that there is no epidemic of white-on-black violence in the former Confederate states.

It is perhaps understandable that so much of the post-Charleston conversation has been centered on matters that have nothing to do with that shooting: unworkable gun control tropes, a peripheral if morally questionable flag, and, of course, the other political party. The striking and terrifying fact of the matter is that Roof’s attack would have been next to impossible to prevent, as were the attacks in Sydney, Ottawa, Graz, and Garland. Someday, though, the West might be so victorious in its efforts to combat Islamic radicalism that lone wolf attacks like those might be as shocking to our consciences as was the attack in Charleston. Rather than accept them as a deplorable new reality, outbursts of Islamic radicalism will be viewed as a departure from the norm to which we have become accustomed. The lamentable truth is that we will probably never be able to accept the truly terrible reality that horrible things happen, evil exists, and there will always be moments when we will be rendered virtually powerless before it.

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Racism and Moral Judgments

A New York Times story, in the context of the horrifying events in Charleston, examined the life of Dylann Roof, the moral monster who gunned down nine people attending a Bible study. Roof comes across as a depraved mind. Interviewing people who knew him, we were told this:

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A New York Times story, in the context of the horrifying events in Charleston, examined the life of Dylann Roof, the moral monster who gunned down nine people attending a Bible study. Roof comes across as a depraved mind. Interviewing people who knew him, we were told this:

Another friend, Dalton Tyler, said that Mr. Roof had begun talking about wanting “to start a civil war.” But like Mr. [Joseph] Meek, he did not always take Mr. Roof seriously.

Mr. Tyler said on another occasion, the two were driving to a strip club by the zoo when Mr. Roof saw a black woman, used a racist word and said, “I’ll shoot your ass.”

“I was just like, ‘You’re stupid,’ ” Mr. Tyler said. “He was a racist; but I don’t judge people.”

This is hardly the most important aspect of this heartbreaking (and also profoundly moving and inspiring) story. But it does illustrate the absurdity of a world that embraces an ethic of non-judgmentalism. The aversion to making moral judgments – of saying some things are right and others wrong – is so prevalent that some people find themselves afraid to render a verdict even on racism.

It’s fair to ask whether Mr. Tyler would be willing to make a moral pronouncement on Roof after his massacre, or whether that, too, would qualify as “judging people” and, therefore, be inappropriate. I imagine making moral evaluations about mass murder is something Tyler would be fine with, which sort of proves the point. Judging people is not per se wrong, and often it’s wholly appropriate. But we’ve become so fearful of being considered “judgmental” that many people are now afraid to make elementary ethical assessments.

The kind of soft nihilism that Allan Bloom warned about in The Closing of the American Mind has reached a rather advanced stage in many parts of America, to the point where some people are afraid to render a moral verdict on an avowed racist for fear of being deemed judgmental.

One can only hope that more and more people will regain their sense and (re) discover that sober, ethical judgments are vital to the creation of a good society; that human flourishing depends on a moral order, which is impossible to create or sustain in a relativistic world.

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