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Pledge-Drive

A Raid Doesn’t Make Up for Loss of Ramadi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sorry, Your Holiness, But Abbas is No Angel

Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.

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Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.

As I noted last week, the decisions being taken by the Vatican and other European states won’t advance peace. To the contrary, such moves only encourage Abbas to continue to refuse to negotiate with Israel. The only path forward for a two state solution to the conflict is for the Palestinians to be given statehood only after they have made peace with Israel and not before. Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and statehood. To this day, he refuses to sign any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

That alone should be enough to deny Abbas the title of “angel of peace.” But that isn’t the only reason. Abbas was a longtime deputy to arch-terrorist Arafat and played a role in organizing and financing many acts of brutal terrorism. But unlike other world leaders who might have employed violence in his youth and then became a statesman, Abbas has never really changed. He is the same man who wrote a doctoral thesis that centered on Holocaust denial at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University that was published in 1984. He continues to embrace and honor terrorists, such as the murderers with the blood of innocent civilians on their hands that were released by Israel in order to ransom Gilad Shalit from his Hamas captors. Just as important, though he occasionally makes statements about wanting peace when speaking to Western audiences or the international media, his official PA media incites hatred against Jews and Israel on a regular basis.

Let’s concede that part of the Vatican’s motivation for all the love being shown the Palestinians is a desire to position the church to protect Middle East Christians at a time when they are under siege from radical Islam in the region. That ISIS is slaughtering Christians with impunity is well known. Less talked about is the every day pressure that Christian communities are under throughout the region. The result is that ancient Christian communities are disappearing as its members flee for safety in the West rather than face increasing marginalization and discrimination if not violence.

That Christian institutions like the Church would choose to ingratiate themselves with the Muslim world by attacking Israel in this manner is not altogether surprising. Arab Christians have long sought to gain acceptance from Muslims by being in the forefront of the struggle against Zionism. It hasn’t worked as Arab Christians continue to be attacked no matter how ardently they demonstrate their antipathy for Israel and Jews. Religious minorities in the Muslim have a natural ally in Israel but Arab Christians and some of their Western supporters continue to cling to the myth that they can win acceptance from Muslims by joining in attacks on the Jews. That Western Christians also adopt such attitudes is equally foolish. But it can also be explained by anti-Semitic attitudes that persist in Europe despite the heroic efforts of Pope Francis’ predecessors, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II to eradicate the vestiges of the Church’s past errors.

The pope might be forgiven for this flight of fancy if he were to give an equally egregious title to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a meeting with him. But given the animosity that Europeans direct toward the democratically elected leader of the Jewish state such a similar papal embrace is highly unlikely.

Pope Francis’s statement about Abbas can be dismissed as mere window dressing to the Vatican’s diplomatic initiative. But the damage the pope does when he says things that are so blatantly false goes beyond the assault on the truth that so often occurs when world leaders are polite to each other. The power of the papacy remains great. During the last decade of the Cold War, Pope John Paul II proved that Stalin was wrong when he mocked a previous pope by asking how many divisions he controlled. But that power must rest in truth if it is to be more than just talk.

The pope is a good man whose intentions should not be questioned. But just as the Vatican should refrain from acts that harm peace such as its recognition of Palestine, so, too, should the pope not utter falsehoods. That Pope Francis must meet with Abbas is to be expected but when he says something so obviously untrue about him, it hurts the papacy and undermines good relations between the church and the Jewish people more than it helps the corrupt, tyrannical and undemocratic leader of a Palestinian kleptocracy.

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Jerusalem Should Never Be Divided Again

Today, Israelis mark the 48th anniversary of the day that the walls that once divided Jerusalem were breached. From 1949 to 1967, Jordan illegally occupied much of Jerusalem including its Old City. Jews were prohibited from entering the Temple Mount or the Western Wall. Ancient synagogues were destroyed and ancient Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. The border that snaked through the city was marked by ugly barriers and no man’s land areas that marked it as a battleground rather than a haven of peace and faith. The Six Day War ended that awful era but the battles fought there did more than reunite the Jews with their holy places. It also marked the first time in the city’s history that the holy sites became open to all people and faiths. Yet rather than celebrate this event, most of the world will not only ignore Israel’s holiday, they will continue to advocate for the return of the border that once divided the city. Whatever one may think of the state of the peace process or who to blame for its dim prospects that must never be allowed to happen.

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Today, Israelis mark the 48th anniversary of the day that the walls that once divided Jerusalem were breached. From 1949 to 1967, Jordan illegally occupied much of Jerusalem including its Old City. Jews were prohibited from entering the Temple Mount or the Western Wall. Ancient synagogues were destroyed and ancient Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. The border that snaked through the city was marked by ugly barriers and no man’s land areas that marked it as a battleground rather than a haven of peace and faith. The Six Day War ended that awful era but the battles fought there did more than reunite the Jews with their holy places. It also marked the first time in the city’s history that the holy sites became open to all people and faiths. Yet rather than celebrate this event, most of the world will not only ignore Israel’s holiday, they will continue to advocate for the return of the border that once divided the city. Whatever one may think of the state of the peace process or who to blame for its dim prospects that must never be allowed to happen.

The end of the city’s partition did not solve all its problems. To the contrary, Jerusalem remains divided in some important ways. Jews and Arabs are still parties to a conflict that has no end in sight. Though the city benefitted enormously from its reunification, Arab neighborhoods lag behind in services. Part of this was the emphasis that the city placed on establishing Israel’s sovereignty by building new Jewish neighborhoods in the 1970s and a lack of interest in helping the Arab population. But it was also exacerbated by the refusal of the city’s Arab population to take part in the city’s government because of their unwillingness to become Israeli citizens and vote.

But those arguments that stem from the conflict between the two peoples over one land have always superseded those municipal squabbles. Palestinian Arabs have resisted even those projects that benefited their neighborhoods such as the light rail project that has provided the city with an improved transportation system. The second intifada in which suicide bombings were launched at Jewish targets also resulted in the building of a security barrier that is a physical manifestation of the division of the city that still exists.

Yet in spite of all this, Jerusalem’s unity is still worth celebrating.

For all of its current problems and the divide between Arabs and Jews, the unification of the city was the moment when Israel’s capital ceased being a dead end torn apart by conflict and began to be a modern city. More to the point, it was only when Israel became the sovereign power throughout the city that the all the holy sites within its boundaries became open to all peoples and all faiths. Under Israeli rule the city has blossomed. It is now filled with parks and promenades. Ancient landmarks, like the synagogues destroyed by the Jordanians and the Western Wall area were restored and preserved. Parks now surround the walls of the Old City. Rather than ramparts from which combatants would shoot at each other, they are now filled with tourists.

The city’s unity has been a boon to those who value it as a center of three faiths. Were the city to be formally re-partitioned, all this would change. A re-division of the city would not only be unworkable, leading to chaos and conflict, it would also mean the end of an era in which free access to the holy sites was taken for granted. Putting any parts of the city under the rule of the despotic and corrupt Palestinian Authority would not only make it potential base for terror as Gaza became after Israel removed every soldier, settler and settlement. It would also mean that the same people that have trashed Jewish holy sites and conducted archeological vandalism on the Temple Mount would be free to exclude Jews or Christians. Those who value the city as a center for three faiths must understand that the day Israel ceases to be in control of all it is the moment when such free access will either end or be put in danger.

All those who care about Jerusalem and peace should take a moment today to be thankful that it is no longer torn apart. In doing so they should resolved never to allow the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that has fed attacks on Israel to cause the world to force a return to a divided holy city. While a two state solution to the conflict would be ideal, it will only happen when the Palestinians recognize that Israel’s existence, as a Jewish state can’t be wished away. By the same token, the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the areas where Jordan formerly ruled also will not be uprooted and cast out of their homes. Whatever theoretical solution to the future of the city may be found in the future, it cannot be predicated on a return to the dark days before June 1967 when the city was a Middle East version of Cold War Berlin.

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Israel Needs Court Reform and Less Sexism

Israel’s new government was sworn in yesterday amid last minute wrangling among Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supporters and coalition allies. It was not an edifying spectacle and may well heave earned opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s characterization of the new cabinet as something of a “circus” though he might well have said the same thing about the formation of virtually every other Israeli government dating back to the state’s founding. No matter whether the right or the left is in charge, the country’s political system makes it impossible for major parties to form majorities on their own and empowers small factions at the expense of the rest of the country. Politics makes change difficult if not impossible. Yet that’s not the only thing about Israel that needs reform even if a key advocate of another necessary change in the new government is being both unfairly demonized as well as being subjected to sexist attacks. Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s new Minister of Justice has become the piñata of the Jewish left as well as Israel-bashers. Despite this, her critics are not only underestimating her; they are also ignoring the fact that she’s right about altering some aspects of Israel’s judiciary that are out of whack.

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Israel’s new government was sworn in yesterday amid last minute wrangling among Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supporters and coalition allies. It was not an edifying spectacle and may well heave earned opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s characterization of the new cabinet as something of a “circus” though he might well have said the same thing about the formation of virtually every other Israeli government dating back to the state’s founding. No matter whether the right or the left is in charge, the country’s political system makes it impossible for major parties to form majorities on their own and empowers small factions at the expense of the rest of the country. Politics makes change difficult if not impossible. Yet that’s not the only thing about Israel that needs reform even if a key advocate of another necessary change in the new government is being both unfairly demonized as well as being subjected to sexist attacks. Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s new Minister of Justice has become the piñata of the Jewish left as well as Israel-bashers. Despite this, her critics are not only underestimating her; they are also ignoring the fact that she’s right about altering some aspects of Israel’s judiciary that are out of whack.

Shaked is the subject of a profile in today’s New York Times that, for once, does justice to a non-leftist Israeli subject. Other than Netanyahu, Shaked is easily the most visible member of the new government as far as the international media is concerned. The reasons for this are obvious. First, she is young and attractive. But she is also a leader of the Jewish Home Party, the faction to the right of Likud on the Israeli political spectrum. As such her strong views on peace with the Palestinians and the right of Israelis to live in the territories have put a bull’s eye on her back and the country’s leftist-dominated media has been freely firing away at her.

Superficially, this may remind Americans of the way Sarah Palin was skewered by the liberal media when she was the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate in 2008. But the comparisons to Palin don’t hold up. Unlike that brittle and not quite-ready-for-prime-time politician, Shaked combines brilliant political skills with astonishing focus and competence. A secular Jew who was the leading vote getter in a primary dominated by national religious members, the 39-year-old Shaked has risen quickly to the top of Israeli politics. She has made some mistakes, like re-posting an incendiary article about Palestinian civilians on Facebook that she quickly deleted but not before it became a cause célèbre. She has also been subjected to the sort of chauvinistic abuse that always is directed at attractive women who are conservative, both in the United States and Israel and which prompts many of the Palin analogies.

Unlike the former governor of Alaska, there’s plenty of substance to Shaked, a former computer engineer who served a stint as an aide to Netanyahu before breaking with the prime minister and helping to form the Jewish Home Party with another Bibi protégé, Naphtali Bennett. Now that she’s become Justice Minister the attacks on her are starting to be less about her looks and more about her hopes to change some aspects of the country’s judiciary. But they are no less unfair than the cracks from leftists about her more worthy of being a calendar model than a Cabinet minister.

At the top of Shaked’s agenda is a plan to change the way judges are appointed in Israel. She also wants to put in some theoretical limits on the power of the country’s Supreme Court to override the will of the Knesset. This is being widely represented as nothing less than a putsch by fanatic right-wingers who want to destroy both democracy and the independent judiciary. That’s the sort of rhetoric that feeds into prejudicial attitudes about the Israeli right in the United States and it is as misleading as much of the rest of the mainstream media’s coverage of Israel. As Haviv Rettig Gur notes in an informative Times of Israel feature, the notion that Shaked is trying “to strangle” Israel’s high court says more about the unwillingness of the country’s political elites to discuss serious questions than it does about her ideas.

What most Americans don’t know about the Israeli Supreme Court is that its members more or less dictate the nominations of all judges in the country. In effect, the members of the court not only get to name their successors but also those on lower benches. . All she wants to do is to expand the committee that makes the selection to include members of Knesset so as to inject some diversity of opinion in the process. Imagine such a set up in the United States and you’ll quickly see why Shaked wants the liberal-dominated court not to have such untrammeled power.

More controversial is Shaked’s plan to allow the Knesset the right to overturn rulings of the High Court. Put into an American context, that sounds like a dangerous plan to do away with judicial review, the legal concept that allows the U.S. Supreme Court to guard constitutional principles against transitory and often wrong-headed political decisions made by the executive or the legislative branches. But the thing to remember about Israel is that there is no written constitution for the court to guard against a partisan Knesset. The court’s rulings can sometimes be as arbitrary and partisan as those of any Knesset. The ideal solution would be to create a constitution something that most Israelis understand is necessary but also impossible due to politics. Subjecting the court to political majorities as she suggests, sounds like an even worse idea than the current system. But at least Shaked is confronting basic issues that need addressing, which is more than can be said for her left-wing critics who merely defend an unsatisfactory status quo and smear those advocating for change as opponents of democracy.

In a government with only a two seat 61-59 majority, Shaked’s reforms may not have a chance. But those who think she will flop and fade out the way Palin did may be making a serious mistake. While it’s impossible to predict Israeli politics, Shaked may be the sort of politician who can not only help change the country but also cure it of some of the sexist attitudes that persist in its culture and politics.

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Amtrak and Our Indecent Political Culture

Americans have now had more than 48 hours to grieve about Tuesday night’s Amtrak crash outside of Philadelphia that took the lives of eight persons and injured more than 200 others. The cause of the accident is yet to be determined but the fact that the train was going more than 100 miles per hour — twice the speed limit — would seem to indicate it was the result of human error or negligence. Yet even before rescuers finished removing the bodies, talking heads and pundits on the left were blaming this tragedy on Republicans who refuse to adequately fund Amtrak. While the pushback against this particularly nasty example of specious argument has begun, the willingness of our political class to exploit this tragedy tells us just how low our political culture has sunk.

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Americans have now had more than 48 hours to grieve about Tuesday night’s Amtrak crash outside of Philadelphia that took the lives of eight persons and injured more than 200 others. The cause of the accident is yet to be determined but the fact that the train was going more than 100 miles per hour — twice the speed limit — would seem to indicate it was the result of human error or negligence. Yet even before rescuers finished removing the bodies, talking heads and pundits on the left were blaming this tragedy on Republicans who refuse to adequately fund Amtrak. While the pushback against this particularly nasty example of specious argument has begun, the willingness of our political class to exploit this tragedy tells us just how low our political culture has sunk.

From the non-stop hysterics of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC to the more sober tone adopted by the New York Times editorial page, much of the mainstream media treated the story as an excuse to indict Congress on a charge of failing to support America’s crumbling infrastructure. Even those that weren’t, like Maddow, unashamed to blame the deaths in the crash on the GOP, took it as a given that if only the federal government had been willing to spend more on trains, lives would have been saved.

Over at National Review, both Ian Tuttle and Charles C.W. Cooke did a good job debunking this myth. Both are worth reading in full.

The first thing to remember is that if, as might well be the case, the crash was caused by a mistake made by Amtrak personnel, all the talk about aging infrastructure is so much bunk.

It also should be noted that Amtrak is a white elephant that has eaten up more than $40 billion in federal subsidies since its creation. Though its Northeast corridor line is a moneymaker, the rest of its trains generate little business and few passengers and drowns the corporation and the government in debt. It accounts for a fraction of a percent of all American passenger travel yet it costs the taxpayer a billion a year. It may be that the nation has an interest in maintaining the rail lines but that is a political question and not one that can be easily reduced to the emotional rants we’ve heard since Tuesday.

More to the point, even if we want to center the discussion about Amtrak on the need for more safety measures and infrastructure improvement, the fact remains the money has already been allocated for this purpose. Amtrak’s leadership just chose not to spend on it on the things that we are now told should be a national priority. That includes the “crash preventing” technology that the government has already mandated be implemented but which hasn’t been put into service because of logistical challenges rather than funding shortfalls.

Why then the insistence that somehow the crash must be blamed on Congressional allocations?

Part of it has to do with a liberal disease of the mind that causes some people to believe, against all empirical proof and the history of the last half-century of American governance, that spending money is the only solution to all of our problems. But, as Cooke notes, if we are really interested in passenger safety, we’d do better to spend more on those types of travel that produce most of the casualties on an annual basis (like motorcycles) rather than trains, which despite the rare spectacular accidents, are generally safe and account for a far smaller percentage of the travel that Americans undertake.

But attempts to reduce this issue to logic and the facts are really beside the point. The reason why people are blaming the Amtrak crash on their favorite GOP piñatas has nothing to do with their decisions or even the needs of the rail system. This tragedy became politicized because in our current 24/7 news cycle political media culture that’s what we do with everything.

Whether it is an insane person shooting schoolchildren with weapons that were obtained legally, a terrorist incident or a train crash, it’s now clear that there isn’t anything that can happen in America that can’t be reduced to a bout of finger pointing in which either liberals or conservatives will blame each other as the ultimate culprits. Liberals have made an art form of it as they’ve transformed every heart-rending shooting incident no matter how unrelated it might be to potential gun laws, as an excuse for a new debate about restricting gun sales. The same principle caused them to treat a speeding train as somehow the fault of miserly GOP legislators. Nor are conservatives immune to the same impulse. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once blamed the decision of a deranged woman to drown her children on liberal culture. Others on the right who reflexively attack Barack Obama for things he has nothing do with play the same game.

What seems to be lacking here is not just faulty judgment and the sort of weak partisan arguments on display when some pretend more money poured into the Amtrak sinkhole will prevent future accidents. Rather, it is an absence of a sense of proportion or shame that would, in a more civil political culture, inhibit even fierce partisans from exploiting tragedies that have nothing to do with the back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Even worse, there seems to be a built-in incentive in terms of increased audiences for such persons to go over the top and accuse their political opponents of murder without even a strand of evidence or reasoned thought behind such statements.

What our talking heads and pundits need is a sort of moral version of the safety equipment that some tell us would stop trains from speeding even when their engineers are pressing on the accelerator. Some might call such a mechanism common decency.

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Focus on Obama’s Terrible Iraq Blunder

I remember walking down the ruined streets of Ramadi in the spring of 2007. The vista resembled pictures of Berlin in 1945: ruined buildings everywhere, water bubbling in the streets from water mains damaged by too many explosions. But what was most remarkable was not the evidence of violence but, rather, the fact that no insurgents were shooting at my military escorts or me.

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I remember walking down the ruined streets of Ramadi in the spring of 2007. The vista resembled pictures of Berlin in 1945: ruined buildings everywhere, water bubbling in the streets from water mains damaged by too many explosions. But what was most remarkable was not the evidence of violence but, rather, the fact that no insurgents were shooting at my military escorts or me.

“A few weeks ago you couldn’t drive down this street without being attacked. When I went down this street in February, I was hit three times with small-arms fire and IEDs,” Army Colonel John W. Charlton told me as we drove into town in his up-armored Humvee. But now Ramadi was eerily quiet; by the time I visited in April, not a single American soldier had been killed in Ramadi for weeks. Everywhere there were Joint Security Stations and Observation Posts where American and Iraqi security forces worked side by side to keep the peace.

Ramadi was really where the Anbar Awakening began—the movement, started by Colonel Sean MacFarland in Ramadi in 2006, to mobilize Sunni tribes against AQI. After having lost hundreds of American soldiers in Ramadi and its environs since 2003, US efforts finally appeared to have paid off. AQI had been routed of the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate, and would soon be routed out of the rest of the Sunni Triangle. Victory was in sight.

It is all the more heartbreaking, therefore, to read now that the Islamic State—AQI’s successor organization—has seized the government center in Ramadi. Islamic State extremists detonated a series of suicide car bombs on Thursday to punch their way through fortifications protecting the government headquarters. Reports were that, after the headquarters fell, black-clad fanatics were going to door-to-door, executing tribal fighters who opposed their onslaught. Government security forces and many civilians were fleeing in panic. As Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute points out, it’s as if the Marines, having taken Iwo Jima, had abandoned it and the Japanese had lowered the stars and stripes on Mount Suribachi.

Just a month ago, when the ISIS offensive against Ramadi began in earnest, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to reassure the world that it was no big deal. Ramadi, he claimed, “is not symbolic in any way…. I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of a campaign should it fall.”

We can only watch and wait to hear what spin General Dempsey—who has increasingly defined his role as telling the president what he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear—will put on this latest catastrophe. It is, in fact, unspinnable. The fall of Ramadi is a sign of the abysmal failure of the misnamed Operation Inherent Resolve launched by President Obama in August 2014 to “degrade” and ultimately to “destroy” ISIS.  Operation Uncertain Resolve is more like it.

There is no doubt that US bombing has succeeded in slightly degrading ISIS—Central Command helpfully puts out a long laundry list of all the buildings and vehicles its aircraft have blown up. But there is scant sign that ISIS is on the path to destruction. True, its offensive toward Baghdad has been blunted and it lost control of Tikrit. But the fact that the assault on Tikrit was led by Shiite militiamen under the effective control of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, indicates the self-defeating nature of this offensive. Sunnis will never turn on ISIS, as they turned on AQI in 2007, if by doing so they will open themselves to domination by Shiite militias.

A reminder of what that would mean was delivered earlier this week in Adhamiyah, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad. Shiite mobs, with Shiite militiamen allegedly in the lead, rampaged through the area on a pogrom. As terrified Sunni families cowered in their homes, a number of homes were burnt and at least four people were killed. The security forces of a Shiite-dominated government were nowhere to be seen.

“Leading from behind” is a bad enough strategy when America’s allies take the lead. It is an utterly ruinous strategy when America’s enemies take the lead. But that’s what is now happening in Iraq.

Obama has sent fewer than 3,000 trainers and they are confined to base and prohibited from going out and directly recruiting, training, and arming Sunni tribesmen. Nor, of course, are they allowed to personally call in air strikes from the frontlines; they have to depend on Iranian-dominated Iraqi security forces and aerial imagery to tell them what to bomb. US aid flows through the government of Baghdad, which, despite a change of prime ministers, remains for the most part dominated by Iran and its proxies. Instead of trying to rebuild the Iraqi army, shattered by the fall of Mosul nearly a year ago, the Baghdad regime is encouraging the recruitment of Shiites into sectarian militias closely aligned with Iran. In the guise of fighting ISIS, Iran is taking over most of Iraq.

The fight against ISIS is in even worse shape in Syria where there is no credible ground force—none—that can challenge Islamic State, which is why its domains have actually expanded since US bombing began last August. The US is only now training a company—i.e., roughly one hundred men—from the Free Syrian Army in the hope that somehow they will be able to defeat Islamic State’s army, which is estimated to number more than 20,000. That kind of thing happens in action flicks like “The Expendables” or “The Dirty Dozen,” not in real life.

Far from being on a path to defeat, ISIS appears stronger than ever notwithstanding the anemic American assault. And yet all last week presidential candidates have been forced to opine on a historic question—whether or not they would have authorized the invasion of Iraq given all that we now know. The real debate we should be having is not what we should have done in 2003 but what we should do now, today, to defeat ISIS and Iran—the twin forces, mirror images of one another — that are ripping the Middle East asunder. All of the candidates, including the silent Hillary Clinton, need to tell us what they would do.

And President Obama, who remains commander in chief, needs to go on television and explain to the American people where the war effort stands and what if anything he is going to do differently.  If the answer is “things are going fine” and “we’re not going to do anything differently,” he will be repeating the very mistake that President George W. Bush made from 2003 to 2007 when he was lulled by over-optimistic reports from PowerPoint-happy military commanders. A losing war effort only began to reverse itself in places such as Ramadi once Bush acknowledged that we were on the edge of the abyss.

Today we are fast falling into an ever worse abyss—and it is one to which, by all indications, President Obama and his senior military commanders and civilian aides are utterly blind. Perhaps we should be talking about that rather than about what happened 12 years ago.

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James Pethokoukis: COMMENTARY’s Intellectual Armor

The freedom agenda is under attack, both at home and abroad. As America retreats overseas, the American government expands domestically. Now, more than ever, we need strong, clear voices to engage in the battle of ideas from foreign policy to culture to economics. Long before I ever wrote for COMMENTARY, I read COMMENTARY. And now as then, I find my arguments and my spirit the better for it. COMMENTARY is simply an indispensable piece of the intellectual armor I don everyday as a columnist and blogger.

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The freedom agenda is under attack, both at home and abroad. As America retreats overseas, the American government expands domestically. Now, more than ever, we need strong, clear voices to engage in the battle of ideas from foreign policy to culture to economics. Long before I ever wrote for COMMENTARY, I read COMMENTARY. And now as then, I find my arguments and my spirit the better for it. COMMENTARY is simply an indispensable piece of the intellectual armor I don everyday as a columnist and blogger.

2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

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Obama’s Not-So-Ironclad Guarantee

This was supposed to be the week when President Obama put on a show of his desire to reaffirm America’s support for its Arab allies. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have spent the last year in the unusual position of agreeing more with Israel than the United States, as Obama pushes for détente with Iran. Like the Israelis, the Arabs are pondering their future in a region dominated by an Iranian nuclear threshold state that appears to be the lynchpin of the president’s foreign policy legacy. So to demonstrate his good will, Obama invited these nations to a summit at which he would convince them they had nothing to fear. But with the U.S. putting nothing on the table of substance that would allay those concerns about the weak nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran, the Saudi king and other leaders snubbed the event, turning it into a fiasco even before it began. But it turned out King Salman didn’t miss much. Though Obama offered what he called an “ironclad guarantee’ of America’s support for the Arabs, it was phrased in the kind of ambiguous language that rendered it meaningless. The meeting and especially the statement epitomized an Obama administration foreign policy that puts a premium on appeasing foes and alienating friends.

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This was supposed to be the week when President Obama put on a show of his desire to reaffirm America’s support for its Arab allies. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have spent the last year in the unusual position of agreeing more with Israel than the United States, as Obama pushes for détente with Iran. Like the Israelis, the Arabs are pondering their future in a region dominated by an Iranian nuclear threshold state that appears to be the lynchpin of the president’s foreign policy legacy. So to demonstrate his good will, Obama invited these nations to a summit at which he would convince them they had nothing to fear. But with the U.S. putting nothing on the table of substance that would allay those concerns about the weak nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran, the Saudi king and other leaders snubbed the event, turning it into a fiasco even before it began. But it turned out King Salman didn’t miss much. Though Obama offered what he called an “ironclad guarantee’ of America’s support for the Arabs, it was phrased in the kind of ambiguous language that rendered it meaningless. The meeting and especially the statement epitomized an Obama administration foreign policy that puts a premium on appeasing foes and alienating friends.

The wording of the president’s “guarantee” is a marvel of lawyerly ambiguity that any connoisseur of diplomatic doubletalk must appreciate:

In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners.

Let’s unpack this carefully so we’re clear about what the United States isn’t promising its Arab allies. As even Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times noted, this “carefully worded pledge that was far less robust than the mutual defense treaty the Gulf nations had sought.” In the event of aggression, the U.S. isn’t going to spring into action to defend them. Instead it will “work” with them to “determine” what they might do. That falls quite a bit short of a hard promise of collective action, let alone the drawing of a line in the sand across which the Iranians may not cross. In other words, if something bad happens, Obama will talk with the threatened parties but he won’t say what he will do in advance or if he will do anything at all. If that is an “ironclad guarantee,” I’d hate to see what a less binding promise might sound like.

To understate the matter, this is not the sort of pledge that will deter an Iran that is emboldened by its diplomatic victory in the negotiations that let them their nuclear infrastructure and continuing working toward a bomb. Iran’s push for regional hegemony has also been boosted by the triumph of their Syrian ally Bashar Assad with the help of Tehran’s Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries. With the Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatening to take over Yemen and Iran also resuming its alliance with Hamas in Gaza, the axis of Iranian allies has Arab states understandably worried about their future. Now that the nuclear deal makes an Iranian bomb only a matter of when rather than if, the Gulf nations were hoping for more than just a carefully worded expression of American indifference.

That’s why the statement at the end of the summit made no mention of America’s chief worry about the Gulf states: the possibility that the Saudis will, either acting alone or in concert with their neighbors, seek to match Iran’s nuclear potential. As critics of the Iran deal foretold, far from saving the Middle East from an Iranian bomb, it has set off an arms race that has will make the world a fare more dangerous place.

This omission will likely make the Iranians even more reluctant to give in to U.S. demands about sanctions, Tehran’s military research and the disposition of its stockpile of enriched uranium in the final stages of the nuclear talks. A better guarantee for the Arabs might have convinced the Islamist state that the president really meant business about strengthening the deal. In its absence, they have no reason to think Obama won’t fold as he has at every other stage of the negotiations.

Under the circumstances, it’s little wonder that Bahrain’s King Hamad preferred to go to a horse show London rather than confer with Obama. Just as Israel has learned that the United States is more interested in a new Iran-centric policy than it backing its traditional allies, so, too, must the Arabs come to grips with a new reality in which their Iranian foe is no longer restrained by the United States.

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Who’s Winning the Foreign Policy Primary?

Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

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Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

As I wrote earlier this week, the grilling of Bush about Iraq and the legacy of his brother George W. wasn’t the discussion Republicans needed to have. But as Bush fumbled various responses, he seemed unprepared for questions to which he should have had a ready response. The point wasn’t that his various answers were wrong. Rather, it was the impression that didn’t seem to have command of foreign policy issues at his fingertips and his political skills had grown rusty in the 13 years since he last ran for office.

By contrast, Rubio’s foreign policy address was both eloquent and to the point as he gave voice to a coherent worldview about the need for American strength and vision. In a GOP field that is long on domestic issue strength but short on foreign policy expertise, Rubio’s command of the issue proved he was not merely competent but head and shoulders above the competition. That seemed especially true during a week when in addition to Bush’s troubles, one of their leading competitors, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, was in Israel for his first trip to the country. He was, he said, there to listen, but his main goal seemed to be to avoid the press overhearing any gaffes like the ones he made during his trip to London earlier this year. Walker was shielded from press scrutiny and questions the entire time he was in Israel. Even the press-shy Hillary Clinton provided more transparency this week than Walker.

As for Rubio, he was both optimistic about the power of American exceptionalism and aware of the serious nature of the threats facing the country. Rubio provided an in-depth of the failures of the Obama administration on issues like Iran, Israel, Russia and China. But this was more than just the usual litany of complaints about the last six years. His three pillared approach to the challenges of the future — military strength, protecting the economy against nations like Russia and China that seek to threaten the free flow of international trade and standing up for the nation’s core values — illustrated his nuanced understanding of the challenges facing the nation. The Rubio doctrine was not just about flexing America’s muscles and stopping the apologies and appeasement that have characterized the Obama years but is based on a positive vision of why American strength is essential the preservation of peace and prosperity.

But it must be admitted that Rubio wasn’t the only Republican candidate scoring points on foreign policy this week. Senator Rand Paul has been on the defense on foreign affairs for much of the past year. With ISIS on the rise and the Islamist terror threat growing in danger Paul has been eager to shed his well-earned reputation as an isolationist. But Bush’s inability to escape the Iraq War trap gave Paul an easy target. The Kentucky senator hasn’t much to offer the country when it comes to an alternative to Obama’s policies in the Middle East since he is, if anything to the left of the president on these issues. But when the conversation turns to the unpopular Iraq War, Paul is in his comfort zone.

He even used that as an opening to attack Rubio for supporting foreign aid. Though depriving allies, such as Israel, of essential help, has long been a staple of Paul’s neo-isolationism that nowadays masquerades as “realism,” it’s the sort of point that remains a popular applause getter on the stump. But it took a lot of brass for Paul to tag Rubio as being on “the wrong side of history” because of his belief that a judicious distribution of aid to friends was an essential part of preserving American strength.

Though his position doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, Paul’s willingness to stand up against a forward American stance abroad and aid does at least provide a competing foreign policy vision for Republican voters. It’s doubtful they would prefer Paul’s channeling of his inner Bernie Sanders to Rubio’s more Reaganesque approach. But when compared to Bush’s agonized dance around his brother’s record or Walker’s blank slate (not to mention Ben Carson’s sheer ignorance of foreign policy), it does set up a serious competition between the two senators.

Bush may be raising the most money but in the foreign policy primary, he’s trailing Rubio badly. There’s plenty of time for him and the others to catch up. But right now on Rubio and Paul are the ones who are most engaged in a vital debate about the future of America and the soul of the Republican Party.

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Good Deeds Won’t Win Israel Any Friends

In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu, which numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations, is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

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In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu, which numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations, is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

There’s something particularly egregious about those who actually criticize Israeli aid efforts to a prostrate Third World nation. Apparently nothing, not even a humanitarian crisis, is enough to cause those who wish to see the Jewish state brought down to call a timeout in their campaign of delegitimization. That’s bad enough when it comes from bottom feeder websites like Mondoweiss. But when it comes from supposedly legitimate figures within the human rights community, it bridges the gap between the absurd and the pathological. Much like those who advocate gay rights but who react furiously when it is pointed out that Israel is a haven of freedom and equal rights for the gay community (called “pinkwashing”) the criticism of Israel’s generous humanitarian aid efforts says more about rigid ideology, if not outright hatred, of the people making such bizarre charges than it does about Israel.

But this nasty business aside, the fact that aid to Nepal doesn’t endear Israel to a world that continues to single it out for condemnation about debatable charges while ignoring actual human rights catastrophes elsewhere such as the slaughter in Syria or tyranny in Iran (a far larger country that, of course, sent no aid to Nepal) still frustrates a lot of well meaning supporters of the Jewish state. For years, many in the pro-Israel community as well as some in the country’s Foreign Ministry have been obsessed with the idea that Israel’s problem is primarily one of  negative images. They rightly point out that many people only associate it with stories about conflict and violence as well as allegations about violating the rights of Palestinians or slanders about it being an “apartheid state.” They say the answer to that is an effort to “rebrand” the country. If only, they have asserted, people associated Israel more with beautiful beaches (and pretty girls frolicking on the beaches), the lifesaving medical advances that have been discovered by its brilliant scientific community or the fact that it is truly the Start-Up Nation that has a high-tech industry second only in many respects to that of the United States, people would stop listening to the attacks.

But while there is plenty of good news to be disseminated about Israel’s many accomplishments and genuine attractions, as well as its humanitarian bona fides, the discussion of these topics won’t change a single mind about the attacks on the country’s legitimacy or its behavior. As I noted in a COMMENTARY feature back in October 2009, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s rebranding campaign was not only doomed to failure; it was a distraction from its real job of combating the lies about the conflict.

It’s satisfying for both Israelis and their foreign friends who are sick of being bashed in the media and tired of the old arguments about territory and settlements, to see attention focused on publicizing the good things about Israel, whether it is gay rights, medicine or humanitarian aid. But the problem is that a rival branding program has overtaken this effort. Israel’s foes have devoted themselves to the apartheid libel, effectively convincing much of the world that only the Palestinians have rights and that the terror threat as well as the ongoing siege of the Jewish state is irrelevant to discussions about the peace process. By establishing the notion that all of the West Bank and Jerusalem is stolen property rather than just land to which both sides have legitimate claims, Israel is branded as an oppressor and thief of other people’s property. This dovetails with the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and the world.

The only thing that will convince the world that Israel does not deserve the opprobrium directed at it is a case for the justice of its cause in its fight against the Palestinians. That means Israel’s advocates must still directly address the case for its right to be where it is as well as its right to defend itself against those who are only interested in its elimination and not a two-state solution.

Just like its gay rights policy, scientific advances, vibrant economy, beautiful scenery and pretty girls, Israeli humanitarian efforts deserve to be celebrated by the world. Moreover, like those other aspects of its national life that illustrate the country’s basic character and values, a willingness to help others is worth doing because it is right, not to win popularity contests. But none of this will prevent the country from being smeared with the apartheid label. Only direct answers to those charges as well as an effort to turn the tables on the Palestinians and to highlight the truth about their support for terrorism and refusal to make peace on any terms but Israel’s destruction, will help to alter its image.

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Michael Medved: The Incomparable COMMENTARY

I first subscribed to COMMENTARY in 1973, as a recovering liberal who had invested four years of my young life in writing speeches for a constellation of McGovernite candidates and office-holders. Living in Berkeley at the time, I relished COMMENTARY as a guilty pleasure, feeling grateful that the magazine arrived each month discreetly disguised in a plain, brown wrapper that concealed its suspiciously neo-conservative content. In the militantly leftist community in which I functioned forty years ago, receiving regular monthly installments of the most degrading porn would have produced far less embarrassment than my growing devotion to the persuasive prose of Norman Podhoretz and Co.

Yes, my personal journey from left to right-center involved the usual biographical factors, including the three P’s: paychecks, parenthood, and prayer. Paychecks, because they arrived with shocking subtractions in the form of onerous and incomprehensible taxes; parenthood, because responsibility for a new generation forced a longer-term perspective; and prayer, because my own growing Jewish observance led to the conclusion that my “idealistic” ’60s generation, with all its narcissism and preening self-regard, might not provide life’s ultimate answers after all. Fortunately for me, reading COMMENTARY with near-religious regularity helped to organize my onrushing insights and experience into a more coherent world view. In a dark time in our nation’s history, while surviving (temporarily) in the most unhinged corner of the continent, this incomparable publication persuaded me that I wasn’t alone. Please click below to give.

2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

I first subscribed to COMMENTARY in 1973, as a recovering liberal who had invested four years of my young life in writing speeches for a constellation of McGovernite candidates and office-holders. Living in Berkeley at the time, I relished COMMENTARY as a guilty pleasure, feeling grateful that the magazine arrived each month discreetly disguised in a plain, brown wrapper that concealed its suspiciously neo-conservative content. In the militantly leftist community in which I functioned forty years ago, receiving regular monthly installments of the most degrading porn would have produced far less embarrassment than my growing devotion to the persuasive prose of Norman Podhoretz and Co.

Yes, my personal journey from left to right-center involved the usual biographical factors, including the three P’s: paychecks, parenthood, and prayer. Paychecks, because they arrived with shocking subtractions in the form of onerous and incomprehensible taxes; parenthood, because responsibility for a new generation forced a longer-term perspective; and prayer, because my own growing Jewish observance led to the conclusion that my “idealistic” ’60s generation, with all its narcissism and preening self-regard, might not provide life’s ultimate answers after all. Fortunately for me, reading COMMENTARY with near-religious regularity helped to organize my onrushing insights and experience into a more coherent world view. In a dark time in our nation’s history, while surviving (temporarily) in the most unhinged corner of the continent, this incomparable publication persuaded me that I wasn’t alone. Please click below to give.

2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

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Police Lives Matter

Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

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Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

Messrs. Deen and Tate, both police officers, were shot dead in Hattiesburg, Mississippi last Saturday night during a traffic stop that ended in a hail of gunfire. The suspects fled the scene but were later arrested. Four individuals were charged, two of whom face capital murder charges.

According to news reports, Deen, 34, married his high school sweetheart and had two young children and a great family, according to those who know him. Tony Mozingo, a local judge, left red roses near the scene of the shooting.

“We all just are heartbroken because we know and work with these officers every day,” said Mozingo, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Deen was a “consummate law enforcement professional.” He had been awarded his department’s Officer of the Year Award after rescuing a family from a burning home.

J.T. Taylor, a friend of Deen’s for 30 years, recalled Deen as a surrogate brother who enjoyed family more than anything else in his life. “He didn’t go anywhere without his family,” Taylor said. “You could usually find him one or two places: at his house or at his mom and dad’s house with his family.”

According to this account, Dean will be remembered as “a guy who was a little reserved, but still managed to have more friends than anyone else.”

“He was really and truly an awesome person to be around, always smiling, always making people laugh,” said Carla Higdon, who graduated with Deen in 1998.

“He grew up in a rich family environment and he had many friends because he really never met someone that he didn’t think, ‘Hey, this is a friend,’ ” said Taylor. “He had a smile that set you at ease. When he smiled, it was like you got a hug.”

The legacy Deen will leave behind, the Clarion-Ledger reports is “one of devotion to family and duty, to service and friends.”

“There really, really was not anybody who didn’t love him,” Higdon said.

The funeral service for Officer Deen is this morning.

* * * *

Liquori Tate, 25, grew up in a tough part of Starkville, Mississippi, 150 miles north of Hattiesburg, and became a police office so he could make a difference in the black community, according to Jarvis Thompson, who knew him from childhood.

“He wanted to become an officer because we’ve seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail,” said Thompson. “He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better.”

According to this story, Tate graduated last June from the police academy. Here’s what he wrote on his Facebook: “I am now a Police Officer. I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love ones.”

“I’ve never seen anyone more happy to be a cop than him,” Officer Jason Jarvis said.

Liquori worked at auto parts stores for years and was thrilled to have found his calling as an officer, his father, Ronald Tate, told CNN. “He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul,” his father recalled. “He really knew the risk. But I think my son just thought people are generally good, and that’s just the way he was. He thought people are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”

The two talked on the phone every week and texted every day. “My son didn’t see color,” according to Tate. “We didn’t have all this animosity between races, and my son didn’t see that. He didn’t have time for that. He was just mellow and laid back and didn’t want to get into that.”

On Facebook, where his timeline had been filled with condolences, Mr. Tate wrote that he’d been in a “dizzy haze” since 10:11 p.m. Saturday, when he son was gunned down.

“This was my baby, who I was willing to allow to go into this type of dangerous work,” Ronald Tate said. “A guy who understood and loved everybody. Peaceful, passive, understanding. Wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

“My heart has been ripped out of my chest, and torn into a million pieces,” Liquori Tate’s father said. “Gotta get down to MS where my daughter is. She’s absolutely devastated. He was clearly her protector, and friend.”

“I just need some kind of mercy right now.”

Officer Tate’s funeral service will be on Saturday.

* * * *

So why hasn’t President Obama said anything about the slayings of Officers Deen and Tate? I ask because Mr. Obama weighed in, emphatically so, on the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the death of Eric Garner in New York City, and even the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for disorderly conduct, with Obama accusing Police Sgt. James Crowley of acting “stupidly” despite the president being unaware of all the relevant facts. So it’s not like Mr. Obama is reluctant to insert himself into local law enforcement matters.

I understand that cops can do bad things. Just last month a South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after shooting and killing a man after a routine traffic stop. But I do wonder why the president’s heart or conscience weren’t stirred by the events in Hattiesburg like they were in Cambridge, Ferguson, New York City and Sanford, Florida. Why hasn’t the president used the killings in Hattiesburg as a “teachable moment” in order to lead a “national conversation” that deepens our respect and gratitude for law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom are professional and dedicated public servants (my brother is one of them)? Why did Mr. Obama choose to identify with Trayvon Martin, saying, “If I would had a son, he’d look like Trayvon?” when his son could also have looked like Liquori Tate.

And what about the press? Some media outlets have covered the killings of Officers Deen and Tate, but with nothing like the intensity of the cases I’ve mentioned. Why? Do the lives of two cops mean less than the life of Michael Brown, who fought Officer Darren Wilson and then charged him before he was shot? Why did the death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin dominate coverage, while the murder of two cops — one black, the other white — doesn’t?

Some may argue that it’s because the other cases triggered community protests and violence and therefore demanded greater attention. Perhaps, though it should be said that (a) the intense media coverage can accelerate tensions; (b) there’s no reason we can’t we draw larger social lessons from the lives and deaths of Officers Deen and Tate; and (c) anyone watching media coverage of stories like Ferguson could see that journalists want these stories to fit a preconceived narrative. So much so that President Obama and many journalists insisted on putting a racial frame around the Cambridge, Ferguson and New York City stories when there’s no evidence race played a role in the actions of the cops. Michael Brown was shot because he attacked Officer Darren Wilson. He was not shot because he was black. But Americans could be excused for thinking otherwise based on the coverage.

These stories get attention because they play into a preferred narrative in which the cops are the source of tension with the community. Yet when events like the killing in Hattiesburg occurs – when everything we know reflects well on the cops and there’s no racial frame to put around it – well, that’s just not as interesting, is it? After all, it’s only two dead cops, and two grieving families, and a grieving community of friends.

Here’s what bothers me and may bother you. For some individuals, the lives of cops don’t really matter as much as the lives of those who are killed by cops, even when the killings are justified. If the story allows people to focus on racial divisions and conflicts between cops and citizens, they’re all in. If not — if the story is about good and decent people who dedicated their lives to the protection of others and died in the line of duty — they quickly move on to other things. It turns out that it’s the narrative, not the individual lives that matter. Except to those who loved Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate, those whose lives have now been shattered, those whose hearts have been torn into a million pieces.

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Taking Sinatra Seriously

Frank Sinatra died 17 years ago today at the age of 82. Shortly before his death, COMMENTARY published the definitive appreciation of Sinatra’s artistry by Terry Teachout. From September 1997, here on this Throwback Thursday, is “Taking Sinatra Seriously.” Enjoy.

What will Frank Sinatra be remembered for? In the decade prior to his retirement in 1995, his singing became a grotesque and embarrassing self-caricature. His oft-reported ties to organized crime have figured prominently in the tabloids for years. And then there are the various cults that have formed around him. His most passionate fans, obsessed with his charismatic manner, celebrate his best singing and his worst indiscriminately. Meanwhile, another cult, a cottage industry of scholars specializing in “cultural studies,” neglects his art to focus on his status as an “iconic” figure in American popular culture; a conference to be held next year at Hofstra University on Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend, is typical of the breed.

Click here to read it all.

Frank Sinatra died 17 years ago today at the age of 82. Shortly before his death, COMMENTARY published the definitive appreciation of Sinatra’s artistry by Terry Teachout. From September 1997, here on this Throwback Thursday, is “Taking Sinatra Seriously.” Enjoy.

What will Frank Sinatra be remembered for? In the decade prior to his retirement in 1995, his singing became a grotesque and embarrassing self-caricature. His oft-reported ties to organized crime have figured prominently in the tabloids for years. And then there are the various cults that have formed around him. His most passionate fans, obsessed with his charismatic manner, celebrate his best singing and his worst indiscriminately. Meanwhile, another cult, a cottage industry of scholars specializing in “cultural studies,” neglects his art to focus on his status as an “iconic” figure in American popular culture; a conference to be held next year at Hofstra University on Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend, is typical of the breed.

Click here to read it all.

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Liberal Media’s Stephanopoulos Problem

Compared to the conflicts of interest that came up as a result of the foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while one of its principles was serving as secretary of state, this doesn’t amount to much. The news that ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos donated $75,000 to the Clintons personal “charity” isn’t even particularly shocking. Especially when you remember that before he crossed over to supposedly objective journalism, Stephanopoulos was a top operative in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and then served as communications director of his White House. But considering that the current host of ABC’s “This Week” Sunday show grilled Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer on the air without disclosing to the audience his personal involvement in his former bosses’ affairs, a mere ex post facto apology with no disciplinary action seems a weak response to this embarrassment. But while Stephanopoulos getting off without even a slap on the wrist isn’t surprising, the incident does raise serious questions about media bias and the cozy relationship some leading liberal mainstream media figures have with the once and would-be future First Family.

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Compared to the conflicts of interest that came up as a result of the foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while one of its principles was serving as secretary of state, this doesn’t amount to much. The news that ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos donated $75,000 to the Clintons personal “charity” isn’t even particularly shocking. Especially when you remember that before he crossed over to supposedly objective journalism, Stephanopoulos was a top operative in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and then served as communications director of his White House. But considering that the current host of ABC’s “This Week” Sunday show grilled Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer on the air without disclosing to the audience his personal involvement in his former bosses’ affairs, a mere ex post facto apology with no disciplinary action seems a weak response to this embarrassment. But while Stephanopoulos getting off without even a slap on the wrist isn’t surprising, the incident does raise serious questions about media bias and the cozy relationship some leading liberal mainstream media figures have with the once and would-be future First Family.

Author Schweizer is understandably upset that Stephanopoulos questioned him closely about his own possible bias in writing a muckraking book about the Clinton. Schweizer has a history as a writer connected to conservative causes and served briefly as a speechwriter to George W. Bush. That’s fair game. But how is it that the ABC host thought that was worthy of exposure but believed his own hefty contributions to the Clinton’s foundation was neither relevant nor of interest to viewers watching him try to shoot down the allegations about the Clintons?

The answer is that like the Clintons themselves, some of those around them seem to have the sense of entitlement and belief that the normal rules of political conduct or journalism ethics don’t apply to them.

To be fair, unlike most of those who gave far more than he did, Stephanopoulos cannot be accused of hoping to trade the donation for favors. He may well have given the money in order to support efforts to combat AIDS and deforestation as he said in the apology he issued today. Nevertheless, a savvier journalist than the ABC host might have noted the fact that the Clinton foundation actually spends only a fraction of the money given to it on actual charitable work (only ten percent) and contributions given to other more ethical and less political organizations would have done a lot more for those causes.

The revelation makes everything Stephanopoulos has said on the air trying to pooh-pooh the Clinton Cash scandal seem self-interested or biased but in the great scheme of things, it can’t be said that those comments did much to alter the trajectory of the story or harm the future of the republic.

But it does remind us of the intolerable coziness of so many media elites with the people they cover. We had hoped that the era of leading journalists acting as informal advisors or shills for politicians they liked was over. Surely we will never again see a repeat of the kind of behavior that led legendary Washington newsman Ben Bradlee to do that for his pal Jack Kennedy, not to mention the rest of the DC press corps that knew of JFK’s affairs but kept quiet about them. But Stephanopoulos’ involvement with the Clintons makes one wonder how anyone will be able to watch “This Week’s” coverage of the 2016 election without remember that a charter member of the Clinton machine with ongoing connections to them runs the show. Stephanopoulos has already recused himself from moderating any of next year’s presidential debates but not even that gesture can silence the questions he has raised.

Of course, we knew that before we learned about Stephanopoulos’s donations. But up until now he has been treated as a straight newsman under the informal rule that allows political operatives one free career change. We all seem to think there’s nothing much wrong with a politician or political aide crossing over into journalism so long as they keep away from partisan hackery and don’t actively work to advance the causes of their former associates or bosses. But by giving so much to what is, in effect, a non-profit political slush fund for Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Stephanopoulos has violated that rule.

He ought to recuse himself from any further reporting or comment about the Clinton Cash issue or Hillary but we know that won’t happen. Like the Clintons, Stephanopoulos will simply move on and act as if nothing has happened that should cause us to view him differently.

But while what happens to him isn’t all that important, it still must be pointed out that if a journalist were exposed as giving money to the Koch Brothers charities and then reported on them, there would be howls for his scalp throughout the media. The rules are different for liberals. Analysts who wonder about the shrinking audience for such shows and networks whose political coverage is drenched in the tired rhetoric of liberalism need wonder no more. Stephanopoulos’s lack of transparency is this story is just one more piece of evidence indicting mainstream outlets for outrageous and blatant liberal bias.

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Regime Change Works Better Than Trusting Dictators

For some reason naïve Westerners expect that every new dictator who takes over just about anywhere in the world will be a closest liberal and a reformer and an all around good guy. Remember in the early 1980s how Yuri Andropov, the KGB chief, was supposedly a jazz-loving Americanophile? Or more recently how Bashar Assad was going to be a breath of fresh air in Syria? Or how Hassan Rouhani would liberalize Iran?

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For some reason naïve Westerners expect that every new dictator who takes over just about anywhere in the world will be a closest liberal and a reformer and an all around good guy. Remember in the early 1980s how Yuri Andropov, the KGB chief, was supposedly a jazz-loving Americanophile? Or more recently how Bashar Assad was going to be a breath of fresh air in Syria? Or how Hassan Rouhani would liberalize Iran?

Such expectations have been brutally dashed time and again, and nowhere more so than in North Korea where the ascension of Kim Jong Un, following the death of his father Kim Il-Jong in 2011, was supposed to usher in Chinese-style reforms. For a refresher on such hopes, check out this Time article from 2012, headlined, “Is Kim Jong Un Preparing to be North Korea’s Economic Reformer?”

Turns out that Kim Jong Un, far from being a closet liberal, is cast in precisely the same Stalinist mode as his father and grandfather—only perhaps more so. In 2013 Kim Jong Un had his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, who was one of the most powerful officials in the regime, arrested and executed. Now, South Korean intelligence is reporting that Gen. Hyong Yong-chol, minister of the People’s Armed Forces, was executed with an anti-aircraft gun (imagine the mechanics of that) for showing “disrespect” to the new Dear Leader. “Mr. Kim deemed General Hyon disloyal after he dozed off during military events and second-guessed Mr. Kim’s orders,” South Korean intelligence claims.

That’s a pretty severe response for getting a little shuteye. In reality, one assumes, Gen. Hyon was executed for the same reason as Jong Sung-taek—because they were viewed as being potential threats to Kim Jong Un’s absolute power. Young Kim is especially paranoid about the power of the army and determined to make it utterly subservient to his will. But that Kim Jong Un is dealing with potential challengers not by sacking them or even by arresting them but by executing them shows how ruthless and determined he is to consolidate power.

He apparently chooses particularly gruesome execution techniques to make a point—other senior officials have reportedly been killed not just by anti-aircraft guns but by mortars and flame throwers if media accounts are to be believed although it’s unlikely that Jang Song-thaek was torn apart by wild dogs. The good old firing squad has apparently lost its shock value.

Kim is also, predictably, going full speed ahead with North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In fact just recently Kim was pictured smiling broadly over the launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine — the kind of reaction normal people exhibit upon the birth of a baby.

Oh and of course there is no sign of any real economic reforms. Kim’s major economic initiatives are to build ski resorts and water parks where he and other regime insiders can cavort while the ordinary people of his country live in near-starvation conditions.

Bottom line: Don’t expect a princeling like Kim Jong Un or Bashar Assad to transform the system that brought him to absolute power. Occasionally real reformers do rise to the top of dictatorial systems—e.g. Deng Xiaoping and Mikhail Gorbachev. When that happens the West must be prepared to engage. But such instances are rare. The West should stop getting seduced by faux-reformers. Sadly the only way that regimes such as those in Syria or North Korea are likely to change is if they collapse. Our policy focus should be on hastening regime change rather than trying to extend a lifeline to such cruel and capricious rulers.

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Joseph Epstein: I’d Be Lost Without COMMENTARY

Edward Shils noted that there are four means of education in the modern world: the classroom, bookstores (especially used-bookstores), the conversation of intelligent friends, and intellectual magazines. For me intellectual magazines were more important than any of the other three, and no magazine among them more so than COMMENTARY. I first happened on COMMENTARY as a student browsing in the University of Chicago Bookstore in 1957. I have not missed an issue since. The magazine spoke to my intellectual interests and passions, and still does. As a reader and as a writer, I should be lost without it.

2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

Edward Shils noted that there are four means of education in the modern world: the classroom, bookstores (especially used-bookstores), the conversation of intelligent friends, and intellectual magazines. For me intellectual magazines were more important than any of the other three, and no magazine among them more so than COMMENTARY. I first happened on COMMENTARY as a student browsing in the University of Chicago Bookstore in 1957. I have not missed an issue since. The magazine spoke to my intellectual interests and passions, and still does. As a reader and as a writer, I should be lost without it.

2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

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Snap Back Sanctions on Iran? Nyet!

In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

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In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

As Blomberg News reports, yesterday, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin made it clear that any plans for a snap back response was a figment of the president’s imagination:

The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating.

Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t  elaborate.

Russia’s role in finalizing the terms of the Iran deal will be crucial. The endless string of concessions to Iran in the talks was in no small measure the function of a P5+1 formula that gave Russia an implicit veto on every stand made by the West. When critics of President Obama’s strategy point out that tougher sanctions could still retrieve the situation and get a better deal, we were told that Russia and China will never go along with such a plan so the only thing to do is to make the best of it and take the bad deal that is on the table. Since Russia and China could effectively neuter the impact of sanctions by resuming full business ties with Iran, the administration felt it had no choice but to go along with whatever they wanted.

If that was true before, it’s even more to the point now since the existing sanctions are already crumbling even before a deal has been signed. If Russia says it wont go along with snap back, it is impossible to see how President Obama thinks such a provision can either be inserted into the final terms or implemented if it is not.

Let’s also remember that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also vowed that his country will not sign any agreement that does not lift the sanctions immediately and permanently. So if Iran won’t agree to it and Russia says snap back is off the table, how then is it going to happen?

With the June 30 deadline for finalizing the deal looming, the administration is clearly floundering. It entered into the negotiations determined to cut a deal with Iran at virtually any price and on any terms because the president believes that Iran can be brought back into the community of nations and become the lynchpin of a new U.S. strategy in the Middle East. That’s fine with Russian President Vladimir Putin who wants no part of a confrontation with Iran. He views the Obama approach as part of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East that enables Russia to recapture some of the influence that the old Soviet empire used to have in the region.

But selling a weak Iran deal to Congress and the American people is already hard enough on the terms that President Obama has promised. It will be the United Nations, and not Congress, that will initially lift the international sanctions once the pact is signed. If there are no snap back sanctions put into the deal’s text and a Russian veto forecloses any possibility of them being implemented anyway, then an essential element of the president’s vision for ensuring that Iran will abide by it has just vanished.

No one who has seen this administration negotiate with Iran ever really believed that President Obama would stand his ground on any of the remaining sticking points, whether it involved the sanctions, forcing Tehran to open up its military research facilities to UN inspectors or the future of their stockpile of enriched uranium. He’s backed down at every previous point and with U.S. leverage over Iran reduced to zero the only card left in Obama’s hand is to walk away from the deal. That won’t happen.

It remains to be seen how Congress will react to this development. But chances are President Obama is counting on retaining the votes of at least 34 Senate Democrats who could sustain his veto of a vote rejecting the deal. If, despite his recent brave talk about forcing Iran to accept his demands, he is sure that he has those votes, it won’t matter that his promises about snap back sanctions will be thrown down the memory hole along with his 2012 re-election campaign promise that any deal would require Iran to give up its nuclear program. That’s a sobering thought for those members of Congress celebrating their “victory” in gaining the right to vote on a deal.

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The False Iraq War Gotcha Narrative

Jeb Bush caused a kerfuffle with his answer to a question on Fox News Channel about the Iraq War. Megyn Kelly asked him: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” He answered:  “I would have. And so would Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. So would have everybody that was confronted by the intelligence they got.” They would have if they had the intelligence. That’s not saying everybody would now. News flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

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Jeb Bush caused a kerfuffle with his answer to a question on Fox News Channel about the Iraq War. Megyn Kelly asked him: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” He answered:  “I would have. And so would Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. So would have everybody that was confronted by the intelligence they got.” They would have if they had the intelligence. That’s not saying everybody would now. News flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

Various commentators on left and right have pounced on this answer even though it was pretty obvious that, as he later clarified, Bush misheard—he was clearly saying he supported the invasion based on “knowing what we knew then,” rather than “knowing what we know now.” Bush subsequently said it was a “hypothetical” question that he couldn’t answer. The other Republican candidates, on the other hand, are all generally saying they wouldn’t have supported the war in hindsight.

No one’s asking me, but I would like to try and answer anyway. It’s not an easy question but it’s one I’ve pondered, having been one of many who supported the war effort. I can’t tell the candidates what to say but I can tell you what my own thinking is.

If I had known exactly how the war would turn out—with American troops being pulled out prematurely, leaving Iraq to the tender mercies of Iranian militias and ISIS—I would not have supported the invasion. It’s a close call but Saddam Hussein’s regime, bad as it was, was probably preferable to the current situation in Iraq as long as sanctions remained in place. At least Saddam was a bulwark against Iranian expansion.

And I would never have supported military action against Saddam in the first place if I didn’t believe, in common with the leaders of the United States and all of our allies and even Saddam’s own generals, that he had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was an evil ruler but the U.S. can’t simply go around using its military power to knock off every dictator on the planet—there has to be a specific threat to U.S. national security to justify military action and absent the WMD (and the lack of any verifiable links between Saddam and al Qaeda) such a threat was absent.

But even after the U.S. went in based on false intelligence (which, as the Robb-Silberman commission found, was the fault of the intelligence community and not the White House), it would still have been possible to turn Operation Iraqi Freedom into a net positive—if, that it is, it had actually delivered Iraqi freedom rather than chaos.  Despite numerous missteps in the early going from 2003 to 2007, the “surge,” which President Bush courageously ordered in 2007 in the face of nearly total opposition, actually made it possible to imagine that the administration’s high hopes for Iraq might be vindicated.  Violence fell by more than 90 percent and Iraqi politics began to function again. In 2010 Vice President Biden, no less, even bragged that he was “very optimistic” about the outcome in Iraq.

That optimism was shattered by two of the Obama administration’s disastrous decisions: first, the move to back Nouri al Maliki as Iraq’s prime minister after the 2010 election (even though he was not the top vote getter; Ayad Allawi was); second, the failure to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement in 2011 to keep US troops in Iraq. Both of these miscalculations paved the way for the rise of an Iranian-dominated sectarian regime in Baghdad that victimized Sunnis and sparked a backlash in the form of ISIS. The situation was further aggravated by President Obama’s failure to do more to help the moderates in Syria’s civil war—that left Syria wide open as a staging ground for ISIS to launch an offensive into Iraq which conquered much of the Sunni Triangle.

In short, Iraq didn’t have to become the disaster it is today. Better decisions between 2003 and 2010—e.g., sending more US troops to keep law and order in 2003, not disbanding the Iraqi army in 2003, not pursuing de-Baathification as avidly as the Coalition Provisional Authority did, not backing Maliki for reelection, not pulling U.S. forces out in 2011—could very well have produced very different results. Iraq could have emerged as a contributor to regional stability rather than as a breeding ground of extremism. And while the Bush administration bears the blame for the disasters of 2003-2007 (as well as credit for the near-miraculous turnaround of 2007-2008), the Obama administration bears the blame for the post-2011 disasters. Unfortunately the U.S. left Iraq just as badly as it entered it—with no plan in either case to stabilize an inherently volatile situation.

An honest accounting thus leaves plenty of blame all around—it doesn’t feed a simple “gotcha” narrative where supporters of the invasion were all evil and opponents of it all good. The lesson of Iraq? In the future hawks should be more careful about advocating military action (especially the toppling of foreign leaders without a good day-after plan) and doves more careful about advocating pullouts once intervention has taken place. Unfortunately more recent experience in Libya (where the Obama administration helped topple a dictator without any day-after plan) and Afghanistan (where Obama is planning a pull-out at the end of 2016 with reckless disregard for the likely consequences) shows how hard it is to act on the lessons of history, even very recent history.

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Later-Term Abortion and Science Denial

On Wednesday, the White House responded to the House of Representatives passage of a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks as another example of conservatives waging a war on women. According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, the bill was “disgraceful” and “continues to add harsh burdens to the victims of sexual assault, rape and incest.” Democrats vowed that it would never get to the floor of the Senate. If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve heard this from the pro-choice movement and other liberals every time this issue has been raised in the past. But what was missing from the discussion and the harsh attacks on supporters of the measure as troglodyte oppressors of women was any mention of the feature that appeared on the front page of the New York Times last Thursday highlighting a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the viability of premature babies delivered after the 20 week period. The study showed that given care, they had a chance to survive outside the womb. But instead of taking into account medical advances that have transformed late term procedures from just a run-of-the-mill abortion into something that may be indistinguishable from infanticide, all we’re getting from liberals is the same tired rhetoric about “choice.”

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On Wednesday, the White House responded to the House of Representatives passage of a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks as another example of conservatives waging a war on women. According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, the bill was “disgraceful” and “continues to add harsh burdens to the victims of sexual assault, rape and incest.” Democrats vowed that it would never get to the floor of the Senate. If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve heard this from the pro-choice movement and other liberals every time this issue has been raised in the past. But what was missing from the discussion and the harsh attacks on supporters of the measure as troglodyte oppressors of women was any mention of the feature that appeared on the front page of the New York Times last Thursday highlighting a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the viability of premature babies delivered after the 20 week period. The study showed that given care, they had a chance to survive outside the womb. But instead of taking into account medical advances that have transformed late term procedures from just a run-of-the-mill abortion into something that may be indistinguishable from infanticide, all we’re getting from liberals is the same tired rhetoric about “choice.”

Critics are right about the House bill never becoming law. A Democratic Party that views abortion on demand as a litmus test will never permit its Senate caucus to allow it to obtain the 60 votes it needs to be considered for a vote. Indeed, some in the House are hoping that it will help generate a legal case that could give the Supreme Court a chance to rule on the issue.

But whether it succeeds or not, what is most remarkable about the debate about late term abortion is the way the left continues to treat a procedure that is morally indefensible as sacrosanct. As I wrote last week, the New England Journal study has created a tipping point in terms of the nature of this debate. Sonograms and the advances in prenatal care made over the last 40 years have transformed our understanding of abortion since the Supreme Court legalized it in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade case. Whatever one might think about abortions early in a pregnancy — and there appears to be a clear consensus in the nation behind their legality — late term procedures are a very different thing. If, as the New England Journal study proves, infants have a fighting or good chance of survival during the period covered by the House ban, it is no longer possible to defend these procedures as merely a matter of choice.

Moreover, since the House bill has exceptions dealing with rape, incest and the rare cases where the life of the mother is at stake, the ground on which opponents of the ban must stand is getting narrow and uncomfortable.

Yet nothing we have learned about the procedure appears to be enough to influence the left to change its point of view. They are convinced that any restrictions on abortion, no matter how reasonable or how popular with a public, must be resisted at all costs. This has led them into a position that I have called a new form of denial of science. But unlike their lockstep conformity on global warming theories, the facts about infants being able to live on their own after 20 weeks doesn’t seem to interest them. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times article on the House vote didn’t even reference their own front page article from last week even though that piece acknowledged that the study might well impact the debate about abortion.

Instead of mulling whether the late term abortion ban (passed on the second anniversary of the sentencing of late term abortion butcher Kermit Gosnell for slaughtering infants born alive after such procedures) is politically wise for Republicans or a godsend to Democrats eager to replay their 2012 “war on women” attacks on their foes, we should be discussing the real life implications of medical innovations on public policy. The real issue isn’t the legality of abortion as a whole — which isn’t in question — but the lives of infants who could survive but are now still able to be legally sentenced to a grisly death because of the fears of a political faction that is still in denial about a scientific consensus and medical facts.

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Obama’s Policies, Not Fox, Hurt the Poor

Yesterday, during a conversation about poverty at the Catholic-Evangelical Summit at Georgetown University, President Obama employed his favorite rhetorical device — a straw man opponent for his arguments — at the expense of his favorite target — Fox News. His point was that Americans were resistant to doing more for the poor because Fox had convinced them that the poor were unworthy of assistance thereby undermining support for government programs. But more than that, he saw this alleged sense of contempt as being linked to a belief in private initiative that he sees connected to the ills of the underprivileged. But there’s more to this issue than Obama’s trademark intolerance for criticism. At its heart, these statements tell us all we need to know about the president’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the state of the nation as well his refusal to think outside the conventional lines of liberal ideology.

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Yesterday, during a conversation about poverty at the Catholic-Evangelical Summit at Georgetown University, President Obama employed his favorite rhetorical device — a straw man opponent for his arguments — at the expense of his favorite target — Fox News. His point was that Americans were resistant to doing more for the poor because Fox had convinced them that the poor were unworthy of assistance thereby undermining support for government programs. But more than that, he saw this alleged sense of contempt as being linked to a belief in private initiative that he sees connected to the ills of the underprivileged. But there’s more to this issue than Obama’s trademark intolerance for criticism. At its heart, these statements tell us all we need to know about the president’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the state of the nation as well his refusal to think outside the conventional lines of liberal ideology.

The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is how after more than six years in office, the president is still more interested in blaming the messenger and creating a scapegoat rather than engaging with his critics. The difference between Fox’s coverage of his administration and that of many mainstream outlets is that it is not part of his cheering section. The notion that it demonizes the poor is unsubstantiated but the president’s invocation of the network isn’t meant to be part of an actual argument so much as it is a signal to his supporters that they are supposed to ignore contrary views or perspectives rather than listen to them. Though the president likes to pose as a public intellectual, he is remarkably resistant to advice even from his own side of the aisle and utterly intolerant of opposing views. From his perspective, Fox must be demonized and dismissed rather than engaged and argued with not because it’s reports are inaccurate but because anyone who watches it is open to the idea that Obama might be wrong.

But there is more to be gleaned from Obama’s remarks than a mere diversionary tactic. The problem with American poverty isn’t Fox’s coverage. The real issue is an administration that prefers to argue along these lines because of its stubborn and hypocritical devotion to the failed liberal patent nostrums of the past rather than trying creative solutions that might make things better.

The conversation about poverty has gained new urgency because of the recent riots in Baltimore which, coming soon after other protests relating to allegations of police brutality, has spawned a conversation about poverty and racism. But other than a sound byte at Fox’s expense which more or less won him the news cycle (and distracted some from the debacle on Capitol Hill where his own party spiked his effort to pass a trade bill), all the president seems to be willing to offer us is the same sort of big government liberalism that we’ve been getting from Democrats for the last 60 years with predictably dismal results.

The uncounted billions that have been spent on government “wars” on poverty have availed the nation but little. But rather than, as his predecessor Bill Clinton did for a while, own up to the fact that the era of big government was over, Obama is doubling down on the welfare state.

This is discouraging enough but what was truly disturbing was the president’s denigration of school choice options for the poor. Rather than supporting a measure that would give kids in failing inner city schools a lifeline to opportunity, the president castigated private schools as harming those who remain in the public system. More than that, he linked the idea of being educated outside of the public monopoly to “anti-government ideology.”

So when you come down to it, the problem isn’t just people watching Fox rather than liberal outlets marching in lockstep with his party but being taught in an environment not dominated by a belief in dependence on the government.

That a man who sends his own daughters to private school could denounce the efforts of those less well off than himself to get the same opportunity for their kids is an example of staggering, even Olympic-level hypocrisy. But even putting that aside the notion that the only way Americans can care about each other is if they are forced into public schools and other government entities is antithetical to the notions of individual freedom that this nation was founded upon.

More to the point, they are contrary to the basics of capitalism. The greatest engine of growth and destroyer of poverty is individual initiative and enterprise not compulsory involvement in communal institutions. More money won’t solve Baltimore’s problems or that of any other city. But better education, especially those schools that tap into the energy of individual parents and students and not government, do offer a solution.

The president likes to take credit for the economic recovery but he knows that it is plagued by endemic problems that have left many behind. But instead of addressing this, Obama and other liberals remain trapped in the ideology of the past, talking about inequality and serving failed liberal patent nostrums while ignoring or actively opposing ideas that offer a hopeful alternative. The problem isn’t a media that is insufficiently sympathetic to the poor or their self-styled champion in the White House. It’s Obama’s failed policies.

So don’t bother having sympathy for Fox News, whose enormous audience is more than enough compensation for presidential insults. If you want to be sorry for anyone, have some pity for the children of the poor that, unlike Sasha and Malia Obama, are being told to stay in failed public schools rather than getting a chance for something better.

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