Commentary Magazine


Palestinian Rock Throwing and the Humanity of a Jewish Child

One of the more familiar themes of those seeking to rationalize or even justify Palestinian rock throwing is to treat it as a largely harmless activity, especially when compared to the force the Israeli Defense Forces can bring to bear when it is engaged in combat. But earlier this week we received yet another reminder of how dishonest these arguments can be. On Tuesday, four-year-old Adele Bitton lost a fight for her life that began in March 2013 when rocks thrown by Palestinians into a car driven by her mother near the West Bank city of Ariel sent the vehicle crashing into a truck. She had been unresponsive since the attack due to neurologic injuries suffered in the attack. But little Adele bravely held on until she finally died of a respiratory infection. She is not the first Jew to be murdered as a result of this practice and probably won’t be the last. Palestinians may treat it like a national sport but rock throwing is a murderous terrorist crime, not a mere protest tactic.

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One of the more familiar themes of those seeking to rationalize or even justify Palestinian rock throwing is to treat it as a largely harmless activity, especially when compared to the force the Israeli Defense Forces can bring to bear when it is engaged in combat. But earlier this week we received yet another reminder of how dishonest these arguments can be. On Tuesday, four-year-old Adele Bitton lost a fight for her life that began in March 2013 when rocks thrown by Palestinians into a car driven by her mother near the West Bank city of Ariel sent the vehicle crashing into a truck. She had been unresponsive since the attack due to neurologic injuries suffered in the attack. But little Adele bravely held on until she finally died of a respiratory infection. She is not the first Jew to be murdered as a result of this practice and probably won’t be the last. Palestinians may treat it like a national sport but rock throwing is a murderous terrorist crime, not a mere protest tactic.

Like the justifications heard for the rockets launched indiscriminately at Israeli cities, towns and villages, apologists for the Palestinians say they should be allowed to throw rocks because they don’t have tanks or an air force. For Palestinians, the sight of a Jew in a car living in a place where Arabs would prefer no Jews to live is enough to justify a rock thrown at a moving vehicle. But whatever one thinks about West Bank settlements, the rocks are lethal weapons. When used in this manner they are a practice that any American who was subjected to similar treatment on a U.S. highway would consider attempted murder.

The rocks thrown by Palestinians are neither acts of peaceful disobedience or a plea for Israel to withdraw to the June 1967 lines. To the contrary, like the rockets launched by Hamas, they are a visceral expression of the Palestinian belief that any Jew living anywhere in the country, whether in the West Bank or pre-1967 Israel are fair game for murder. Those who throw them may be depicted as kids just engaging in youthful pranks or conducting a protest against Israeli policies. But the truth is that they are part of a process by which Palestinian youths are desensitized to the humanity of their Jewish neighbors.

The death of this child wasn’t mourned, let alone mentioned in the Western press. Israel’s critics don’t care about her because she was a “settler” and therefore worthy of being singled out for murder. But, like the Palestinian children who are used as human shields by Hamas terrorists, she was a human being whose right to life deserved to be respected. May her memory be for a blessing and may those responsible for her death and the many other Israelis who have been injured and terrorized in this fashion be punished for their crimes.

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Islamism and Obama’s Dangerous Flight from Reality

This past week has been dominated by comments by the president in which he continues to insist that the brutal acts of violence by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamic terrorist groups are completely unrelated to Islam, to the point that he and his administration look absurd in their efforts to avoid using words like “radical Islam” or variations of it.

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This past week has been dominated by comments by the president in which he continues to insist that the brutal acts of violence by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamic terrorist groups are completely unrelated to Islam, to the point that he and his administration look absurd in their efforts to avoid using words like “radical Islam” or variations of it.

Let me explain why there’s more to all this than simply semantics, starting with this proposition: Engaging in acts of deception and self-deception is unwise. Yet that is precisely what Mr. Obama is doing. He persists in putting forth a false narrative that he insists is a true one. And then there is the supreme arrogance of the president, assuming that his pronouncements about Islam will be received by the Muslim world like pronouncements of the Pope will be received by the Catholic world. Of course, this is a man who declared that if elected president he would stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet, so it shouldn’t shock us that he believes his shallow and incomplete theological interpretations of Islam will carry weight across the Islamic world.

Memo to Mr. Obama: They won’t. Having you lecture the Islamic world about the true nature of Islam actually strengthens the jihadists, who will be thrilled to get in a theological debate in which the Christian president of the United States offers one view and Islamic jihadists and imams offer another.

You might also think an American president would understand that in order to defeat an enemy you need to understand the nature of the enemy you face; that in order to win a war, you need to understand the nature of the war you are in. But you would be wrong. Mr. Obama understands neither, which explains why he’s so inept at prosecuting this war and why the Islamic State is extending its reach beyond Syria and Iraq into nations like Algeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya.

The president, then, is utterly clueless and misdiagnosing the problem. Think if you had a pain in your chest and assumed it was heart burn when it was a heart attack. That would be a problem, since to address the threat you have to diagnosis it correctly. When it comes to Islamism, Mr. Obama is badly misdiagnosing the threat we face.

If it were merely a matter of semantics, it would concern me less. If he were waging this war successfully, with intelligence, purpose, and focus, and an unbreakable will to win, he could refer to ISIS as the Islamic version of the Quakers–even, as absurd as it sounds, as a “jayvee team”–and most of us might be willing to overlook it. But in this case, the president’s flawed semantics are a manifestation of a badly confused mind and a fundamentally flawed worldview. And this, in turn, is causing him to downplay the threat we face.

As a result of this, Mr. Obama is waging this war (his attorney general insists we’re not at war) in a half-hearted, going-through-the-motions fashion, constantly putting constraints on what he’s willing to do to confront ISIS specifically and militant Islam more broadly. For example, the president, in sending Congress a use-of-force resolution against ISIS, wants to put into statutory language that Congress “does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” He announced the surge of forces in Afghanistan–and declared in the very same speech a withdrawal date. By bungling the Status of Forces Agreement, we ended up withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq, which has led to a descent into chaos and violence. The president was told by many members of his national-security team to support the moderate opposition in Syria, yet he refused until it was too late. He declared the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi to be a great success, only to ignore Libya, which is now a failed state and a haven for jihadists. In interviews, Mr. Obama continually underplays the threat we face. And minutes after speaking about the beheading of an American by ISIS, the president, in a staggeringly inappropriate display, hit the links for a round of golf. In all these actions and more, he is advertising his unseriousness and weakness to our enemies and our allies, many of whom no longer trust us.

To be sure, militant Islam is not a dominant current of thought within Islam. But it is a current of thought that exists and is particularly malevolent and virulent. If Mr. Obama understood this, he might be more prepared to combat it and defeat it. And defeating it on the battlefield is, at the end of the day, the best and really the only way to delegitimize it in the Muslim world. To show them and the world, including the Islamic world, that we are the “strong horse” and they are the “weak horse.”

The president should get on with this task. But we’ve all seen enough to know he won’t. As a result, much death and great horror will continue to spread throughout the world, and eventually, I fear, to America itself.

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An IAEA Report and Obama’s Zeal for a Deal

The decision by the Obama administration to cut Israel out of the loop when it comes to information about the secret nuclear negotiations with Iran has once again put the feud between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into the spotlight. The decision was based on White House allegations that the Israelis were distorting the facts about the generous U.S. offer to the Islamist regime. But a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to find out what’s really going on in their nuclear facilities puts this dispute in a very different light. With the Americans seeking to allow Iran the right to keep several thousand centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile, the stonewalling of the IAEA should cause observers to think carefully about the secrets the U.S. is keeping and whether they reflect the president’s zeal for a deal with Iran more than his past promises to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

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The decision by the Obama administration to cut Israel out of the loop when it comes to information about the secret nuclear negotiations with Iran has once again put the feud between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into the spotlight. The decision was based on White House allegations that the Israelis were distorting the facts about the generous U.S. offer to the Islamist regime. But a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to find out what’s really going on in their nuclear facilities puts this dispute in a very different light. With the Americans seeking to allow Iran the right to keep several thousand centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile, the stonewalling of the IAEA should cause observers to think carefully about the secrets the U.S. is keeping and whether they reflect the president’s zeal for a deal with Iran more than his past promises to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA reported yesterday that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions or allow inspections of sites that would reveal the extent of their military nuclear research. This is a crucial problem because without the UN body knowing what work Iran has done on nuclear weapons and designs, any accord based on incomplete Western intelligence or untrustworthy Iranian admissions would be meaningless. More to the point, if, as President Obama seems likely to do, the sanctions on Iran are lifted after a deal is signed, the gaps in Western knowledge of the Iranian program may allow the Islamist regime to simply proceed toward a weapon with facilities and research about which the U.S. is currently unaware.

As the New York Times notes:

The report said the agency “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Because Iran has not provided explanations for the agency’s questions about all nuclear-related work, the report said, “the agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

The problems with negotiating with Iran are well known.

On the one hand, their negotiating tactics have always revolved around delaying tactics that seek to draw out the talks in such a way that their Western interlocutors are enticed to make a series of concessions in the hope that the Iranians will finally agree. Running out the clock in this manner both sweetens a potential deal for them—as Obama’s shocking abandonment of his past principles illustrates—as well as allowing their program extra time in which to get closer to their nuclear goal.

These tactics have exploited President Obama’s open desire for détente with Iran. But in the absence of credible intelligence on their ability to “break out” to a bomb, Washington is negotiating in the dark.

The outline of a deal with Iran is already clear. As numerous reports have already established, the U.S. is prepared to allow Iran to keep most, if not all of its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for promises that it has no assurances will be kept. That will make Iran a threshold nuclear power even if it doesn’t violate the terms of the agreement. Once sanctions are lifted, it will be difficult, if not impossible to put them back in place. No matter how weak the deal or how unlikely Iran is to keep its word, President Obama will seize on it as a major foreign-policy achievement and not be inclined to question anything the Iranians do.

Thus, the Israeli alarm about this act of appeasement is more than justified. But even if you doubt Netanyahu’s judgment, the stonewalling of the IAEA should worry even the most ardent supporters of the president’s policy. Without firm knowledge of Iran’s capabilities and research—something that is unlikely to be obtained given the secretive nature of the regime and its extensive and widely dispersed nuclear facilities—U.S. guarantees about stopping Iran long before a bomb can be constructed seem like hollow promises. Put in this context, Netanyahu’s sniping about U.S. policy seems less like the pointless spat depicted in the U.S. press and more like reasonable complaints about a dangerous and secret initiative that deserve to be treated seriously.

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Mosul and Obama’s Phony War on ISIS

During the two days of the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism there was little evidence to prove that the administration is serious about defeating the ISIS terrorists. Not only is President Obama unwilling to call Islamist terrorists what they are and admit the religious roots of this conflict (hence the euphemism about generic violent extremism), his speeches seemed to give the impression that he thinks jobs programs and better community relations can defeat the group. And while the press briefing conducted at the end of the event by the person described by the press as “an official from the United States Central Command” finally did address what is primarily a military problem, the announcement that there would be an offensive aimed at retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS didn’t lend much credibility to the counter-terrorism theme of the conference. The telegraphing of what might otherwise be considered a military secret only confirmed the impression that the U.S. is fighting a phony war against ISIS.

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During the two days of the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism there was little evidence to prove that the administration is serious about defeating the ISIS terrorists. Not only is President Obama unwilling to call Islamist terrorists what they are and admit the religious roots of this conflict (hence the euphemism about generic violent extremism), his speeches seemed to give the impression that he thinks jobs programs and better community relations can defeat the group. And while the press briefing conducted at the end of the event by the person described by the press as “an official from the United States Central Command” finally did address what is primarily a military problem, the announcement that there would be an offensive aimed at retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS didn’t lend much credibility to the counter-terrorism theme of the conference. The telegraphing of what might otherwise be considered a military secret only confirmed the impression that the U.S. is fighting a phony war against ISIS.

Let’s concede that the fact that the coalition of Iraqi, Kurdish, and pro-Iranian forces fighting ISIS were going to try to retake Mosul sometime this year is about as much of a secret as the Allied plans to invade France were in 1944. But there is a difference between what is inevitable and a press conference bragging about an event that hasn’t happened yet and whose success is by no means assured.

The official said that the offensive against ISIS in Mosul would begin in April and May and would require somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 troops from the various forces aligned against the Islamist terrorists. As the New York Times reported:

It is unusual for American officials to discuss the details and timing of a military operation before it occurs. But the official said his intent was to describe the Iraqis’ “level of commitment” in regaining control of Mosul, which he said was held by as many as 2,000 fighters from the Islamic State.

“There are a lot of pieces that have to come together, and we want to make sure the conditions are right,” the official said. “But this is their plan. They are bought into it. They are moving forward.”

The Times is right about this being unusual. In war, broadcasting even the most obvious moves is generally considered dumb, if not a breach of security, especially in an administration that has conducted more prosecutions of leaks of secret information than any of its predecessors. But the official from the Central Command need not fear that he will suffer the fate of others who have fed information to the press. He was there at the direction of the White House specifically to provide some proof that, despite all the pointless politically correct rhetoric spouted by the president, the war against ISIS was not merely a theoretical exercise.

The administration’s credibility gap on ISIS is enormous. Months after the president announced that he was authorizing strikes on the Islamist group, there has been little progress toward the announced goal of degrading and then destroying the terrorists. To the contrary, ISIS has not only not lost any of the enormous territories it overran in 2014, it has also shown itself capable of conducting operations on different fronts simultaneously, while also demonstrating its ferocious resolve to kill Westerners and non-Muslims via the media of its horrific murder videos showing captives being beheaded or burned alive. The recent atrocity in Libya, in which Egyptian Christians were beheaded, also illustrated the fact that it is expanding its reach throughout the region.

The administration has not had much good news to offer on its efforts to fight ISIS. The low volume of air strikes, especially when compared to other recent U.S. conflicts, provided more evidence of the president’s signature lead-from-behind style in which allies were expected to do the heavy lifting. But though this minimal commitment is in President Obama’s comfort zone, it’s also sending a message to ISIS that they needn’t fear the U.S. Thus, the temptation to broadcast plans for an offensive against ISIS this spring proved too much to resist for a White House desperate to win the news cycle even if that doesn’t do much to hurt ISIS.

But though no one doubts that the coalition of Iraqi, Kurdish, and pro-Iranian forces fighting ISIS will try to take Mosul, the administration is gambling with the lives of its allies when it makes such announcements. It’s true that there’s not much point worrying about the element of surprise in a battle where no surprise is possible. But given the trouble these elements have had in coordinating their efforts, the Iraqi army’s poor performance, the Kurds’ lack of up-to-date weaponry, and the troublesome role of Iran in the fighting, there are no sure things in this war even if we are told that ISIS only has a couple thousand fighters in Mosul at the moment.

The point is governments that are successful in prosecuting wars don’t consider press conferences about battles that haven’t yet been fought a substitute for a war-winning strategy. To date, the U.S. has been fighting a phony war against ISIS that has been more talk than action. This week’s White House extravaganza only reinforced that image.

When President Obama authorizes briefings by Pentagon officials about battles that have already been fought and won, we’ll know he knows what he’s doing. Until then, neither ISIS nor the American public should be too impressed by what we’re hearing from the White House.

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Watch As the Media Creates A False Race Narrative in Real Time

The Obama administration’s recent losing streak has been a problem not only for the president but also for the bearers of bad news. As I wrote yesterday, the political media get noticeably uncomfortable when the White House’s failings can’t be easily spun away. What they needed was a distraction. And that’s exactly what they got when Politico reported Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser casting doubt on whether Barack Obama “loves America.” In the media’s completely predictable and utterly embarrassing overreaction, you could watch two narratives develop in real time.

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The Obama administration’s recent losing streak has been a problem not only for the president but also for the bearers of bad news. As I wrote yesterday, the political media get noticeably uncomfortable when the White House’s failings can’t be easily spun away. What they needed was a distraction. And that’s exactly what they got when Politico reported Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser casting doubt on whether Barack Obama “loves America.” In the media’s completely predictable and utterly embarrassing overreaction, you could watch two narratives develop in real time.

An overarching rule of the mainstream media’s in-kind contribution to the Obama political machine is to avoid anything that can be construed as actual debate. So while Giuliani’s comments were following in Obama’s own footsteps, as the president has not hesitated to question the patriotism of those who disagree with him, the outrage was immediate. In an indication of just how bad things have been for the Obama White House lately, the press has now made “Giuliani was mean to Dear Leader” a two-day story. And they’ve also telegraphed how they hope to take it further.

The first way is to make it part of the 2016 conversation. This is generally how the press responds to any controversial statements by a Republican: try to get the other Republicans on the record about it. Thus while Democrats are never held responsible as a party for the extreme statements made by fellow liberals, Republicans are to be hounded by the president’s attack dogs for the perceived thought crime of any other Republican.

Scott Walker was asked about it, and gave the proper reply: he’s not Giuliani’s keeper. So the press went to annoy other Republicans. Talking Points Memo posted a piece describing the leftist media’s battle plan: “5 Points On How Obama’s Love For America Became The GOP’s Next 2016 Test”:

“I’m not questioning his patriotism. He’s a patriot, I’m sure,” Giuliani said. “What I’m saying is that in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things I used to hear Bill Clinton say, about how much he loves America.”

In a Thursday morning interview on CNBC, Walker was asked about Giuliani’s remarks but declined to comment on whether he believed Obama “loves America.”

Later in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stood apart from his GOP counterparts by openly saying he has “no doubt” Obama loves the country, although he disagrees with the President’s policies.

And before long, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued a statement declaring his refusal to condemn Giuliani’s comments because the gist of them was “true.”

With that, it was official: Whether the President of the United States actually loves the United States had become the debate du jour among potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

Notice Republicans did not actually set out to make this silly debate a litmus test. But as TPM points out, the media did. And so it shall be.

And while this may seem haphazard, as if the media’s just throwing whatever it can against the wall to change the conversation from Team Obama’s serial incompetence, there’s a point here. Why does the left want Republicans to talk about Giuliani’s criticism of Obama? Because they—of course—have deemed it racist.

Although—or perhaps, because—this particular accusation is obviously untrue, political reporters chased it feverishly. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Confessore got Rudy on the record in response:

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

In other words: Giuliani thinks the racism angle is silly, because the aspect of Obama’s worldview he’s criticizing comes from Obama’s immersion in white environments. The president’s “blackness” has nothing to do with it; if anything, it’s the opposite.

So naturally the Times manipulated Giuliani’s statement and slapped a patently false headline on the story that seems almost designed to destroy the credibility of the reporters who got the quote: “Giuliani: Obama Had a White Mother, So I’m Not a Racist.” I don’t know if Haberman and Confessore objected, but I would hope so. They’re far more honest than their editors want you to think they are.

But the Times report did get one more good quote out of Giuliani. This one was also prefaced with concern it would be controversial, but at least this time Giuliani helped himself by saying something indisputably true:

Mr. Giuliani said he also objected to the president’s comments about the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast this month, in which Mr. Obama said that during the Inquisition, people had “committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

“Now we know there’s something wrong with the guy,” Mr. Giuliani said of the president. “I thought that one sort of went off the cliff.’’

He added: “What I don’t find with Obama — this will get me in more trouble again — is a really deep knowledge of history. I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”

As I wrote last week, Obama’s historical ignorance has come to be the defining feature of his public remarks. What was more troubling was the fact that no one around Obama seems to know much history either. But no matter: whenever the president’s own behavior is indefensible, they can always find someone to call a racist.

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Concerned About Sexual Assaults on Campus? Let Women Defend Themselves.

One of the hot-button issues of the last year is about to get even more contentious. After a year in which both the White House and many members of Congress have sought to highlight what they say is an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, legislators in ten states are seeking to change the laws to make it easier for women to defend themselves against assailants. But don’t expect the president and many of those who have done so much to try and focus attention on the issue to be supporting these initiatives. That’s because the measures in question are an attempt to change the law to make it possible for students and faculty to carry firearms on college campuses. Stopping rape may be important to some people, but not so important as to cause them to join forces with the gun-rights movement.

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One of the hot-button issues of the last year is about to get even more contentious. After a year in which both the White House and many members of Congress have sought to highlight what they say is an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, legislators in ten states are seeking to change the laws to make it easier for women to defend themselves against assailants. But don’t expect the president and many of those who have done so much to try and focus attention on the issue to be supporting these initiatives. That’s because the measures in question are an attempt to change the law to make it possible for students and faculty to carry firearms on college campuses. Stopping rape may be important to some people, but not so important as to cause them to join forces with the gun-rights movement.

As the New York Times reports, proposals to allow guns on campus are getting negative reviews from most of those who have been trying to make rape prevention a front-burner issue. They claim that acquaintances rather than strangers perpetrate most rapes, making possession of a gun less likely to prevent the crime. An even stronger argument is made by those who say it’s free access to alcohol that is fueling sexual assaults rather than the lack of access to firearms.

But even if we concede that date rape and drinking are the real problems, the only argument against providing campus residents with the ability to defend themselves with weapons has more to do with hostility to guns and liberal ideology than protecting women against sexual assault.

It is true that those behind the efforts to amend the laws to allow students and faculty to carry weapons are exploiting an issue that isn’t necessarily associated with the movement to promote gun rights. But the hypocrisy here isn’t to be found among the supporters of the National Rifle Association and other groups that seek to expand firearm ownership. Rather, it is among those who, until this issue came up, were shouting from the rooftops that something had to be done to protect students and faculty from what we have been told is a steep increase in sexual assaults. Though allowing people to carry guns on campus won’t stop all or even most rapes, can anyone credibly argue that it wouldn’t prevent some of these crimes? Can anyone doubt that if gun possession became more common that would constitute a serious deterrent against sexual predators?

It may be true that the last things most residents of academia want to see are more guns. The left, which dominates the vast majority of colleges and universities, tends to see the Second Amendment that guarantees the right of Americans to bear arms as a mistake that should be annulled. They also may think that widespread gun ownership will endanger more people than it helps and create a Wild West atmosphere that will create more casualties from accidents and other mishaps.

But those who claim that more must be done to prevent sexual assaults are on shaky ground when they say that giving a potential victim a weapon that could stop any attacker in their tracks is the one measure that must be considered out of bounds as a solution to the problem.

It is undoubtedly true that efforts aimed at stopping binge drinking and the widespread consumption of alcohol on campuses would be a more effective method of stopping rapes and many other problems. But opponents of gun rights are exposed as hypocrites when they claim that firearms are the one measure to stop rape that is off the table.

College campuses are places where other rights, such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment, are often sacrificed to political correctness. But just as students should not be asked to give up their right to free speech, neither should they necessarily be required to give up those protected by the Second Amendment.

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Elie Wiesel and the Defense of Jewish Life

Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

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Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

According to Beinart, this is just one more example of Wiesel being “blind to the harm that Jews cause.” Whatever your opinion about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to give the speech (and I’ve repeatedly questioned it), the notion that an Israeli leader speaking up to urge the world to stop Iran obtaining the ability to threaten or to carry out another Holocaust is causing “harm” is not only outrageous. It speaks volumes about the mindset of Beinart and others like him who view Jewish self-defense with more alarm than the continued efforts of those who seek to slaughter Jews.

I think Netanyahu made a terrible tactical mistake by choosing to inject himself into a debate over Iran sanctions that the side he supported was already winning. President Obama’s efforts to spike those sanctions was given a major boost when, fairly or not, Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol became the issue, diverting the nation from the administration’s indefensible efforts to promote détente with Iran. But since Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech, his critics are not so much focused on his blunder as on their desire to silence all discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat so as to give more room for Obama’s push for appeasement.

Beinart claims Wiesel made two unsupported statements in his letter. The first is that the U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a “terrible” deal. The second is that an Iranian nuclear weapon could mean the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel. Yet there’s not much to Beinart’s objections here.

There’s not much dispute about the terms the U.S. is currently offering Iran. Discarding his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama has already put on the table an offer that would allow the Islamist regime to retain thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium as well as letting them keep control of their stockpile of nuclear fuel. Administration apologists claim that this is the best that the West can do in any bargain with Iran, but Beinart doesn’t even bother to make that weak argument but simply writes as if the much discussed terms of the negotiations are a mystery that will only be revealed at the signing ceremony. Such terms would not be much of a deterrent to stop Iran from building a bomb; the only question being whether a nuclear “breakout” would take a year or, as many intelligence sources insist, far less time. Nor does he deign to dispute that even if Iran initially abided by those terms, it would make Tehran a nuclear threshold state that would make this terrorist sponsoring government more powerful, aiding its drive for regional hegemony.

Even less convincing is Beinart’s claim that an Iranian nuke wouldn’t be an existential threat to Israel. Though he can quote some retired Israeli security officials downplaying the threat, he knows very well that the dispute in those circles is not so much about the danger but about the best way to counter it with many deprecating the possibility of an Israeli military strike.

Though Iran might not use such a weapon to destroy Israel, their possession of one does raise such a possibility for two reasons. One is that they are building ballistic missiles that could deliver such a bomb. The other is that leading figures of this unabashedly anti-Semitic regime have repeatedly stated their desire to annihilate Israel.

Put in that context, Wiesel’s assertions are unexceptionable. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of President Obama’s statements about an Iranian weapon in his first term during which he pledged never to allow such a development to take place, Wiesel’s position actually seems in concert with that of the administration.

But Beinart’s real agenda here isn’t to make weak arguments in defense of the administration’s efforts to build a new entente with Tehran. Rather, it is to denounce Wiesel’s instinct to defend Israel’s government against efforts to delegitimize its attempts to defend the Jewish state. Because he thinks, or at least at one point thought, about the writer as a symbol of concern for human rights, Beinart is appalled that Wiesel thinks Israel shouldn’t be forced to make unilateral concessions or that Jerusalem should be divided. He thinks he should be in the forefront of those flaying Israel for its policies on the West Bank rather than defending its current government as he has its predecessors led by both Likud and Labor prime ministers.

But again, this tells us more about Wiesel’s grasp of the essence of the conflict than any alleged insensitivity to the sufferings of the Palestinians. To the contrary, Wiesel has always been outspoken about the need to respect the humanity and the rights of Palestinians. But at the same time he has celebrated Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem because that means for the first time in its history, all faiths have access to their holy places.

Moreover, Wiesel’s defense of Israeli efforts to defend its people against a continuing campaign of Palestinian terrorism isn’t insensitive to non-Jews. He grasps that it is the Palestinian national organizations that have perpetuated this conflict despite repeated Israeli offers of peace and independence that have been turned down flat by both Fatah and Hamas.

Beinart rightly senses that so long as an icon of humanity like Wiesel is willing to stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself and to not be forced into unilateral and suicidal concessions, non-Jews will understand that the Jewish state’s rights should be respected. Whatever one may think of the current government of Israel, the notion that its efforts to preserve the existence of the state and the security of its people “defile” Wiesel’s ideals is a monstrous distortion of the truth. For those who have wrongly come to view Israel as the villain in the Middle East conflict and who reflexively deny the Palestinians’ rejection of peace and coexistence, any defense of Israel is too much, even when it comes from someone whose bona fides as an authority on human rights dwarf those of a Peter Beinart.

In the context of the politics of either Israel or the United States, Wiesel is a not right-winger or an opponent of compromise, assuming that peace with the Palestinians were ever possible. He is, rather, a centrist who simply sticks to consensus issues like Iran and a united Jerusalem. But to the likes of Beinart, even those positions are anathema.

Beinart’s current niche in the secular media is as a Jewish writer who can be relied upon to denounce Israel’s government so it is little surprise that he would defend appeasement of Iran. But when he matches his puny stature as a critic of the Jewish state against Wiesel’s standing as an advocate of Jewish life, he is out of his depth. By bashing the famous survivor in this manner, he is doing more to damage his own tattered reputation than undermining that of Wiesel.

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Handsy Joe’s Veep Creep and the Media

One of the clearest signs of media bias is when reporters are made more uncomfortable by the act of criticizing the Obama administration than by the behavior they’re criticizing. Case in point: yesterday’s piece in the Washington Post by Nia-Malika Henderson, in which she struggles mightily with the fact that, thanks to conservative objections, Joe Biden’s incredibly creepy behavior toward women in public is getting tougher to ignore.

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One of the clearest signs of media bias is when reporters are made more uncomfortable by the act of criticizing the Obama administration than by the behavior they’re criticizing. Case in point: yesterday’s piece in the Washington Post by Nia-Malika Henderson, in which she struggles mightily with the fact that, thanks to conservative objections, Joe Biden’s incredibly creepy behavior toward women in public is getting tougher to ignore.

Handsy Joe’s veep creep is by now a staple of the Obama administration’s public events. Conservatives have long been frustrated by the pass Biden’s racist comments, obviously false stories, and emptyheaded rhetoric get from the media when the same press would hammer Republicans for even approaching the vice president’s antics. What conservatives would really prefer is not that Biden be run out of town with the same pitchforks and torches employed against Republicans but that the political correctness that suffocates public discourse in America be set aside far more often for both parties.

The latest incident was at Tuesday’s ceremony for new Defense Secretary Ash Carter. While Carter was at the podium, his wife walked up nearby. Joe Biden put his hands on her shoulders, left them there for about thirty seconds, and then leaned in to whisper something in her ear. The screenshot of the whisper quickly made the rounds (the full video of the encounter is here) and conservatives began another round of “What If A Republican Did This?”

But this latest incident had more force than, say, Biden’s comment about Somali immigrants being cab drivers in Delaware (made the same day). That’s because the Obama White House’s “war on women” has played virtually any Republican policy as some sort of insult to women. Additionally, the continuing scandal of false rape allegations, fake campus rape statistics, and the denial of due process to young men accused of sexual assault has created an atmosphere where many men seem to be assumed guilty from the outset. Yet Biden gets a pass.

So Henderson took to the Post to explain Biden’s behavior by claiming he’s just a goofy throwback to an age when accosting women was a more endearing practice. And her defense-which-she-insists-is-not-a-defense of Biden is a perfect example of the lengths liberal journalists will go to convince themselves and the country that they didn’t put a hound and a weirdo a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Here’s Henderson, playing off a column by the Washington Examiner’s Byron York:

Biden is a creature of his time; that’s not so much an excuse as it is context. He is folksy and always (overly) familiar, the kind of guy who name-checks somebody named “Mouse” at an NAACP convention.

Those personality quirks have typically been viewed as part of his charm and political strength. But the recent display does, as York and others suggest, raise the specter of sexism.

Well, no. The display doesn’t raise the specter of sexism so much as conservative journalists fed up with the hypocrisy point out the sexism. Henderson is talking about it because York is talking about it.

Henderson continues:

The right has suggested that if Biden were a Republican, the press would be much harder on him. I’m not so sure that’s the case.

That needs no specific rebuttal, right? It’s too obviously insane to need any further deconstruction, yes? Back to Henderson:

He is given a pass because he is from a different time. There are plenty of older male politicians whose frame of reference in greeting the opposite gender is far too 1960s rather than 2010s; almost none of them are on-camera nearly as much as Biden is.

Sure. And of course that was the reaction when Foster Freiss retold an old birth-control joke, right? No? It’s also worth pointing out that the “he’s old, give him a break” defense doesn’t seem to show up on other issues for GOPers either (like race).

Here’s Henderson’s conclusion:

But as a man who prides himself on his work on women’s issues, Biden might heed his own advice. He said that attitudes are changing about what “constitutes appropriate behavior.” That should probably apply to Joe Biden’s interactions with women too.

Kid gloves doesn’t begin to cover it.

Look, Biden’s not some threatening sexual predator. I’m sure he means well. And in the annals of Democratic Party men, he’s tame. Allahpundit grades such incidents “On a scale of one to Ted Kennedy.” Ted’s more successful brother was probably worse, though he didn’t kill anybody.

On some level, you can’t really expect the party of FDR and Bill Clinton to even notice behavior like Biden’s. But as the Washington Post proves, even if you do finally force them to notice, you can’t make them care. After all, it’s not like Biden’s a Republican.

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How the Ukraine Ceasefire Encouraged More Violence–And Got It

The coverage of the repeated Russian invasions of Ukraine has proved that the plain meaning of words is among the war’s casualties. This is a common feature of Russian foreign policy. In 1999, the Russian military conducted a week of airstrikes on Chechnya and then sent in ground troops; the New York Times reported that the invasion “raised concern that Russia is on the verge of another full-scale war in Chechnya.” In November, it wasn’t until an all-out military incursion into Ukraine that, as the Times reported, “Western officials finally seemed ready to acknowledge that a cease-fire agreement signed in September had fallen apart.” And today the Times again adds to the list.

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The coverage of the repeated Russian invasions of Ukraine has proved that the plain meaning of words is among the war’s casualties. This is a common feature of Russian foreign policy. In 1999, the Russian military conducted a week of airstrikes on Chechnya and then sent in ground troops; the New York Times reported that the invasion “raised concern that Russia is on the verge of another full-scale war in Chechnya.” In November, it wasn’t until an all-out military incursion into Ukraine that, as the Times reported, “Western officials finally seemed ready to acknowledge that a cease-fire agreement signed in September had fallen apart.” And today the Times again adds to the list.

The headline on today’s report from Ukraine is “Ukrainian Soldiers’ Retreat From Eastern Town Raises Doubt for Truce.” The eastern town is Debaltseve, which had been a flash point in Russia’s attempt to achieve enough strategic contiguity in its breakaway Ukrainian territory, which straddles Donetsk and Luhansk. And they had to retreat because they were under enemy fire, not because they were in the mood for an ice cream cone or got bored holding territory. And they were under enemy fire several days into the latest ceasefire agreement.

Yet here is how the Times sets the scene:

Ukrainian soldiers were forced to fight their way out of the embattled town of Debaltseve in the early hours of Wednesday, casting further doubt on the credibility of a days-old cease-fire and eroding the promise of ending a war in Europe that has killed more than 5,000 people.

It was unclear Wednesday how many of the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the eastern Ukrainian town had survived the hellish retreat under enemy fire and avoided capture. President Petro O. Poroshenko put the figure at 80 percent, but since the Ukrainian military has never commented on its troop strength, the final accounting may never be known.

By midday on Wednesday, as limping and exhausted soldiers began showing up in Ukraine-held territory, it became clear that the Ukrainian forces had suffered major losses, both in equipment and human life.

“Many trucks left, and only a few arrived,” said one soldier, who offered only his rank, sergeant, and first name, Volodomyr, as he knelt on the sidewalk smoking. “A third of us made it, at most.”

Here’s the obvious question: What is a ceasefire? Because what the Times is describing isn’t a ceasefire; it’s a broken promise. Here’s another question: Aside from stopping the fighting, on what does the “credibility” of a ceasefire depend?

What we have here is not a ceasefire whose credibility is in doubt. What we have here is the continuation of a war. The ceasefire terms were agreed upon last Thursday. It was scheduled to go into effect Saturday at midnight. That left a couple of days when fighting was to be expected to intensify, as the two sides scrambled to hold as much land as possible when the buzzer sounded.

There were legitimate concerns, then, that the way the ceasefire was struck would incentivize an uptick in the very violence the European powers were trying to end. But that violence was expected before the ceasefire. The hope, and the risk, in agreeing to this kind of ceasefire was that it would only be a momentary increase in bloodletting, a price they were willing to pay if it meant that two days later there would be peace.

It was always a gamble. European leaders fell into a trap that often ensnares policymakers. It’s not so much about unintended consequences, though it’s related. It’s more about the danger in incentivizing a major change in the underlying conditions that the policy is designed to address. That’s why agreeing to a ceasefire that wouldn’t begin for days and would risk radically altering the status quo–indeed, it would encourage altering the status quo–was a policy that undermined its own prospects for success right away.

The Economist gets it about right here:

THE latest peace plan never had much chance. Shortly after signing it in Minsk, rebel leaders declared that Debaltseve, where several thousand Ukrainian troops were located, fell outside its terms. After the “ceasefire” started on February 15th, they continued their assault. By February 18th the flag of Novorossiya, the rebels’ pseudo-state, had been raised over the city centre. “It’s always tough to lose,” quipped Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, ordered a risky retreat and tried to paint the defeat as a victory, saying his troops’ swift escape had put Russia “to shame”.

No, the ceasefire never had much chance. Because it didn’t require the two sides to cease firing, at least not yet. And it was far too vague geographically to ever really require them to cease firing at all. Its vagueness was not an accident; European leaders made it clear they would not and could not stop Russia, and neither could Ukraine.

It was up to Vladimir Putin to decide where this round of fighting stopped. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that this round of fighting has yet to stop.

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Obama’s ISIS Narrative Problem

On the second day of what is actually being billed as the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, President Obama tried again today to explain his strategy for defeating ISIS. But as with his speech on Wednesday, the result was a confusing rhetorical mess that failed to prioritize the need to defeat the terrorists. The president is clearly worried about reinforcing what he considers to be ISIS’s narrative of this war, but in doing so he seems to have actually conceded victory to them. By doggedly sticking to his position that there is no such thing as Islamist terror and by focusing on the economic and political grievances of such groups, the president undermined any notion that the U.S. was committed to the fight. Indeed, rather than bolster the West’s resistance to ISIS, the massive effort expended on this public-relations extravaganza may have only solidified the belief among the terrorists that this president isn’t someone they should either fear or take seriously.

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On the second day of what is actually being billed as the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, President Obama tried again today to explain his strategy for defeating ISIS. But as with his speech on Wednesday, the result was a confusing rhetorical mess that failed to prioritize the need to defeat the terrorists. The president is clearly worried about reinforcing what he considers to be ISIS’s narrative of this war, but in doing so he seems to have actually conceded victory to them. By doggedly sticking to his position that there is no such thing as Islamist terror and by focusing on the economic and political grievances of such groups, the president undermined any notion that the U.S. was committed to the fight. Indeed, rather than bolster the West’s resistance to ISIS, the massive effort expended on this public-relations extravaganza may have only solidified the belief among the terrorists that this president isn’t someone they should either fear or take seriously.

According to the president, to say that ISIS is an Islamic terrorist group is to give credence to the organization’s narrative in which they depict their struggle as being one of a Western war against Islam. Instead, Obama and his various minions only talk about “violent extremism,” in a vain effort to deflect attention away from the religious roots of the conflict. But by refusing to acknowledge the religious roots of the conflict and by focusing on talking points about poverty and Muslim frustration with the politics of the Middle East, the president has done exactly what he claims he is not doing: adopting the same narrative promoted by terrorists whose goal is the destruction of the West.

As I noted in my New York Post article on yesterday’s speech, this is not, as the president’s apologists insist, merely a semantic argument. So long as the position of the White House is that the ultimate solution to this conflict is one that revolves more around better community relations than on military action, ISIS has little to worry about.

Let’s acknowledge that the president is right to echo his predecessor, George W. Bush, when he says this isn’t a war between the West and Islam. But by adopting this line as a constant refrain, President Obama is setting up one of his favorite rhetorical devices, the straw man. After all, no one on either side of the political aisle is claiming that it is a war against all Muslims. Rather, it is a fight against a powerful variant of political Islam that can count on significant support throughout the Muslim world. Though he continues to try and set the U.S. government up as an authority who can decide who is really a representative of Islam and who is not, ISIS and its allies have no doubt about their Islamic character. Nor does anyone else.

Remarks by Vice President Biden at the event’s opening doubled down on the president’s previous comments attempting to establish a moral equivalence between Islam and Christianity and Judaism. But like the president’s dubious history about the Crusades, the vice president’s discussion of white supremacist extremists is off the point. That the person who publicized this gaffe on Twitter was someone who once said Israel was a “suspect” in the 9/11 attacks and was considered worthy of an invitation to the summit speaks volumes about the misguided nature of the event. If we are in a war against ISIS, and we are, then we need our leaders to be inspiring us to persevere in that fight, not trying to tell us that Americans are not really very different from a barbarous enemy. In a month in which ISIS has expanded its reach from Iraq and Syria to Libya and in which the group has beheaded and burned to death its captives while its sympathizers gun down journalists, artists, and Jews in the streets of Europe, the White House is more concerned with not offending Muslims than in ramping up a half-hearted military effort against the terrorists.

Just as bad, the president is still stuck on his 2011 talking points about the Arab Spring. Many of us had high hopes for that moment when it seemed as if the Muslim world might embrace democracy as it shucked off the fetters of incompetent autocracies. But those of us who prefer to deal with reality rather than our dreams had to admit that this was largely a delusion. The Arab Spring proved that Islamists were not seeking to reform the Arab world but to enslave it. The people of Egypt figured this out when they overthrew a Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, but the administration still seems to think the rise of Islamists in the last three years is a coincidence they can ignore.

There is nothing wrong with the U.S. government seeking to cooperate with Muslim communities in the fight against terror, but doing so is not a substitute for waging war on ISIS. The president is right that there is a problem with narratives, but it is one that he is perpetuating. The Muslim world needs to be convinced of American determination to defeat ISIS but instead the president offers platitudes that do just the opposite. Moderate Arabs observing the spectacle at the White House the last two days were not reassured by the outreach efforts. Instead, they may be forgiven for thinking that this is a president who is still more interested in appeasing Islamists—like his Iranian negotiating partners—than in vanquishing them. Though the White House summit was oozing good intentions, all America’s enemies may have seen was weakness and irresolution that will inspire them to even greater cruelties and bloodshed in the weeks and months to come.

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Obama Misses the Point About Fighting ISIS

President Obama has just convened a conference on “Countering Violent Extremism,” his preferred euphemism for Islamist terrorism. His call for confronting “squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence” was good enough as far as it went–although it would have been more compelling if he himself would be willing to utter the word “Islam” in connection with the terrorist threat.

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President Obama has just convened a conference on “Countering Violent Extremism,” his preferred euphemism for Islamist terrorism. His call for confronting “squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence” was good enough as far as it went–although it would have been more compelling if he himself would be willing to utter the word “Islam” in connection with the terrorist threat.

The president was right to say, “We need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion.” But what he neglected to do entirely was to mention the most important way to counter the violent message of what is now the world’s most successful (and most threatening) terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

In the new issue of The Atlantic, Graeme Wood offers a long and invaluable analysis of what it is that ISIS wants and how to counter it. In the first place, he refutes the canard, popularized in good faith by President Obama, that ISIS is somehow “un-Islamic.” In point of fact, as Wood notes, ISIS leaders “insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.”

There is no doubt that, mercifully, ISIS’s is a minority reading of Islam but that does not change the fact that its ideology is rooted in Islam and has legitimacy among some Muslims. A refusal to confront that reality will not help us defeat ISIS.

What will help defeat ISIS? Wood makes an important point here:

One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding.

In short, if we can roll back ISIS’s territorial control, we will dissipate its appeal. How we can do that is subject to debate. Wood himself writes that suggestions from some analysts, such as Fred Kagan and me, to deploy tens of thousands of troops to fight ISIS are misguided and will backfire. He writes: “Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options.”

And yet many months of those air strikes have failed to dislodge ISIS from the vast majority of its territory in Syria and Iraq–which, as Wood notes, is the only way to defeat this evil organization. At best those air strikes have blunted ISIS’ momentum in Iraq. In Syria they have not done even that much: ISIS has continued to expand its territorial control even while being bombed. This means, as Wood writes, that “an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victims’ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.”

Wood is compelling in analyzing the ISIS threat–less so in suggesting a solution. His work points to the imperative for the US to do more to deny ISIS territorial control. That is why I have suggested the new for more than 10,000 US personnel to be deployed, primarily in an advise and assist capacity, so as to galvanize opposition to ISIS primarily among Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. Yes, this carries risks–but so does allowing ISIS to continue expanding, not only in the Levant, but also as far afield as Libya and Afghanistan.

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Fixing America’s Political System By Making It More Like America’s Political System

Democrats and the media have long tried to blame congressional gridlock on Republican “extremism.” But the truth has always been that the two parties find themselves so far apart these days because while the GOP has become more conservative, the Democrats have moved to their left. And President Obama has, as Josh Kraushaar explains in a trenchant column at National Journal, played a key role in that shift.

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Democrats and the media have long tried to blame congressional gridlock on Republican “extremism.” But the truth has always been that the two parties find themselves so far apart these days because while the GOP has become more conservative, the Democrats have moved to their left. And President Obama has, as Josh Kraushaar explains in a trenchant column at National Journal, played a key role in that shift.

Kraushaar writes that on some high-profile issues, the Democrats in Congress have followed Obama’s lead when electoral considerations would suggest they go their own way. (It’s one reason Obama has been such a disaster for his party’s congressional caucuses in both midterm elections.) On the Keystone pipeline, for example, Obama has pulled his party in line with the environmental extremist base. On Israel, Obama has worked assiduously to drive a wedge between his party and the Israelis, calling into question Democrats’ long pro-Israel history. The unpopular health-care law is another example.

Obama came to office wanting to be a Democratic Reagan by transforming the electorate in his image. “He has indeed transformed the Democratic party to his liking, but failed to get anyone else to follow suit,” Kraushaar writes.

The key part for Democrats, however, is that Obama doesn’t seem to care what happens to his party’s congressional delegations; he has all but ignored Congress even on issues he repeatedly stated he needed their support for. Obama also made clear that he believes in the “I won” mode of politics, exacerbating a system that has seen wave elections in both directions in an increasingly winner-take-all brand of national politics.

So what to do? The Atlantic’s Noah Gordon says that the practice of gerrymandering means not only do we have winner-take-all elections but they’re the kind of elections that “waste” the most votes in doing so. (Gerrymandering is not the polarizing force it’s often made out to be, but it’s nonetheless an absurd practice that should be reformed.) One solution then, Gordon writes, would be for the U.S. to adopt a system of proportional representation, in which parties receive seats in the Congress (or parliament, or Knesset, etc.) proportional to their vote counts:

The American system of government is stable, popular, and backed by the Constitution—and dominated by two political parties. A political system comprised of multiple, smaller parties and shifting coalitions may be unimaginable in America, but it’s the norm in most other democracies. While the United States is one of the world’s oldest democracies, and spreading democracy is a central tenet of the country’s foreign policy, our winner-take-all system itself is among our least-popular exports. In Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use a form of proportional representation in at least one type of election.

There is, certainly, a fair amount to be said for such a system. And yet I can’t help but notice that we’ve already devised a solution to many of the problems in our current system. Instead of proportional representation, here’s a radical thought: why don’t we try, say, a federal republic.

And Gordon almost gets there himself. Look at how Gordon describes some of the PR systems:

Israel elects all 120 members of its national legislature from a single multi-member district that encompasses the entire country, and the Netherlands does the same with its lower house. But districts that large can lead to over-representation of fringe parties who receive just a small percentage of the vote, as well as giving numerous tiny parties the ability to make outsized demands from big parties if they lack a majority.

Indeed, and if anybody doubts the power of more marginal parties they can take a look at the latest Knesset polls for next month’s election and try to piece together what a governing coalition–any governing coalition–might look like. And in larger countries, it would be unmanageable to have the entire state as essentially one district for the purposes of elections. Gordon takes another step toward a solution:

So larger countries often break themselves down into smaller districts to ensure legislators have some connection to a particular geographic area.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Hey, we’re a large country. How might we follow this advice? Back to Gordon:

In the United States, those geographical areas could be the states.

There it is. Unfortunately Gordon stops there, and just games out how proportional representation would apply to the geographical-areas-otherwise-known-as-states.

But he shouldn’t. The best way to prevent the worst effects of winner-take-all national elections is to have the American system as it was meant to be, with states given far more leeway and government subject to far more local control. Not total control, mind you. But definitely not the top-down approach favored especially by Democrats in which the federal government seeks to impose an inflexible, universal standard on everything from health care to education to drug policy to gun laws to social issues to right-to-life concerns to employment restrictions.

Nothing wastes votes more than nullifying local governance on a grand scale. Yes, there are problems with how America conducts its national elections. And the obsessive focus on national elections is one of them.

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Jeb’s Strength Is Also His Weakness

Jeb Bush traveled to Chicago today to give a speech on foreign policy that demonstrated a good command of important issues as well as some cogent critiques of the Obama administration. But most observers were parsing each line in the speech seeking the answer to the question on seemingly everyone’s mind: Would a third President Bush be more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? Jeb’s answer is that he will be his own man even as he presented a list of foreign-policy advisors peppered with figures from both of those presidencies setting up the possibility that a Bush 45 administration would be divided between realists like James Baker and neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz. But while his ability to summon such broad support from the GOP foreign-policy establishment is a clear strength, like much else about his candidacy it is also a weakness. In a year in which the Democrats will be trying to recycle the Clinton magic of the 1990s, the prospect of a third Bush presidency won’t provide a strong contrast that a fresh face might provide.

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Jeb Bush traveled to Chicago today to give a speech on foreign policy that demonstrated a good command of important issues as well as some cogent critiques of the Obama administration. But most observers were parsing each line in the speech seeking the answer to the question on seemingly everyone’s mind: Would a third President Bush be more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? Jeb’s answer is that he will be his own man even as he presented a list of foreign-policy advisors peppered with figures from both of those presidencies setting up the possibility that a Bush 45 administration would be divided between realists like James Baker and neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz. But while his ability to summon such broad support from the GOP foreign-policy establishment is a clear strength, like much else about his candidacy it is also a weakness. In a year in which the Democrats will be trying to recycle the Clinton magic of the 1990s, the prospect of a third Bush presidency won’t provide a strong contrast that a fresh face might provide.

As Politico notes today, the rollout of Jeb’s foreign-policy platform was just as professional and well thought out as the rest of his campaign. “Shock and awe” is a good way to describe the Bush blitz that drove Mitt Romney out of the race and has put other challengers on notice that if they wait much longer to line up staff and donors, Bush will have stolen a march on them they may not be able to make up.

Moreover, the same applies to Jeb’s foreign-policy views. His speech projected strength both in terms of his unabashed desire to “take out” ISIS terrorists and to reject engagement and appeasement of Iran. Putting his finger on a key problem of the Obama administration’s approach, he said that he, like many Americans, had come to doubt whether the president thinks U.S. power “is a force for good.” He rightly noted that the administration’s record is one that has caused it to be no longer trusted by friends or feared by allies.

Nor was he shy about mentioning Iraq, the memory of which is considered to be his greatest weakness as many voters might blame Jeb for the unpopular war his brother took the U.S. into. He correctly praised the 2007 surge that essentially defeated al-Qaeda and left W’s successor with a war that was won. Obama, whose abandonment of Iraq led to both the rise of ISIS and the strengthening of Iran, squandered that victory. Bush also took aim at Obama’s handling of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, a problem that his brother punted on during his time in power. He correctly accused him of seeking to “manage” the nuclear threat rather than to solve it.

Moreover, in a clear shot across the bow of the White House, Bush said he was interested in hearing what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had to say about Iran when he speaks to Congress next month and that he felt the U.S. had already given away too much to Tehran in the nuclear talks.

All this positions Bush as a serious foreign-policy voice that compares favorably to most of his rivals for the nomination. Bush’s ability to articulate a traditional GOP message of international strength contrasts particularly with Rand Paul’s views, which bear a troubling resemblance to those of Obama. It also shows him to be better prepared to be commander in chief than the pack of governors and former governors lined up against him, including fast-rising Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who refused to answer questions on the topic when in London last week.

But Bush’s speech also reminded us why there is good reason to be skeptical about his front-runner status. Though his mother has finally come around to supporting the idea of another member of her family becoming president, Jeb needs to win over the party’s grass roots too. Bush comes into the race as not only the leading member of his party’s establishment but as the candidate who is already pledged to run against the base on issues like immigration and common core. That may ultimately help him win the general election, but it might make it difficult for him to gain the GOP nomination.

In a year when terrorism and Obama’s weakness has elevated foreign policy to the front burner of American concerns, Bush’s foreign-policy competence gives him a clear leg up on virtually every other Republican contender with the possible exception of Marco Rubio. But his ability to summon the party mandarins on his behalf is also a sign that he needs to provide a rationale for his candidacy that is more compelling than it being his turn in the family rotation.

Today was a good start for Bush. But merely saying that he’s going to be his own man even as he lines up his father and brother’s men behind him will not be good enough to convince voters that there is a reason to vote for Jeb. The coming year will give him plenty of opportunities to prove that he really is something different despite the Bush brand in a contest that will ultimately place him up against another retread like Clinton. Shock and awe is all well and good for the beginning of a war, but it will take more than that to carry him through a crowded primary field.

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The Palestinian Victims of the West’s Israel Obsession

I’ve written frequently about how the West’s obsession with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians helps perpetuate global misery by diverting attention from people in far greater distress (think Syrians or South Sudanese). Yet this obsession also perpetuates suffering among the one group it’s ostensibly supposed to help–the Palestinians. Three Jerusalem Post reports over the last week show why.

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I’ve written frequently about how the West’s obsession with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians helps perpetuate global misery by diverting attention from people in far greater distress (think Syrians or South Sudanese). Yet this obsession also perpetuates suffering among the one group it’s ostensibly supposed to help–the Palestinians. Three Jerusalem Post reports over the last week show why.

One warned that a leading Palestinian hospital is at risk of closure because of a $30 million debt. A major reason for this debt is that for years, the Palestinian Authority has failed to pay Mokassed Hospital for many of the patients it treats. This isn’t because the PA lacked money; it has ample funds to pay generous salaries to thousands of terrorists sitting in Israeli jails. Rather, it’s a matter of priorities: On the PA’s scale of values, paying terrorists for killing Israelis is evidently more important than paying doctors for healing Palestinians.

Almost 40 percent of the PA’s budget consists of foreign aid, with the vast majority coming from Western countries. The West is therefore uniquely placed to pressure the PA to alter its spending priorities. But it has never tried to do any such thing, because it only cares about what Israel does or doesn’t do.

Thus one factor that has recently exacerbated Mokassed’s problems has elicited worldwide condemnations: Israel’s withholding of tax revenues from the PA over the last two months in response to the latter’s egregious violations of the Oslo Accords, including joining the International Criminal Court. Yet even if Israel handed over that money tomorrow, there’s no reason to think the PA would suddenly start using it to pay Mokassed when it never did so in all the years before Israel halted the transfers.

In short, pressuring Israel won’t actually solve the problem; only pressuring the PA would do that. But since the West doesn’t care what the PA does, Palestinian patients will continue to suffer.

In the second report, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon criticized the PA for failing to take control of Gaza’s border crossings as it promised to do after last summer’s war. This failure, he noted, has greatly delayed Gaza’s reconstruction, since the reconstruction mechanism devised by the UN and Western donors mandated PA control of the crossings in an effort to minimize diversions of dual-use materials to Hamas’s war machine.

But because Israel has never sealed its border with Hamas-controlled Gaza completely–it has sent in 62,000 tons of construction supplies since August despite the PA’s absence from the crossings–the real hardship has occurred along the Egyptian border. The Rafah border crossing is Gaza’s main gateway to the world, but it has been closed almost hermetically for months, because Cairo considers Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to reopen Rafah as long as Hamas controls it.

A particularly horrific consequence ensued in November, when an 11-year-old Palestinian died because the Rafah closure prevented her from entering Egypt for needed medical treatment. So why didn’t she go to Israel instead? Because Hamas refuses to talk to Israel directly, so requests for medical entry permits from Gaza are sent through the PA. But according to Razan al-Halkawi’s relatives, the PA refused to forward her request because it was embroiled in one of its periodic spats with Hamas.

In short, the PA refused to do what was needed to enable al-Halkawi to get treatment in either Egypt or Israel. And so she died.

As the PA’s major donor, the West could be pressing the Palestinians to live up to their post-war commitments. But it won’t, because if Israel can’t be blamed, it doesn’t care.

Report number three: Thousands of Palestinians who bought homes in the new Palestinian city of Rawabi can’t move in because the city isn’t connected to the water system. Why? Because all West Bank water projects need approval by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, which the PA has refused to convene for the last five years. Evidently, it would rather deprive its own people of better housing than agree to meet with Israeli officials.

Here, too, the West could use its financial leverage to press the PA to convene the panel and let Rawabi open. But it hasn’t, because if Israel can’t be blamed, it’s not interested.

In short, in numerous cases where the West could use its leverage over the PA to better the lot of ordinary Palestinians, it has refused to do so, because it only cares about Israel’s actions. And thus the biggest victims of the West’s Israel obsession have ended up being not Israelis, but the Palestinians themselves.

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Bibi’s Kitchengate and Israel’s Shifting Standards

Though foreign-policy pundits and Israel watchers have been obsessing over the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions, it’s possible that his electoral fate will be decided by something far more mundane. The State Comptroller’s scathing report about what is being represented as lavish expenditures at the prime minister’s residence was big news in Israel. His critics and political foes made a meal of the report and cited it as proof that Netanyahu had outlasted his welcome in office after six years (and nine overall) as the country’s leader. But though the timing couldn’t be worse for the Likud and it may have cost Netanyahu’s party a couple of seats in the most recent election polls, some canny observers think it won’t decide things. They’re right, and not just because the election ought to be decided on weightier issues. Unlike Americans who may see headlines about corruption and think the worst about the prime minister, most Israelis may understand the context and judge the situation accordingly.

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Though foreign-policy pundits and Israel watchers have been obsessing over the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions, it’s possible that his electoral fate will be decided by something far more mundane. The State Comptroller’s scathing report about what is being represented as lavish expenditures at the prime minister’s residence was big news in Israel. His critics and political foes made a meal of the report and cited it as proof that Netanyahu had outlasted his welcome in office after six years (and nine overall) as the country’s leader. But though the timing couldn’t be worse for the Likud and it may have cost Netanyahu’s party a couple of seats in the most recent election polls, some canny observers think it won’t decide things. They’re right, and not just because the election ought to be decided on weightier issues. Unlike Americans who may see headlines about corruption and think the worst about the prime minister, most Israelis may understand the context and judge the situation accordingly.

As Haviv Rettig Gur noted in the Times of Israel, had Netanyahu made the sort of concessions to the Palestinians that the left believes in, newspapers like Haaretz wouldn’t be treating the question of how many cigars or how much ice cream are consumed at chez Netanyahu at the public’s expense. As Gur also noted, the alternative to the PM in the election, Labor Party head Isaac Herzog, is also a wealthy man and is keeping conspicuously quiet about the affair. The story has resonance because the public is sick of Netanyahu after so many years in power. His wife Sara has been subjected to a lot of criticism too as tales told by disgruntled former employees made her seem like a cross between Joan Crawford and Lady Macbeth.

But lest we jump to conclusions about supposed corruption, let’s understand that what Netanyahu stands accused of doing are things that any American president would take for granted. After all, Netanyahu was roundly criticized for seeking to have a bed installed on an official plane used to take him on foreign trips. When you realize that Air Force One is a luxury hotel when compared to the vehicles that take Israel’s leader abroad, it’s easy to realize that Netanyahu is being judged by a standard that most Western leaders would think absurd. Indeed, not even President Obama’s most virulent critics think there’s anything amiss about how much food is being consumed at the White House, a place where we expect our commanders in chief to live comfortably.

Of course, many Israelis are old enough to remember their first generation of leaders who lived simply, both in and out of office. Both David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin were ascetics who eschewed grandeur and the trappings of their positions. Compared to men who retired to a shack in the desert and a small Jerusalem apartment, Netanyahu is a high roller. But his spending isn’t any more or less offensive that that of his recent predecessors such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ehud Barak. Compared to the man that he succeeded as prime minister—Ehud Olmert—Netanyahu is a veritable Abe Lincoln. Olmert, a man who was lionized and feted by American Jewish liberals up until the moment he was convicted on corruption charges, wasn’t just a lavish spender; he used his office for corrupt purposes, something that no one is accusing Netanyahu of doing.

Being more honest than Olmert or just as much of a spender as Barak, Rabin, or Peres is no great recommendation. With the plight of the country’s middle class and the cost of living a major campaign issue, having a prime minister who expects the taxpayers to pay for his sushi doesn’t look good. But few in Israel believe Herzog and his political ally, Tzipi Livni, would be any more circumspect about spending.

More importantly, Netanyahu still heads into the election looking like the most authoritative leader on war and peace issues. Even the polls that show the Likud trailing its Labor rival by a seat or two also tell us that Netanyahu is the first choice for prime minister and that most voters expect the center and right-wing parties to form the next government. In a Middle East torn by Islamist strife, Israelis still understand that their government’s primary obligation is to keep them safe. With Iran not only trying to assemble a nuclear threat but make a two-front war possible with its Hezbollah and Hamas allies, Sara Netanyahu’s treatment of the staff and the price of ice cream don’t look like that big a deal. That doesn’t mean that Israelis wouldn’t prefer to be led by another Ben-Gurion or Begin, but it’s doubtful that they’ll throw out Netanyahu on this basis.

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Why the 2016 Primaries Will Be a Wild Ride for the GOP

Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

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Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

Why the reversal? To start, the Democrats are not dealing from a position of strength. The fact is that their midterm defeats of 2010 and 2014–not just in the Senate, but state governorships as well–have decimated the party’s bench. There are precious few credible presidential candidates who could run, besides Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden were not so gaffe-prone, he might be able to challenge her, and he might still. But beyond that their bench is weak. So, it is not so much that Clinton’s stature is much improved compared to 2008, when she faced a broad, formidable field for the nomination; it is, rather, that the quality of her would-be competitors has dropped markedly.

Meanwhile, the Republican triumphs in the Senate and governorships have created a wealth of would-be candidates. Ironically, Obama has been very good for the Republican Party. There are a plethora of prospective candidates–Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Rick Snyder, and Scott Walker–who became a senator or governor during the Obama era, in part by running against him. Further, an unpopular Obama helped Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal cruise to their reelections, in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And the same considerations even apply to Ben Carson. Would he be running strongly in Iowa right now if he had not publicly criticized ObamaCare in front of the president?

Still, there is more to the story. Usually, we think of the Democratic Party as a motley assortment of various, often contradictory interest groups, more or less evenly matched. This is why Jimmy Carter could come from nowhere to win in 1976, why Gary Hart could almost take the nomination from Walter Mondale in 1984, why Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton could win their contests even though a majority of Democrats voted for somebody else, and ultimately why Barack Obama basically tied Hillary Clinton in 2008. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is strikingly uniform–more or less the married, white middle class–and this homogeny has facilitated its coronation process. There are just fewer disagreements among Republicans, so they come together on a nominee in an orderly fashion.

This conception of the GOP is not quite right. As I argue in my new book A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, the Republican Party has long been factional as well, just less so than the Democrats. In the late 19th century, for instance, it was an alliance between the middle class, Yankees of New England, industrialists and financiers, Midwestern factory workers, and Western farmers. More often than not, these groups saw eye to eye, but issues like tariffs, the gold standard, and civil-service reform could split them into factions. These divisions were nothing compared to 19th century Democrats–who somehow combined the Southern plantation gentry with the ethnic vote in the big Northern cities–but they were still there, and still mattered under the right circumstances.

Today, the same remains true. Republicans are still factional, even if they are more united than the Democrats. There is the “establishment,” which resides mostly in Democratic-controlled areas like New York City and Washington D.C., but provides the campaign contributions, experts, and consultants necessary to run campaigns; there are cultural conservatives, particularly strong in Midwest caucus states like Iowa; there are small-government reformers, who turn out to vote in New Hampshire primaries; there are pro-growth Sun Belters in states like Florida and Texas; there are pro-military Republicans, for instance in South Carolina; and there are libertarian-style Republicans, strong in Western caucus states. And so on. These groups are all closer to one another than any are to the Democrats, but there are disagreements among them. In the Obama era, there has been tension within the GOP on how quickly and aggressively the party should challenge the president, as well as what to do about immigration reform.

In fact, the Obama administration–while unifying Republicans in shared opposition to the Democratic party–has created some pretty heated disagreements within it about what to do next. We see this in Congress now, as it struggles to formulate and implement an agenda to counter Obama’s. And we probably are going to see it in the primary battle next year, as a major bone of contention will not be whether the country should depart from the Obama policies, but how dramatically it should do so.

And ironically, the strength of the prospective field is probably exacerbating the internal cleavages as well. Right now, each of those factions can point to a credible candidate who agrees predominantly with its perspective. Sometimes, there may be more than one. The establishment figures like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. The cultural conservatives adore Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Scott Walker is the first choice among reformers. Libertarians like Rand Paul. The field is so strong that no faction within the party is forced to say, “OK–my ideal candidate isn’t running. So, who is my compromise choice?”

Will this be a bad thing for the GOP? Possibly. Sean Trende has highlighted the possibility of no clear nominee being found prior to the convention, but that is unprecedented in the modern era. It could still happen, but nobody in the party has an interest in such disunion right before the general election. The most likely outcome is that somebody will emerge to unite a critical mass of the various forces, and become a consensus choice–maybe that candidate will not win a majority of the primary vote, but he or she will have won more than anybody else and be acceptable to all the major factions. And, just like in the free market, political competition can spark innovation and generate upside surprises. The battle will not only improve the ultimate nominee’s campaign skills, but maybe point the way to a better line of attack against Clinton in the general election. If Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” works for capitalism, it can work for Republican politics, too.

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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Two Simple Ways Turkey Can Undercut the Islamic State

It’s no secret that Turkey has become the weak link in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist president, sees the world through an ethnic and sectarian chauvinist lens, and simply cannot conceive the Islamic State as a greater threat than Syria’s secular Kurds, his conspiratorial vision of Israel and Jews, or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s Alawis.

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It’s no secret that Turkey has become the weak link in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist president, sees the world through an ethnic and sectarian chauvinist lens, and simply cannot conceive the Islamic State as a greater threat than Syria’s secular Kurds, his conspiratorial vision of Israel and Jews, or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s Alawis.

Turkey has provided medical aid, safe haven, and perhaps even weaponry to the Islamic State. But its biggest contribution has been free passage. A huge preponderance of the foreign fighters flowing into Syria and Iraq have transited Turkey. It’s as easy as flying in on Turkish Air, transferring to a domestic flight to Gazientep or Hatay near the Syrian border, and then paying a taxi driver to go to the border. Turkish border guards at most charge a $40 bribe to turn the other way, according to journalists and analysts who have made the journey.

I spent much of the last week in Morocco for the Marrakech Security Forum, where I had the opportunity to speak to Arab security professionals. Issues relating to foreign fighters dominated conversations. For example, why is it that so many Moroccans fight for the Islamic State inside Syria and Iraq and yet are poorly represented in Boko Haram’s emirate or in Libya, where the Islamic State is also resurgent? Or, conversely, since Islamist radicalism is rife in Algeria, why is it that Algerians are relatively poorly represented in the Islamic State, but yet are ever present in the Libyan fight?

Sometimes, the answers are mundane. It comes down to the Turkish visa regimen. Turkey does not require visas for Moroccans, making Syria accessible to would-be Moroccan jihadists. Ditto for Libyans, Lebanese, Jordanians, and Tunisians. And yet, Turkey requires visas for Algerians, hence the relatively small number of Algerians fighting in Syria and Iraq. It’s simply much easier for Algerians to fight in Libya which has proximity in its favor.

Meanwhile, Moroccans have reported a shift over time in how their extremists travel to fight in self-conceived jihads. In the past, Islamist enablers would recruit young Moroccans and help facilitate their travel to the world’s hotspots. Today, however, most of the Moroccans traveling to join the Islamic State understand they need only fly to Istanbul and then they will easily find a facilitator inside Turkey. Whether in Istanbul’s airports or in regional cities, Islamic state spotters find young would-be jihadis exiting the airport and make themselves known. Picture pimps at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York approaching girls coming off buses from the Midwest in the 1970s; when you’re trained to spot the young and naive, it’s relatively easy work.

This raises two simple policy fixes which might cut off some of the oxygen from the Islamic State:

  • First, if Turkey is serious about the fight against terrorism, it needs to start requiring visas in advance from nationalities which today serve as the chief recruiting pool for the Islamic State. Businessmen and legitimate tourists won’t have a problem applying, and Turkish intelligence might benefit from the vetting as well.
  • And, second, if would-be Islamic State fighters have no problem finding Islamic State fixers in and around Turkey’s airports, then it’s curious that the Turkish intelligence service can’t identify and round them up. Here, the problem is likely less ability than desire on the part of the Turkish government. But that’s no reason to deflect diplomatic attention to a real problem. Once again, perhaps it’s time to designate Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism if only to pressure the Erdoğan government to do what a responsible member of the international community would have done years ago.

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Why Governments “Invest” in the Clintons

“The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.” After Clinton left the State Department, it appears the foundation quietly resumed passing the hat around to foreign governments, who are no doubt well aware they’re dealing with the possible next president. It sounds icky–as almost any story about Clintonian influence peddling does. But it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to point out that the ethical questions it raises are not simply theoretical.

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“The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.” After Clinton left the State Department, it appears the foundation quietly resumed passing the hat around to foreign governments, who are no doubt well aware they’re dealing with the possible next president. It sounds icky–as almost any story about Clintonian influence peddling does. But it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to point out that the ethical questions it raises are not simply theoretical.

In 1995, 20-year-old Alisa Flatow, a North Jersey native, was killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza. The investigation that followed eventually showed Iran’s hand in the attack, and in Palestinian terror in general. The family sued the Iranian government, and won $247.5 million in damages. It was enabled by legislation: the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 allowed Americans to bring suit against foreign governments which are also sponsors of terrorism, and then-New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg added an amendment to put teeth in the bill.

Iran, obviously, refused to pay up. So a judge ordered Iranian assets in America to be seized and sold to pay the judgment. That’s when the Iranians got some help–from President Bill Clinton. As Seth Lipsky wrote last year:

When it came time for Flatow to collect, an incredible thing happened. The Clinton administration went into court and took the side of Iran against Alisa.

It had panicked when Flatow, aiming to enforce the judgment he’d won, sought to claim a building that the Iran ambassador had used as a residence in Washington. Enforcing the judgment, the Clinton administration claimed, would wreak diplomatic havoc. Eventually, the U.S. government paid Flatow and a number of other terror victims a small settlement out of taxpayer funds. In exchange, the U.S. government, at least in theory, will eventually get to settle up with Iran.

One of the Iranian assets was a building at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York, which was partially owned by the Alavi Foundation. The U.S. government tried to argue that Alavi was not an Iranian-government asset and so should be left alone. But the investigation, spearheaded by former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office, eventually found otherwise and also found that two major world banks, Credit Suisse and Lloyds, were helping the Iranians illegally access the American financial system. The case soon also found similar action by French bank BNP Paribas, which last year pled guilty.

But the Alavi Foundation was grateful for Clinton’s intervention on the Iranian government’s behalf and against the victims of terrorism. In 2006 and again in 2008, the foundation donated more than $50,000 total to the Clinton Foundation.

Again: as president, Clinton protected Iranian front groups from being held accountable for terror. They thanked him by cutting fat checks to Clinton after he left office.

This is why stories such as the Journal’s make people uncomfortable. It’s because the Clintons’ behavior is too often just as slimy as it appears. It doesn’t just sound bad–it is. It’s also a reminder that what the Iranians are doing now to Barack Obama they did to Clinton too: demand (and receive) protection and a degree of immunity in return for negotiations that go nowhere.

According to the Journal, first-time donors include the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have ramped up donations as well. And it’s important to note that ever since 2008 (or even before), governments understand that when they’re dealing with Hillary Clinton they’re dealing with someone who might soon be the most powerful person in the world. Back in 2012, I called attention to this passage from Susan Glasser’s story on Hillary’s negotiations with the Chinese government to free dissident Chen Guangcheng:

What would it take for her to run again for president in 2016? “Nothing,” she replied quickly. Then she laughed. Even the Chinese, she said, had asked her about it at Wednesday night’s dinner, suggesting she should run. They were “saying things like, ‘Well, you know, I mean 2016 is not so far away.… You may retire, but you’re very young,’” Clinton recalled.

Maybe, I ventured, that’s why they had in the end been willing to accommodate her on Chen; they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

Not “maybe.” The Clintons are an investment, and they always have been. And as president, Hillary wouldn’t be able to pick and choose which issues to deal with. As American University’s James Thurber told the Journal, “she can’t recuse herself.” That the Clintons have chosen to renew foreign donations on the eve of Hillary’s presidential campaign shows that the more things change, the more the Clintons stay the same.

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What If ISIS Spreads to Pakistan?

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but terrorists love one. The U.S. military-led surge in Iraq largely pushed al-Qaeda in Iraq into oblivion, but the uprising against the Arab Spring created a space for radical Islamists to incubate. The Bashar al-Assad regime ironically found the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh)’s presence useful both because he could hold them up as the alternative to his rule and because they often did the dirty work targeting the more moderate opposition. For his part, President Obama opposed any military action in Syria. Rather than excise the tumor when it was small, the United States sat aside as it metastasized, creating the circumstances that last summer enabled the Islamic State to bulldoze through much of Iraq and Syria. Even this was not inevitable: tumors need oxygen, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist dictator, provided it, allowing men and munitions to traverse the Turkey-Syrian border. Libya increasingly risks being the next Syria.

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Nature may abhor a vacuum, but terrorists love one. The U.S. military-led surge in Iraq largely pushed al-Qaeda in Iraq into oblivion, but the uprising against the Arab Spring created a space for radical Islamists to incubate. The Bashar al-Assad regime ironically found the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh)’s presence useful both because he could hold them up as the alternative to his rule and because they often did the dirty work targeting the more moderate opposition. For his part, President Obama opposed any military action in Syria. Rather than excise the tumor when it was small, the United States sat aside as it metastasized, creating the circumstances that last summer enabled the Islamic State to bulldoze through much of Iraq and Syria. Even this was not inevitable: tumors need oxygen, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist dictator, provided it, allowing men and munitions to traverse the Turkey-Syrian border. Libya increasingly risks being the next Syria.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of the caliphate might sound overwrought in the West, but Arab security experts in the Middle East with whom I have spoken in recent weeks say it has been tremendously inspiring to Islamists across the world. In Libya, the Sinai, and the Sahel, Islamist terrorist groups swore loyalty to the Islamic State. Boko Haram seeks its own caliphate, but nevertheless expressed its support to Baghdadi.

Clearly, the Islamic State brand reverberates. No matter how much the White House and State Department deny the Islamic basis of the Islamic State, it is resilient and attractive to many in the Islamic world. Right now, the Islamic State talks about conquering Rome, and while lone wolf and sleeper cell terrorism in Europe will continue to be a threat, a full-fledged invasion of Europe is unlikely. The nightmare scenario about which policymakers should be most concerned is a spread of the Islamic State to Pakistan.

Before 9/11, I spent a few weeks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the time, the group was desperate for recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. It declared an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and continues to embrace an essentially nationalist vision. Ditto the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban group which continues to dominate and terrorize Pakistan’s tribal territory, with ambitions throughout Pakistan. However, as Osama bin Laden once said, everyone loves the strong horse, and the Islamic State—which dismisses modern nationalism as illegitimate—has certainly proven itself that. If Pakistani radicals and militants—and there are no shortage of these in Pakistani society—shift their focus to the Islamic State, then all bets are off.

Pakistani officials might deny or even sneer at such suggestions that they are vulnerable to the Islamic State. But a consistent problem in Pakistani society has been that the elite believe that they can harness radicalism toward Pakistani ends in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and not pay the price. Simply put, the elite bubble is like a one-way mirror: Islamists can see in, but the Pakistani elite can see only their own reflection.

The danger for the West is, of course, that Pakistan is a nuclear power. What a tempting target Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could be for the Islamic State or its fellow-travelers. And while Western officials have long fooled themselves into thinking states like Iran developing a bomb could be contained because Iran isn’t suicidal, clearly the Islamic State prioritizes ideology above pragmatism.

Pakistan today might seem safe, but the allure of the Islamic State is a game changer. Indeed, it can change the game in a matter of months, as it has shown in Libya. The West allowed the Islamic State to metastasize. Unfortunately, policymakers still have no clue about how horrendous its terminal phase might be.

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Will Britain Do the Right Thing on Boycotts?

There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

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There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

Around a hundred allegedly prominent cultural figures have released a letter pledging not to travel to Israel on an official invitation, nor to accept funding from Israel or organizations that are associated with the Israeli government. In addition, this campaign claims to have the supporting signatures of a further 700 artists (almost all entirely unknowns). And naturally along with a few celebrities who are now notorious for their obsession with bashing Israel—such as Roger Waters—there are also several notable Jewish individuals who have been pushed to the forefront of the campaign.

Two Jewish directors who have evidently played a particularly leading role in promoting this boycott are Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky. Their involvement gives a pretty clear indication of precisely what kind of movement this is. When asked about Gaza, Leigh once dismissively retorted “I don’t want to know about rockets. What I am concerned with is humanity.” Humanity? Then in what category does Leigh place the people the rockets are aimed at? And then there’s Kosminsky, a remarkable figure to be boycotting Israel when much of his own acclaimed television drama The Promise was shot in Haifa. That by the way was a British TV mini-series that was not only viciously anti-Zionist but in which Jewish characters were without exception either overtly unlikable or ultimately untrustworthy. The non-Jewish characters, through whose eyes Israel’s story was told, were repeatedly let down, manipulated, or betrayed by every single Jew they came across.

These are the luminaries leading the cultural boycott against Israel.

The website of the campaign is also particularly revealing. Most bizarre is the section in which the campaigners insist that they will not be censored. What is boycotting Israeli arts if not censorship? Indeed, the activists pledge their solidarity with London’s Tricycle Theatre, which last year announced that as part of an Israel boycott it would no longer host the Jewish Film Festival. So the last thing that these people can claim is principled opposition to censorship.

Then there is the part of the website that advises artists on how they should implement their boycott in practice. Tellingly, artists are assured that they should not let the boycott prohibit them from collaborating with Palestinian artists and organizations. When it comes to Israelis, however, it seems that exceptions might only be considered for those who support the Palestinian cause. So once again we see the boycott working along ethnic lines. No investigation into the politics of Palestinian artists, but when it comes to Jewish Israelis, they must pledge allegiance to the cause before being redeemed of the crime of being born an Israeli Jew.

The one glimmer of hope in all of this is that there does seem to be an increasing recognition of just what a dangerous turn BDS represents. On the whole senior British politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron, have stressed their opposition to boycotts. But it was particularly noteworthy that the Times of London ran an editorial on the Copenhagen attacks and rising anti-Semitism that stated plainly, “The egregious campaigns for a cultural boycott of Israel are stoking ugly, atavistic movements in Europe. These need to be confronted by civilised opinion.” More remarkable still was that even the Guardian (a paper usually transfixed by the business of attacking Israel) printed a whole series of letters condemning the boycotts under the heading “Peace Not Promoted by an Israel Boycott.”

One senses that Britain’s liberal establishment is suddenly catching itself and pulling back at the last moment from the precipice. They have seen Paris, they have seen Copenhagen, they have seen anti-Semitism go off the chart from Brussels to Malmo. They have seen where all of this is leading and are now reconsidering their own responsibilities.

Of course the British establishment can only be expected to correctly identify boycotts as a form of racial discrimination if the Jewish community is unequivocal on the subject. And it must indeed be the Jewish community, and not the boycotters, who determine what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic. As it happens, a survey on anti-Semitism released in January found that 84 percent of British Jews consider boycotts to be a form of intimidation. Laura Marks of the Board of Deputies (Anglo-Jewry’s primary representative body) has also stressed that such a cultural boycott of Israel is racist.

The anti-Israel artists-turned-activists insist they won’t be silenced. Very well. But then the rest of us cannot afford to stay silent either about the racism inherent in what these people are doing.

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