Commentary Magazine


What’s the Counter-Revolutionary Guard Strategy?

President Obama’s belief that a popular mandate motivates the Iranian regime’s desire to negotiate is naïve. After all, sovereignty in the Islamic Republic of Iran comes from God, not ordinary people. Still, among the true believers for the current outreach to Iran, Iranian politics is an important aspect of strategy. In private, Obama administration officials who push the current diplomacy track argue that this is a Deng Xiaoping moment, that is, by engaging with a supposed reformer like President Hassan Rouhani, the United States and the rest of the P5+1 can help him overcome his own internal adversaries and consolidate reformism within the Islamic Republic. Let’s put aside that this is a tremendous misreading of Rouhani, a regime loyalist whose career shows he is the supreme leader’s fixer and a man close to the intelligence ministry, an element clearly reflected in Rouhani’s cabinet picks. And let’s also put aside the fact that, on the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the American Embassy, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned the United States not to play this game. “[Reformists] can’t roll out the red carpet for the United States in our country,” he declared.

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President Obama’s belief that a popular mandate motivates the Iranian regime’s desire to negotiate is naïve. After all, sovereignty in the Islamic Republic of Iran comes from God, not ordinary people. Still, among the true believers for the current outreach to Iran, Iranian politics is an important aspect of strategy. In private, Obama administration officials who push the current diplomacy track argue that this is a Deng Xiaoping moment, that is, by engaging with a supposed reformer like President Hassan Rouhani, the United States and the rest of the P5+1 can help him overcome his own internal adversaries and consolidate reformism within the Islamic Republic. Let’s put aside that this is a tremendous misreading of Rouhani, a regime loyalist whose career shows he is the supreme leader’s fixer and a man close to the intelligence ministry, an element clearly reflected in Rouhani’s cabinet picks. And let’s also put aside the fact that, on the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the American Embassy, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned the United States not to play this game. “[Reformists] can’t roll out the red carpet for the United States in our country,” he declared.

The biggest gap in the logic of Obama’s nuclear talks and the broader strategy—if one exists—surrounding those talks has to do with the Revolutionary Guards. On one hand, if Obama really believes that the nuclear talks can bolster reformism inside the Islamic Republic, he must recognize that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the regime’s Praetorian Guard, charged with defense of the revolutionary ideology against all enemies, foreign or domestic. This means that for muddle-through reform to occur, the IRGC must first be defeated or its power significantly diminished.

On the other hand, the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program are likely controlled by the IRGC and should the Iranian government choose to develop a nuclear weapon, it would be the IRGC which would likely have command and control over any resulting arsenal. Then, too, it behooves the United States to have a strategy to degrade and defeat the IRGC.

Herein lies a major problem: While the Obama administration focuses upon (and perhaps misanalyzes) what we know about Iran, it ignores what we don’t know. Obsessed as American diplomats are with the spectrum of hardliners and reformers across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum, they ignore the fact that they have little to no insight into the factional divisions within the IRGC. Now, such factional divisions do exist. Some Iranians anecdotally join the IRGC for the privileges membership bestows, but may not be true believers. Others, however, may truly subscribe to the xenophobic, paranoid, and aggressive ideology which the IRGC preaches. Other divisions are possible upon pragmatic rather than ideological fault lines. During my first trip to Iran in 1996, for example, it quickly became apparent that there was a major problem within the Iranian military broadly and the IRGC specifically with regard to the regime’s care for wounded warriors from the Iran-Iraq War.

Regardless of one’s reading of Iranian politics, and regardless about whether Iran cheats on any deal, it is going to be necessary to devise a strategy to exacerbate divisions within the IRGC in order to weaken and, hopefully, defeat that organization. Alas, here the Obama administration has fallen asleep at the switch. The true tragedy is, of course, that without a more coherent strategy to undercut the IRGC, any diplomatic deal limited to Iran’s nuclear program will backfire.

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Repercussions from Bad Iran Deal Go Beyond Region

It’s become conventional wisdom—rightly—to assume that a bad Iran deal will unleash a cascade of proliferation across the region. Saudi Arabia has made no secret that it will purchase a nuclear weapon (or capability) should a deal confirm Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. And if Saudi Arabia goes nuclear, then so too will Egypt and Turkey. But, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Dan Blumenthal and Ed Linczer have pointed out, the reverberations will go far beyond the region. Indeed, to look into the crystal ball on the Iran deal is simply to see North Korea today. North Korea often plays “Look at me” when it feels ignored or slighted. The Iran deal already appears far more generous than that offered to Pyongyang twenty years ago by the Clinton administration, and so it is natural that North Korea will now sabre-rattle in order to extract a far higher price than even that unwisely offered by Clinton two decades ago.

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It’s become conventional wisdom—rightly—to assume that a bad Iran deal will unleash a cascade of proliferation across the region. Saudi Arabia has made no secret that it will purchase a nuclear weapon (or capability) should a deal confirm Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. And if Saudi Arabia goes nuclear, then so too will Egypt and Turkey. But, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Dan Blumenthal and Ed Linczer have pointed out, the reverberations will go far beyond the region. Indeed, to look into the crystal ball on the Iran deal is simply to see North Korea today. North Korea often plays “Look at me” when it feels ignored or slighted. The Iran deal already appears far more generous than that offered to Pyongyang twenty years ago by the Clinton administration, and so it is natural that North Korea will now sabre-rattle in order to extract a far higher price than even that unwisely offered by Clinton two decades ago.

The question is whether that will be a price the United States can afford. After all, Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has been rhetorical only; the U.S. Navy had more ships in the Pacific Ocean under President Jimmy Carter than it has in its entire arsenal today. And, while Iran’s ability to eradicate Israel is today merely theoretically, the South Korean capital Seoul is well within North Korean artillery range.

Secretary of State John Kerry may celebrate an agreement to reach an agreement. And, if that’s the only metric by which he judges international security, then he will have been successful. But if the goal was to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout and to make the world safer, he has failed, and failed miserably.

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Mob McCarthyism, Zaiavleniia, and the Corrosive Culture of Denunciation

Given the lazy, ignorant, and hostile reporting on Indiana’s religious-freedom law, we are left to wonder: Is there any conceivable situation in which the press would portray conservative Americans as anything other than the aggressor? Politico today reports “Conservatives go on the attack in religious freedom debate,” as if the story of the day –a story that should bring great shame to any culture capable of it–weren’t that a small-town Indiana pizza shop’s owners were harassed, threatened, and bullied until they closed for the crime of answering an asinine reporter’s hypothetical about catering a gay wedding. But at least the campaign of hate aimed at those the left considers thought criminals tells us something important about the role of law in the culture wars: minimal.

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Given the lazy, ignorant, and hostile reporting on Indiana’s religious-freedom law, we are left to wonder: Is there any conceivable situation in which the press would portray conservative Americans as anything other than the aggressor? Politico today reports “Conservatives go on the attack in religious freedom debate,” as if the story of the day –a story that should bring great shame to any culture capable of it–weren’t that a small-town Indiana pizza shop’s owners were harassed, threatened, and bullied until they closed for the crime of answering an asinine reporter’s hypothetical about catering a gay wedding. But at least the campaign of hate aimed at those the left considers thought criminals tells us something important about the role of law in the culture wars: minimal.

The campaign in favor of gay marriage has been remarkably successful, given how quickly opinions have changed. But what’s clear about the issue is that the pro-SSM side left points on the board: they should have been even more successful than they have been. That’s because winning hearts and minds is essential when trying to replace an existing set of social norms. Gay marriage was winning legislation but losing referendum after referendum, showing that while the momentum was on their side, they still had plenty of convincing to do.

That’s when liberal activists seem to have made a key choice: they decided to stop winning hearts and minds. The fact that they were winning on legislation paradoxically encouraged them to stop focusing on the rule of law as a tool in their campaign. That’s because they understood why they were winning on legislation: mob McCarthyism.

They also figured out that mob McCarthyism could be used not only on politicians who wanted the backing of business leaders and who were sensitive to being labeled a bigot. It could also be turned on their fellow private citizens. And so that’s what they did.

I would like to believe we can say we are seeing where this revolting campaign of violence-tinged demonization and hounding of heretics ends, but I fear what happened to Memories Pizza is only the beginning. In the Internet age, the zombified mob of malevolent lemmings has virtually no limits on its reach. Erick Erickson famously (and correctly) warned that “You will be made to care.” Indeed, and in 2015 you will be made to care by strangers living perhaps thousands of miles away from you. They will find you.

So why win hearts and minds when you can break a couple Christian eggs and get your omelet, all the while setting a public example pour encourager les autres? The answer, one would have hoped, is that it shouldn’t make leftists feel good to ruin people’s lives on a political whim. But apparently it does.

And it doesn’t have all that much to do with the law. It’s true that this latest bout of hysteria was touched off by Indiana passing a state version of a federal religious-protection law signed by Bill Clinton and once upon a time popular across party lines. But then reporters went looking for people to destroy because they might comply with the law, rather than focus exclusively on spooking politicians into going back on their word and throwing men and women of faith under the bus.

And it won’t stop at shutting down pizzerias because it has nothing to do with pizza. It’s about total conformity–or else. Nor will the mob long tolerate abstentions from mob action. In her book on ritual denunciation and mutual suspicion in the early Soviet Union, Inventing the Enemy, Wendy Goldman discusses the use of zaiavleniia, reports to officials on other citizens (emphasis added):

Charges made in zaiavleniia did not have to be substantiated by proof or evidence, and their authors were not even held responsible for their contents. Individual zaiavleniia might thus contain, along with party members’ supposed full revelations about themselves, a generous measure of rumor, gossip, slander, and lies about others. Moreover, whereas there were no penalties for writing a zaiavlenie without evidence, not writing one at all could invite serious consequences. Failure to report the arrest of a relative or to go on record with suspicions about a coworker who was subsequently arrested, for example, was grounds for expulsion from the Party. There was therefore a strong impetus to denounce others, if only to protect oneself against the charge of having failed to denounce them. Local party leaders, once able to exercise some discretion in their investigations, were now forced to investigate every zaiavlenie, no matter how nonsensical or malicious.

Just find someone to denounce. That’s the logical endpoint of the mob. It won’t be enough to simply do as they say. You must ensure others do so as well. Reeducate them.

This is not about passing laws approving of gay marriage or preventing the passage of laws which were uncontroversial a day ago, or an hour ago. In fact, once a degree of success before the law was reached, the law began working against The Cause. The mob thrives on enforcing standards that change on a dime and on a whim. This is emotion and instinct, not a rational program to achieve legislative balance. Rules, at this point, would only hurt The Cause.

And The Cause will change too, which is what makes some supporters of same-sex marriage nervous about a country suddenly ruled by mindless mass vengeance. Surely enough Americans understand the danger here, right?

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Don’t Fall into Ratcheted Negotiation Trap on Iran

My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

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My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Here’s how it goes: When the United States (or any other democracy) is making a big push for a final agreement, negotiate, extract compromises, and collect those final last-minute concessions while up against the wire. Then go home, and treat those concessions as a baseline for the start of new negotiations: What had been the last-minute deal suddenly becomes the opening position in a pattern that provides a distinct disadvantage to the party which wants the deal more.

Cases in point: On May 31, 2006, Condoleezza Rice announced the resumption of direct U.S. talks with Iran and the enhancement of the incentive package. It was supposed to be the final, leave-it-or-take-it moment to get Iran to negotiate seriously. Alas, that never happened. But because that had already been put on the table, the next time diplomats wanted to achieve the same aim, there simply was an inflation among incentives. Then, On September 15, 2006, the European Union dropped its demand that Iran comply with IAEA and Security Council demands for enrichment suspension. Some proponents of the current talks, the National Iranian American Council for example, say that diplomacy is the best option because Iran had continued to enrich uranium during periods of coercion. What they omit, however, is that it was actually periods of diplomacy which blessed that Iranian practice. It was during this period of diplomacy that Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 164 to 3,000.

So what will the next round bring? For Secretary of State John Kerry, getting the Iranians to the table might be a sign of progress. But if he had any sense of Iranian negotiating behavior, he would recognize a pattern. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sees him not as a friend, but rather a fiddle to play. Alas, Zarif has proven himself the maestro.

How to counter the problem? Iran must know that every deal on the table is the most generous deal they can ever expect. Every time talks break off, coercion (for example, banking sanctions must snap back to their full application) and the future incentives must lower considerably. With oil half of what it was last year–and, therefore, Iran’s income taking a significant hit–it’s time to let Tehran truly ponder what the road not taken would mean.

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Must Love Dogs to Be President? Not Really.

It’s very early in the 2016 presidential cycle but already the editors of the New York Times seem to have run out of coherent story ideas. That’s the only rational conclusion to be drawn from a feature that appeared on the front page of the flagship institution of the mainstream liberal press today. It’s subject: the impact of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s allergy to dogs. This is ripe territory for humor circulated on Twitter or other comedy forums and it is April Fool’s Day, but the Times isn’t kidding. Written in a deadpan style, the piece actually attempts to measure the impact that Walker’s lack of a canine pet might have on his candidacy. In it experts, such as someone from what we are told is a Presidential Pet Museum, informs us that dogs humanize candidates and make them more approachable. But though dogs have often been useful political props, the notion that this is a real problem for Walker’s candidacy is a joke. He may not win his party’s nomination or the general election but if that happens, it will have nothing to do with an allergy to dander.

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It’s very early in the 2016 presidential cycle but already the editors of the New York Times seem to have run out of coherent story ideas. That’s the only rational conclusion to be drawn from a feature that appeared on the front page of the flagship institution of the mainstream liberal press today. It’s subject: the impact of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s allergy to dogs. This is ripe territory for humor circulated on Twitter or other comedy forums and it is April Fool’s Day, but the Times isn’t kidding. Written in a deadpan style, the piece actually attempts to measure the impact that Walker’s lack of a canine pet might have on his candidacy. In it experts, such as someone from what we are told is a Presidential Pet Museum, informs us that dogs humanize candidates and make them more approachable. But though dogs have often been useful political props, the notion that this is a real problem for Walker’s candidacy is a joke. He may not win his party’s nomination or the general election but if that happens, it will have nothing to do with an allergy to dander.

It’s true that consultants love for their candidates to have pets. A successful mayoral candidate’s rented dog was a feature in the classic novel and film The Last Hurrah which detailed the way an insubstantial figure who was created by and for television could defeat a traditional political boss. Franklin Roosevelt used a supposed insult to his dog Fala to good use in his 1944 reelection campaign. Richard Nixon helped save his political career by pulling on the heartstrings of viewers when he told them of the gift of a puppy named “Checkers” to his children instead of discussing allegations of a slush fund.

In recent decades, presidential dogs have been used to good effect by presidents of both parties. George H.W. Bush’s dog Millie was credited as the author of a best-selling book. Most political observers thought Bill Clinton’s decision to get a dog during his second term was motivated by the need to help distract the public from less wholesome scandals that threatened to destroy his presidency.

But though most presidents or their family members have had pets of one kind or another, the idea that the absence of one in a Walker White House would actually impact the outcome of an election is a bit of a stretch even for the Times.

Americans generally love dogs. Moreover, the pet industry has become a huge business in a country where many people often treat their animals as if they were their children. But that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about this state of affairs. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of voters who not only wouldn’t hold his lack of a furry friend against Walker, but also might identify with him more than the editors of the Times and the proprietors of the Presidential Pet Museum might think.

After all, allergy sufferers might be just as potent a demographic group as any in a presidential election. Moreover, it could also be that people who send their dogs to spas and summer camps are likely to be liberal Democrats who would never vote for a tax-cutting governor who is a conservative folk hero for standing up to municipal worker unions.

Actually, I have no more idea whether that assumption is true than the editors of the Times have for their assumptions about dog ownership equaling likeability. Which is to say that all speculation about the dog vote in 2016 is as uninformed and ridiculous as much of what often passes for straight political coverage in the Times.

But Walker can take one piece of consolation from this bit of nonsense from the Times. If he wasn’t a serious political contender whose ability to engender support from mainstream Republicans, Tea Partiers, and evangelicals is scaring both his GOP rivals and Democrats, the Times wouldn’t have wasted space on its front page poking fun at his allergies.

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Obama Comes to His Senses on Egypt

Since coming to office President Obama has made a series of disastrous decisions that have alienated allies and empowered foes around the globe. In the Middle East, his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran has undermined the security of moderate Arab nations and Israel while also undermining his supposed goal of nuclear non-proliferation. But his hostility to allies goes deeper than his resentment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or his impatience with Arabs who rightly fear the consequences of an Iran nuclear deal. Among the most egregious examples of the administration’s mishandling of America’s friends was the case of Egypt, the region’s most populous country. But even as he digs deeper with Iran and has threatened to isolate Israel, the president seems to have come to his senses on this one topic. Yesterday’s announcement that Obama was lifting the freeze on arms sales to the Egyptian government is a rare instance of good sense on the president’s part. The decision to try and repair the damage he had done in the last four years is late but perhaps not too late to help the Egyptians as they seek, along with the Saudis, to push back against the advances of both ISIS in Libya and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

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Since coming to office President Obama has made a series of disastrous decisions that have alienated allies and empowered foes around the globe. In the Middle East, his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran has undermined the security of moderate Arab nations and Israel while also undermining his supposed goal of nuclear non-proliferation. But his hostility to allies goes deeper than his resentment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or his impatience with Arabs who rightly fear the consequences of an Iran nuclear deal. Among the most egregious examples of the administration’s mishandling of America’s friends was the case of Egypt, the region’s most populous country. But even as he digs deeper with Iran and has threatened to isolate Israel, the president seems to have come to his senses on this one topic. Yesterday’s announcement that Obama was lifting the freeze on arms sales to the Egyptian government is a rare instance of good sense on the president’s part. The decision to try and repair the damage he had done in the last four years is late but perhaps not too late to help the Egyptians as they seek, along with the Saudis, to push back against the advances of both ISIS in Libya and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

The arms freeze dates back to the military’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in the summer of 2013. Since then, Obama has given President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the Netanyahu treatment, making no secret of his distaste for Sisi’s methods in rooting out the Brotherhood and even choosing not to enthusiastically back Egypt’s attacks on ISIS in Libya and decision to help the Saudis fight the Houthis in Yemen.

The ostensible justification for the freeze on weapons to Egypt was the military’s human-rights violations. There is no denying that Sisi’s government has acted ruthlessly and shown little respect for human rights since coming to power. But while his actions must be viewed with distaste, Obama’s belief that there is a third, democratic alternative to the Islamists of the Brotherhood or the military was a delusion. Though the Arab Spring made it possible for some to dream that democracy might flower in Egypt, the ability of the Brotherhood to take advantage of the fall of the corrupt Mubarak regime gave the lie to any such hopes.

The history of the administration’s conduct in Egypt is a case study in failure driven by ideology. President Obama greeted the Arab Spring protests with enthusiasm but little understanding of the impact they might have on both the cause of human rights or regional security. Though Mubarak would have fallen with or without the push he got from Obama, the president can be blamed for hastening the collapse and for the pressure he brought to bear on the military to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to eventually succeed that authoritarian regime. Once it took office, the president seemed to embrace the Islamist movement whose sole goal was to ensure that the democratic process it had used to take power would never be used to oust it. Unlike the coercive methods he used on the military both before and after the Brotherhood was in office, the administration treated the Islamists with kid gloves even as its actions alienated most Egyptians.

Rather than support the protests of tens of millions of Egyptians who called for the Brotherhood’s ouster, the president treated the military coup that ended their misrule with disdain. He quickly made it clear that he was unhappy with this turn of events and used the considerable leverage that the U.S. has over Egypt via an annual aid package of more than $1 billion per year to undermine Sisi.

Fortunately these administration efforts failed and Sisi has consolidated his hold on Cairo. What he has created is no democracy and no respecter of the rights of dissidents or Islamists, but it is stable and, in the view of most Egyptians, far preferable to the Brotherhood’s drive to create a far more repressive state. But for the better part of two years, Obama has waged a cold war against a government that shared America’s concern about the spread of Islamist terrorism. Instead of backing Sisi as he sought to isolate the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza and fighting other terrorists in the Sinai, Washington has made no secret of its anger about the coup.

What did it take to wake Obama up to the necessity of repairing relations with Cairo? Sisi’s flirtation with Russia was unsettling but left the president unmoved. So, too, did Egypt’s decision to bomb ISIS targets in Libya after Egyptian Christians working there were murdered. In the end, perhaps it was the chaos in Yemen where Iranian-backed rebels seem to be on the verge of taking over the strategic country. Though the Egyptians should be wary of a major military commitment in a country that was the graveyard of dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser’s ambitions in the 1960s, Egyptian forces are badly needed to reinforce Saudi efforts to retrieve the situation there. Ending the arms freeze now was not so much an admission that everything the U.S. has done in Egypt for years was a mistake as an emergency measure as the region fell apart due to Obama’s mistakes.

Ending the Egyptian arms freeze cannot make up for the colossal blunder being committed with Iran or other mistakes in Syria and Iraq. But it can be the start of a return to a sane policy of backing allies rather than isolating them. For this the president deserves a modicum of credit. Let’s hope it is not an isolated example of wisdom in an administration whose remaining time in office seems fated to be one of foreign-policy disaster.

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The Menendez Indictment and the Future of the Pro-Israel, Hawkish Democrat

To adapt the old saying about luck: It sometimes seems as though if New Jersey residents had no corrupt politicians, we’d have no politicians at all. That perception of ever-present corruption can warp the expectations game. And it can also work against accused politicians: the astounding power of federal prosecutors is no doubt abused and sometimes the accused is innocent. This is what the Jewish supporters of Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges today, are struggling with as they face losing an increasingly rare pro-Israel liberal.

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To adapt the old saying about luck: It sometimes seems as though if New Jersey residents had no corrupt politicians, we’d have no politicians at all. That perception of ever-present corruption can warp the expectations game. And it can also work against accused politicians: the astounding power of federal prosecutors is no doubt abused and sometimes the accused is innocent. This is what the Jewish supporters of Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges today, are struggling with as they face losing an increasingly rare pro-Israel liberal.

There are several clouds hanging over this situation, complicating the issue. The first is the horrid behavior of federal prosecutors in recent years. There was the witch hunt over the Valerie Plame leak, in which prosecutors turned their attention to hounding, harassing, and threatening to jail and bankrupt Karl Rove and in the end jailing Scooter Libby (on perjury) while ignoring the actual leaker in the case, Richard Armitage.

More recently, we saw the appalling case of Ted Stevens, the long-serving Republican senator from Alaska. In 2008, just a few months before Election Day, federal prosecutors indicted him on false charges relying on allegations coaxed from a cooperating witness who was saving his own skin. He was convicted a week before the election, which he lost. Roll Call recounts what happened next:

After trial we learned that government prosecutors concealed compelling evidence from the defense. The cooperating witness did not come up with the “covering his ass” testimony until right before trial and his previous inconsistent statements were hidden from the defense. Likewise, the government concealed evidence that its star witness had suborned perjury from an underage prostitute with whom the star witness had an illegal sexual relationship. And the government concealed evidence that another witness — whom the government flew back to Alaska away from the Washington, D.C., trial after their mock cross-examination of him went poorly — had told the senator that the bills he received and promptly paid included all of the work that was done.

Stevens was finally cleared after the election, and died in a 2010 plane crash. It is this behavior that reminds us someone must be watching the watchers, that the abuses of a government prosecutor with an axe to grind won’t be hypothetical, they will be real and they will cost innocent people dearly. The case against Menendez will also probably hinge on getting the cooperation of his associate Salomon Melgen, who was also indicted and therefore will be pressured to make a deal and turn on Menendez, and the all-too-real corruption of federal prosecutors should loom in the public’s imagination before they jump to conclusions and declare Menendez guilty from the start.

Another cloud over this case is the timing. There is no evidence that the charges against Menendez, who has been the most strident critic of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran, were ginned up to silence him. And it’s quite likely that the statute of limitations on bringing charges is the deciding factor here. Just because he’s being prosecuted does not mean he’s being persecuted.

Nonetheless, losing a powerful Democrat who is both a dedicated friend of Israel and an opponent of capitulation on Iranian nukes right at the moment a deal appears to be taking shape leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the Jewish community. President Obama has gone on a public campaign against Israel’s government and even downgraded the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war, and he has had success in his campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue to drive a wedge between the remaining pro-Israel Democrats and the Jewish state.

All of which is why the Jewish community hasn’t been shy in voicing its support for Menendez. This support was the subject of a New York Times article this week:

By the end of 2014, Mr. Menendez had raised more than $200,000 for his legal fund — nearly a quarter of all its receipts — from political donors who have also given to pro-Israel political action committees, according to an examination of financial documents filed by the Robert Menendez Legal Expense Trust.

The Times gets at why the Israel issue is so important:

That line of thinking frustrates some Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats, who say Mr. Menendez has earned their gratitude but who will not go quite as far in alleging a conspiracy against him.

What’s more, Jewish leaders said, Mr. Menendez has won over the community on issues outside Iran’s nuclear program. He has been a staunchly liberal voice on matters of social policy; as the Senate’s only Hispanic Democrat, Mr. Menendez has been a champion of immigration reform, a popular measure in the Jewish community.

Certainly true. But if Menendez goes away, whoever replaces him in the Senate will hold the liberal line on immigration and social policy anyway. Much of the Jewish community adheres to a liberal policy agenda that is a dime a dozen in New Jersey. What bothers Jewish Democrats about all this is the suggestion–wholly and completely true–that Menendez’s approach to Israel and Iran policy sets him apart.

He is not the only pro-Israel Democrat, far from it. And he is not the only Democrat with concerns about Obama’s détente with Iran or the president’s relentless sniping at the Israelis. But as ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with his willingness to publicly dress down the president from the floor of the Senate, he represents a species of Democrat that is going quickly extinct.

A voting record only tells part of the story (much of the Obama presidency has been spent trying to stop Iran bills from coming to the floor in the first place). When Jewish Democrats see the adulation for Menendez in their community, especially one that crosses party lines, they know it’s not because of immigration, even if they’d like it to be.

It’s understandable for the Jewish community to show Menendez their support, especially before a trial even takes place. But it’s also important for Democrats to realize how their party will look to that same community if there’s no one to fill his shoes.

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Overtime Iran Talks Make Congressional Action Necessary

A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

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A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

It should be recalled that after the West signed an interim accord with Iran in November 2013, President Obama promised that subsequent negotiations for a final accord would be finite in nature and not allow the Islamist regime to spin them out indefinitely. But now as the talks were extended yet again, the pattern of Iranian intransigence followed by American concessions appears ready to repeat itself. Having invested so heavily in the notion that the talks must succeed, the U.S. is unwilling to walk away from them leading the Iranian negotiators to understandably come to the conclusion that all they need to do is to keep saying no in order to compel Kerry to agree to their demands.

From the start of the negotiations earlier in 2013, any “progress” toward an agreement has always been a function of President Obama’s willingness to discard the principles about the Iranian nuclear threat that he articulated during his 2012 campaign for reelection. Instead of sticking to his demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program if it wanted sanctions lifted, the U.S. has, piece by piece, dismantled its initial position that would have permanently blocked any possibility that the Islamist regime could build a bomb.

In order to get the interim accord in 2013, the administration tacitly conceded Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium. In the last year, it has gone further, consenting to the regime retaining thousands of centrifuges and allowing it to stonewall United Nations inspectors seeking to discover the extent of their military research. Then the Americans agreed to include a “sunset” clause that would end restrictions on Iran after a period of as little as ten years, meaning Tehran could pursue a bomb unhindered by Western interference after the agreement expired. At every point, wherever Iran said “no,” Kerry and Obama gave in and defended the concession as inevitable and preferable to breaking off the talks.

In the last weeks as negotiations become more urgent, this pattern also intensified. Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 team agreed to let Iran keep hundreds of centrifuges in its fortified mountainside redoubt at Fordow where it would be immune to attack. And then the Iranians had the bad manners to let slip that, contrary to the impression given by the West, they have never agreed to have their stockpile of enriched uranium shipped out of the country. Instead, they are insisting they must hold onto it, meaning that even if it is reduced to a diluted form, it could be quickly converted back into nuclear fuel anytime the regime chose to do so.

This isn’t the only sticking point left to be resolved before Kerry can emerge waving a piece of paper and proclaiming that he has averted a potential conflict. But it is one that, along with the centrifuges, the lack of transparency about their military efforts, the sunset clause, and the ability to reimpose sanctions quickly, makes a mockery of any hope that the deal will fulfill Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a weapon.

We already know that in their lust for détente with an Iranian regime whose sole goal is regional hegemony that is being advanced by their auxiliaries in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, the administration has refused to try and make the deal encompass even empty promises about an end to Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its ballistic-missile program that threatens the West as well as moderate Arab regimes and Israel.

But if Kerry agrees to a deal without getting Iran to agree to give up its nuclear fuel, its centrifuges, or reveal the truth about its military research, the deal will be worthless. And if he continues the negotiations indefinitely as Iran continues to sensibly hold out until the West gives in, the situation will be just as bad.

That’s why there are no longer any rational arguments for further delay on the Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of a deal or of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill. The Republican leadership should make their passage a priority once the Senate returns after its holiday recess. And Democrats who claim to be skeptical about Iran as well as friends of Israel must prepare to choose between the security of the West and its allies and defending an administration seeking to divide the country on party lines on these crucial questions. If Kerry can’t stand his ground on these issues or walk away from the talks, the Senate must vote.

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Bill de Blasio Is a Terrible Messenger for an Anti-Inequality Campaign

Capital New York reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio, seeking to increase his national profile, will go where such politicians always go to raise their name-ID: Iowa. The theme of de Blasio’s trip will be to “highlight inequality.” This is more appropriate than even de Blasio knows, just not for the reasons he might think. Bill de Blasio not only governs a city with high inequality; he’s also a purveyor of the kind of liberal ideology that ensures such inequality will continue, and increase. If you want to highlight inequality, you couldn’t do much better than its mascot Bill de Blasio. Which is what makes him a terrible messenger for the anti-inequality brigades.

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Capital New York reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio, seeking to increase his national profile, will go where such politicians always go to raise their name-ID: Iowa. The theme of de Blasio’s trip will be to “highlight inequality.” This is more appropriate than even de Blasio knows, just not for the reasons he might think. Bill de Blasio not only governs a city with high inequality; he’s also a purveyor of the kind of liberal ideology that ensures such inequality will continue, and increase. If you want to highlight inequality, you couldn’t do much better than its mascot Bill de Blasio. Which is what makes him a terrible messenger for the anti-inequality brigades.

According to recent data, New York City is the sixth-most unequal city in the country, though Manhattan individually tops the charts. Last year’s landmark Brookings Institution study shed a great deal of light on the subject, and they updated the data two weeks ago. As I wrote at the time the study was released, from 2007-2012 inequality increased despite the fact that rich households were less rich, not because the rich were going in one direction and the poor another. Dramatic increases in inequality happened in places where lower-income Americans were hit harder by the economic downturn.

That seems to have continued, as Brookings notes: “Despite positive trends in some cities from 2012 to 2013, lower-income households in the majority (31) of the 50 largest cities had lower incomes in 2013 than they did in 2007.” What the poor needed, and continue to need, are jobs. As the study had noted last year, dynamic economies were also unequal economies. The focus on inequality can at times be more than a distraction; it can harm those at the lower end of the spectrum by focusing on regulation and redistribution at the expense of economic growth.

Additionally, New York is a good example of how liberal policy exacerbates inequality (and why liberal demagogues focus so much on income inequality instead of real inequality). Among the many effective critiques of Thomas Piketty’s treatise on inequality was that of a graduate student at MIT named Matthew Rognlie, who has now expanded his criticism into a paper. The Economist notes:

Second, Mr Rognlie finds that higher returns to wealth have not been distributed equally across all investments. The return on assets other than housing has been remarkably stable since 1970. In fact, surging house prices are almost entirely responsible for growing returns on capital.

Third, the idea that workers’ share of wealth can continue to decline rests on the assumption that it is easy to substitute capital (ie, robots) for workers. But if lots of the capital in question is tied up in houses, then this switch would be far harder than Mr Piketty suggests.

Why it matters:

For one thing, homeowners are a much bigger and more lovable group than hedge-fund managers. Moreover, if housing is the biggest source of rising inequality, then the wealth tax Mr Piketty advocates is the wrong response. Policymakers should instead try to reduce the planning restrictions which, by inhibiting new construction, allow homeowners to earn such big returns on their assets.

Good idea! In fact, let’s expand on this. The larger problem with such restrictions is not that homeowners earn such big returns per se, but that they do so because such regulation drives up prices in the first place. In 2010, viewers of the New York gubernatorial debate were captivated by Jimmy McMillan, leader of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. His main concern was, well it’s all there in the name.

And he’s right: rent is high in New York. Why is it high? In July 2013, Josh Barro wrote a piece for Business Insider listing eight reasons rent in New York is so high. Each had an explanation, but here are the eight reasons as listed:

  1. There’s only so much space.
  2. Zoning rules inhibit supply.
  3. Rent control raises your rent if you’re not rent controlled.
  4. Property taxes are very high.
  5. High construction costs.
  6. Affordable-housing set asides.
  7. Minimum parking requirements.
  8. Tenant-friendly laws.

Most of these are self-explanatory. The effects of heavyhanded regulation are clear. But it’s worth expanding briefly on two of them. Barro adds, for example, with regard to zoning rules:

Incidentally, contra Hamilton Nolan, this is a reason non-rich New Yorkers should cheer the construction of “superluxury condos.” Wealthy people are going to buy in New York one way or another. When we limit their ability to build shiny new towers in Manhattan, they come over to Brooklyn and bid up the prices of brownstones that used to be almost affordable.

It’s counterintuitive, but another example of why the eat-the-rich attitude toward regulation and policymaking can have all sorts of unintended, and negative, effects on the less well-off. And it’s not just strict regulation, either. As Barro explains under the “construction costs” heading, in addition to the regulatory burden, “there are no non-union crane operators in New York City, meaning any construction project tall enough to require a crane must be built with union labor. That adds costs; union work rules require overstaffing, according to the Real Estate Board of New York, and some crane operators in the city make over $500,000 a year including overtime and benefits.”

Liberal policy and inequality go hand in hand. It’s what makes de Blasio such an ironic ambassador for economic policy. It’s true that he has real-world experience with inequality, but that’s because he’s the arsonist here, not the firefighter.

And then there’s the other question of what kind of national Democratic figure de Blasio thinks he might be. It’s true that he was swept into office in a wave of leftist populism. And that populism hasn’t gone away–witness the fans of Elizabeth Warren. But the intervening midterm elections have made it clear that the economic justice warriors like de Blasio tend to be an occasional passing fad. Support for the leftist from Brooklyn is, perhaps appropriately, political hipsterism.

And it’s unclear where de Blasio could go from here anyway. His rocky relationship with the NYPD ended his political honeymoon. And he’d be more likely to try for another office before going national–by, say, running for governor before running for Congress. Either way, his appeal will be limited and will grow more so over time. In that sense, maybe his Iowa trip makes sense now. He might as well accept the invitations now and not assume they’ll still be arriving in his inbox in the future.

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Israeli Peace Gestures Not Only Don’t Work. They Make Things Worse.

For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

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For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

While President Obama has been spoiling for fights with Israel’s government since he took office in 2009, his temper tantrum about Netanyahu’s victory now threatens to make his previous tilt toward the Palestinians seem trivial. So it is hardly surprising that veteran peace processers would think the time is right for Netanyahu to do something to appease the president’s wrath. That’s the conceit of a Politico Magazine article jointly credited to former State Department official Dennis Ross and think tank figures David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari that lays out a series of suggestions intended to calm things down and get Israel out of the presidential dog house as well as to calm the waters with both Europe and the Palestinians.

Ross, Makovsky, and Al-Omari are smart enough to realize that the time isn’t right to revive a peace process that is dead in the water. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace offers and show no sign that they are any more willing to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside one of their own no matter where its borders are drawn.

But they think it would be wise for Netanyahu to freeze building in settlements beyond the blocs that most concede would remain inside Israel in the event of a peace agreement. Allowing the Palestinians the right to build more in parts of the West Bank that would, at least in theory, be part of their state would calm the waters as would less confrontational rhetoric from Netanyahu. This would, they say, counter the campaign to delegitimize the prime minister and his nation and might prompt similar gestures from the Palestinians, such as a promise to avoid bringing their complaints to the United Nations instead of negotiating as they are committed to do under the Oslo Accords.

It all sounds very smart. Fair or not, Netanyahu is perceived as politically radioactive in Europe and, despite Israel’s popularity in the United States, President Obama’s efforts to turn both Iran and Israel into political footballs has undermined the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition. Gestures aimed at restoring Israel’s good name seem the only answer to a crisis of these dimensions.

But as logical as that sounds, such a course of action not only wouldn’t improve Israel’s image, they would probably further damage it.

How can that be?

Because the recent history of the conflict teaches us that gestures even more far reaching than those suggested for Netanyahu have the opposite effect on both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.

Back in 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Arafat turned him down flat and then launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada. After it began, I heard then Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, an ardent peace processor, take some consolation from this depressing turn of events by saying that at least after this, no one in the world could fairly accuse Israel again of being the one responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. But, contrary to his predictions, Israel’s willingness to give so much and Palestinian terrorism only increased the level of vituperation against the Jewish state both in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry about Ben-Ami’s naïveté.

The same thing happened after Ariel Sharon withdrew every last Israeli soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005. Instead of proving for the whole world that Israel was ready to once again trade land for peace, that grand gesture did nothing to improve the country’s image. Nothing, not the destruction of the green houses left behind by the Israelis for the Palestinians nor the conversion of Gaza into a terrorist base and then a Hamas-run independent state-in-all-but-name altered the conviction of a hostile world that the trouble was all the fault of the Israelis.

Indeed, it should be understood that the same dynamic was in place even before Barak and Sharon’s gestures since the Oslo Accords themselves in which Israel brought Arafat back into the country, empowered him, and led to withdrawals that gave the Palestinians functional autonomy did little to improve Israel’s image. As our Evelyn Gordon wrote in a prescient COMMENTARY article published in January 2010, by signaling its willingness to withdraw from some territory, the Israelis did not convince anyone of their good intentions. To the contrary, such concessions reinforced the conviction that Israel was a thief in possession of stolen property. The reaction from the Palestinians and hostile Europeans was not gratitude for the generosity of the Israelis in giving up land to which they too had a claim but a demand that it be forced to give up even more. Land for peace schemes and a belief in two states on the part of Israelis has always led most Palestinians to believe that their goal of forcing the Jews out of the entire country was more realistic, not less so.

The same dynamic applies to Netanyahu’s gestures. It was he who endorsed a two-state solution and then backed up his statement with a settlement freeze in the West Bank for ten months. But Netanyahu got no credit for this or any concessions in return from the Palestinians.

Netanyahu would do well to lower the tone of his rhetoric. A cautious leader, he has been rightly accused of carrying a small stick while speaking very loudly. But the expectation that settlement freezes or similar gestures will ease tensions with President Obama is a pipe dream. Even worse, along with Obama’s hostility, these moves may only encourage Hamas to see it, as they have always viewed such gestures, as weakness and an invitation to another round of violence such as the one that led to thousands of rockets being launched from Gaza at Israeli cities.

The diplomatic isolation of Israel that Obama is contemplating is a serious problem. But Israelis have had enough of futile unilateral gestures and rightly so. They have accomplished nothing in the past. Nor will they ameliorate the animosity for Israel in the Muslim and Arab worlds as well as Europe that is rooted more in anti-Semitism than in complaints about the location of the borders of the Jewish state. Until a sea change occurs in Palestinian political culture, Israel’s leaders would be wise to make no more concessions that will only whet the appetite of the terrorists for more Jewish blood. Nor should Netanyahu be under the illusion that President Obama will react with any more generosity toward Israel in the next two years than he has in the previous six. Far from staving off destruction as Ross and his friends think, their advice will likely lead to more diplomatic problems as well as more violence. Just as doctors are advised by their Hippocratic oaths to do no harm, so, too, should Israel’s prime minister be wise enough to eschew a repetition of the mistakes that he and his predecessors have made in the not-so-distant past.

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Will ‘The Daily Show’ Be Doomed by Political Tone Deafness or Prejudice?

If the naming of a new host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show yesterday was treated as bigger news than a comparable switch on a broadcast news show, it’s no surprise. The Daily Show may have more influence on the nation’s political discourse than most traditional journalism outlets. Indeed, as crazy as it may sound, it could be that those looking for an event comparable to Trevor Noah’s succeeding Jon Stewart might have to go back to Dan Rather following in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite on CBS in 1981. But with such outsized influence comes the same level of scrutiny. Within hours of his appointment being publicized, observers were rightly wondering how a South African with little knowledge of American politics could replace Stewart. Just as important, an examination of Noah’s tweets revealed him to be someone who traffics in bad jokes at the expense of women and Jews as well as showing signs of the anti-Israel prejudices so prevalent in his country. All of which shows that The Daily Show’s odd reign at the center of American political life may be coming to an end.

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If the naming of a new host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show yesterday was treated as bigger news than a comparable switch on a broadcast news show, it’s no surprise. The Daily Show may have more influence on the nation’s political discourse than most traditional journalism outlets. Indeed, as crazy as it may sound, it could be that those looking for an event comparable to Trevor Noah’s succeeding Jon Stewart might have to go back to Dan Rather following in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite on CBS in 1981. But with such outsized influence comes the same level of scrutiny. Within hours of his appointment being publicized, observers were rightly wondering how a South African with little knowledge of American politics could replace Stewart. Just as important, an examination of Noah’s tweets revealed him to be someone who traffics in bad jokes at the expense of women and Jews as well as showing signs of the anti-Israel prejudices so prevalent in his country. All of which shows that The Daily Show’s odd reign at the center of American political life may be coming to an end.

In an era in which humor seems to be more important than analysis or reporting, Stewart became the king of commentary. Throughout his long run, Stewart amassed a huge audience, many of whom relied on his often vulgar and consistently left-leaning rants and “reports” consisting of heavily edited interviews with leading figures for their news. Indeed, Stewart’s impact on American politics was greater than his audience since clips of his routines on leading issues of the day were widely distributed via social media. Liberals relied upon him to confirm their prejudices about the right while conservatives would seize upon those moments when he would skewer the left as indications of when their opponents had gone too far.

But while his takes on the news were more often wrong-headed than insightful, they were also the product of a clear command of American politics. While Noah can certainly pander to the same liberal biases that Stewart reflected, it’s difficult to see how his sensibilities can possibly have the same outsized influence of Stewart. Since the show’s producers know this, perhaps what they want is more of an international feel to the show and less American political knowhow. But it is precisely this tilt to international prejudices as opposed to domestic liberal angst that is the source of the growing concern about Noah.

Taking issue with political satire is a fool’s errand. Stewart’s barbs are not intended to be sober commentary or analysis. They are polemical broadsides meant to confirm the views of most of his left-leaning audience and to offend those on the other side of the issues. Though his lapses into pure empty-headed liberal prejudice and attacks on Israel are indefensible, he generally knew that there was a line that had to be drawn between his satire and more rabid, prejudicial material. That is precisely why Noah’s tweets about Israeli belligerence or Jewish stereotypes are so troubling. For all of his obvious shortcomings and the dubious nature of his authoritative position, he rarely if ever sank as low as to make jokes about overweight women or Jews in the manner that Noah seems to have employed.

There’s a huge audience for this kind of thing in the entertainment marketplace. In comedy, the only thing that counts is funny and if Noah generates laughs on the same scale as his predecessor, he will succeed.

But even in the world of cable comedy playing off the news, the cracks about Jews and women are not likely to strike the same chord as Stewart’s jibes. Even if Noah’s politics are roughly similar, by tapping someone with very different sensibilities than those of Stewart, it remains to be seen as to how Noah’s approach can possibly maintain The Daily Show’s position as the arbiter of liberal political cool. Though his coronation as the new host was a huge deal, the betting here is that his eventual replacement will not be considered quite as important. The ascendancy of this program illustrates the changing nature of the media and American politics. But if Noah flops, whether through tone deafness about American politics or by letting slip the crude anti-Semitism that comes through in his tweets, it can change just as quickly again.

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An Unconscionable Smear: Israel, Race, and the American Left

If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

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If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

Juan Williams’s column in The Hill changes the attack in two ways. The first is that he joins some of his more doltish peers in the new belief that congressional Republicans are now responsible for Netanyahu’s words and actions. This is merely an escalation of the Democrats’ recent campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue and demand the left break with Israel to show appropriate loyalty to Barack Obama. In doing so Williams and others are now pawning Israel off on the Republicans: they don’t even want to deal with the Jewish state except to periodically upbraid it.

This is toxic, but it pales in comparison to Williams’s next trick. Once he’s assigned Republicans blame for Bibi, he then transfers the left’s racial grievances to Netanyahu as well. And he thereby threatens not only to rewrite recent Israeli history but to do so in a way that attacks the history of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. and agitates for the crumbling of African-American support for Israel in the future, all in a deeply dishonest way.

It should be noted that while reasonable people can disagree about Netanyahu’s Facebook comments about Arabs voting “in droves,” it’s perfectly understandable to object to them. In truth, the comments, while inartful, were aimed more at the fact that foreign groups, including American-funded anti-Bibi efforts, were busing leftist voters in to improve turnout, thus raising the vote count a party like Likud would need in order to keep pace with its share of the overall vote.

That was lost on many, and that’s not a surprise. But Williams goes completely off the rails:

Obama’s spokesman condemned the use of such noxious rhetoric as a “cynical” tactic. But there has been no comment from Boehner or other top Republicans.

There is a terrible history of race-based political appeals in the United States. As a civil rights historian, I know the sharp edges of racial politics as revealed in coded campaign language, gerrymandering, voter suppression and even today’s strong black-white split when it comes to views of how police deal with poor black communities.

But both major American political parties reject having their candidates directly and openly play on racial tensions for short-term political gain.

It is dangerous politics, at odds with maintaining a socially and economically stable nation of many different races, as well as a rising number of immigrants. It is also not in keeping with America’s democratic values, specifically the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “All men are created equal.”

To overlook Netanyahu’s racial politics is to send a troubling message to Americans at a time when blacks and Hispanics are overwhelmingly Democrats and the Republican Party is almost all white.

And thus does Juan Williams, in a fit of rancid political sour grapes, connect Benjamin Netanyahu with America’s civil-rights era racial politics and voter suppression. When you are a liberal hammer, every problem is a nail with Bull Connor’s face on it.

First, some facts. There was no voter suppression of Arabs in Israel’s election. The joint Arab list won the third-most seats in the Knesset, behind the two major parties. Arab turnout was the highest it’s been since at least 1999, and among the highest it’s been in decades. Bibi did nothing to derail Arab voting, nor was he even trying to scare voters to the polls in a traditional sense. He wanted Israelis who were already planning on voting and who supported Israel’s right wing to vote Likud instead of a minor party further to the right, because the increased turnout on the left meant the right needed a stronger anchor party to be able to build a coalition around.

Additionally, as Evelyn Gordon wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Israel doesn’t have a law banning minarets, as Switzerland does, or a law barring civil servants from wearing headscarves, as France does; nor does it deny citizenship to Arabs just because they can’t speak the majority’s language, as Latvia does to some 300,000 ethnic Russians born and bred there. But over the past two decades, successive Israeli governments have invested heavily in trying to create de facto as well as de jure equality.”

Statistics on Arab education have improved dramatically. Employment in the high-tech sector “almost sextupled from 2009 to 2014”–and who was prime minister during that time? Arab consumption patterns are improving, integration is on the rise, and all without increasing anti-Arab prejudice, despite what some in the media would like to believe.

That’s not to solely credit Bibi or any one single politician, but Netanyahu’s time in office has undoubtedly been good for Israel’s Arabs. Even if you choose to believe the worst interpretation of Netanyahu’s Facebook comment (for which he apologized), the picture Williams paints of Likud’s relationship with Israeli Arabs is so distorted as to be unrecognizable as the reality of modern Israel.

But Williams has another purpose: not only to falsely explain the present and the past but also the future. The tension between the Jewish and black communities is a source of great tsuris to the Jews, who felt called by God to stand with African-Americans in their times of trouble and to march with them to assert their inalienable rights which were denied for so long. But too many influential black leaders–think Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton (who was at the forefront of the closest thing America ever had to a pogrom), and even Jeremiah Wright, whose church guided our current president for so long–have sought to discourage such solidarity, and resorted to anti-Semitism to do so.

I imagine this greatly pains Williams. He spends some time in his column recounting the lack of support for Israel among America’s minorities, principally African-Americans and Hispanics, and he seems fairly unhappy about it. But he notes, correctly, that the Democratic drift away from Israel threatens to be even more profound among these minority communities. And so he blames Bibi:

This disagreement among American racial groups is reflected in the split between Republicans and Democrats over Israel. …

These divisions are likely even deeper now, after Netanyahu’s racial political appeal.

Going forward, it will now be gentler on the consciences of Democrats like Williams if support for Israel deteriorates among minority communities. From here on out, they’ll say it was inevitable after this election. That’s much simpler than taking on the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the Wrights, and the president whose ear they have had.

And it’s much simpler than swimming against the tide of leftist hostility to Israel. It’s the easy way out, and there’s nothing principled or noble about it.

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As Dem Leader, Schumer Can’t Protect Both Israel and Obama

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

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Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Schumer likes to tell Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word shomer, or guardian, and that he will always act to protect Israel. Though in recent years that promise has been tested, the senator’s impressive political skills have enabled him to hold onto that image while also being one of President Obama’s Senate foot soldiers. The same can be said of his close relationship with Wall Street figures whose fundraising help has been the foundation of his long and now apparently successful campaign to become the Democrats’ Senate leader.

As far as Israel or Iran was concerned, Schumer never took on the role of administration antagonist, as did his Democratic colleague Robert Menendez. Menendez repeatedly and publicly called out President Obama for his opposition to sanctions on Iran and for his unwillingness to support more pressure on a regime with which he was bent on fostering détente. Not so Schumer, who, despite his pledge to be Israel’s guardian, chose not to confront the president in public. Instead, we have heard tales, often recounted in friendly media coverage of the senator, about private conversations in which Schumer scolded administration figures or offered them advice in which he sought to persuade them to stop picking needless and counterproductive fights with Israel on Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Schumer may well continue to play that role in private even as he assumes the status of the Prince of Wales of Senate Democrats. But in the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, as the White House steers the country away from the alliance with Israel and into a more neutral position on the Middle East conflict as well as one in which Iran is viewed as a partner, the senator’s balancing act is no longer viable.

Even if we set aside fears about Obama’s threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations or to engage in pressure tactics in future Middle East negotiations, the looming struggle in the Senate over Iran makes it impossible for Schumer to be in both camps.

Schumer has said that he supports the Corker-Menendez bill that will require that any Iran deal be put to a vote in the Senate. That’s a crucial blow to an administration that is desperate to persuade pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus on the issue and ensure that the bill doesn’t have a veto-proof majority. But the only way to do so is for Senate leaders like Schumer to ensure that enough of them fall into line. And there is every indication that, behind the scenes, he will do just that.

After all, it was Schumer who played a key role in organizing a letter from pro-Israel Senate Democrats making it clear that they would not support Corker-Menendez or the equally vital Kirk-Menendez bill that would increase sanctions in the admittedly unlikely event that the administration admitted failure in the Iran talks until after the administration received more time to negotiate.

So while a public break with Israel on Iran is probably as unthinkable for Schumer as a public breach with the administration, it’s likely that he will be behind efforts in the near future to further delay Senate action on Iran. In doing so, he will claim that he remains a stalwart opponent of appeasement but in practice he will be doing the president’s dirty work.

Nor would it be reasonable to think that he could avoid acting in this manner if he wants to hold onto the support of his party’s caucus. If Schumer were to place himself in opposition to the president on an issue where the White House is committed to doing everything to avoid a Senate vote, then the notion of his inevitability as Harry Reid’s successor may vanish. Since the Senate Democratic caucus has become more liberal, not less, in recent years, Schumer’s public apostasy, even on Israel issues, might cause the natives in the minority cloakroom to become restless. And after working tirelessly to win the leader position, it’s not likely he will do anything to scuttle his hopes.

Schumer will do all he can to still be perceived, in Politico’s words, as “a hawk” on Israel. But you don’t get to be majority leader by being an outlier within your party on a key issue when the president needs help. All the news stories about Schumer having “very, very heated” conversations with White House officials on Iran and Israel won’t mean a thing if, when the president requires him to produce the votes he needs on these issues, Schumer complies, as he almost certainly will do. Any Senate leader must watch the back of his president. Though he will claim he can go on dancing at two weddings, the odds of him choosing support for Israel over the political necessity to back Obama are slim.

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Iran and the John Kerry School of Negotiation

Last year, I traded in my old 2003 Nissan for a new car. I wish I hadn’t and instead had the opportunity to sell it either to Secretary of State John Kerry or the American negotiating team with Iran. It’s blue book value was probably around $1,500. I’m sure if I made $1,250 my opening bid, Kerry would come back with $5,000. Maybe I could reach an agreement on that figure, but back away at the last minute and perhaps get $20,000. Now, three of the four door handles had broken on the car and it had a big rust stain on its side panel thanks to a careless parker at Dulles Airport, but perhaps I could feign grievance and demand an extra $35,000 just so Kerry could demonstrate he wasn’t guilty after all.

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Last year, I traded in my old 2003 Nissan for a new car. I wish I hadn’t and instead had the opportunity to sell it either to Secretary of State John Kerry or the American negotiating team with Iran. It’s blue book value was probably around $1,500. I’m sure if I made $1,250 my opening bid, Kerry would come back with $5,000. Maybe I could reach an agreement on that figure, but back away at the last minute and perhaps get $20,000. Now, three of the four door handles had broken on the car and it had a big rust stain on its side panel thanks to a careless parker at Dulles Airport, but perhaps I could feign grievance and demand an extra $35,000 just so Kerry could demonstrate he wasn’t guilty after all.

I wish this was a silly example, but increasingly it seems accurate. And I wish we were talking about negotiating poorly over a used car rather than allowing Iran a capability which could endanger millions of lives.

It’s worth remembering where this started: President Barack Obama entered office promising a new era for multilateralism and diplomacy. Heck, he won a Nobel Peace Prize on his rhetoric alone. He has transformed himself into the most unilateral president the United States has experienced. It’s all well and good to bash George W. Bush, but under Bush there had been a succession of unanimous or near-unanimous UN Security Council resolutions all demanding Iran cease enriching uranium. Obama and Kerry came in, however, affirming Iran’s right to enrich uranium, undercutting the will of the international community with a wave of their hand. But was it realistic to demand zero enrichment? The Kuwaitis should be thankful that Iraq did not invade them under the watch of Team Obama. After all, Obama might simply have acquiesced to Iraqi tyranny by saying it was no longer realistic to expect Kuwaiti sovereignty.

It’s not just blessing Iran’s enrichment that is problematic. The “Possible Military Dimensions” is not something which should be shunted aside. After all, if Iran’s goal was simply to power air conditioners or plasma flatscreens in Tehran’s swank northern neighborhoods, it’s doubtful they would have experimented with nuclear bomb triggering devices. But they did. Oh, Mr. Kerry, I didn’t mention that my 2003 Nissan only has three wheels? Oops, my bad. Now, it may be true that the Iranian leadership changed their mind about the direction of their nuclear program back around 2003 (against the backdrop of the invasion of Iraq, it might be impolite to add). But what’s to stop them just as easily from changing their minds again in the future? It’s a question which Kerry should answer. And if he cannot provide that guarantee, then maybe I should demand another 100 grand for my Nissan. After all, Kerry’s a man who at this point will accept anything.

The silliest part of this whole process is that the United States and, more broadly, the P5+1 had amazing leverage. Iran’s economy had shrunk 5.4 percent before negotiations ever began, and that was before the price of oil halved, with Iran’s income along with it. Most Cold War historians now acknowledge that the United States won the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union, though they disagree on largely partisan lines about the degree to which Ronald Reagan deserves the credit. That’s an argument for another day. The proper analogy for Kerry and perhaps Obama would be if they threw all Western allies under the bus in order to gather up the funds to subsidize the failing Soviet Empire in its hour of need. Actually, an even better analogy would be if they donated billions of dollars to the Soviet cause, all the while acquiescing to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its consolidation of power in Southeast Asia and Africa. It’s time to step back, see the forest through the trees, and recognize the Iran deal for what it is. And, while we’re at it, Mr. Kerry, my Nissan is yours for only $2,350,000; please excuse the cracks in the windshield and the missing trunk.

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Deal or a Delay? Either Is a Triumph for Iran

With only hours to go before a self-imposed deadline on the Iran nuclear talks expires, the outcome of the current round of negotiations is still up in the air. The New York Times claimed that the negotiators were on the verge of a preliminary accord. But the purpose of such an announcement would be more to boost support for President Obama’s foreign policy than anything else since even the optimists are conceding that several key issues remain unresolved. Either way, the talks will continue until the supposedly hard deadline in June. But no matter what happens today, the willingness of the Obama administration to stick to their strategy of appeasement has made the Iranians the big winners of the talks. By sticking to their refusal to give ground, with or without another interim deal, they have talked the Americans into making a series of devastating concessions that ensure that Iran will be recognized as a threshold nuclear power with the likelihood that, whether by cheating or complying with an agreement, they will get their bomb.

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With only hours to go before a self-imposed deadline on the Iran nuclear talks expires, the outcome of the current round of negotiations is still up in the air. The New York Times claimed that the negotiators were on the verge of a preliminary accord. But the purpose of such an announcement would be more to boost support for President Obama’s foreign policy than anything else since even the optimists are conceding that several key issues remain unresolved. Either way, the talks will continue until the supposedly hard deadline in June. But no matter what happens today, the willingness of the Obama administration to stick to their strategy of appeasement has made the Iranians the big winners of the talks. By sticking to their refusal to give ground, with or without another interim deal, they have talked the Americans into making a series of devastating concessions that ensure that Iran will be recognized as a threshold nuclear power with the likelihood that, whether by cheating or complying with an agreement, they will get their bomb.

Though much was made of today’s deadline, the tension about the outcome is entirely artificial. There was never any doubt that the United States would walk away from the talks no matter what Iran did. By reneging on previous indications that they would allow their stockpile of enriched uranium to be shipped out of the country, the Iranians gambled that even something like this—which effectively dispels any hope they can be stopped from building a bomb if they wanted to—would not force the president to recognize that he was being taken to the cleaners. The same applies to their refusal to allow United Nations inspectors access to information about their military research, their successful efforts to force the West to allow the Islamist regime to keep hundreds of centrifuges operating inside their impregnable mountainside bunker at Fordow, and a sunset clause that will end all restrictions on their program in as soon as ten years. Any further delays in the negotiations will merely give more time for Iran to push the U.S. for even more concessions.

Yet as it has done since it began negotiating away its economic and political leverage over Iran in 2013, the United States simply backed down whenever it was challenged. Throughout this long process, the Iranians have never given in on any serious point that could actually put an end to their nuclear ambitions. Instead, the administration rationalized each concession it made as inevitable and necessary until we are now at the point where the president’s 2012 campaign promises about dismantling Iran’s nuclear program have been shoved down the memory hole. President Obama’s pursuit of Iran detente has reversed the dynamic in which sanctions had forced Iran’s economy to its knees and isolated a regime that is the leading state sponsor of terrorism on the planet. As the clock ticked down on the talks in Lausanne, it was the representatives of the ayatollahs who held the whip hand and they have not been shy about exercising that advantage.

An interim accord will be represented as a triumph for an administration that is desperate for good news from abroad. We will be told that cutbacks in the number of centrifuges and the supposed freeze on Iran’s nuclear program will make the U.S. and its allies safer than we are today. But any celebration of this as a victory for American diplomacy will be entirely misplaced. The deal on the table will not stop Iran from building a bomb if it wants to do so since it will retain its nuclear infrastructure. Nor is there any assurance that the so-called “breakout” period by which it could build a weapon is as long as one year and even less certainty that such activity could be detected or that action could be taken in time.

A deal or even a delay that will send the talks into yet another overtime period will be a function of Iran’s stubborn tactics and the Americans’ zeal for a deal at any price. Secure in the knowledge that nothing they demand will force an end to the negotiations and that there is no topic, no matter how crucial to monitoring their nuclear program, that Obama won’t concede, Tehran has emerged from this process with its nuclear dreams intact and the prospect of an end to sanctions that will inject new life into their economy.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry repeatedly said that no deal with Iran would be better than a bad deal. But their eagerness for an agreement at any price has made it obvious that their real goal in these negotiations was to initiate a new détente with the Iranian regime more than it was to limit its nuclear ambitions. The president may believe that cooperating with Iran is better for America than isolating it, but in practice that will mean that a stronger, more prosperous Islamist government is going to be an even greater danger to its Arab neighbors and Israel and the West will have no leverage at all to deter those threats.

That’s a colossal defeat for U.S. security. If, as some say, these talks are an attempt by President Obama to build his legacy, what he is doing is ensuring that along with his place in history as our first African-American president, he will also be remembered as the man who enabled an aggressive, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting Islamist state to become a regional superpower with an American seal of approval.

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How Republicans Keep Bailing Out Obama’s Inept Foreign Policy

The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiators are learning a tough lesson: you can’t succeed in high-stakes international diplomacy with only carrots. So naturally, they’re leaning on Republicans in Congress–the group the Obama White House has treated as the true enemy here–for the sticks. It’s not the first time. It turns out Obama doesn’t really want to exclude the GOP from foreign policy after all; he merely wants them to wait until he’s on the verge of failure to intervene on his behalf.

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The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiators are learning a tough lesson: you can’t succeed in high-stakes international diplomacy with only carrots. So naturally, they’re leaning on Republicans in Congress–the group the Obama White House has treated as the true enemy here–for the sticks. It’s not the first time. It turns out Obama doesn’t really want to exclude the GOP from foreign policy after all; he merely wants them to wait until he’s on the verge of failure to intervene on his behalf.

A couple of news outlets picked up on State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments yesterday, in which she expressed the administration’s growing frustration with Iran. The Iranians have been offered the store, and they keep delaying. Harf was reduced to wondering what the Iranians could possibly want–How can we get you behind the wheel of this nuclear accord today?–and threatening to get the adults involved. From Haaretz:

The deadline for reaching a framework agreement between Iran and the six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — on Iran’s nuclear program ends at midnight Tuesday. Despite continuous talks and marathon meetings between the negotiating teams at this city’s Beau Rivage Palace Hotel Monday, gaps still remain between the parties’ positions.

The American team began showing signs of irritation at Iran’s conduct Monday afternoon, with acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf saying in an interview with CNSNews.com that the time had come to see whether the Iranians were capable of taking decisions. “So we really need to see from the Iranians if they’re willing to get to yes here,” she said.

“Everyone knows that Congress is waiting to act if we can’t get to an agreement,” she noted.

Let’s set aside whether in fact “everyone knows” that piece of information, because the Obama administration has been working to undermine, water down, delay, and in many cases prevent sanctions against Iran throughout this presidency, present time very much included. The interesting aspect to Harf’s comments is that the administration is not even attempting to play both good cop and bad cop here (the State Department used to utilize the late Richard Holbrooke for such roles); she’s pointing out that if negotiations fail Congress will act, and the president might not be able to stop them.

This is nothing new. I wrote in June 2012 that when the State Department was trumpeting the freeing of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng while Hillary was in Beijing, it turned out that what had the greatest effect on the negotiations over his release were the actions of Congress. Republicans held a hearing to draw attention to Chen’s plight, and it made the Chinese government nervous. That, at least, was what the Chinese government seemed to indicate.

And it’s been confirmed by Chen as well. “The Blind Dissident,” as he’s known, just released a memoir of his struggle for freedom. The Wall Street Journal’s David Feith reviewed it, and pointed to Chen’s own characterization of the fight over his release. Here’s Feith:

Once in talks with their Chinese counterparts, though, U.S. officials, fearful of spoiling the bilateral mood before a high-level summit set for the following week, buckled. According to Mr. Chen, within two days they began pressuring him to leave the embassy and accept assurances of his safety from the same Chinese government that had detained, tortured and otherwise brutalized him for seven years. “Negotiating with a government run by hooligans,” he writes, “the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in.”

So how’d he get free? Feith explains: “Republican Chris Smith, Democrat Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers ‘proved to be principled and fearless friends of the Chinese people,’ he writes, and ‘the voice of the American people made itself strongly felt at the bargaining table.’ Two weeks later, with his wife and two children, Mr. Chen was on a flight to the U.S.”

The point isn’t to remove all credit from Clinton. I imagine that having the secretary of state in Beijing for a high-profile visit and negotiating in person helped tremendously. It’s possible, even likely, that both Clinton and the Chris Smith-led congressional effort were necessary, and that Chen’s freedom wouldn’t have been secured without them.

And that’s the point. In neither case–the China deal or the Iran deal–were Congress’s essential efforts recognized and appreciated by the administration at the time. Congressional Republicans, especially, were treated as boorish intruders who didn’t understand the intricacies and delicate nuances of international diplomacy. That was false then, and it’s false now.

The truth is that Obama needs congressional Republicans. He has a habit of wandering into situations for which he’s unprepared, and he needs Republicans to intervene to stave off disaster. The idea of the Republicans as the adults in the room certainly clashes with the media’s shallow narrative of events. But what matters most is that despite his public statements, Obama seems to realize that responsible international diplomacy requires the involvement of his political rivals, whether he likes it or not.

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Why Yemen Will Continue to Be a Mess

News that Iraqi forces have conquered Tikrit should be taken with caution: victory has been claimed before and it has not materialized. And if it is the case that ISIS fighters have been expelled from Tikrit, the triumph will belong to Iranian-backed Shiite militias which constitute the vast majority of the attacking force and which, in spite of U.S. claims, have not pulled back. Thus if U.S. airpower succeeds in routing ISIS out of this town, it will be a victory for Iran and its proxies.

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News that Iraqi forces have conquered Tikrit should be taken with caution: victory has been claimed before and it has not materialized. And if it is the case that ISIS fighters have been expelled from Tikrit, the triumph will belong to Iranian-backed Shiite militias which constitute the vast majority of the attacking force and which, in spite of U.S. claims, have not pulled back. Thus if U.S. airpower succeeds in routing ISIS out of this town, it will be a victory for Iran and its proxies.

Whatever its impact, the offensive in Tikrit contains an important lesson for the Saudi/Egyptian offensive now occurring in Yemen: namely, that it is not enough to hit your enemies from the air as the Saudis are now doing with the Iranian-backed Houthi militia. Military success requires a combined-arms assault—i.e., there must be ground troops in place to exploit the opening created by modern airpower. In Tikrit, as previously mentioned, most of those ground troops are Iranian-backed militiamen. What about in Yemen?

There are troops still loyal to deposed president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who are now battling Houthi fighters in the streets of Aden, but it is far from clear that, even with Saudi air support, they will be able roll back the Houthi militia—not to mention al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is also a major threat but one that the Saudis aren’t focusing on at the moment. Perhaps there is coordination between the Saudi air strikes and Hadi’s ground troops, but so far it isn’t apparent. And perhaps the Saudis are providing support in terms of arms and training to Hadi’s troops, but that too isn’t apparent.

What is apparent is that the Saudis are bombing pretty freely and not in a very precise way. The latest reports indicate that Saudi aircraft struck the Al Mazraq refugee camp, killing at least 19 people, including women and children. If it had been Israeli warplanes dropping those bombs, it would have been described as a war crime and pressure would have been applied at the United Nations to stop this barbarous assault. Because it’s the Saudis, the international community will not say or do much, but there is still the real risk that by inflicting needless civilian casualties the Saudis will alienate potential allies and drive them into the arms of the Houthis or AQAP for protection.

The Saudis, and the Egyptians who are helping them, have made some threats about sending ground forces to clean out Yemen but they do not appear to be doing so, at least not for the time being—which may be just as well. We have all seen the difficulties encountered over the last decade by U.S. troops—the best in the world—fighting guerrillas in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no reason to expect that the challenge of pacifying Yemen, a notoriously lawless land, would be any less, but there is a great deal of reason to worry that Egyptian and Saudi troops don’t have nearly the combat capacity of U.S. forces.

The Saudis have essentially no combat experience and what combat experience the Egyptians have comes from internal security operations against the Muslim Brotherhood and various jihadist groups in the Sinai. It is a very different matter to project force into a foreign country—one that is on Saudi Arabia’s border, admittedly, but that is 1,400 miles from Cairo—and to put down a foreign insurgency. The Egyptians last tried that trick in Yemen in the 1960s and they lost at a cost of 25,000 fatalities. The danger is that if the Saudis and Egyptians were to go in on the ground and if the campaign were to go badly for them, the resulting backlash could destabilize the Sisi regime and the Saudi royal family.

The fear of getting embroiled in what could prove to be a quagmire may very well deter the Saudis and Egyptians from sending ground forces to Yemen, but failing an outside intervention it’s hard to see how it will be possible to defeat the Houthis, much less AQAP, and pacify Yemen. The best bet is for the U.S., working with the Saudis and other allies, to put a lot more time, energy, and resources into training Hadi’s troops than they have hitherto done, but such training programs are protracted affairs and are unlikely to produce results unless the regime the troops are fighting for is widely perceived to be legitimate—which is probably not the case in Yemen. Hadi, after all, took office after the overthrow of the previous dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was once fighting the Houthis but is now in league with them.

Sadly Yemen is a mess and likely to stay that way. The best bet may simply be that the Saudis, through the judicious application of air power, can prevent Iran from consolidating its grip on that country. But if the Saudis have a strategy for actually defeating the Houthis (and AQAP!) and pacifying Yemen, it remains a closely guarded secret.

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Hillary’s Nixon Moment Won’t Be Forgotten

Is the Hillary Clinton email scandal over? That’s the spin we’re getting from mainstream media outlets. To the extent that the liberal media paid much attention to the bizarre story about the former secretary of state using only a private email address based on a home server to conduct official business, their interest seems to be at an end. Even many of those who covered the affair have now moved on to other stories, as Clinton continues the preparations for her expected coronation as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee. While Clinton’s apologists will claim, with some justice, that she has been treated far more roughly than, say, President Obama, last Friday’s revelation that the home server on which all of her emails, both personal and government business, was “wiped,” theoretically making it impossible for any of the State Department records that might not have been already turned over to the federal archives to be retrieved, confirms what her conservative antagonists have long feared: the rules really are different for the Clintons. Though House Republicans still investigating the Benghazi attacks may cry foul, it appears that Hillary is counting on a dearth of genuine outrage to let her get away with a stunt that no Republican could possibly get away with.

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Is the Hillary Clinton email scandal over? That’s the spin we’re getting from mainstream media outlets. To the extent that the liberal media paid much attention to the bizarre story about the former secretary of state using only a private email address based on a home server to conduct official business, their interest seems to be at an end. Even many of those who covered the affair have now moved on to other stories, as Clinton continues the preparations for her expected coronation as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee. While Clinton’s apologists will claim, with some justice, that she has been treated far more roughly than, say, President Obama, last Friday’s revelation that the home server on which all of her emails, both personal and government business, was “wiped,” theoretically making it impossible for any of the State Department records that might not have been already turned over to the federal archives to be retrieved, confirms what her conservative antagonists have long feared: the rules really are different for the Clintons. Though House Republicans still investigating the Benghazi attacks may cry foul, it appears that Hillary is counting on a dearth of genuine outrage to let her get away with a stunt that no Republican could possibly get away with.

Clinton’s apologists continue to tell us that there’s no story here because she has already turned over 55,000 pages of printed out emails to the government. The fact that she got to determine which emails were official and which were personal renders that data dump meaningless. But her deletion of all those messages that she deemed personal, even though all of her records were under subpoena from the House Benghazi Committee, rendered what might have been considered a dubious decision an outrageous act of arrogant defiance.

Defending that inexplicable decision to delete personal emails was a difficult task for the usual suspects who are given the job of defending the Clintons on television talk shows. But that daunting task was made even more absurd by the announcement that the server was wiped.

It was one thing to be asked to believe that Clinton really doesn’t know that you can use two emails on a single device (something that any child knows these days) or that she could be trusted to know which records could not be held back. But for the Congress and the nation to be told that the server on which all of her emails were stored was “wiped” is an act of such arrogant contempt for accountability that it must be termed Nixonian in scale.

Not since President Richard Nixon’s secretary Rosemary Woods “accidentally” deleted a crucial 18 minutes of Watergate tapes have the American people been presented with such an astonishing act. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or be a Clinton-hater obsessed with the death of Vince Foster or Whitewater to know that destroying evidence in this manner is, at the very least, highly suspicious. Perhaps the Clintons’ penchant for secrecy and their paranoia about the press and public scrutiny of their public and private behavior is an explanation in and of itself. Yet just imagine if any Republican, let alone someone of the stature of the Clintons (like George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, for example) had done anything like this: the liberal press would be calling for a special prosecutor.

They wouldn’t be wrong to do so since this sort of misbehavior with official documents—especially since everything on the server was under subpoena—is exactly what has landed a number of public officials, such a former CIA director David Petraeus, in the soup. But as the story about the server fades out of view only a couple of days after it was revealed, one must concede that Clinton looks like she’s going to get away with it.

Like every politician caught engaging in questionable conduct, she and her followers will tell us this isn’t important and constitutes a diversion from the real issues. They will also say Clinton wants the emails she gave to the government published. That does nothing to quell concerns about those she didn’t hand over and which now we may never see.

But none of that changes the fact that Hillary has had a Nixon moment and there appears to be very little chance that she will be made to pay for it either by the same Justice Department that humiliated Petraeus or a liberal media that thinks it has done enough on the story.

When her husband evaded responsibility for both sexual harassment and lying under oath, writers like William Bennett rightly lamented The Death of Outrage. But Mrs. Clinton appears to have gone him one better by proving that even the most outrageous conduct that could land another politician in jail can be survived so long as you are the person who aspires to be our first female president.

Clinton may well achieve that ambition but Democrats, who have once again been dragooned into justifying the indefensible because it has been committed by a member of this indefatigable power couple, may be forgiven if they think that this Nixonian moment renders her a little less inevitable than her admirers think. The email story may have hit a dead end, but the tale of the wiped server will keep the memory of the arrogant sense of entitlement that pervaded her disastrous press conference on the issue alive in 2016. Such scandals may die down, but obstruction of justice has a way of lingering in the public memory even if it isn’t prosecuted.

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America’s Doing More Harm Than Good at the UN Human Rights Council

Not much attention is paid to the activities of United Nations agencies. To the extent that some of the world body’s work is on behalf of the world’s disadvantaged populations or children, that’s too bad. But the fact that the arm of the UN that is tasked with monitoring human rights around the world remains a cesspool of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel and Jews is something that also deserves more attention than it gets. As UN Watch reports, the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council wrapped up last week by passing four resolutions condemning Israel for alleged violations while largely ignoring much of what goes on in countries that actually trash the rights of their people. This isn’t surprising since that’s what the UNHRC has been doing throughout its history. But this latest instance of bias and lack of concern for its actual responsibilities on the issue does raise an important question: what the heck are representatives of the United States still doing there dignifying the HRC’s proceedings with its ineffectual presence at their deliberations in Geneva?

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Not much attention is paid to the activities of United Nations agencies. To the extent that some of the world body’s work is on behalf of the world’s disadvantaged populations or children, that’s too bad. But the fact that the arm of the UN that is tasked with monitoring human rights around the world remains a cesspool of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel and Jews is something that also deserves more attention than it gets. As UN Watch reports, the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council wrapped up last week by passing four resolutions condemning Israel for alleged violations while largely ignoring much of what goes on in countries that actually trash the rights of their people. This isn’t surprising since that’s what the UNHRC has been doing throughout its history. But this latest instance of bias and lack of concern for its actual responsibilities on the issue does raise an important question: what the heck are representatives of the United States still doing there dignifying the HRC’s proceedings with its ineffectual presence at their deliberations in Geneva?

The good news about the UNHRC votes is that in each of the four condemnations of Israel, the United States provided the sole no vote. President Obama’s defenders cite this as proof that he is not hostile to the Jewish state. Though the claim would be a little easier to accept if the president did not seek applause for doing something that any American leader ought to take as a matter of course, nevertheless the U.S. did the right thing. It would also be a little easier to cheer these stands if the president and various senior administration officials were not threatening to abandon Israel at the UN in the future because Prime Minister Netanyahu does not always follow Obama’s orders, but that is an argument for a different day.

But however much we might be glad that the U.S. is there to be a sole voice of sanity at the HRC, it’s arguable that even if the president doesn’t decide to stab Israel in the back to vent his pique about the results of the recent election there, America is doing more harm than good by legitimizing this farce by its continuing membership on the council.

It should be pointed out that the UN HRC managed to pass eight resolutions condemning alleged human-rights abuses at its recent sessions. That meant that half of its output was pro-forma attacks on Israel. One of the four resolutions condemned Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights, which it claims harms rights of the inhabitants. Another did the same for its presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. One demanded “self-determination” for the Palestinians and another treated the existence of Jews living in these areas as an offense against their Arab neighbors.

One may debate the wisdom of Jewish settlements as well as the virtues of a two-state solution, even if the Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no interest in such a scheme but prefer to hold onto their desire for destroying the one Jewish state no matter where its borders may be drawn. But to represent the situation in the territories, where the greatest threat to human life remains Palestinian terrorism and the efforts of groups like Hamas to rain down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities last year, as the worst thing happening in the region, let alone the world, illustrates how the HRC remains a theater of the absurd.

As scholar and activist Anne Bayefsky writes on the Fox News website, China, Qatar, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are all members of the HRC, because “protecting human rights is not a condition of being elected to the Council.” The Council ignores or dismisses other more pressing concerns (one resolution about a human-rights catastrophe in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died in the last four years and one non-condemnatory procedural measure about the Islamist tyranny in Iran) while devoting the lion’s share of its time to the campaign to delegitimize Israel.

In doing so, the HRC isn’t merely being unfair or disproportionate but is doing something far more insidious. As Bayefsky writes, “Subverting human rights principles for all turns out to be the other side of the coin of subverting human rights for Jews.” She’s right. Instead of treating the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel as one in which the two sides must try to reconcile competing rights, the HRC renders Jewish rights to self-determination and self-defense as unworthy of respect. That is to say, the HRC refuses to grant the one Jewish state in the world the same rights granted without argument to every other people. The term for such discriminatory treatment meted out to Jews is anti-Semitism.

As such, this is a forum that no self-respecting democracy ought to dignify with their presence. The lonely U.S. votes against this madness are not so much principled as they are granting the HRC an undeserved legitimacy. Past presidents have at times tried to step back from this disreputable body but President Obama’s obsessive affection for the UN has taken such a step off the table. Indeed, by staying on there, he seems to be using America’s votes as leverage to pressure Israel’s governments into taking steps its electorate has already specifically rejected at the polls.

Whoever it is that replaces President Obama in the White House will have a full plate of inherited foreign-policy crises to untangle in January 2017. But last week’s votes serve as a reminder that one of the items on the 45th president’s “to do list” ought to be pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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Liberals Have Discarded Religious Liberty

There are two ways of looking at the furor that has erupted over the signing into law of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act by the state of Indiana. One is to focus on the fact that this law is a bit different from a federal law of the same name that also has been passed in 19 other states in that its broader language allows claims of religious liberty to be invoked as a defense in civil lawsuits between private parties as well as those involving government action. But for anyone who has been listening to the debate about this law, if the one-sided opprobrium that has been hurled at Indiana in the liberal press can be dignified by such a term, there’s little question that legal debates about the need to balance the rights of individuals to observe the dictates of their consciences with those banning acts of discrimination have been thrown out the window in favor of a rush to anathematize anyone who dares to assert that the right to religious liberty can be viewed as being as important as the right to gay marriage. What we must ask ourselves, as Indiana and Governor Mike Pence are put in the stocks of popular culture and threatened with corporate boycotts, is how exactly are we to defend constitutional principles in an atmosphere in which the facts about the law and its implications are viewed as insignificant when compared to the perceptions of those advocating for the equal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation?

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There are two ways of looking at the furor that has erupted over the signing into law of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act by the state of Indiana. One is to focus on the fact that this law is a bit different from a federal law of the same name that also has been passed in 19 other states in that its broader language allows claims of religious liberty to be invoked as a defense in civil lawsuits between private parties as well as those involving government action. But for anyone who has been listening to the debate about this law, if the one-sided opprobrium that has been hurled at Indiana in the liberal press can be dignified by such a term, there’s little question that legal debates about the need to balance the rights of individuals to observe the dictates of their consciences with those banning acts of discrimination have been thrown out the window in favor of a rush to anathematize anyone who dares to assert that the right to religious liberty can be viewed as being as important as the right to gay marriage. What we must ask ourselves, as Indiana and Governor Mike Pence are put in the stocks of popular culture and threatened with corporate boycotts, is how exactly are we to defend constitutional principles in an atmosphere in which the facts about the law and its implications are viewed as insignificant when compared to the perceptions of those advocating for the equal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation?

Pence looked puzzled yesterday when he attempted to defend the statute on ABC’s This Week yesterday. But merely complaining about what he rightly termed the “misinformation” that has characterized the discussion about the subject isn’t sufficient to understand what has been happening.

It is true that the Indiana law is different from the federal and most other state RFRA versions. The broad nature of the statute, combined with the lack of a state law specifically recognizing gays as a protected class, has led to claims that it will enable discrimination. But this is a slender reed upon which to base such a strong reaction. In fact, this RFRA, like the others, merely requires those seeking to restrict expressions of religious belief to prove that there is a compelling government interest and that, if necessary, it should be done in the least intrusive manner possible.

The focus of those claiming that this is an anti-gay law is the belief that RFRA laws, especially broad ones such as the Indiana statute, might allow bakers or photographers to refuse to offer their services to those planning same-sex marriages. Whether those kinds of services constitute a public accommodation, such as a hotel or a restaurant that should not be allowed to discriminate against any class of persons, or are, instead, activities that are artistic in nature and therefore protected from such charges, is a question that the courts have yet to definitively answer. But no matter the answer to that question, the mere possibility that someone, somewhere might be allowed to harbor negative views about gay marriage because of their religious beliefs is viewed as not merely lamentable but an intolerable offense to public decency.

That is a sign of how abruptly the culture has shifted on the question of gay marriage in the course of the last decade. As a result, as the editors of National Review noted in an insightful editorial, what has happened is an effort to treat private opposition to gay marriage as being somehow analogous to Jim Crow laws that perpetuated the legacy of slavery and racial hatred.

One need not be an opponent of gay marriage to view the backlash against Indiana as an attempt not so much to defend gay rights as it is to coerce and to silence those religious believers who are dissenters from the recent change in public opinion on the issue.

As NR rightly pointed out, ever since the Hobby Lobby case, liberals who were once stalwart defenders of religious liberty against the coercive power of government or the beliefs of the majority have now discovered that there are other values they prize more highly than those rights enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. With Hobby Lobby, the effort to force all employers to pay for abortion drugs and contraception outweighed the rights of individual business owners not to support practices that violated their religious beliefs. Now the mere chance that a RFRA act might allow some Christian bakers, florists, or photographers to abstain from taking part in a gay ceremony is enough to send the media into a frenzy and galvanize an effort to boycott an entire state.

The point here is that at stake in these legal tangles are competing rights that need to be balanced. Even if, as a society, we now believe there is no legal distinction to be drawn between the marriage of a man and a woman and one between two men or two women (but not, interestingly enough, of polygamous marriages), the right of those who wish to marry must be weighed against those who do not wish to participate in such weddings. Those who don’t share their beliefs may deem their refusal foolish or pointless, but religious freedom is privileged in the Constitution. What is frightening about the attack on Indiana is not the belief by some that such refusals are illegal but the willingness of so many in the public square, especially the media, to treat the rights of religious minorities—in this case, conservative Christians—as being unworthy of respect or even a hearing.

It may well be that Indiana will revise their RFRA statute to align it more closely with the federal law championed a generation ago by liberal stalwart Teddy Kennedy and those of other states. But that is unlikely to satisfy opponents who have come to view any defense of the religious liberty of conservatives as incompatible with their view of democracy. The unseemly gang tackle of Pence and the Indiana legislature isn’t so much a demonstration of the way a legal issue can be distorted by popular passion as it is an example of why RFRA laws are so necessary.

When placed against the demands of a majority (even newly-minted majorities such as the one behind gay marriage) the religious freedom of minorities can be trampled even in supposedly enlightened democracies. It is the purpose of the law in a free country to defend the rights of the individual, especially their religious rights, when other government concerns threaten to override them. That is exactly what RFRA statutes do. In their rush to stigmatize opponents of gay marriage, those who call themselves liberals seem to have forgotten that.

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