Commentary Magazine


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Yuval Levin on COMMENTARY’s Dazzling Balancing Act

Every month in print, and every day online, COMMENTARY somehow manages to pull off a dazzling balancing act: intellectual but unpretentious, serious but never boring, timely but not fleeting. On the leading questions of the day, it offers fresh and unfamiliar insights. And on the emerging questions that will dominate the years to come, it often sees things first and clearest. It is simply indispensable.2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

Every month in print, and every day online, COMMENTARY somehow manages to pull off a dazzling balancing act: intellectual but unpretentious, serious but never boring, timely but not fleeting. On the leading questions of the day, it offers fresh and unfamiliar insights. And on the emerging questions that will dominate the years to come, it often sees things first and clearest. It is simply indispensable.2015-Pledge-Drive_week_blog

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Saudis Show Iran Deal Crackup Has Begun

President Obama is in the position of a high-school student who thinks that the cool kids are going to come to his birthday party and starts bragging about it around school, only to have his prized guests opt out at the last minute, leaving him looking considerably embarrassed. The guests in question are the leaders of America’s closest Gulf allies. They had been invited to a fence-mending summit at Camp David but only two—the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait—have accepted. All the others have suddenly discovered they have something else urgent to do that weekend. (Haircuts scheduled! Barbecues to attend!) Most embarrassing for Obama, as Jonathan Tobin noted earlier today, is that Saudi King Salman had at first accepted the invitation before declining it.

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President Obama is in the position of a high-school student who thinks that the cool kids are going to come to his birthday party and starts bragging about it around school, only to have his prized guests opt out at the last minute, leaving him looking considerably embarrassed. The guests in question are the leaders of America’s closest Gulf allies. They had been invited to a fence-mending summit at Camp David but only two—the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait—have accepted. All the others have suddenly discovered they have something else urgent to do that weekend. (Haircuts scheduled! Barbecues to attend!) Most embarrassing for Obama, as Jonathan Tobin noted earlier today, is that Saudi King Salman had at first accepted the invitation before declining it.

The administration spinmeisters can put a happy face on this all they want by claiming that they can still negotiate with the lower-level leaders the Gulf countries are sending but there is no doubt that this is a rebuke of the administration for putting Iran first. The Gulf leaders see the U.S. increasingly cozy with the rulers in Tehran, whose imperial designs they regard as a mortal danger, and they are not reticent about signaling their displeasure. Refusing to attend the Camp David summit is the least of it. Other actions that the Gulfies are taking are more serious—for example launching bombing campaigns against extremists in both Libya and, on a larger scale, in Yemen without asking for America’s permission or even bothering to notify us more than a few hours in advance.

As the New York Times notes, the Gulf states and in particular Saudi Arabia are manifesting their independence in other, even more disconcerting ways. For instance the hard-line King Salman is rethinking the opposition displayed by his more liberal predecessor, King Abdullah, toward the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly even toward more extreme and violent Salafists: “In Yemen, King Salman is working with Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood political party, and has warmed relations with Qatar, a backer of the Brotherhood. In March, he received Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Riyadh. The two agreed to work together to support the rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, according to Yasin Aktay, the foreign relations chief for Turkey’s governing party. Although Mr. Aktay said that only moderate groups received support, many of Syria’s most effective fighters are staunch Islamists who often fight alongside the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, raising the possibility that aid might also empower extremists.”

Put another way, because the Obama administration is refusing to do anything to oust Bashar Assad, the Saudis are getting together with the Turks and Qataris to back some of the more fundamentalist Islamist fighters working against the Assad regime—including, it is rumored, the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate. This is what happens when the Gulf states lose confidence in America: they start taking matters into their own hands and that means they will increasingly forge a pact with extreme Islamists, possibly even with ISIS, because they see the extremists as the only reliable barrier to the spread of Iranian influence.

This is a catastrophic if wholly predictable development, and it is only the beginning of the fallout from Obama’s decision to align so closely with Tehran. The next step in the Sunni pushback is, as the Saudi leadership has loudly and long signaled, for them to acquire their own nuclear weapons. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Saudi Arabia is conveniently next to Jordan which has vast uranium reserves but no money to exploit them. The Saudis could easily fill that gap and develop their own nuclear capacity within a decade, the timeline of the Iranian nuclear deal. Or the Saudis could get nukes even sooner if their friends in Pakistan agree to provide them.

Nothing that President Obama will do or say at the Camp David summit can remotely offset this parlous trend. What America’s Arab allies are looking for is an American commitment to resist Iranian designs. Instead all they see is America standing aside while Iran threatens to dominate the region.

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Zarif: Why Can’t the U.S. be a Dictatorship like Iran?

Speaking in South Africa, where he is cultivating business now that sanctions are collapsing, Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded that the Obama administration bypass any Congressional review of the Iran deal. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said:

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Speaking in South Africa, where he is cultivating business now that sanctions are collapsing, Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded that the Obama administration bypass any Congressional review of the Iran deal. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said:

“We consider the US government responsible for implementing the [final nuclear] agreement. In our opinion, the Congress bill does not take the load of the commitments off the US government’s shoulder, and in fact makes it heavier. The US government should show that it will act upon the possible agreement between Iran and the P5+1… In our opinion, the bill by the US Congress does not have any effects, and if it does, then the US government has to nullify it.”

How inconvenient and incomprehensible it must be for Mr. Zarif, who has such a history of lying that his lies have even merited widespread use of a twitter hashtag (#ZarifLies), to realize that American leaders are accountable to the people’s elected representatives. And how arrogant and disrespectful it is of Mr. Zarif to demand that President Obama simply ignore the law, should Congress eventually pass a more stringent and biting review process than Senator Corker’s slight-of-hand solution. How sad it is, meanwhile, that Congress largely stands aside as a representative of an undemocratic and unrepentant terrorist-sponsoring regime lectures Congress on how it does its job. Then again, that’s not nearly as sad as an arrogant chief executive and a legacy-seeking secretary of state who rather consult with Iranian leaders than with their own congress.

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The Truth About Race, Gerrymandering and the Democrats

Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.

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Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.

As even the Post article noted, the current Democratic court challenges to various districts around the country don’t amount to enough seats to tip the House in their direction even if they were all successful. But the goal is to set in place legal standards that would forbid states from lumping a large percentage of their African-American voters in to a few districts, leaving the rest dominated by white voters.

There’s no question that this practice has been a godsend for Republicans and a disaster for the Democrats. African-Americans are a huge part of the Democrats’ base throughout the country. In the south, they have become virtually their sole bulwark of support. Thus, grouping them together in a few districts has the effect of making the Democrats non-competitive everywhere else.

But what was left out of the Post article is the fact that this idea wasn’t invented in a backroom by some evil GOP genius bent on marginalizing blacks and empowering conservatives. Instead, it was more or less invented by liberal judges who interpreted the Voting Rights Act as mandating not just the right of everyone to vote but the creation of an electoral environment in which minorities could be set up to succeed.

The creation of a raft of these majority-minority districts took place after the 1990 census and the result was the beginning of the end of a 60-year-period of Democratic dominance in the House that stretched from the Great Depression to the Clinton presidency. It was accomplished by creating bizarre districts that ignored traditional boundaries as well as geography. These districts gave new meaning to the term gerrymandering but they accomplished exactly what the courts intended for them to do. The numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics in the House grew exponentially. It was only after this process began that some on both the left and the right realized that the fallout from the new districts was the end of many competitive districts as well as the completion of a long period of decline for the Democrats in the south.

It’s understandable if Democrats now want to rethink this situation since it more or less dooms them to permanent minority status in the House. But if they want to change it, they need to be careful of the consequences.

For the past few years, liberals have been waxing lyrical about the perfidy of Republican gerrymandering of districts. The fact that in states where Democrats have control of the legislature and the governor’s seat they do the same thing hasn’t deterred them from claiming that this is a sin unique to the GOP. But hypocrisy aside, it appears that a lot of them seem to have not thought through what would happen if this type of gerrymandering were eliminated.

Ending majority-minority district will help the Democrats across the board. But it will set them up for an epic confrontation with their most loyal voters and that group’s political leaders. There is simply no way that the Congressional Black Caucus will ever consent to their numbers being decimated merely to help the Democratic Party.

Don’t bet on African Americans or Hispanics sitting back and merely letting their party eliminate so many of their seats. If they have to, they will make alliances with Republicans in the legislatures to ensure that their districts survive. The bottom line is that when it comes to the majority-minority districts that are killing the Democrats, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Whether by the Republicans committing some form of political suicide or by a sea change in the political environment, the Democrats could eventually win back the House. But they will not do on the backs of blacks or by eliminating their racial redistricting problem.

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Will International Soccer Kick Out Israel?

It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

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It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

FIFA President Sepp Blattner is coming to the region for talks with the Israeli and Palestinian soccer associations prior to his group’s congress scheduled to be held in Switzerland later this month. The controversial Blattner would probably like to avoid having his group entrapped in the morass of the Middle East conflict. But after recent UN votes that granted the Palestinians the right to participate in the world body’s agencies, they may feel they have the wind at their back. Given Obama’s threats and the international unpopularity of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, they may think this is the perfect time to score a victory that will resonate throughout the soccer-mad international community.

The PA has actually been a member of FIFA since 1998 but its move against Israel has more to do with political timing than the currency of their complaints. Their case for expelling the Israelis rests on the notion that the Jewish state must give anyone who calls himself a soccer player the right to move between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. That doesn’t take into account the security issue and the fact that the Palestinians have waged an off-and-on terror campaign against Israel. Since the Palestinians have always prioritized the struggle against Zionism over the demands of sport, it’s a bit much for them to expect Israel to do the same. But that, like their insistence that Israel shouldn’t allow clubs based in Jewish communities in the West Bank to compete, is a mere pretext, not a serious argument.

FIFA’s members include some of the worst tyrannies in the world. Its 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia. No thought is given to expelling Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. In 2022, it will be held in undemocratic and terror-supporting Qatar and other Gulf States, a result that may have been obtained by bribing of the FIFA selection committee. But given the current international climate; will anyone be very surprised if FIFA decides to expel Israel?

To put the soccer dispute into context, it should be remembered that in international tournaments such as the World Cup, Israel has been forced to play in regional competitions in Europe rather than Asia because Arab and Muslim countries won’t play against them. This violates the conventions of international sport but it has been allowed to continue because prejudice against Jews is always tolerated.

If anyone didn’t realize that sport was merely a political tool for the Palestinians, it should also be noted that the head of the Palestinian soccer federation isn’t an athlete or veteran sports figure but veteran terrorist Jibril Rajoub, one of Yasir Arafat’s top aides. Rajoub has graduated from leading and conspiring murderous attacks against Israelis to hobnobbing with the global sports elite. Rajoub labeled pleas for an official moment of silence at the Olympic Games for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre as “racist.” He’s also denounced the United States and talked about using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Rajoub’s role in this farce should serve to remind Israel’s critics in the West that the point of efforts to isolate Israel and brand it as a pariah is not to change its policies but to destroy it. Let’s hope the global soccer community is wise enough to stay out of this despicable effort. But at a time of growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel, as well as the talk of abandoning Israel coming out of the Obama administration, anything may be possible.

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Mark Steyn: COMMENTARY’s Piercing Clarity on Matters Large and Small

COMMENTARY is an indispensable read on the Arab Spring, the Afghan war, the future of American conservatism, and all the other crazy stuff out there. But you already knew that. What I really love about it is that it’s a full-service operation, and its back-of-the-book guys–the fellows who write about music, literature, and all the things that make life worth living as the world goes to hell–are the best in the business. There is an observation in a Terry Teachout piece on the wonderful singer Nancy LaMott about “Moon River” that has stayed with me for almost two decades. I fished it out from the back of my mind to impress a gal at a Goldwater Institute reception only the other day, and it worked a treat. So thank you, COMMENTARY!

Likewise, my differences with the arts’n’culture crew unsettle me far more than the geopolitical ones: reasonable people can disagree on how large a nuclear arsenal those wacky mullahs should be permitted to own, but I’m still agog at the great Andrew Ferguson’s mystifying praise for the New York Times obituaries page some issues back. That’s COMMENTARY for you–provocative to the end, on matters large and small. In these turbulent and dismaying times, we can all use a huckleberry friend waiting round the bend, in the mailbox each month and on the computer screen every morning. For any journal of opinion, as “Moon River” teaches us, there’s such a lot of world to see. COMMENTARY sees most of it with piercing clarity: it can’t know all the answers, but it asks all the right questions, and with great farsightedness. It deserves your wholehearted support.
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COMMENTARY is an indispensable read on the Arab Spring, the Afghan war, the future of American conservatism, and all the other crazy stuff out there. But you already knew that. What I really love about it is that it’s a full-service operation, and its back-of-the-book guys–the fellows who write about music, literature, and all the things that make life worth living as the world goes to hell–are the best in the business. There is an observation in a Terry Teachout piece on the wonderful singer Nancy LaMott about “Moon River” that has stayed with me for almost two decades. I fished it out from the back of my mind to impress a gal at a Goldwater Institute reception only the other day, and it worked a treat. So thank you, COMMENTARY!

Likewise, my differences with the arts’n’culture crew unsettle me far more than the geopolitical ones: reasonable people can disagree on how large a nuclear arsenal those wacky mullahs should be permitted to own, but I’m still agog at the great Andrew Ferguson’s mystifying praise for the New York Times obituaries page some issues back. That’s COMMENTARY for you–provocative to the end, on matters large and small. In these turbulent and dismaying times, we can all use a huckleberry friend waiting round the bend, in the mailbox each month and on the computer screen every morning. For any journal of opinion, as “Moon River” teaches us, there’s such a lot of world to see. COMMENTARY sees most of it with piercing clarity: it can’t know all the answers, but it asks all the right questions, and with great farsightedness. It deserves your wholehearted support.
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Why Can’t Kurdistan Afford to Fight ISIS?

Iraqi Kurdistan is, like Iraq itself, in a financial crisis. Salaries for state employees—the majority of workers in the region—are months in arrears. The Kurdish leaders frequently accuse the Iraqi central government of not forwarding Kurdistan its share of the Iraqi oil revenue. Indeed, sometimes, money transfers from Baghdad to Erbil are delayed (and, more often, transfers from Erbil to Sulaymani). Kurdistan has, however, been exporting its own oil and has also refrained from passing along contractual royalties to the various oil companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, meaning there is money in Erbil; the government simply chooses not to spend it.

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Iraqi Kurdistan is, like Iraq itself, in a financial crisis. Salaries for state employees—the majority of workers in the region—are months in arrears. The Kurdish leaders frequently accuse the Iraqi central government of not forwarding Kurdistan its share of the Iraqi oil revenue. Indeed, sometimes, money transfers from Baghdad to Erbil are delayed (and, more often, transfers from Erbil to Sulaymani). Kurdistan has, however, been exporting its own oil and has also refrained from passing along contractual royalties to the various oil companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, meaning there is money in Erbil; the government simply chooses not to spend it.

When the Iraqi Kurds claim that they do not have the money to acquire arms and ammunition to fight the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), they may want to consider the more than $30 million which President Masoud Barzani claimed from the Iraqi Ministry of Finance in 2014 (Hoshyar Zebari, the minister of finance, is Barzani’s uncle although there has been no suggestions by Iraqis that he has acted improperly). Here’s a breakdown of Barzani’s annual office expenses as provided to me:

  • Office stationery: 250,000,000 Iraqi Dinar [ID] ($214,000)
  • News subscriptions: 200,000,000 ID ($171,000)
  • Food: 14,370,000,000 ID ($12.3 million) or, approximately, $33,700 per day
  • Hotels: 700,000,000 ID ($601,000)
  • Travel expenses: 1,650,000,000 ID ($1.38 million)
  • Clothes: 300,000,000 ID ($257,000)
  • Vehicle maintenance: 1,180,000,000 ID ($1 million)
  • Fuel: 1,700,000,000 ID ($1.46 million)
  • Distribution and gifts: 2,500,000,000 ID ($2.1 million)
  • Rent: 500,000,000 ID ($429,000)

In addition, there are two other line items for ‘other expenses.’ One is for 10,100,000,000 ID ($8.6 million) and 450,000,000 ID ($386,000). Regional presidents must entertain, these sums represent quite a hefty chunk of change (and that doesn’t take into account the fact that I rounded down, or that the Iraqi currency has weakened slightly relative to the dollar; the real total is a few million dollars higher. And several expenses are curious. To whom is Barzani giving gifts worth a total of $2 million? Let us hope that not too many American officials have been tempted although, alas, in the past some have. And for what is he paying rent? A penthouse in Dubai? A chalet in Switzerland? A villa on the Bosporus in Istanbul? And is it really worth paying $171,000 in news subscriptions when the same information could be had largely for free if he has his staff scan the Internet?

Now, importantly, these figures don’t include Barzani’s salary itself: He reportedly makes as much per month officially as President Barack Obama does in a year. Obama’s annual entertainment allowance is just $19,000, so about half a day in Barzani-land.

The point is this: the Kurdistan Regional Government may claim poverty now, and the expense of fighting ISIS may be daunting. But Barzani—who is now serving the tenth year of his eight-year presidency—has consistently prioritized his own comfort and a taste for luxury above the needs of the people whose allegiance he claims. At this time of crisis—and that is what the rise of ISIS is—Kurds cannot help but compare Barzani (and, in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s domains, the parallel profligacy of Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, ailing former president Jalal Talabani’s wife) with the bare-bones spending and austerity practiced by the Syrian Kurdish militia which, perhaps not by coincidence, has seen far greater success fighting ISIS in Syria and also in and around Sinjar than their KDP brethren. That doesn’t make the Syrian Kurds perfect, but how governments spend money is perhaps the most accurate reflection of their values.

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Why the Snub? Saudis Know Obama’s Replaced Them With Iran

If the Obama administration thought it was successful in its half-hearted efforts to make up with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states outraged by its Iran policies, it’s got another thing coming. On Sunday, the Saudis told the White House that King Salman would not be attending meetings there or at Camp David this week. Later, Bahrain said its King Hamad would skip the same meeting. The snubs are as pointed as President Obama’s recent signals that he has no intention of meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu anytime soon. But while the president has little interest in patching things up with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East, he was quite interested in making nice with the Saudi monarch. But the Saudis and Bahrain, like the Israelis, are deeply concerned by the U.S. effort to create a new détente with Iran. It’s not just that Salman apparently has better things to do than to schmooze with Obama. The president may have thought he could essentially replace the Saudis with Iran as the lynchpin of a new Middle East strategic vision without paying a price. But the Saudis understandably want no part of this. The result will be a region made even more dangerous by the Arabs, as well as the Israelis, coming to the realization that they can’t rely on Washington.

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If the Obama administration thought it was successful in its half-hearted efforts to make up with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states outraged by its Iran policies, it’s got another thing coming. On Sunday, the Saudis told the White House that King Salman would not be attending meetings there or at Camp David this week. Later, Bahrain said its King Hamad would skip the same meeting. The snubs are as pointed as President Obama’s recent signals that he has no intention of meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu anytime soon. But while the president has little interest in patching things up with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East, he was quite interested in making nice with the Saudi monarch. But the Saudis and Bahrain, like the Israelis, are deeply concerned by the U.S. effort to create a new détente with Iran. It’s not just that Salman apparently has better things to do than to schmooze with Obama. The president may have thought he could essentially replace the Saudis with Iran as the lynchpin of a new Middle East strategic vision without paying a price. But the Saudis understandably want no part of this. The result will be a region made even more dangerous by the Arabs, as well as the Israelis, coming to the realization that they can’t rely on Washington.

The conceit of Obama’s strategy rests on more than a weak deal that he hopes will be enough to postpone the question of an Iranian bomb even as it essentially anoints Tehran as a threshold nuclear power. Rather it is predicated on the notion that once Iran is allowed to, in the president’s phrase, “get right with the world” and reintegrated into the global economy, it can be counted on to keep peace in a region from which Obama wants to withdraw.

That’s why the administration has tacitly allied itself with Iran in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and, bowed to Tehran’s desire to leave its ally Bashar Assad in power in Syria even as they sought to restrain the Islamist regime’s Houthi friends in their effort to take over Yemen. But given Iran’s desire for regional hegemony, it’s reliance on terrorist allies like Hezbollah and Hamas as well as Assad’s criminal regime, the notion that it is a force for stability is as much a delusion as the idea that it is giving up its quest for nuclear weapons.

Just as important, the Obama foreign policy team was convinced that it could afford to ignore the Saudis’ concerns about their intended entente with Iran with as much impunity as it did those of Israel. As one expert quoted in the New York Times said, the Saudis have no alternative to the U.S. as a superpower ally. But it has not failed to escape their attention that “there’s a growing perception at the White House that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are friends but not allies, while the U.S. and Iran are allies but not friends.”

Under the circumstances, the Saudis are now prepared to show the president the extent of their disdain. But it may not stop at that.

The Saudis, like the Israelis, know that America’s promises about both the nuclear deal and the future of the region are not worth much. The Iranians have been granted two paths to a bomb by the United States. One is by cheating via the easily evaded restrictions in the nuclear pact with little fear of sanctions being snapped back. The other is by patiently waiting for it to expire while continuing their nuclear research with little interference from a West that will be far more interested in trade than anything else.

That leaves the Saudis thinking they may need to procure their own nuclear option and to flex their muscles, as they have been doing in Yemen. It also sets up the region for what may be an ongoing series of confrontations between Iranian allies and the Saudis and their friends, a recipe for disaster.

Will Obama get the message and change course? That’s even less likely than him embracing Netanyahu. An administration that came into office determined to create more daylight between itself and Israel has now embarked on a policy designed to alienate all of America’s traditional allies in order to appease a vicious Islamist foe. Anyone who thinks this will turn out well simply isn’t paying attention to the same events that have left the Saudis and other U.S. allies thinking they are more or less being left on their own.

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The GOP Field and Liberal Identity Politics

How far can you go in pushing a public figure on his or her racial, ethnic or gender identity? If you’re a liberal, you know there are lines that the press dare never cross. If you’re a conservative, especially one despised by the liberal establishment, there are no such lines. We got a taste of that late last week when Mark Halperin interviewed Senator Ted Cruz on his BloombergPolitics cable show. After discussing some policy issues, Halperin decided to give Cruz a Hispanic identity test, checking to see if he could name favorite foods, music and then demanding that he speak in Spanish. As Ruben Naverette wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, Haplerin did everything except ask Cruz to “play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz.” Suffice it to say this is not a ploy Halperin would pull on a Hispanic Democrat. But rather than put it down to the usual fun and games of liberal bias and partisanship, this piece of snark is about something much more serious: the notion that Hispanics, blacks or women who are conservatives, aren’t authentic members of those groups. We can expect to see a lot of it in the coming months as the liberal media copes with a breathtakingly diverse Republican presidential field and seeks to brand them as inauthentic.

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How far can you go in pushing a public figure on his or her racial, ethnic or gender identity? If you’re a liberal, you know there are lines that the press dare never cross. If you’re a conservative, especially one despised by the liberal establishment, there are no such lines. We got a taste of that late last week when Mark Halperin interviewed Senator Ted Cruz on his BloombergPolitics cable show. After discussing some policy issues, Halperin decided to give Cruz a Hispanic identity test, checking to see if he could name favorite foods, music and then demanding that he speak in Spanish. As Ruben Naverette wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, Haplerin did everything except ask Cruz to “play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz.” Suffice it to say this is not a ploy Halperin would pull on a Hispanic Democrat. But rather than put it down to the usual fun and games of liberal bias and partisanship, this piece of snark is about something much more serious: the notion that Hispanics, blacks or women who are conservatives, aren’t authentic members of those groups. We can expect to see a lot of it in the coming months as the liberal media copes with a breathtakingly diverse Republican presidential field and seeks to brand them as inauthentic.

What Halperin did to Cruz was merely another example of the identity wars that are being fought in contemporary politics. Just as women who don’t support abortion without any restrictions are portrayed as not really female by the left, so, too are blacks and Hispanics who don’t toe the Democrat party line treated as somehow inauthentic minorities.

But while it’s one thing for political operatives to operate in that fashion, it’s quite another for a reporter who likes to pretend to be playing it down the middle to play this game. Halperin is best known to television audiences as a frequent member of panels on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program where he masquerades as one of the adults in the room. But as Naverette wrote, neither Obama’s Housing Secretary Joaquin Castro, nor his twin brother Rep. Joaquin Castro speaks fluent Spanish. Yet it is as unimaginable that either would be quizzed in the same manner about their background, as it would be to probe anyone of any other ethnicity about whether they were entitled to it. In this instance it would be instructive to recall the way most of the liberal media ignored the kerfuffle about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s somewhat dubious claims to the status of Native American.

As it happens, Cruz has never made his Cuban lineage central to his political career except in the sense that his father’s experience as an immigrant that fled Cuba taught him valuable lessons about American exceptionalism and the need to struggle for opportunity and liberty. But because he’s a vocal opponent of amnesty for illegal immigrants, he’s assumed to be a fake Hispanic. You don’t have to be a fan of Cruz’s politics to understand that this sort of journalism isn’t about finding out more about someone who is running for president. Rather, the purpose was to try and label him as an inauthentic minority. Had Halperin or anyone else done this to the Castros, apologies would have been demanded and suspensions would be discussed.

But this minor controversy does go to the heart of what is wrong about most of the talk about the need for Republicans to appeal to Hispanic voters.

Pundits are right when they say the GOP must do more to reach out to Hispanics. But the discussion about this issue centers almost exclusively on whether Republicans are prepared to embrace a path to citizenship for illegals or stop talking about the need to secure the border against new waves of people crossing the border without permission. There are cogent arguments to be made about the need for resolving the status of those already here by means that don’t include unrealistic expectations about them being deported. But as important as that may be, Hispanic voters, who come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and are not monolithic in nature, have other interests beside the fate of illegals. And, contrary to the assumptions of the mainstream media, they can differ about amnesty just as women can differ about abortion.

It’s one thing to denounce conservative Hispanics as wrong on the issues. It’s quite another to treat them as crypto Anglo-Saxons. But with two Republican presidential candidates of Hispanic background (Cruz and fellow Cuban-American Marco Rubio) and one GOP hopeful that is a woman (Carly Fiorina) and another an African America (Ben Carson), the liberal authenticity police will be out in force. But rather than merely ignore them as Cruz, who kept his cool with Halperin did, this insidious bias needs to be shown for what it is: a desire by the media to delegitimize anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideas about identity politics as interpreted through the catechism of liberal ideology.

Update:

On Monday, Mark Halperin apologized to Senator Ted Cruz for his egregious questions. But the apology, which claimed the interview was intended to be “lighthearted” rather than an effort to test Cruz’s authenticity as a Latino, was delivered in standard non-apology style in which he said he was sorry “to those who were offended

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Anti-Israel Course is a Campus Farce

Sunday’s New York Times has a story on the campus boycott Israel movement. Toward the end, it alludes to a controversy at the University of California, Riverside. I quote the passage in full:

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Sunday’s New York Times has a story on the campus boycott Israel movement. Toward the end, it alludes to a controversy at the University of California, Riverside. I quote the passage in full:

The disputes often spill into the academic realm. Jewish groups are urging the University of California, Riverside, to shut down a student-taught seminar called “Palestinian Voices.” They argue that the course, which is sponsored by an outspoken faculty supporter of the B.D.S. campaign and includes sessions on “Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid,” amounts to indoctrination.

Although one can understand why the reporters chose not to write more about the Riverside story, the story is worthy of further consideration. First, the faculty “sponsor” is not merely an “outspoken faculty supporter of the B.D.S. campaign.” David Lloyd, an English professor is part of the “Organizing Collective” (really?) of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. He may be just an English professor. But fortunately, the person he is sponsoring to teach the course is better qualified to teach an informative and rigorous course touching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Oh wait. Tina Matar, who will be teaching the one credit course, is actually an undergraduate, also in the English department. She is also president of Riverside’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which has spearheaded the campus boycott Israel movement nationally. Riverside has passed a divestment resolution, targeting companies alleged to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. More recently, it has persuaded Riverside to stop using Sabra hummus in its dining halls. But let’s be fair. Even a fervent undergraduate partisan might somehow manage to teach a rigorous course, as worthy of one measly credit as others (undergraduate teaching is a thing at Riverside).

But uh oh. The syllabus is available online. Had the Times reporters looked at it, they would have noticed that the course does not just include “sessions” on settler colonialism and apartheid. In fact, Israel as a leading example of settler colonialism and apartheid is the very subject of the class. The course is called Palestine and Israel: Settler Colonialism and Apartheid. Yet what’s in a title?

But there’s also the remarkable course description, which I quote in part: “We will be discussing the side of the conflict that you don’t hear on mainstream media. The stories of the Palestinian people and their struggles don’t get mentioned.” In other words, the very premise of the course is a partisan fabrication—that there has been a silence concerning—rather than incessant attention to–the Palestinian side of the story of the conflict. One can only imagine if the president of the young Republicans were slated to teach a course on the Democratic-Republican conflict, entitled: “Democrats and Republicans: The Snotty Socialist Sellout,” whose descriptions included criticisms of the mainstream media. Let’s imagine—we’ll need to because I doubt very much that any such figure exists at Riverside–that the faculty sponsor is a former Republican strategist. My guess is that a faculty review committee would not have approved such a course.

But this other course was so approved. UC Riverside’s academic standards are in the best of hands.

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A Lesson in How Faith Improves Politics

Jeb Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. It’s a beautifully written speech, and it constitutes the kind of thoughtful and balanced reflection on Christian faith that is unusual to find, especially among political leaders. To do justice to it requires me to quote extensively from it, so I shall.

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Jeb Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. It’s a beautifully written speech, and it constitutes the kind of thoughtful and balanced reflection on Christian faith that is unusual to find, especially among political leaders. To do justice to it requires me to quote extensively from it, so I shall.

Much of the commentary about the speech focused on Governor Bush’s defense of religious liberty, and understandably so, given the urgency of the matter. In speaking about what Bush called the Obama administration’s use of “coercive federal power” against the Little Sisters of the Poor — in which the federal government’s contraception and abortion mandate has attempted to force the Little Sisters to act in violation of their Catholic faith — Bush said this:

What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it. Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith. Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience – and in a free society, the answer is No.

But to me the most interesting parts of the address were those in which Governor Bush described how many critics of Christianity perceive it as a “backward and oppressive force… something static, narrow, and outdated… some obstacle to enlightened thought, some ancient, irrelevant creed wearing out its welcome in the modern world.”

Governor Bush described Christianity in a very different, and much truer and more textured, way. Faith doesn’t give answers to every question, he said, and it doesn’t spare us from doubt or difficulties in life. But if often awakens the conscience. “One of the great things about this faith of ours is its daring, untamed quality, which is underrated,” Bush said, adding:

As moral wisdom goes, for example, loving our neighbors seems kind of an easy call – especially if we already like them. But how about loving our enemies, too, as a bold challenge to leave our comfort zone and lift our sights to larger purposes?

As for the suggestion that Christianity is a static faith, that sure isn’t how it reads in the original. Offhand, I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than “the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Governor Bush also spoke about how, whether we acknowledge it or not, the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament still provide the moral vocabulary we use in America. He quoted C.S. Lewis, who said that trying to separate ideals from the source of ideals is like “a rebellion of the branches against the tree”, and added this:

Justice, equality, the worth of every life, the dignity of every person, and rights that no authority can take away – these are founding moral ideals in America, and they didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice,” Bush said, “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.”

In their unwillingness to bend to elite opinion, many people of the Christian faith believe thus: “Wherever there is a child waiting to be born, we say choose life, and we say it with love. Wherever women and girls in other countries are brutally exploited, or treated as possessions without rights and dignity, we Christians see that arrogance for what it is. Wherever Jews are subjected to the oldest bigotry, we reject that sin against our brothers and sisters, and we defend them.” The former Florida governor also spoke about a generation of Christians who are “striving to be protectors of creation, instead of just users, good shepherds instead of just hirelings – and that moral vision can make all the difference.”

When you read the speech in whole, what stands out, I think, is that Governor Bush is articulating his understanding of the Christian faith in a way that is principled but not harsh, in a manner that is persuasive rather than aggressive, unapologetic and not offensive. He cares very much about the state of the culture, but he’s no culture warrior. This speech was his effort to unwind some fairly widespread caricatures, to represent his faith in a way that invites understanding rather than promotes division and distrust.

To be sure, there is a gap between what the Christian faith calls us to be and how many of us carry that out in our daily lives. We are broken people whose hearts are often conflicted and divided. And too often we use faith as an instrument to achieve other, less elevated purposes. It’s true, too, that some of the most visible and vocal Christian leaders – speaking in ways that are shrill and graceless, angry and anxious — have given their faith a bad name.

But it’s also true that for many millions of people, the Christian faith has sanded off some of their rougher edges, making them more generous and alert to the suffering of others. Having received grace, they are better able to dispense grace. They are often found volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, befriending inner city children and the elderly, working at crisis pregnancy and drug addiction centers, helping people in other lands whose lives have been blown apart by natural disasters and epidemics. Most people of faith don’t life heroic lives or make heroic sacrifices. But their faith does make them better than they would otherwise be. It makes them somewhat more likely to extend a hand of mercy, or write a note of condolence, or offer a listening ear to people in pain and need. And in some cases we see how faith gives people the strength to face death with great dignity and equanimity, reminding them that life on this earth is but a single chapter in a much longer and glorious story.

Yes, people’s faith sometimes informs their politics. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, sometimes – maybe even more times than you might imagine – it makes our politics better than it would otherwise be. (See William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. for more.) That is, I think, what Jeb Bush was saying in his exceptional commencement address.

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Pluralism and Israeli Political Reality

A lot of Americans are upset about Israel’s government for reasons that have little to do with the peace process. Though many liberal supporters of Israel may cling to the delusion that peace with the Palestinians might have been advanced had Prime Minister Netanyahu been defeated last month, the new coalition presents another, more serious problem for American Jews: the return of the ultra-Orthodox parties to the government after a two year hiatus during which there excluded from the government. Netanyahu’s government hangs by a thread so there’s no doubt that the Sephardi Shas and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism parties will be able to roll back some of the reforms put in place while they were gone from the Cabinet. This is causing a predictable and justified outcry among many American Jews. But before they start blaming Netanyahu for betraying them, they need to reacquaint themselves with the political realities of Israel and understand that Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog would have cut the same deals with the Haredim.

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A lot of Americans are upset about Israel’s government for reasons that have little to do with the peace process. Though many liberal supporters of Israel may cling to the delusion that peace with the Palestinians might have been advanced had Prime Minister Netanyahu been defeated last month, the new coalition presents another, more serious problem for American Jews: the return of the ultra-Orthodox parties to the government after a two year hiatus during which there excluded from the government. Netanyahu’s government hangs by a thread so there’s no doubt that the Sephardi Shas and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism parties will be able to roll back some of the reforms put in place while they were gone from the Cabinet. This is causing a predictable and justified outcry among many American Jews. But before they start blaming Netanyahu for betraying them, they need to reacquaint themselves with the political realities of Israel and understand that Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog would have cut the same deals with the Haredim.

In addition to being a windfall for the sub-standard ultra-Orthodox education system, the return of Shas and UTJ to power will impact the effort to enact more liberal rules about conversion, the minimal progress made toward civil marriage and/or the recognition of non-Orthodox movements and rabbis. It may also undermine the plans to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

These are sore points for American Jews who see the exclusion of Reform and Conservative Judaism from official recognition by the Jewish state as a standing insult. The fact that the Orthodox rabbinate controls all life cycle events in Israel is something that most Americans — raised in a country where religion and state are separate — is something that both perplexes and infuriates the 90 percent of American Jews who are not Orthodox. At a time when Israel is under assault from foreign critics and many young American Jews are being influenced by left-wing opponents of Zionism, the lack of religious pluralism is another factor that increases alienation from Israel.

As even Netanyahu and other Israeli political leaders have admitted, this state of affairs is problematic at best. That’s why the previous government he led, which included the centrist and secular Yesh Atid and excluded Shas and UTJ was viewed with more affection by the non-Orthodox denominations. Its demise is viewed, not unreasonably, as a calamity for the cause of pluralism.

But those crying foul over Netanyahu’s deal with the Haredim need to get their head out of the clouds and understand that their concerns don’t mean much to most Israelis.

It’s true that most Israelis despise the Rabbinate and that includes many who are religious. It is viewed as corrupt and self-serving. The religious parties are rightly seen as being out for themselves and willing to sacrifice the rest of the country in order to get the patronage they want. The fact that most (though not all) Haredim don’t serve in the military as the overwhelming majority of secular and religious Zionist Israelis are compelled to do is an open sore in Israeli society. So, too, is the endemic poverty of the Haredi community, a problem that is exacerbated by the decision of many Haredi men to engage in religious study rather than work even though the majority of them have large families that are not adequately supported.

The immediate past government made tentative steps towards drafting more Haredim. That and other reforms are likely to be scuttled. That will upset Israelis but their anger will be tempered by the knowledge that the only thing that could have prevented this from happening was electoral reform that would reduce the influence of minority parties. They also know that so long as the religious parties hold the balance of power in a system where neither major party (Likud and the Labor-led Zionist Union) can ever hope to win a majority of the Knesset on their own, the Haredi parties will retain disproportionate influence. Indeed, the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog was praying for a chance to offer the same sweet deal to the Haredi parties that Netanyahu gave them.

All of which brings us back to what American Jews should think about this.

Reform and Conservative Jews have a right to be unhappy about this state of affairs but it’s necessary to remind them that until their movements have the same kind of influence in Israel as the Haredim, nothing will change.

The plain truth is that in a country where rabbis are paid by the state, the question of who is a rabbi (which is the real question here rather than the one about who is a Jew) will be intensely political. The Haredim have 13 seats in the current Knesset. Though there are members of the other parties who support religious pluralism (at least in principle), the liberal movements have exactly zero MKs. Though there are growing Reform and Conservative congregations in Israel, it has long been thought that there are actually more Scientologists in Israel than Jews who are affiliated with the non-Orthodox. Even most secular Israelis tend to think of Orthodox synagogues as the only legitimate expression of Judaism. So long as Reform and Conservative Judaism are seen as expressions of the Diaspora rather than an Israeli, they will remain marginal.

Though many Israelis don’t oppose pluralism, it is not important to them in the way that civil marriage or the disestablishment of the Orthodox (two good ideas that will still probably remain pipe dreams for the foreseeable future) are.

It is to be hoped that Netanyahu will insist that his new partners don’t interfere with the planned alteration of the Western Wall plaza to accommodate non-Orthodox worship. But American Jews must realize that Israeli political realities will always trump their desires. Until more of them move to Israel or their movements gain more sabra adherents, even future coalitions without the Haredim aren’t likely to give Americans what they want.

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Obama Gets Iran and North Korea Wrong

According to the Obama administration, they’ve learned their lessons from the disastrous American diplomatic effort that failed to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. According to a feature in today’s New York Times, the administration rejects the notion that their diplomatic initiative with Iran is a repeat of the foolish disastrous efforts of the Clinton and Bush administrations that accomplished nothing but paving the way for the regime in Pyongyang to go nuclear. But the argument that their crafting of a far more specific agreement with much greater incentives built into it to persuade Iran to forebear from violating its restrictions will succeed where past efforts with North Korea failed doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. More to the point, and as the Times reports, officials in South Korea say President Obama has compounded the mistakes of his predecessors on North Korea with neglect. Rather than profit from past errors, it appears the administration has blundered on both nuclear fronts.

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According to the Obama administration, they’ve learned their lessons from the disastrous American diplomatic effort that failed to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. According to a feature in today’s New York Times, the administration rejects the notion that their diplomatic initiative with Iran is a repeat of the foolish disastrous efforts of the Clinton and Bush administrations that accomplished nothing but paving the way for the regime in Pyongyang to go nuclear. But the argument that their crafting of a far more specific agreement with much greater incentives built into it to persuade Iran to forebear from violating its restrictions will succeed where past efforts with North Korea failed doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. More to the point, and as the Times reports, officials in South Korea say President Obama has compounded the mistakes of his predecessors on North Korea with neglect. Rather than profit from past errors, it appears the administration has blundered on both nuclear fronts.

As the Times reports, while President Obama’s foreign policy team concentrated all of their efforts in recent years on trying to appease Iran, the North Koreans took advantage of the distraction. South Koreans say Pyongyang’s mad rulers have gone “on an atomic spending spree” that Washington can no longer stop:

Satellite photographs of the North’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, released in 2013, have shown a doubling in size of the nuclear enrichment plant there, which the United States did not know about until 2010, and American officials strongly suspect there is a second one. A consensus is emerging that the North most likely possesses a dozen or so nuclear weapons and could be on the way to an arsenal of as many as 20 by the end of 2016.

The administration’s excuse on North Korea is that the cat was out of the bag long before Barack Obama arrived in the White House. That’s actually true as it was the Clinton administration and its chief negotiator Wendy Sherman who paved the way for North Korea to get a bomb with deals that Pyongyang quickly renounced after it received the Western bribes that were intended to entice them to renounce their nuclear ambitions. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the North Koreans have rightly come to the conclusion that Washington won’t do much no matter what they do. But since Obama rightly opposes negotiations that will recognize North Korea as a nuclear power and there is little short of war that the U.S. can do to force it to give up its weapons, some of the criticism of his conduct here is unfair.

But the problem is not so much that Obama hasn’t tried to learn from his predecessors’ folly but that he has asked the wrong questions about them and come to some terribly incorrect conclusions.

As Times Washington correspondent David Sanger notes, attempts to draw exact analogies between the North Korean and Iranian situations are not accurate. The agreements signed with North Korea were not as specific as the framework that has been drawn up with Iran. There have been some inspections of Iranian facilities though not as intrusive as would be necessary to ensure that they are not cheating and without being transparent about past nuclear military research. Moreover, the Iranian economy is sufficiently complex and dependent on foreign trade that the West had some real leverage over Tehran with the enforcement of tough sanctions.

Though the two rogue nuclear programs are different, what was the same was the fact that Sherman took on the same role with Iran that she had with North Korea. It’s true that she has not repeated the same exact mistakes she made before. But the problem is that instead of gaining from the experience, all it has done is to inspire her and her bosses to make different and perhaps even more tragic errors.

But what’s interesting about Obama’s policy toward the two countries is that while he thought getting tough was appropriate with North Korea, he rejected the same idea with Iran. This made no sense since not talking to Pyongyang did nothing to prevent them from rapidly expanding their nuclear arsenal on the president’s watch. Just as foolish was a decision to discard the considerable economic, political and military leverage the United States had over Iran. Instead of getting tough and isolating Iran as he unsuccessfully tried with North Korea, the president embraced favor a negotiating strategy that granted Tehran far reaching concessions that gives them two paths to a bomb: one by cheating easily evaded restrictions and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire.

Just as ridiculous is what Sanger reports about what the administration thinks the impact of the Iran deal will be on North Korea.

Some American officials say they have one last hope: If the deal with Iran works and sanctions are lifted, North Korean officials, who are following the negotiations closely, might conclude that their nuclear program could be traded for economic integration.

This is lunacy since, as even other members of the administration concede according to Sanger, the North Koreans want no part of economic integration with the West.

For all of the contrasts between these two problems, the common denominator is more than the presence of Sherman at the table. In the 1990s just as today, Western diplomats thought they could do business with a dangerous regime. With regard to North Korea, that was a colossal error and one that threatens the security of the Far East. But the implications of appeasing Iran are even more far reaching. In doing so, the administration has not only thrown away the good chance they had to bring Tehran to its knees via even tougher sanctions. It also has endangered the entire Middle East that now rightly fears that Iran’s dreams of regional hegemony have been made more likely by the United States decision to allow it to become a threshold nuclear power.

Just as South Koreans now shake their heads at Obama’s misguided policy, so, too, do America’s Middle East allies — the Arab states as well as Israel — have reason to regret the fact that the president got both North Korea and Iran wrong.

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On Defense, Cameron is No Thatcher

I wish I could be happier about the outcome of the British elections. There is a naturally tendency, after all, for American conservatives to cheer for British Conservatives. Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are, if anything, more popular in the U.S. than in the United Kingdom. But David Cameron is no Churchill or Thatcher.

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I wish I could be happier about the outcome of the British elections. There is a naturally tendency, after all, for American conservatives to cheer for British Conservatives. Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are, if anything, more popular in the U.S. than in the United Kingdom. But David Cameron is no Churchill or Thatcher.

To his credit, he has implemented an impressive austerity program, cutting the budget deficit and the public workforce in ways that Republicans can usefully emulate. Certainly he was preferable to Ed Miliband, the most left-wing leader of Labor since Michael Foote in the early 1980s; if Miliband had won, he would by all accounts have implemented socialist policy at home and isolationist policy abroad. (Ed’s brother, David, who lost the leadership election, is much more mainstream in the Blair mold.)

Cameron is vastly better on domestic policy than Miliband but he is not that different on foreign policy. Far from pursuing a Churchillian or Thacherite foreign policy, he is a Randian—as in Rand Paul, not the Rand Corp. or Ayn Rand. Or, as he would have been known in the 19th century, he is a “Little Englander”—Britain’s version of isolationists.

Cameron has shown scant interest in taking an active, interventionist stance as Tony Blair did. He tried and failed to win support in the House of Commons in 2013 for bombing Syria in response to its violations of President Obama’s “red line” on Syria. His defeat not only caused Obama himself to lose his nerve but also led Cameron to scurry off with his tail between his legs. Ever since he has been content to take a backseat in international affairs, letting Germany and France take the lead in negotiations with Russia over Ukraine, for example. When it comes to battling ISIS, Britain’s contribution is tiny and mainly symbolic.

Cameron’s most disastrous policy decisions have been to cut defense spending in ways that make it impossible for Britain to project substantial military force abroad.  My boss James Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has the depressing rundown:

 

  • In 1996, the British Navy had thirty-six warships—destroyers and frigates. Today, it has eighteen. Britain is building two new aircraft carriers. The first is scheduled to be completed in 2017, three years before Her Majesty’s Navy acquires the planes that will fly off its decks.

Not all of these cuts have occurred under Cameron but he has accelerated these trends since taking office in 2010. On his watch British defense capabilities have fallen so far, so fast that the “special relationship” with the U.S. has become but a memory; even if Britain wanted to play an active role in helping the U.S. to police the world, it would be unable to do so.

Let’s hope, as Dan Twining suggests, that Cameron will use his second-term, now that he no longer has to share power with the Liberal Democrats, to pursue a more muscular national security policy. Certainly his isolationism is not demanded by the public; in a recent survey 63 percent of Britons said they wanted their country to continue to be a great power.

Given all the threats that the West faces—from Ukraine to Iran—the United States cannot afford to go it alone and there is on other ally we can count on as much as we have counted on Britain during the past 60-plus years. But unless Cameron radically reverses his first-term trends, the UK will continue to slide into international irrelevance.

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Karl Rove: COMMENTARY a Rare Venue for Insightful Analysis

In the midst of today’s political rancor, COMMENTARY Magazine provides a rare venue for thoughtful discussion. COMMENTARY’s talented writers provide insightful analysis of foreign affairs, domestic policy, and the politics of the day. COMMENTARY is a treasure not only for conservatives, but for anyone looking for in-depth exploration of the issues that influence America’s public dialogue and shape the nation’s future.
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In the midst of today’s political rancor, COMMENTARY Magazine provides a rare venue for thoughtful discussion. COMMENTARY’s talented writers provide insightful analysis of foreign affairs, domestic policy, and the politics of the day. COMMENTARY is a treasure not only for conservatives, but for anyone looking for in-depth exploration of the issues that influence America’s public dialogue and shape the nation’s future.
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Britain Has Spoken. What Did It Say?

David Cameron has done a Bibi! Polls had his Conservatives and Ed Miliband’s Labor neck and neck in the final weeks of the United Kingdom campaign, with neither likely to command a majority in the House of Commons. But the exit polls last night shocked everyone. Just as was the case with Netanyahu’s surprise surge in the Israeli elections, it appeared that Cameron’s Tories had conclusively defeated Labor, albeit still just short of a majority. And like Netanyahu, by morning it emerged that Cameron had won what is, under the circumstances, an astonishing victory: a slight majority. After five years of coalition government in the UK, such a feat can no longer be taken for granted. A few points of reflection about this election are therefore in order, with eyes to the past, the present, and the future.

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David Cameron has done a Bibi! Polls had his Conservatives and Ed Miliband’s Labor neck and neck in the final weeks of the United Kingdom campaign, with neither likely to command a majority in the House of Commons. But the exit polls last night shocked everyone. Just as was the case with Netanyahu’s surprise surge in the Israeli elections, it appeared that Cameron’s Tories had conclusively defeated Labor, albeit still just short of a majority. And like Netanyahu, by morning it emerged that Cameron had won what is, under the circumstances, an astonishing victory: a slight majority. After five years of coalition government in the UK, such a feat can no longer be taken for granted. A few points of reflection about this election are therefore in order, with eyes to the past, the present, and the future.

First, the past. No election should go by without voters appreciating the significance of casting ballots, a point underscored by the VE Day commemorations taking place in the UK today. In probably the most unpredictable election since the War, in which so few seats could legitimately be considered “safe”, Britons could really feel their voices were going to be heard and should be grateful for that opportunity. This should also, however, remind us all about the threats our political freedoms face from the current worldwide Islamist insurgency. The spate of successful and thwarted attacks in Europe and Texas in recent months reminds us all of the vulnerability of free societies and the ongoing need for vigilance.

For Jews, the right to vote means even more. As a historically beleaguered minority and one made by some to feel unwelcome still, the freedom to participate in the governance of their country is one their ancestors could not imagine, and it is a responsibility which Jews today must not shirk. For British Jews, who opinion polls suggested were leaning heavily toward David Cameron thanks in part to his steadfast support for Israel in its battle with Hamas last summer (in stark contrast to Miliband, who is Jewish), this election will come as a relief. Almost all of the MPs representing more Jewish constituencies have been returned, and the notoriously anti-Israel Bradford MPs, George Galloway and David Ward, have both been ejected from office.

And so, to the present. The tally for the 650-member Commons is as follows: Conservatives 331 (+24), Labor 232 (-26), Scottish National Party 56 (+50), Liberal Democrats 8 (-49), Other 23. The big winners are the Tories and the Scottish Nationalists. No incumbent party has grown its faction in the Commons since 1983, and back then Margaret Thatcher was bolstered by victory in the Falklands War. The Conservative gains are therefore electorally very impressive indeed. The SNP too had a brilliant night – although their remarkable successes were more anticipated. The Nationalists rose from a meagre 6 seats at Westminster to become its third largest party, crushing opponents across Scotland. They took out the shadow Foreign Secretary (who, to give a sense of how unpopular Labor has become in Scotland, he was defeated by a 20-year old college student, who will become the youngest MP in centuries). They took out the leader of Labor in Scotland. And they also won all seven seats in the Labor-stronghold of Glasgow – an earthquake that would be equivalent to the Democrats losing San Francisco. What the rise of the SNP, which just lost a Scottish independence referendum last year, means for the Union is yet to be seen.

The big losers, of course, are Labor and the Liberal Democrats, but also the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Labor not only lost its Shadow Foreign Secretary but even it’s Shadow Chancellor, the architect of its economic policies. The numbers too are shocking: there are fewer Labor MPs now those when former prime minister Gordon Brown managed to salvage in the previous election in 2010 when he and his party were being blamed for the economic recession. The Liberal Democrats, the junior members of the coalition, were trounced, losing cabinet ministers and former party leaders across the country. And UKIP, which was hoping to take a handful of seats, emerged with only one – although it did place second in many constituencies and won a significant proportion of the national vote. And so, in the space of one hour, three party leaders (Labor’s Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, and the UKIP leader Nigel Farage) resigned – unheard of in British politics.

(For American observers, the result is another win for former Obama strategist Jim Messina, who worked on the Tory campaign, and a loss to David Axelrod, who consulted for Labor.)

Finally, the future. A Conservative win is good news for UK-US relations. Cameron has shown he can work with President Obama, and if any British leader is able to collaborate with a possible Republican president, it is more likely to be him than Ed Miliband. Defense spending is likely to be a sticking point, given present Conservative plans to make cuts. However, the slim Tory majority means Cameron will be very reliant on his backbenchers, who tend to be more conservative and may resist excessive military reductions. The tension between Cameron and some members of his party points to the biggest issue of all: Europe. Cameron has promised a renegotiation of the UK’s place in the EU and a referendum on membership by the end of 2017. Expect to hear much more about that.

And so, like Netanyahu, Cameron had a good election. But unlike Netanyahu, he won’t have to negotiate for a month to form a wafer thin majority. He already has that now.

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David Frum: COMMENTARY Is Reason’s Champion

In a time of passion, COMMENTARY champions reason. Against lies, COMMENTARY speaks for truth. Confronting those who would doom to death the Jewish people, COMMENTARY is a magnificent continuing achievement of American Jewish life.

Pledge-Drive

In a time of passion, COMMENTARY champions reason. Against lies, COMMENTARY speaks for truth. Confronting those who would doom to death the Jewish people, COMMENTARY is a magnificent continuing achievement of American Jewish life.

Pledge-Drive

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Don’t Give In To Iranian Threats on Iraq

House Republicans have inserted language into the defense authorization act designating Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis as a separate “country” so that they would be eligible to receive at least a fourth of the $715 million that is earmarked for military assistance to Iraq. This has caused an uproar in Iraq, with condemnation coming not only from relative moderates such as Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Ayatollah Sistani but also from firebrands such as Muqtada Al Sadr who has issued a direct threat to the U.S.: “If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said.

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House Republicans have inserted language into the defense authorization act designating Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis as a separate “country” so that they would be eligible to receive at least a fourth of the $715 million that is earmarked for military assistance to Iraq. This has caused an uproar in Iraq, with condemnation coming not only from relative moderates such as Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Ayatollah Sistani but also from firebrands such as Muqtada Al Sadr who has issued a direct threat to the U.S.: “If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said.

Naturally, faced with such threats, the administration is lobbying hard to take the offending language out of the bill. The White House is firmly committed to the fiction of Iraq as a unified country and it will not budge from it—especially not when Iranian-backed militias are threatening the U.S. if it starts arming Sunnis who are deadly enemies of the Shiite extremists. The threat is not an idle one—Sadr and his ilk spent years attacking U.S. forces with Iranian help during the Iraq War. But the threat should be not be debilitating either: the U.S. and its Iraqi allies beat the extremists once before and could do it again, if necessary.

It is disheartening if not surprising to see the administration so abjectly caving in to such threats. What the White House is doing is giving Baghdad a veto over U.S. policy in Iraq—and since Iranian agents are the most powerful actors in Baghdad, that means giving Tehran a veto over U.S. policy.

Now, the designation of Sunnis and Kurds as a “country” may be needlessly provocative—they are not independent countries and U.S. policy should not necessarily be to break up Iraq into separate countries. But, while the U.S. should not be trying to create multiple countries in the land area of Iraq, nor should it be hewing so closely to the ideal of Iraqi unity that we refuse to directly arm the Sunni tribes which offer the best, indeed the only way, to beat ISIS without allowing Iraq to fall entirely into Iranian hands. Instead of trumpeting the Sunnis as a separate “country,” the U.S. government would be better advised to quietly start providing them arms and training notwithstanding the disapproval of the Iranian-dominated Iraqi government. But Obama refuses to do this, which is why House Republicans have understandably tried to force his hand.

The larger issue is that at the moment the U.S. manifestly fears Iran and Iran does not fear the U.S. The Obama administration is deathly afraid of doing anything to offend Tehran, whether imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, which would ground the air force of Tehran’s puppet Bashar Assad, or directly arming the Sunnis of Iraq, which would break the Iranian stranglehold over the Iraqi security forces. The Obama administration is afraid not only that Iran might walk out of the nuclear talks but also that it might start once again using its terrorist proxies to target American interests—a strategy it has pursued for decades.

Those are not unreasonable fears, but let’s keep some perspective: the U.S. is the world’s only true superpower, a country with the mightiest military on the planet. Iran is a middle-tier power, a rogue state that is punching above its weight because we are not effectively opposing Iranian designs. The more we show fear in the face of Iranian intimidation, the more emboldened the mullahs become, and the less likely it becomes we will get a nuclear accord on any reasonable terms.

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The Latest Jobs Report

The April jobs report, which showed 223,000 net new jobs, was a distinct improvement on the dismal March report (which was revised further downward to a mere 85,000 jobs created that month). The unemployment rate dipped a notch to 5.4 percent, getting, slowly, closer to the Federal Reserve target of 5 percent.

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The April jobs report, which showed 223,000 net new jobs, was a distinct improvement on the dismal March report (which was revised further downward to a mere 85,000 jobs created that month). The unemployment rate dipped a notch to 5.4 percent, getting, slowly, closer to the Federal Reserve target of 5 percent.

The participation rate, the measure of people who have or are looking for work, edged up to 62.8 percent, but that’s lower than it was in January, and only .2 percent higher than it was a year ago.

Wages picked up a bit and are about 2.2 percent higher than a year ago, above the recent average of 2 percent.

In all, the employment picture continues the slow improvement of the Obama recovery. No one could call it robust, but at least it is moving in the right direction.

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