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U.S. Seeks Post-Deal “Parameters,” Not Pre-Deal Answers from Iran

Friday afternoon — for the third day in a row — the press sought a straight answer from the State Department on Iran’s obligation to answer the longstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (June 9, 2010) requires Iran to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions [PMDs] of the Iranian nuclear program,” and to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (emphasis added). Iran has provided virtually no answers to the IAEA, which reported recently that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Here is part of the Friday exchange at the State Department:

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Friday afternoon — for the third day in a row — the press sought a straight answer from the State Department on Iran’s obligation to answer the longstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (June 9, 2010) requires Iran to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions [PMDs] of the Iranian nuclear program,” and to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (emphasis added). Iran has provided virtually no answers to the IAEA, which reported recently that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Here is part of the Friday exchange at the State Department:

QUESTION: In your briefing two days ago, you stated from the podium that Iran must give the IAEA the access that they need to resolve any possible military dimensions of their program. And I just want to confirm with you that it is the policy of the United States that Iran must resolve those questions, not just address them.

MR KIRBY: … [A]s part of any deal and before there can be a deal, it needs to be determined … that the IAEA will have the access that they need to resolve their concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, past and present.

QUESTION: … so they will get the access before the deal is signed?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said that —

QUESTION: Aha.

MR KIRBY: I said that in order for there to be a deal, they have to have provided the parameters for the access that IAEA needs (emphasis added).

QUESTION: Right. You – but you realize the problem with that? Iran has made promises, many promises in the past, and not followed through or fulfilled them. So you’re saying that they don’t have to give the access before a deal is done; they just have to say they will give access (emphasis added).

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

So while there is a UN resolution obligating Iran to provide immediately whatever the IAEA requests, the administration will settle for post-deal “parameters” for “access,” rather than pre-deal compliance — much less a completed IAEA report on Iran’s undisclosed nuclear activities. On Friday, reporters sought to clarify what “parameters” for “access” meant, and got this:

QUESTION: Just to clarify the remarks you just made in response to Matt’s question, is it the case that when we have a final deal with Iran, if we reach one, it will contain the parameters for access, as you just stated? Or it will be – it will contain, that deal, the specific terms of access?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not going to talk about the issues that are still under negotiation … [T]he IAEA will need to have the access it needs to resolve the issues of possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. And without the parameters for that sort of access, there’s not going to be a deal….

QUESTION: But when you say “parameters of access,” what you’re essentially telling us is that as part of a final deal, those parameters could themselves be subject to further negotiation. And it’s always been understood here that the final deal will have the actual terms of a deal, not further parameters to be worked out, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details that are being negotiated now….

The question of whether the specifics of “access” will be set forth in the Iran nuclear deal, or will only be general principles subject to further negotiation, is not exactly a “detail.” So the reporters tried a third time:

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up? I’m a little confused … because, one, Iran is a member of the IAEA, so it should already be subject to the IAEA’s overview; two, those are already enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. So why did you need 18 months or however many months of negotiations to merely say what they are already required to do and haven’t been doing all along?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – all I can tell you is what was agreed to in Lausanne … about the IAEA getting the access – being able to get the access it needs. And again, I’m just not going to go beyond that right now. There are still issues that are being negotiated in Europe …

QUESTION: Well, given that the PMD issue was supposed to be resolved in a deal, and now that it’s – that resolution process would continue past a deal if a deal is reached – does lack of access or lack of resolution require the breaking of the deal? Or would that be a deal-breaker even after a deal is already signed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, Brad. I’m just not.

The latest IAEA report states that at Iran’s Parchin military site, the IAEA “has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment and probable construction materials,” and that “the activities that have taken place at this location since February 2012 are likely to have undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.” In the years since UN Resolution 1929 was adopted, Iran has used the time well.

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Iran’s Abuse of Minorities About to Get Much Worse

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in what Khomeini and his supporters promised would be an Islamic democracy, but what in reality would quickly reveal itself to be a repressive dictatorship. The outline for Khomeini’s philosophy of government was no secret. In 1970, he published a book, Hokumat-i Eslami (“Islamic Government) which fleshed out the parameters and workings of a government based on the idea of guardianship of the jurist. He infused his reading of Islamic history and philosophy with religious hatred. Hence, he declares in just the second paragraph of the book, “From the very beginning, the historic movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present.” Later in the text, he declared, “If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances… then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain, and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have.”

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Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in what Khomeini and his supporters promised would be an Islamic democracy, but what in reality would quickly reveal itself to be a repressive dictatorship. The outline for Khomeini’s philosophy of government was no secret. In 1970, he published a book, Hokumat-i Eslami (“Islamic Government) which fleshed out the parameters and workings of a government based on the idea of guardianship of the jurist. He infused his reading of Islamic history and philosophy with religious hatred. Hence, he declares in just the second paragraph of the book, “From the very beginning, the historic movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present.” Later in the text, he declared, “If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances… then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain, and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have.”

His castigation of Jews was little compared to his hatred of Baha’is. “In our own city of Tehran now there are centers of evil propaganda run by the churches, the Zionists, and the Baha’is in order to lead our people astray and make them abandon the ordinances and teachings of Islam. Do we not have a duty to destroy these centers that are damaging to Islam?” American pastor Saeed Abedini continues to be held hostage in Iran; he was imprisoned because of his unapologetic embrace of Christianity.

While apologists for Iran like to praise the Islamic Republic’s protection of minorities—here’s The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink and here’s Roger Cohen, also in The New York Times. To cite 20,000 Jews living in Iran is one thing; to fail to acknowledge that population has declined more than 80 percent since the revolution suggests quite another. Many Jews fled to Israel or the United States, but the Baha’is had nowhere to go. Upon seizing the reins of power, he and the revolutionary clerics following him were merciless to the Baha’is. Many were imprisoned, and some were executed. All were fired from government jobs, and their private employers were pressured to fire them. Baha’i students were forced from universities. Today, Baha’is are subject to arbitrary arrest, and even Baha’i children find themselves imprisoned.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry justify their outreach to the Islamic Republic in the belief that they can moderate the Islamic Republic and nudge it into the community of nations. But will the vision of the regime leadership really change? If the latest from Saham News, the newspaper of the reformist National Trust Party (led by former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi) is any indication, then the answer is no. This article entitled “A Secret Order from the Supreme
Council of Cultural Revolution: Progress and Advancement of the Baha’is Must Be Blocked” details the priority the regime continues to place on suppressing if not murdering Baha’is to the current day. Thirty-six years of the Islamic Republic has not moderated the revolutionary fervor of those who craft the regime’s policies. Religious persecution in Iran is on the rise.

As the United States abandons moral clarity and its traditional support for the Iranian people in favor of an unpopular regime that represses them, then the White House must recognize that it will be standing witness to the suppression of human rights and religious freedom in Iran to a degree not seen since the chaotic months following Khomeini’s 1979 return.

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U.S. Hypocrisy on Oren’s Memoir

The Obama administration is reportedly furious with Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, for publishing a behind-the-scenes account of U.S.-Israeli relations during the early portion of President Obama’s administration. Suffice to say, the Oren memoir did not stick to Obama administration talking points.

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The Obama administration is reportedly furious with Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, for publishing a behind-the-scenes account of U.S.-Israeli relations during the early portion of President Obama’s administration. Suffice to say, the Oren memoir did not stick to Obama administration talking points.

The umbrage that Obama administration officials and the State Department take is just a bit hypocritical. After all, multiple Obama administration officials were veterans of earlier administrations and, during the Republican interlude, wrote books. For example, former George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administration diplomat Dennis Ross castigated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in The Missing Peace, his 2004 memoir of behind-the-scenes efforts to win Palestinian-Israeli peace. For example, he wrote for just one example, “What went wrong? To put it simply, Netanyahu was not willing to concede anything.” Never mind Yasser Arafat’s terrorism and two-faced behavior; it was Netanyahu’s fault. How awkward, then, it must have been to return to Obama’s National Security Council to work on Middle East issues after having badmouthed Netanyahu, who had also returned to office in the meantime.

Not all indiscretions emerge in book form. Martin Indyk, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, served as the Obama administration’s Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations from 2013 to 2014, after having earlier served in the Clinton administration as an assistant secretary of State. In between his two stints in government, Indyk penned a book openly badmouthing Netanyahu, whom he compared to a “winter’s chill” before the “spring warmth” of Ehud Barak’s election. Indyk, who in his capacity with Brookings had accepted Qatari money before and after his government service, wasted little time bashing Netanyahu openly, on background, and with little discretion.

Then there was Samantha Power. Years before she became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she called for a U.S. military invasion of Israel. Awkward. The badmouthing goes further. There were Obama’s open-mic insults, and the Netanyahu-baiting offered on background to de facto administration stenographer Jeffrey Goldberg.

Indeed, while the White House and State Department might now treat Oren with opprobrium, it has been the Obama administration that has taken elementary school playground name-calling to a new level. During their initial presidential and vice presidential election campaign, both Obama and Joe Biden repeatedly badmouth Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Now, there is much to criticize with regard to Karzai, but the two never considered that Karzai would read every insult they hurled; the working relationship never recovered.

Should Oren have written about his experiences so directly and so soon after his tenure? It’s indiscreet and a tad obnoxious, but Obama and his aides must remember that those who live in glass houses should not have thrown stones in the first place. Such memoirs are a phenomenon of democratic political culture. But, then again, that may be what Obama most resents.

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Hillary Clinton’s Incredible Shrinking Electoral Targets

It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

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It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

The election was still two years away when Talking Points Memo’s Dylan Scott allotted 386 Electoral College votes to Clinton. That heady dispatch quoted extensively from the sequestered camp of prospective Clinton campaign staffers. They were certain that the former secretary of state would not merely revive Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition, but she would significantly augment it.

“Clinton has a record of appealing to white working-class voters — especially women — and they could be enough when paired with the Obama coalition to pull out a win,” Scott wrote. That appeal to working-class whites as well as traditional Democratic constituents like minorities and single women would yield Clinton victories in states like Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Arizona.

Much of that initial excitement has been dramatically tempered by the intervening scandal-plagued months. Today, Clinton is hoping – no, “banking on” the fact that the members of Obama’s coalition of voters will reassemble one last time to propel her back into the White House.

The Washington Post’s Anna Gearan observed on Monday that Clinton has been lurching toward the left recently despite a lack of a viable primary challenger solely in order to appeal to the dwindling true believers who made up the 2008 and 2012 electorates. To that end, embracing progressive priorities like universal paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage, debt-free college attendance, and publicly funded early childhood education make some degree of sense.

It is, however, optimistic to suggest that the recitation of liberal programmatic objectives rather than the historic nature of President Obama’s identity as the first black president contributed to assembling the last two winning Democratic coalitions. In fact, that belief may appear as ill considered in the coming weeks as Scott’s anticipation of a Clinton landslide in 2016 does today.

“The strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign,” Gearan observed. “Clinton will have to expand Hispanic support, increase turnout among independent women and still hold on to a large share of black voters who were drawn to the first African American major-party nominee.”

Few objective political observers believe Clinton will be able to turn out the president’s voting base merely because she can claim to be the first woman to have a credible shot at winning the White House. 28 percent of the electorate that turned out in 2008 was made up of minority voters. Four years later, the minority share of the electorate dropped to 26 percent. Though it is true that Hispanics and Asians voted in larger numbers for Barack Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008, it’s unclear that Clinton can recreate that performance without Mitt Romney on the ballot. Indeed, the 2014 midterm election exit polls suggested that Hispanic and Asian voters swung toward the GOP by 12 and 50 points respectively.

As for the young, unmarried women who are supposedly destined to turn out for Clinton in record numbers next year, to suggest that she can outperform Barack Obama is equally as dubious. In 2012, the president managed to win the support of between 50 and 68 percent of women voters in every state surveyed by Edison Research’s exit pollsters. “Obama already did better among female voters than almost any other Democratic candidate since data are available in 1976,” The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein noted. “In 2004, Kerry only won women by 3 points, but Obama won them by 13 points in 2008 and 11 points in 2012.” And this was amid the fabricated Republican “War on Women” that has since lost much of its luster.

Many bright political observers are equally skeptical that the working-class whites that abandoned Obama will nevertheless form a central pillar of Clinton’s electoral coalition. Chief among them is the co-author of the oft-cited Emerging Democratic Majority, John Judis. “These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced,” Judis wrote of blue-collar voters in the wake of the Democratic rout in 2014.

The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called “the office economy.” In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)

“The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans,” Judis added.

Clinton is banking on the notion that government-provided services for middle-and lower-income working professionals will lure them away from the Republican camp. But is the upshot enough to convince those toiling away in “the office economy” to endure the associated increase in their tax burden? The issue is certainly not as clear-cut as those who see Clinton winning Arkansas in 2016 would like to believe.

Formerly sanguine Democrats are certainly taking more sober stock of Clinton’s electoral prospects ahead of 2016. And Republicans haven’t even settled on a nominee yet.

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Will 2015 be the Year of the Second Falklands War?

In 1982, Argentina, beset by its own economic woes and looking for a way to rally its people around the flag, launched a surprise attack on the Falkland Islands, a British crown colony since 1840 and occupied sporadically by British forces for decades before. The invasion caught the British—and the world—by surprise. Great Britain, which once controlled an empire upon which the sun never set and which once controlled the high seas, was caught flatfooted. Domestic entitlements had eroded Britain’s military budget for years, as did a false sense of security that the age of outright military aggression had ended. In short, British policymakers had allowed their military power to decline precipitously. The British military had to lease Cunard cruise line’s Queen Elizabeth II to transport troops to the islands. In the end, the British reconquered the islands, but took far greater casualties than it would have had it been militarily prepared. Then again, had the Argentine junta believed Britain was more than a paper tiger, it likely would not have invaded the Falklands in the first place.

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In 1982, Argentina, beset by its own economic woes and looking for a way to rally its people around the flag, launched a surprise attack on the Falkland Islands, a British crown colony since 1840 and occupied sporadically by British forces for decades before. The invasion caught the British—and the world—by surprise. Great Britain, which once controlled an empire upon which the sun never set and which once controlled the high seas, was caught flatfooted. Domestic entitlements had eroded Britain’s military budget for years, as did a false sense of security that the age of outright military aggression had ended. In short, British policymakers had allowed their military power to decline precipitously. The British military had to lease Cunard cruise line’s Queen Elizabeth II to transport troops to the islands. In the end, the British reconquered the islands, but took far greater casualties than it would have had it been militarily prepared. Then again, had the Argentine junta believed Britain was more than a paper tiger, it likely would not have invaded the Falklands in the first place.

Fast forward more than three decades. British military strength is now at a nadir, lower than it has been in decades if not centuries relative to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Argentina is once again in a morass of its own making. The Argentine economy is again in the dumps; it defaulted on its loans last year for the second time in just 13 years, and the rich are fleeing the country.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has responded Hugo Chavez-style, by voicing outlandish plots that go from the ridiculous to the sublime. While Kirchner is term limited, there are ways around such legal obstacles when presidents put ego above the law. At the very least, Kirchner has been maneuvering to place her son in the presidency, continuing the family dynasty that started with Néstor Carlos Kirchner, her late husband, in 2003.

Through it all, the Argentine government has begun making noises again with regard to its claim that the Falkland Islands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, should return to it by any means necessary. In 2013, rhetoric in Argentina again reached a fever pitch. During the 1982 crisis, the Reagan administration briefly considered neutrality before siding with its British allies. In 2015, Argentina would be right to question whether there is any such resolve in the White House. President Obama has used (or tried to use) the Argentine name for the islands. Kirchner has interpreted Obama’s about-face on Cuba as evidence that such a reversal could be in store for the Falklands. “If the Yankees took 53 years to say that Fidel Castro is right, how would they not sit down to discuss something that everyone is calling for,” she asked. Add to this the New York Times, which uses its space to sponsor debates about whether to accede or compromise with Argentina’s demands. Regardless, even if Obama were to give his firmest red line against Argentine military adventurism, it is doubtful anyone in Argentina or back in America would believe him.

Then, of course, there is also oil and gas. There has long been suspicion that the Falklands sat above and in the midst of tremendous oil and gas reserves. No longer is this simply suspicion. The decline in the price of oil makes Falkland energy less economical to exploit, but what goes down does rise up and a desperate Argentina might do anything.

Is it likely that Argentina will again play the aggressor? No, but then again most everyone agreed it unlikely that Argentina would invade the first time in 1982 or that Iraq would invade Kuwait in 1990, or that Russia would invade Ukraine in 2014. The point is that the British navy has never been weaker, the United States doesn’t have its ally’s back, and weakness invites aggression whereas populism often invites it. What once seemed impossible is now in the realm of the possibility.

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The Palestinians’ UN Charade Collapses

In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

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In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

The resolution that was presented to the Security Council was so extreme that Jordan, the sole Arab nation that is currently a member, didn’t want anything to do with it. But, after intense lobbying by the Palestinian Authority representative, the rest of the Arab nations prevailed upon Jordan and they put it forward where it will almost certainly languish indefinitely without a vote since its fate is preordained.

The terms it put forward were of Israeli surrender and nothing more. The Jewish state would be given one year to withdraw from all of the territory it won in a defensive war of survival in 1967 where a Palestinian state would be created. That state would not be demilitarized nor would there be any guarantees of security for Israel which would not be granted mutual recognition as the nation state of the Jewish people, a clear sign that the Palestinians are not ready to give up their century-long war against Zionism even inside the pre-1967 lines.

This is a diktat, not a peace proposal, since there would be nothing for Israel to negotiate about during the 12-month period of preparation. Of course, even if the Palestinians had accepted the slightly more reasonable terms proposed by the French, that would have also been true. But that measure would have at least given the appearance of a mutual cessation of hostilities and an acceptance of the principle of coexistence. But even those concessions, let alone a renunciation of the “right of return,” was not possible for a PA that is rightly fearful of being supplanted by Hamas. So long as Palestinian nationalism remains wedded to rejection of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, no one should expect the PA to end the conflict or actually make peace.

Though many of us have been understandably focused on the question of how far President Obama might go to vent his spleen at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, that petty drama is, as it has always been, a sideshow distraction from the real problem at the core of the Middle East peace process: Palestinian rejectionism.

Though the administration has tirelessly praised PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace in order to encourage him to live up to that reputation, he had other priorities. Rather than negotiate in good faith with the Israelis, Abbas blew up the talks last year by signing a unity pact with Hamas that he never had any intention of keeping. The purpose of that stunt, like the current UN drama, isn’t to make a Palestinian state more likely or even to increase Abbas’s leverage in the talks. Rather, it is merely a delaying tactic, and a gimmick intended to waste time, avoid negotiations, and to deflect any pressure on the PA to either sign an agreement with Israel or to turn it down.

That’s not just because the Palestinians wrongly believe that time is on their side in the conflict, a dubious assumption that some on the Israeli left also believe. The reason for these tactics is that Abbas is as incapable of making peace as he is of making war.

This is not just another case of the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” in Abba Eban’s immortal and quite accurate summary of their actions over the years. It’s that they are so wedded to unrealistic expectations about Israel’s decline that it would be inconceivable for them to take advantage of any opening to peace. That is why they turned down Israeli offers of statehood, including control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem, three times and refused to deal seriously with a fourth such negotiation with Netanyahu last year.

And it’s why the endless quarrels between Obama and Netanyahu over the peace process are so pointless. No matter how much Obama tilts the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction or how often he and his supporters prattle on about time running out for Israel, Abbas has no intention of signing a peace agreement. The negotiations as well as their maneuverings at the UN and elsewhere are nothing but a charade for the PA and nothing Netanyahu could do, including offering dangerous concessions, would change that. The sooner Western leaders stop playing along with their game, the better it will be for the Palestinian people who continue to be exploited by their leaders.

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Will Bridgegate Vindication Revive Christie’s 2016 Hopes?

The leak of the news that the Justice Department probe in to Bridgegate has found that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had no role in the scandal is very good news for those who want him to run for president in 2016. But even if this is truly the end of efforts to lay responsibility for that mess on the governor—and there is no guarantee that this is so given Justice’s refusal to formally announce their findings in the investigation—nothing said now can take us back to the moment at the end of 2013 when Christie seemed to have a leg up for the Republican nomination.

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The leak of the news that the Justice Department probe in to Bridgegate has found that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had no role in the scandal is very good news for those who want him to run for president in 2016. But even if this is truly the end of efforts to lay responsibility for that mess on the governor—and there is no guarantee that this is so given Justice’s refusal to formally announce their findings in the investigation—nothing said now can take us back to the moment at the end of 2013 when Christie seemed to have a leg up for the Republican nomination.

As I wrote earlier today, the fact that we had to learn about this crucial piece of information from a leak raises serious questions about whether the Justice Department is slow-walking the investigation in order to damage the GOP star or if it is seeking to gin up an indictment of someone in his administration on some wholly unrelated charge. But even if they publicly vindicate him sometime soon or had done so months ago, Bridgegate forever altered his image. That can’t be undone. And given that Christie was always going to have trouble with major elements of the GOP base, any optimism about 2016 in his camp ought to be tempered with the realization that it will be, at best, a hard slog that will have to depend on a lot of good luck for him to win.

As frustrating as this may be for Christie, that moment in history when he was the darling of the Republican establishment as well as of much of the mainstream media was over the moment the story about his staff orchestrating days of traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge broke. For a few weeks, Bridgegate became the No. 1 news story and gave the liberal media a golden opportunity to destroy the governor’s carefully crafted image of a blunt, truth-telling, can-do politician. They made the most of it with coverage that dwarfed the attention given to Obama administration scandals concerning the Veterans Administration, the IRS, Benghazi, as well as Justice Department spying on the press. As Seth wrote earlier today, it gave Republicans a clear idea of the obstacles they face going forward toward 2016 when the Democrats’ press allies can play a crucial role in undermining their candidates while essentially defending both President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But there is more to the question of Christie’s 2016 viability than media bias or what is motivating the delay of the announcement of the federal probers’ findings. Christie’s problem is, in a way, much more serious than the one Texas Governor Rick Perry faces over his indictment on a bizarre charge involving the use of his veto power. Perry’s predicament is legal but not political because everyone, including the denizens of the far left who continue to try to justify the indictment, knows it is a phony, politically inspired charge. If it is allowed by the courts to proceed it will be a huge distraction and an obstacle to his presidential hopes. But no one thinks it says anything about his character or qualifications for the presidency.

By contrast, the really damaging aspect of Bridgegate was not the false charges laid at his feet but the distinct impression that the affair reflected something unpleasant about the character of his administration that even his defenders couldn’t credibly deny. Christie, after all, rose to national prominence with performances (captured on YouTube) where he rode roughshod over opponents and even citizens with the temerity to question his views or decisions. The attractive side of all this straight talking was that he came across as the opposite of a political phony. But when looked at another way, he could also be seen as a bully who brooked no opposition and was always focused on crushing and humiliating his opponents.

Thus while he was riding high nine months ago after a uniquely successful first term in office during which he had defied the unions and then won a landslide reelection as a moderate conservative Republican in an extremely blue state, the seeds of future problems had already been sowed. It was never clear whether his abrasive character would play as well on the national stage as it did in New Jersey. Nor was there any way of knowing whether this remarkably thin-skinned politician could hold up under the scrutiny the national press gives presidential candidates in the heat of the campaign.

But Bridgegate short-circuited that inevitable vetting process and illustrated exactly what Christie’s detractors and even some friends had always known would be his weakness. Though the governor had nothing to do with an insane and profoundly stupid plot by some on his staff to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for not endorsing Christie, it was not a reach to claim that this sort of behavior reflected the dark side of a very hardnosed and unforgiving politician. It might have taken months on the campaign trail for some gaffe by the governor to raise these issues or it might never have happened. But now that it has, there’s no going back.

It is true that the public has the attention span of a toddler and that we have no idea what issues will be at the top of the national agenda when the nomination fight begins in earnest. The unfair treatment of Christie will also endear him to Republican primary voters who despise the media in much the same way that Perry’s troubles at the hands of his liberal tormentors have made him a hero to many on the right.

But Christie can’t wish away the damage that has already been done to him. Moreover, the problem with his candidacy is that even before Bridgegate, the notion that he had a straight path to the nomination was already a myth. Christie is, by New Jersey standards, a conservative Republican. But he forfeited the affection of many on the right when he embraced President Obama in the last days of the 2012 presidential campaign after Hurricane Sandy hit his state. Despite his pro-life views and attempt to edge further to the right, such as his refusal to involve New Jersey in a regional cap-and-trade emissions program, he was never going to be able to compete for the votes of evangelicals or Tea Partiers in the primaries. His hopes for the nomination rested on a plan that would repeat Mitt Romney’s trick in hanging around and letting all his more conservative opponents knock each other off. It might have worked, but Christie will be facing a much stronger field than Romney. And now that the glow is off his image after Bridgegate that scenario, while not impossible, is more unlikely than could have been imagined a year ago.

The end of Bridgegate, if that is what has happened, will help Christie, whose interest in the presidency never flagged even at the height of the scandal. But if he was a frontrunner nine months ago, today he must considered as, at best, a very long shot to win the nomination.

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The IRS Scandal and Media Bias

During his appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin offered this observation:

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During his appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin offered this observation:

Because when any government agency, particularly one as powerful as the IRS, engages in something that even people sympathetic to the administration looks weird and suspicious, it’s incumbent upon all of the national media to aggressively ask more questions. The Republicans in Congress are asking questions. I think with a different administration, one that was a Republican administration, this story would be a national obsession. And instead, it’s getting coverage here and a few other places. But it deserves a lot more questions.

It certainly does, and Mr. Halperin deserves credit (as does host Joe Scarborough) for saying so.

Here’s a thought experiment. Assume during the George W. Bush administration the IRS had targeted MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress, and a slew of other liberal groups. Assume, too, that no conservative groups were the subject of harassment and intimidation. And just for the fun of it, assume that press secretary Ari Fleischer had misled the press and the public by saying the scandal was confined to two rogue IRS agents in Cincinnati and that President Bush had declared that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” that had occurred.

Let’s go a step further. Assume that the IRS Commissioner, in testifying before Congress, admitted that the emails of the person at the heart of the abuse of power scandal were gone, that the backup tapes have been erased and that her hard drive was destroyed. For good measure, assume that the person who was intimately involved in targeting liberal groups took the Fifth Amendment.

Given all this, boys and girls, do you think the elite media–the New York Times, Washington Post, The News Hour, and the news networks for ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN–would pay much attention to it?

Answer: They wouldn’t just cover the story; they would fixate on it. It would be a crazed obsession. Journalists up and down the Acela Corridor would be experiencing dangerously rapid pulse rates. The gleam in their eye and the spring in their step would be impossible to miss. You couldn’t escape the coverage even if you wanted to. The story would sear itself into your imagination.

It’s true enough that one could focus on media bias every day between now and the Second Coming if one were so inclined. But rarely is the bias as transparent, and the double standard as glaring, as it is during the coverage of scandals. That doesn’t mean that here and there elite journalists don’t focus attention on liberal scandals. But for a host of complicated political and cultural reasons, the press as a general matter draws much greater energy and purposefulness from scandals involving Republican presidents than Democratic presidents. Even during the Lewinsky affair and the criminal cover up of it, there’s no way a Republican White House could have gotten away with the brutal tactics used against the independent counsel. Can you imagine if the Nixon White House had treated Archibald Cox like the Clinton White House treated Kenneth Starr? The press simply would not have allowed it. (See correction below.)

It’s too bad that only a few elite journalists like Mr. Halperin will admit the existence of the double standard; and worse still that knowing of it, nothing much will change. This is yet another case of “motivated perception.” The press can see precisely the same scandal and interpret it in completely different ways, depending on whether at the center of the scandal is a liberal or a conservative administration. And here’s the thing: many journalists really and truly believe they are impartial. Which is but only one reason why we live in an era when American’s trust of the media is at an all-time low.

Correction:

Of course Richard Nixon had Cox fired on October 20, 1973, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” The reference was a sloppy historical oversight on my part, and I apologize for it. (Leon Jaworski was the special prosecutor who replaced Cox; he was never fired.) What makes my error even more inexcusable is that just the other day I began to re-read a fine book, Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidencyand chapter 24, “The Saturday Night Massacre,” focuses exclusively on the Cox firing.

I’d only add that what happened to Cox actually reinforces my broader point, which is that the press made Nixon pay a fearsome price for firing him. Alexander Haig, then Nixon’s chief of staff, described the reaction as a “firestorm.” Robert Bork, then-Solicitor General and the individual who carried out Nixon’s order, said, “I knew that there would be a lot of trouble about the firing but I didn’t anticipate the intensity of it.” And Raymond Price, chief speechwriter for Nixon, said, “it was as if the world were coming to an end.”

This is how NBC’s John Chancellor began his broadcast that night:

Good evening. The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious Constitutional crisis in its history. The President has fired the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Because of the President’s action, the attorney general has resigned. Elliott Richardson has quit, saying he cannot carry out Mr. Nixon’s instructions. Richardson’s deputy, William Ruckelshaus, has been fired.

Ruckelshaus refused, in a moment of Constitutional drama, to obey a presidential order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor. And half an hour after the special Watergate prosecutor had been fired, agents of the FBI, acting at the direction of the White House, sealed off the offices of the special prosecutor, the offices of the attorney general and the offices of the deputy attorney general.

All of this adds up to a totally unprecedented situation, a grave and profound crisis in which the President has set himself against his own attorney general and the Department of Justice. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

The reaction to the firing of Mr. Cox shook the foundation of the Nixon presidency.

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Will a Nuclear Japan be Obama’s Legacy?

Almost every recent second-term president, burdened by the record of his failures, has sought a “Hail Mary” foreign-policy success to define his legacy: Bill Clinton sought successfully to normalize ties with Vietnam, but also wanted to shake hands with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and broker a final peace deal between Israel, the Palestinians, and the broader Arab world. And for all of George W. Bush’s talk about a war on terrorism, he effectively let North Korea off the hook, removing it from the state sponsor of terrorism list, because Condoleezza Rice thought a North Korea break through could change her boss’s legacy. Ditto the rushed 2007 Annapolis conference, which, as process for the sake of process, symbolized everything wrong with the approach of Bush’s predecessors. Like Clinton, Obama is turning to Middle East peace and Iran to reverse a legacy marred by the troubled roll-out of the Affordable Healthcare Act (“Obamacare”), the failure of the reset in Russia, and chaos in Syria. In neither case, however, will Obama see success. Neither he nor Secretary of State John Kerry recognize that their rhetoric does not sound as insightful or brilliant to outsiders as it does to their own ears or to those of their sycophantic aides. When it comes to strategy, determination, or pursuit of pure national objectives, Obama is simply no match for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, or North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-un.

And so most U.S. allies now recognize that they cannot trust the United States. In the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, traditional American allies are increasingly concluding that they need a Plan B. Those Plan B’s could actually become Obama’s greatest foreign-policy legacy.

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Almost every recent second-term president, burdened by the record of his failures, has sought a “Hail Mary” foreign-policy success to define his legacy: Bill Clinton sought successfully to normalize ties with Vietnam, but also wanted to shake hands with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and broker a final peace deal between Israel, the Palestinians, and the broader Arab world. And for all of George W. Bush’s talk about a war on terrorism, he effectively let North Korea off the hook, removing it from the state sponsor of terrorism list, because Condoleezza Rice thought a North Korea break through could change her boss’s legacy. Ditto the rushed 2007 Annapolis conference, which, as process for the sake of process, symbolized everything wrong with the approach of Bush’s predecessors. Like Clinton, Obama is turning to Middle East peace and Iran to reverse a legacy marred by the troubled roll-out of the Affordable Healthcare Act (“Obamacare”), the failure of the reset in Russia, and chaos in Syria. In neither case, however, will Obama see success. Neither he nor Secretary of State John Kerry recognize that their rhetoric does not sound as insightful or brilliant to outsiders as it does to their own ears or to those of their sycophantic aides. When it comes to strategy, determination, or pursuit of pure national objectives, Obama is simply no match for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, or North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-un.

And so most U.S. allies now recognize that they cannot trust the United States. In the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, traditional American allies are increasingly concluding that they need a Plan B. Those Plan B’s could actually become Obama’s greatest foreign-policy legacy.

The notion of Japan armed with nuclear weapons might seem far-fetched or bizarre given that Japan remains to this day the only country against whom nuclear weapons were used. After World War II, the new Japanese constitution declared that its military would be for self-defense only. Regional states know, however, that if pushed too far—by a resurgent and aggressive China, an unstable and unpredictable North Korea, or a Cold War-fixated Russia—Japan could resort to a nuclear deterrent in order to protect itself. A number of other analysts have written openly about Japan’s nuclear option. Given how the American pivot to Asia has evaporated, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s acknowledgment that the American forces would scale back to pre-World War II levels, and the fact that the Japan-based carrier, the USS George Washington, will within a couple years need to be withdrawn for a multi-year refueling, it should become clear to Japan that any U.S. security guarantees are rhetorical and ephemeral rather than real. It should be hard for Japanese leaders not to conclude that if they want to defend their territory and people, the time is nearing when they will have to cross the nuclear weapons threshold.

How ironic it is that Obama campaigned on a nuclear zero option, but the weakness of his policies now convince states that they have little choice but to embrace nuclear weapons they once so disdained.

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The Peace Process Blame Game

It was to be expected that the Obama administration would seek to cast blame yesterday for the apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry on both Israel and the Palestinians. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was disappointed with the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days.” He added that “tit for tat” actions were counterproductive but that despite ominous signs, the U.S. administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

Like the talk about a “cycle of violence” every time a terrorist attack on an Israeli target provokes a response, the decision by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to torpedo Kerry’s proposal to keep the talks going beyond April is being interpreted as being as much Israel’s fault as that of the Palestinians. Kerry, who is not giving up so easily, issued his own statement challenging both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead their peoples to peace. Though he has taken on the task of trying to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace as a personal crusade, in his comments after Abbas’s actions, Kerry returned to the familiar theme that the U.S. couldn’t want peace more than two parties to the conflict.

But while even-handedly casting blame for the apparent failure of Kerry’s initiative enables the U.S. to continue to try to cajole the Palestinians to keep talking, this effort speaks volumes about the inherent problems in the process. It may be true that, as Kerry claimed, “The fight right now, the disagreement between them, is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement. It is over the process that would get you there and what you need to do in order to be able to continue to negotiate.” But the unwillingness of the Palestinians to get from point A to point B in order to achieve statehood tells us much more about the daunting nature of the task Kerry has assumed than the “tit for tat” narrative being circulated by the Americans.

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It was to be expected that the Obama administration would seek to cast blame yesterday for the apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry on both Israel and the Palestinians. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was disappointed with the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days.” He added that “tit for tat” actions were counterproductive but that despite ominous signs, the U.S. administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

Like the talk about a “cycle of violence” every time a terrorist attack on an Israeli target provokes a response, the decision by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to torpedo Kerry’s proposal to keep the talks going beyond April is being interpreted as being as much Israel’s fault as that of the Palestinians. Kerry, who is not giving up so easily, issued his own statement challenging both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead their peoples to peace. Though he has taken on the task of trying to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace as a personal crusade, in his comments after Abbas’s actions, Kerry returned to the familiar theme that the U.S. couldn’t want peace more than two parties to the conflict.

But while even-handedly casting blame for the apparent failure of Kerry’s initiative enables the U.S. to continue to try to cajole the Palestinians to keep talking, this effort speaks volumes about the inherent problems in the process. It may be true that, as Kerry claimed, “The fight right now, the disagreement between them, is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement. It is over the process that would get you there and what you need to do in order to be able to continue to negotiate.” But the unwillingness of the Palestinians to get from point A to point B in order to achieve statehood tells us much more about the daunting nature of the task Kerry has assumed than the “tit for tat” narrative being circulated by the Americans.

As David Horovitz writes in the Times of Israel today, the crisis revolves around the doubts about Abbas’s willingness to make peace under any circumstances:

The Palestinians have a weak president who, while no duplicitous, terror-fostering Arafat, never confronted the narrative bequeathed by his unlamented predecessor, to the effect that the Jews have no sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world.

Every account of the talks that have been going on the past several months agrees that while the Israelis have put proposals on the table about statehood that, while not exactly what the Palestinians wanted, were at least measures that would give them statehood and independence. But the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on their demands or on their refusal to make symbolic gestures that would make it clear they intended to end the conflict.

While the Israelis have indicated a willingness to keep talking, Abbas has seized upon the first available pretext to abandon the negotiations to resume his efforts to gain further recognition from the United Nations, even though that will do nothing for his people and does little harm to the Israelis.

But Netanyahu is being blamed for balking at releasing another batch of terrorist murderers (including many Israeli citizens) without some assurance that the Palestinians would keep negotiating. An announcement of a housing project in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo (a 40-plus-year-old “settlement”) was also seen as provocative even though both sides know that such an area would remain part of Israel in any peace agreement. Above all, Netanyahu is being castigated for having asked Abbas to acknowledge their acceptance of Israel being the nation state of the Jewish people just as the putative Palestinian state is that of the Palestinian Arabs.

But none of that gainsays the fact that Netanyahu’s government has indicated it will accept a Palestinian state and will compromise on territory in order to make it happen. In return, the Palestinians are still willing to do nothing to indicate that this would cause them to give up their century-long war on Zionism. If Netanyahu erred, it was in his initial decision to release more than 100 terrorist murderers (who were subsequently honored by Abbas) in the first place without gaining something from the Palestinians. Having been bribed by Kerry to come back to the table, Abbas thinks the whole point of the process is to give the Palestinians what they want without making them do anything in exchange for these concessions.

As Horovitz writes:

At the heart of the impasse, however, lies a fundamental asymmetry: Israeli Jews have come to believe that their own best interests, and specifically the imperative to retain a Jewish and democratic Israel, require an accommodation with the Palestinians. There is no comparable imperative on the Palestinian side — not, that is, so long as much of the international community persists in indicating to the Palestinians that they will be able to achieve full independence and sovereignty without the inconvenience of coming to terms with Israel.

It may be convenient to blame both sides. But there is little doubt that the process is failing for the same reason that it failed in 2000, 2001, and 2008 (when Abbas fled the table rather than be forced to answer Ehud Olmert’s offer of statehood). Neither the Palestinian leadership nor their people seem as interested in ending the conflict as the Israelis.

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Does Kerry Think Al-Qaeda is a Human Rights Organization?

The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

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The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

Alas, Kerry (and the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi) chose to ignore the U.S. Treasury Department terror designation of Alkarama founder Abdul Rahman Bin Umair Al Nuaimi’s and take information provided by him uncritically to castigate the United Arab Emirates, a reliable U.S. ally. The latest human rights report, for example, continues to lend credence to Alkarama’s accusation that the detention in the United Arab Emirates of Ummah Conference founder Hassan al-Diqqi is without merit. It is a case I previously blogged about, here, in the context of some Human Rights Watch report. Diqqi is no political dissident, as the State Department suggests; he is a full-fledged terror supporter, as worthy of life in prison as American Taliban John Walker Lindh or blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Make no mistakes: There are human rights problems in the United Arab Emirates, but to cast Diqqi as a victim simply tarnishes any legitimate criticism.

Perhaps it’s time that Secretary of State John Kerry stops considering miles flown as a metric of success and actually pay attention to what is going on in his home office unless, of course, he actually believes that his organization should consider Al Qaeda-affiliated groups to be impartial and credible sources of human rights criticism.

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The Futile Search for Middle East Solutions

In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

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In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

Sorek and especially Glick, who writes with her characteristic clarity about the fatal mistakes of Israel’s leaders, perform a valuable service in debunking many of the false assumptions about the conflict that are the foundation of the two-state idea. Both rightly point out that Arab rejectionism is not based on anger about Israel’s occupation of territory in June 1967 but on their belief that Zionism is illegitimate. As Sorek writes about the Israeli embrace of Oslo, “In embracing the Palestinian national movement as its partner, Israel pretended not to see that, absent its fundamental objection to the existence of the Jewish state, there was no Palestinian national movement.” The reckless pursuit of peace on these false terms led to the abandonment of Israel’s claim to its own rights in the dispute, a form of unilateral moral disarmament that has helped legitimize the arguments of anti-Zionists, which have grown louder and more vituperative despite the Jewish state’s sacrifices at Oslo and in the Gaza withdrawal. They also call into question the conventional wisdom that the growth rates of the two peoples will inevitably lead to an Arab majority West of the Jordan, based as it is on unreliable population data and projections that may not be accurate.

But it is hard to argue with Halkin’s dismissal of their assumptions that, with patience and creative energy, the population of the West Bank can be integrated into a democratic Israel without fatally undermining the democratic and Jewish nature of the state. Indeed, the same factors that render the two-state solution a forlorn hope for peace also undermine the notion that the Palestinian Arabs will ever accept permanent minority status in a Jewish state even if they were never able to out reproduce the Jews. Some form of separation is inevitable.

Even more to the point, those who imagine that the Oslo genie can be put back into the bottle at this late point are mistaken. Israel’s predicament is that it can’t go back to the situation that preceded Oslo or that of the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War when it might have been theoretically possible (if still unlikely) for Israel to annex the West Bank in some manner or to give somehow give some of it back to Jordan. By bringing back Yasir Arafat to the country and giving his Fatah movement control over the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s leaders implicitly recognized the right of the Palestinians to self governance in some part of the country and made it only a matter of time until some sort of Palestinian state was going to be created. Though the reality of the PA under the reign of Yasir Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas rivals makes that acceptance look like a self-destructive delusional nightmare, it can’t be walked back. The U.S. and Europe may vainly rail at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in contravention to international law, an Israeli annexation of the West Bank (which, in contrast to Russia’s aggression, Israel could, contrary to conventional wisdom, make a reasonable case for under international law) would never be accepted by the rest of the world, including Israel’s vital American ally. Israel hasn’t the strength to resist the rest of the world in that matter. Nor, it should be pointed, do most Israelis have much appetite for such an idea. In spite of the fact that Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was a disaster, only a minority of Israelis would favor a plan to reassert their control’s permanent control of the area.

Sorek and Glick are right about the dangers of the two-state solution under the current circumstances and Halkin is right that a one-state solution in which the one state is a Jewish state of Israel is a fantasy. Other one-state proposals are merely thinly veiled programs for the eradication of the Jewish homeland and/or genocide of its population.

So where does that leave Israel and its government? In a difficult position where it stands to be criticized from the left for doing too little to achieve peace and to be blasted by the right for both countenancing a retreat from the country’s vital interests and the rights of the Jewish people. While the former critics are mistaken and the latter have a point, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t the luxury of pontificating from the sidelines. Instead he is left to try and do the only thing any Israeli government can do: manage the conflict until the other side comes to its senses and is willing to make a permanent peace on reasonable terms.

In the absence of that sea change in Palestinian public opinion that will make it possible for Abbas or one of his successors to recognize Israel as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to give up the hope of a “right of return” on the part of the 1948 refugees, talk of a solution of any kind is a waste of time. And though Israel has been told for the past 46 years that the status quo isn’t viable, that has proven to be equally mistaken. As unsatisfying as merely preserving the current unsatisfactory arrangement may be for both sides, doing so in a manner which limits the bloodshed and the involvement of the two peoples in each other’s lives is undoubtedly preferable to giving in to the temptation to replicate Gaza in the West Bank or to imagine that Israel can annex the territories without a terrible cost.

That is not the sort of thing most people want to hear since they prefer to believe that all problems are soluble, especially those related to life and death. But it is nonetheless true. 

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Obama An Unrivaled Polarizing President

In 2008 Barack Obama predicated his campaign not on a set of policies but on what might be called a political aesthetic. He would do away with what he called the “50 plus one” style of governing. He would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger and end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” Mr. Obama would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” In the Age of Obama the Red State wolf would dwell with the Blue State lamb, and all would be right with the world.

What a shame it turned out to be utter fiction.

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In 2008 Barack Obama predicated his campaign not on a set of policies but on what might be called a political aesthetic. He would do away with what he called the “50 plus one” style of governing. He would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger and end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” Mr. Obama would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” In the Age of Obama the Red State wolf would dwell with the Blue State lamb, and all would be right with the world.

What a shame it turned out to be utter fiction.

The Apostle of Hope and Change turns out to be the most polarizing president of modern times, at least according to the Gallup organization. The president’s fourth year in office was the most polarizing since Gallup began asking that question during the Eisenhower presidency. He now holds five of the top 10 most polarizing slots. Barack Obama is to polarization what Peyton Manning is to NFL passing records. 

Some of this is surely a product of the times in which we live. But a lot of it is the result of Mr. Obama’s divisive and unusually ruthless tactics. He took a polarized country and deepened its divisions. It will take a long time, and a special successor, to begin to unwind all the damage this man has done.

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Doku Umarov: Dead or Alive?

Major international events hosted by Putin’s Russia have generally been a time of heightened security as the Russian leadership’s drive for prestige has been matched by that of Caucasus-based domestic terrorists, eager to humiliate Putin and draw worldwide attention to their cause. That was the case when Russia hosted the 2006 meeting of the G-8 countries, and it appears to be true as well of the Sochi Olympics, due to begin next month.

A terrorist attack in Volgograd in December set off worries about security at the Olympics. As I wrote last week, Russia’s expulsion of American journalist David Satter might have been prompted by his warning that the Volgograd attack meant attendees in Sochi “are walking into what effectively is a war zone.” In taking credit for the Volgograd attack, Islamist militants added a message to the authorities: “If you hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for all the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.” Even before the video was released, the New York Times reports, American officials went public with their security concerns:

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Major international events hosted by Putin’s Russia have generally been a time of heightened security as the Russian leadership’s drive for prestige has been matched by that of Caucasus-based domestic terrorists, eager to humiliate Putin and draw worldwide attention to their cause. That was the case when Russia hosted the 2006 meeting of the G-8 countries, and it appears to be true as well of the Sochi Olympics, due to begin next month.

A terrorist attack in Volgograd in December set off worries about security at the Olympics. As I wrote last week, Russia’s expulsion of American journalist David Satter might have been prompted by his warning that the Volgograd attack meant attendees in Sochi “are walking into what effectively is a war zone.” In taking credit for the Volgograd attack, Islamist militants added a message to the authorities: “If you hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for all the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.” Even before the video was released, the New York Times reports, American officials went public with their security concerns:

Tensions rose Sunday over security preparations ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, as several congressional leaders expressed concern about Russia’s willingness to share information about terrorist threats, while President Vladimir V. Putin asserted that he would “do whatever it takes” to protect the thousands of visitors arriving soon for the Games. …

Extremists affiliated with Doku Umarov, a former Chechen nationalist leader who now heads a broad Muslim separatist movement and advocates global jihad, have also vowed to disrupt the Games.

Umarov’s name is of particular interest. Before the 2006 G-8 meeting, infamous Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev reportedly initiated plans for an attack. Those plans were disrupted and led to Basayev’s death, turning his hopes to humiliate Putin on the world stage into a public-relations coup for Putin. In its report on Basayev’s death, the Associated Press included a somber warning from journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed soon after:

“If you look at the situation in the North Caucasus, not just in Chechnya, the ranks of the rebel resistance are constantly being replenished,” she said.

Another rebel leader, Doku Umarov, pledged last month that rebels would step up their attacks against Russian forces.

Umarov’s stock continued to rise, declaring himself leader of the breakaway Islamist network the Caucasus Emirate. Yet now, in an eerie echo of 2006, Russian authorities say Umarov has been killed. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty assesses the evidence here. RFERL notes that one strike against the claim is that it would be—again, like in 2006—a major propaganda coup for the Russian authorities, who would presumably seek to play up the news and perhaps even offer proof.

Another strike against the claim is that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has made a habit of pronouncing Umarov dead. Nonetheless, there is evidence backing the claims of Umarov’s death.

Declaring Chechen terrorist leaders’ elimination is something of a national pastime for the Russian security services. They are not always being intentionally misleading, however. A case in point is the former terrorist Salman Raduyev. In its obituary for Raduyev, who died in a Russian prison camp in 2002, Reuters recalled:

Raduyev had survived several assassination attempts. He kept his face, scarred by the numerous attempts on his life, nearly covered by a beard and sunglasses.

Once, when he was widely believed to have been killed, he reappeared with his features so altered that reporters identified him only by his voice.

Raduyev was nicknamed “Titanic” after talk that his face had been reconstructed in a foreign hospital with titanium implants.

That Reuters obituary hints at another reason Putin might be desperate to tamp down talk of security in Sochi. It calls to mind a time when such stories were published in American newspapers—in this case the L.A. Times—and the exploits and fates of Chechen guerrillas were of wider interest than in recent years.

The Chechen “cause” has of course morphed over the years into an Islamist terror center on the ruins of what was a genuine nationalistic liberation/independence movement. Its integration into the global war on terror has sapped it of its mainstream media allure just when, paradoxically, its expanded role in a global movement made it more relevant to consumers of that media. It’s easy to understand, then, why Putin would trumpet the elimination of Umarov—and also why the lack of official fanfare surrounding the announcement has left it open to some skepticism.

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What is the Kerry Doctrine?

The record of any senator—be they Democratic or Republican—is often at contradiction with itself for a number of reasons: The sheer number of votes cast; the bundling of unrelated issues into a single bill; and the tendency of senators to vote more upon poll numbers than principle. John Kerry typified this in his 2004 presidential run when he explained he was for the Iraq war before he was against it.

As secretary of state, Kerry may already be defining his legacy. Alas, it appears to prioritize the superficial over the substantive. His early travels—which come despite demands for better management back home—suggests Kerry wants to set the record for secretarial travel, rather than craft–let alone preside over–a coherent strategy.

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The record of any senator—be they Democratic or Republican—is often at contradiction with itself for a number of reasons: The sheer number of votes cast; the bundling of unrelated issues into a single bill; and the tendency of senators to vote more upon poll numbers than principle. John Kerry typified this in his 2004 presidential run when he explained he was for the Iraq war before he was against it.

As secretary of state, Kerry may already be defining his legacy. Alas, it appears to prioritize the superficial over the substantive. His early travels—which come despite demands for better management back home—suggests Kerry wants to set the record for secretarial travel, rather than craft–let alone preside over–a coherent strategy.

Now, there are signs that when confronted with a diplomatic problem, Kerry would rather sweep it under the rug to preserve the optics of success, rather than tackling the substance of the problem. Hence, the “compromise” in which Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will delay his visit to the Gaza Strip until after he meets with President Obama at the White House on May 9.

“Erdoğan’s statement came a few days after he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Istanbul. Kerry advised the Turkish side to reconsider the timing of the prime minister’s planned visit to Gaza,” Hürriyet Daily News reported.

Erdoğan does not support the Palestinian Authority per se, but rather is a partisan of Hamas. While many U.S. diplomats are prone to describing Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a moderate Muslim movement, the fact remains that the AKP and Hamas share the same Muslim Brotherhood roots. U.S. policy opposes bolstering Hamas, as Hamas’s rejectionism not only surpasses that of the Palestinian Authority, but also because Hamas refuses to recognize any of the diplomatic agreements with Israel which the Palestinian Authority have already signed. Erdoğan, however, seeks not peace but populism regardless of its impact on regional security.

Kerry—and Obama—might have told Erdoğan to decide whether he wants the meeting with President Obama, or if he wants to tour the Gaza Strip. He shouldn’t get both. Kerry’s compromise, however, is simply to ask Erdoğan to delay his rejectionism by a couple weeks so that the Obama team need not deal with the reality of their partner. So what is the Kerry doctrine? Alas, it appears it is to log as many miles as possible while simultaneously using slight-of-hand to avoid the tough work of diplomacy.

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Iran Isolated? Don’t Ask Argentina

Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

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Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

The idea of a joint commission to investigate the crime supposedly is an effort to solve the mystery behind the explosion. But as the Argentines have already proven, there is no mystery. Iran is the culprit and giving it the right to name half of the jurists who will make up the investigating body assures them of the ability to block any honest finding.

But the main point here is not so much the notion that Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries will not be held accountable for mass murder. That was already a given. It is the brazen nature of Argentina’s decision to allow the Iranians to evade justice that really stings. It also ought to serve as one more wake-up call for the White House and State Department about Iran’s ability to continue to act on the international stage despite being branded as a terror sponsor. Under the circumstances, does anyone doubt that Iran believes the talk coming out of Washington about preventing them from going nuclear is mere bluster that they can ignore with impunity?

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Paul Ryan at Full Volume

One of the most entertaining scenes of the seemingly endless Republican primary debate season was Juan Williams’s “food stamp president” question to Newt Gingrich, which Gingrich handled as Manny Ramirez used to handle unprepared pitchers: bait them into throwing the pitch he wanted, hit it out of the park, and give the pitcher a good stare-down as he began to round the bases.

It typified the reason many conservatives wanted to take on President Obama with Gingrich—namely, his ability to effectively challenge the premise of a question and change the conversation. This is a useful skill because the mainstream political press will always seek to force conservatives to play by whatever rules are most advantageous to the liberal establishment, and Gingrich was able to set his own rules, to an extent. But people tend to forget the rules automatically change during a presidential general election: the exposure nominees get, through public appearances, speeches, rallies, and debates, gives candidates an ability to speak over the din of the media and directly to the American people. It raises the volume.

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One of the most entertaining scenes of the seemingly endless Republican primary debate season was Juan Williams’s “food stamp president” question to Newt Gingrich, which Gingrich handled as Manny Ramirez used to handle unprepared pitchers: bait them into throwing the pitch he wanted, hit it out of the park, and give the pitcher a good stare-down as he began to round the bases.

It typified the reason many conservatives wanted to take on President Obama with Gingrich—namely, his ability to effectively challenge the premise of a question and change the conversation. This is a useful skill because the mainstream political press will always seek to force conservatives to play by whatever rules are most advantageous to the liberal establishment, and Gingrich was able to set his own rules, to an extent. But people tend to forget the rules automatically change during a presidential general election: the exposure nominees get, through public appearances, speeches, rallies, and debates, gives candidates an ability to speak over the din of the media and directly to the American people. It raises the volume.

Which is why the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate may make it more difficult—despite what liberals think—to tag Romney with Ryan’s budget as they seek to depict it. Joining the ticket means Ryan will be at full volume, speaking directly to the voters. A poll last week found popular support for Ryan’s budget after it was described in positive terms. If Ryan has the chance to frame the debate about his budget, Democrats may find the Obama campaign’s demagoguery less effective than they think.

Some on the left are sensing this already. Here’s William Saletan on the supposed poll-tested unpopularity of entitlement reform:

So what? Screw the polls. Republicans will be on the right side of the spending debate. They’ll be on the right side of the substance debate, too. Instead of bickering about Romney’s tax returns and repeating the obvious but unhelpful observation that the unemployment rate sucks, we’ll actually have to debate serious problems and solutions. That’s great for the country.

I’d adjust that second sentence slightly: Change the polls. That’s what Ryan will seek to do with the new platform Romney has given him. Ryan has already shown his effectiveness as a spokesman for serious reform. Now he’ll be at full volume.

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Unilateral Cuts to U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Only Encourages Enemies

Retired generals have been noticeably silent even as the threat of sequester, with devastating consequences for American military preparedness, draws nearer. Perhaps they are afraid they will be derided as “militarists” for standing up for a strong defense. Retired generals are more likely to be applauded for calling for defense cuts, especially to programs they once oversaw–a “man bites dog” story that provides predictable fodder for the news media.

Thus, retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command (guardian of the nation’s nuclear arsenal) and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is garnering headlines for suggesting a unilateral cut to the U.S. nuclear arsenal that would be far below the limits negotiated with Russia in the last START agreement. That agreement limits the U.S. and Russia to 1,500 deployed warheads, down from the previous total of 2,200. Cartwright, along with other retired worthies gathered by Global Zero, an organization with the utopian goal of eliminating all nuclear arms, now claims we could go down to 900 warheads, of which only half would be deployed. This, in sum, would be a 70 percent reduction in our deployed nuclear arsenal.

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Retired generals have been noticeably silent even as the threat of sequester, with devastating consequences for American military preparedness, draws nearer. Perhaps they are afraid they will be derided as “militarists” for standing up for a strong defense. Retired generals are more likely to be applauded for calling for defense cuts, especially to programs they once oversaw–a “man bites dog” story that provides predictable fodder for the news media.

Thus, retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command (guardian of the nation’s nuclear arsenal) and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is garnering headlines for suggesting a unilateral cut to the U.S. nuclear arsenal that would be far below the limits negotiated with Russia in the last START agreement. That agreement limits the U.S. and Russia to 1,500 deployed warheads, down from the previous total of 2,200. Cartwright, along with other retired worthies gathered by Global Zero, an organization with the utopian goal of eliminating all nuclear arms, now claims we could go down to 900 warheads, of which only half would be deployed. This, in sum, would be a 70 percent reduction in our deployed nuclear arsenal.

Perhaps that would be a wise course of action if other nations around the world were eliminating their nuclear arsenals. But that is far from the case. India and Pakistan continue to build up their nuclear arsenals and the ballistic missile forces, aircraft, and other means of delivering them. So do China and North Korea. Russia maintains a sizable array of nuclear arms, including a large number of short-range nukes that are not covered by START. Meanwhile, Iran is bidding to acquire its own nukes which could trigger a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East.

It is hard to see how, under those circumstances, a further diminution of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will aid the cause of global peace. Will Iran and North Korea follow the U.S. lead? Hardly. Instead, unilateral American cuts will play into a narrative of American decline and weakness–which will only encourage our enemies to build up their offensive arsenals. And not only our enemies. Our friends, from South Korea to Saudi Arabia, depend on American nuclear protection. If there is any doubt about the ability or willingness of the U.S. to respond with devastating force to potential nuclear threats, our allies will acquire nuclear weapons of their own–as destabilizing a development as it is possible to imagine.

Weighed against the benefits of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, what are the costs? Not very high. The cost of maintaining our current arsenal is in dispute, but it is roughly $20 billion a year. That is a paltry amount in the context of a $3.8 trillion federal budget. Moreover, we would only save a small portion of that $20 billion by cutting our deployed nuclear forces because of the considerable fixed costs we will continue to incur for communications networks, missile launchers, submarines, and other systems, which will need to remain in operation whether or not they are supporting nuclear or conventional weapons delivery.

A unilateral nuclear cut, with an ultimate objective of “nuclear zero,” may sound like a worthy and high-minded policy, but in fact it is a dangerous, destabilizing move because other nations will not follow the American lead. The U.S. nuclear arsenal has helped keep the peace since 1945; we give up that advantage at our peril–and the world’s.

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Afghans Question Karzai’s Loyalty

While Americans continue to self-flagellate for our own self-inflicted wounds in Afghanistan, be they Quran burnings, shootings of civilians, or grisly trophy photographs—the conversation among Afghans remains sharply different. In the wake of the well-coordinated Taliban attacks inside Kabul, Afghan anger is riding high at President Hamid Karzai, who had referred to the Taliban as “our brothers.”

Social media is important, and the following image has gone viral in Afghanistan, transferred from cell phone to cell phone, and across Afghans’ Facebook pages. On the left, it shows a member of the Taliban captured in women’s clothes. The caption in Dari above reads “Karzai’s brother.”  On the right is an image of an Afghan soldier wounded in the leg defending the city. The caption above reads, “Our brother.”

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While Americans continue to self-flagellate for our own self-inflicted wounds in Afghanistan, be they Quran burnings, shootings of civilians, or grisly trophy photographs—the conversation among Afghans remains sharply different. In the wake of the well-coordinated Taliban attacks inside Kabul, Afghan anger is riding high at President Hamid Karzai, who had referred to the Taliban as “our brothers.”

Social media is important, and the following image has gone viral in Afghanistan, transferred from cell phone to cell phone, and across Afghans’ Facebook pages. On the left, it shows a member of the Taliban captured in women’s clothes. The caption in Dari above reads “Karzai’s brother.”  On the right is an image of an Afghan soldier wounded in the leg defending the city. The caption above reads, “Our brother.”

I disagree with Max Boot that the attacks on Kabul are a sign of weakness (would the reverse logic, a lack of attacks on Kabul then be a sign of Taliban strength?), Boot is absolutely correct to highlight how well the Afghan security forces have availed themselves in defending the city and repulsing the attacks. Unfortunately, the Afghans are up against not only the Taliban, but also the Obama’s administration’s self-defeating timelines and an Afghan president who, believing American staying power to be a mirage, is actively becoming an impediment to victory rather than the hope for the future.

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Adelson: Newt’s “At the End of His Line”

Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.

“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.

“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”

The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.

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Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.

“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.

“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”

The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.

“This man has no history whatsoever of creating anything or taking risks. Now that being said, I know Rick. I like him. We’re friendly. But I got to tell you something, I don’t want him running my country.”

Adelson also said he’d talked to both Gingrich and Romney about potentially coming to a deal to run on the same ticket. He said Gingrich told him that would go against his strategy, and Romney didn’t give him a direct answer.

It makes you wonder whether that sort of deal was raised at the secret meeting Romney and Gingrich reportedly had on Saturday. The Washington Times reports Gingrich made no deal to end his bid, but just the fact that there was a meeting suggests that may have been on the table:

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich met secretly with GOP rival Mitt Romney on Saturday, according to a source close to the campaign, but the former House speaker says he has made no deal to end his bid for the GOP nomination.

Mr. Gingrich, responding to questions from the Washington Times, did not deny the meeting, but explicitly said he hasn’t been offered a position in a potential Romney administration in exchange for dropping out.

Nor, he said, is there a deal to have Mr. Romney’s big donors help retire Mr. Gingrich’s campaign debt of more than $1 million.

As Gingrich’s primary financial backer indicated, his campaign has no realistic path to the nomination at this point. The former speaker already announced yesterday that he’s running out of money and downsizing his staff. While a few weeks ago, he may have been able to cut a deal with Santorum or Romney to either act as a spoiler in the race or drop out, and at this point, he has basically nothing to offer either of them. The idea that Romney would promise Gingrich a position or even pay down his debt seems incredibly unlikely.

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