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Netanyahu’s Masterpiece

From the perspective of the craft of speechwriting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a join session of Congress was a masterpiece.

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From the perspective of the craft of speechwriting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a join session of Congress was a masterpiece.

The speech started out appropriately high-minded and gracious. It laid out Mr. Netanyahu’s case with logic and care, offering a crisp and indisputable indictment of the Iranian regime and, especially, the fundamental flaws in the deal President Obama wants to strike with Iran. The conclusion of the speech–where the Israeli prime minister said “I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over”–was stirring and evocative. So was Mr. Netanyahu’s obvious love and affection for America. (Unlike President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he describes America, isn’t inclined to criticize her.) And the speech itself included some terrific and memorable lines:

  • At a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations.
  • So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.
  • That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.
  • This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control.
  • If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted.
  • Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.
  • For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel.

In watching the speech, one could not help but feel that this was not only a dramatic moment–thanks in large part to President Obama’s pre-speech campaign to smear the Israeli leader–but a remarkable one, thanks to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He was fully in command.

As someone who is a lifelong lover of words and the power of words to persuade and reveal the truth of things, it was a relief to finally have a leader of a nation speak to a joint session of Congress and demonstrate intellectual integrity. Unlike President Obama, who never engages the argument of his critics in an honest manner, Prime Minister Netanyahu fairly (if briefly) stated the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. And he proceeded to deal with them in a methodical, empirical, logical way, which of course explains why Mr. Obama fought so hard to prevent Mr. Netanyahu from speaking in the first place. The president knew his position would wither when exposed to reality. There was a maturity and seriousness of purpose in the Israeli prime minister that is missing from our president.

It’s a shame we Americans have to wait for a foreign leader to speak to us in a manner characterized by eruintellectual excellence and moral seriousness. But such are the times in which we live.

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Hillary’s Emails Raise Questions That Require Answers

In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

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In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

In addressing Clinton’s violation of the rules, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, the former first lady and secretary of state isn’t guilty of a host of possible crimes until she can prove herself innocent. But we needn’t raise the ghost of Vince Foster or Whitewater, let alone indict her on charges of sending men to their deaths in Benghazi or selling the country down the river to Persian Gulf oil states, to accept the fact that this highly suspicious.

As an expert in the field told the New York Times:

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” said Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.

At the very least, the bizarre decision to forgo a government email while serving as secretary of state is a violation of the rules that apply to all those in high office. The regulations exist since all such emails are government records, much the same as correspondence and dispatches were in the era when snail mail was the only form of written communication. Government accounts are also far more secure than any personal account, a factor that Clinton was irresponsible to ignore in this era of cyber warfare. She was not the only secretary of state to use a personal account. But she’s the only to use it exclusively. As such, none of her emails were preserved during her time in office. It is only subsequent to her leaving her post to prepare for a presidential run that her staff began the process of sorting through her emails and deciding which of them should be sent to the government to be archived.

That the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee would behave in this manner is not all that surprising. The Clintons are legendary for their conspiratorial mindset and lack of transparency. But despite her spokesperson’s claim that she followed the letter and the spirit of the law, we are still left with the question of who got to decide which of her emails were private and which was government business and what were the criteria they used.

But as our Seth Mandel wrote last month when the scandal about foreign governments being solicited for donations by the former president while his wife ran U.S. foreign policy broke, transparency is not a minor concern when it comes to the Clintons. We don’t have to assume that she was personally participating in this highly corrupt practice to be curious about whether the same email account that she used to conduct business was also receiving communications about her husband’s success in shaking down governments for contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative. The mixing of her government business with her family’s private ambitions was bad enough even if one doesn’t take for granted, as we probably must, that all such donations were bribes aimed at winning the good will of a secretary of state, if not a future president. But now that we know that her emails were not automatically being preserved for the archive, it’s not unreasonable to worry that somewhere in this treasure trove of information are some nuggets that may not put her and her affable spouse in a flattering light, if not legal jeopardy.

If Clinton is smart, she will repress her instinctual reflex to stonewall and release her emails as Jeb Bush, one of the people who hope to oppose her in November 2016, has done. At the very least she should choose someone not associated with her family political machine to go through these communications and redact those that are truly personal. If not, she shouldn’t be surprised if this issue haunts her throughout the coming election year. More to the point, if Clinton doesn’t realize how damning this looks and the need to be above board when running for president, she will be disqualifying herself for the job.

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The ‘Bad Deal’ Defenders

A strange argument began taking shape Monday night with Susan Rice’s speech to AIPAC and blossomed on Tuesday in the response to Bibi Netanyahu’s speech. The putative defenders of the not-yet-done nuclear deal with Iran began demanding of its critics generally and then Bibi specifically to delineate what they would do differently at this point.

In some ways it’s a disingenuous parry. Those of us who were skeptical of the negotiations wanted the Senate to impose sanctions last year to give the talks teeth and give the administration more leverage. But Obama didn’t want that leverage; he wanted to make nice.

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A strange argument began taking shape Monday night with Susan Rice’s speech to AIPAC and blossomed on Tuesday in the response to Bibi Netanyahu’s speech. The putative defenders of the not-yet-done nuclear deal with Iran began demanding of its critics generally and then Bibi specifically to delineate what they would do differently at this point.

In some ways it’s a disingenuous parry. Those of us who were skeptical of the negotiations wanted the Senate to impose sanctions last year to give the talks teeth and give the administration more leverage. But Obama didn’t want that leverage; he wanted to make nice.

As a result, the administration has (or so reports say) conceded nearly every point in the interim accord—from numbers of centrifuges to the “sunset” clause that ends the deal after 10 years and effectively gives Iran a legal right to go nuclear in 2025.

This suggests, for one thing, that the negotiations might well have benefited from those tougher sanctions, and that their imposition before the talks end permanently at the end of June might still improve the deal—assuming it’s not already done. So the strategy that existed before the administration’s cave-in remains a possible approach assuming the Iranians don’t simply grab at what’s being offered.

No, no, say the defenders. It’s this deal (whatever it is in final form) or nothing. To walk away from the table, they say, would simply liberate Iran to spin its centrifuges faster, to evade inspections, and get even closer to a bomb. A deal, even one that goes away after ten years, would at least assure inspections and keep Iran non-nuclear for a decade.

I say this is a strange argument because it implies the deal is not a good one in itself but is good by dint of the fact that it’s the only deal we can get  at this time. Thus, in their eyes, the only bad deal is no deal. Which means any deal is a good deal.

If this is the best they can do, they have already lost the argument.

 

 

 

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Questioning Obama on Nuclear Iran Is Not Partisanship

After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

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After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

As I wrote earlier, Netanyahu did a masterful job of laying out the basic flaws in a policy based on trusting in the ability of a tyrannical, terror-supporting anti-Semitic regime that seeks regional hegemony to reform itself and, in the president’s naïve phrase, “get right with the world.” President Obama campaigned in 2012 promising that any deal with Iran would ensure the end of its nuclear program. Once reelected, he embarked on secret talks that ensured that it would be able to keep its nuclear infrastructure and eventually be able to build a bomb after a relatively brief “breakout” period. The latest twist in the talks, revealed not by an Israeli “betrayal” but administration leaks, is that the administration is begging Iran to sign an agreement that will let it keep thousands of centrifuges and be given a sunset clause on sanctions that will eventually allow it to build a bomb even if it observes the terms of the deal, something that history tells us is more a fantasy than a policy.

Nor did Netanyahu fail to offer an alternative as critics claimed since he pointed out that a return to the pre-2013 policy of inflicting tough sanctions and isolation that Obama precipitately abandoned offers the only chance of ending the nuclear peril short of war.

These are deeply serious arguments that require answers and ought to persuade thinking Republicans and Democrats to back the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill that would strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks while also requiring it to submit any deal to Congress for approval.

But instead of answering these cogent arguments, all we heard from Democrats that boycotted the speech or administration sources was more of what they’ve been telling us since January about Netanyahu plotting with the Republicans or insulting the president. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even went so far as to claim it was “an insult to the intelligence of the United States,” a charge that might better be hurled at a president intent on building détente with Iran while pretending to be working against nuclear proliferation.

But let’s give them the respect they weren’t prepared to accord Netanyahu and try to unpack the charge of partisanship.

Let’s start by conceding that the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner was an end run around the administration and was bound to ruffle feathers. But the much-publicized umbrage about the alleged breach in protocol was entirely disingenuous. The White House’s anger had nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with discomfort with the prospect of the Israeli leader weighing in on behalf of a sanctions bill that already looked to have a chance at a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate.

Support for that bill was a bipartisan affair with the most vocal advocate being Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who publicly challenged Obama to his face on the issue for claiming that the only reason members were backing it was to please donors (a dog whistle for Jews). But the president used the opening that Boehner and Netanyahu provided him to falsely claim the entire issue was a partisan plot against his presidency. Some in the Congressional Black Caucus even went so far as to assert that it was a racist insult against the first African-American president.

We heard more of the same today from Democrats eager to avoid discussing the facts about the Iran negotiations and the nuclear threat.

But let’s be clear here. There is a difference between questioning a president’s policies and taking sides in an ongoing partisan war between Republicans and Democrats. The scores of Democrats like Menendez that believe the president is leading us in the wrong direction on Iran aren’t doing the bidding of Boehner or the Republican National Committee. They are simply demanding that the president do the right while sticking to the promises he made when they were working to reelect him.

We can’t blame the president for not liking Netanyahu’s speech. Being confronted with the truth isn’t pleasant when what you want is to avoid a debate about the issue altogether. But while Obama deserves the respect due to anyone in that high office, dissent from our Dear Leader’s point of view is not the same thing as partisanship. Opposition to Iran’s nuclear dreams wasn’t any more of a partisan issue than support for Israel has been–until, that is, Barack Obama and his obedient cheering section made it one. If anyone deserves blame for injecting that virus into this discussion it is the president.

Those who want to stick to this line of argument aren’t making a point about defending the bipartisan coalition for Israel. They are seeking to help Obama avoid discussing the reality of an Iran appeasement policy.

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Bibi’s Speech Already Bearing Fruit

Part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role today was as a representative of his region of the world. It tells you just how concerned those who deal with Iran are about the pending nuke deal that the Israeli leader was voicing–genuinely and accurately, by the way–the nervousness of not just Israel but Saudi Arabia, among other Gulf allies of the U.S. And on that front, Netanyahu may have already succeeded.

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Part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role today was as a representative of his region of the world. It tells you just how concerned those who deal with Iran are about the pending nuke deal that the Israeli leader was voicing–genuinely and accurately, by the way–the nervousness of not just Israel but Saudi Arabia, among other Gulf allies of the U.S. And on that front, Netanyahu may have already succeeded.

Obviously the main point of the speech was Iran’s nuclear program. But Netanyahu also sought to convey the kind of regime Iran is and what it does with its military and financial might. “If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country,” Netanyahu said. He recited a litany of examples of Iranian troublemaking, and pointed out that these are all recent–that this is the regime on a path to a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu said:

Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Back by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.

Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran’s attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.

Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaida bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.

Netanyahu wants the West’s negotiators to curb Iran’s terrorism and expansionism as part of the negotiations. And he’s not alone.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry cannot dispute the characterization of Iran in Netanyahu’s speech, and don’t try to do so. What he said is the uncontested truth. Obama sees Iran’s regional influence as either inevitable or ultimately desirable. Yet those in the region are well aware that Obama’s view of Iran is a fantasy; Tehran is the prime agent of destabilization throughout the Middle East.

One triumph of Netanyahu’s speech today seems to have been to get Obama and especially Kerry to do something they often appear completely incapable of doing: listening to allies. AFP reports that Kerry is heading to the region to try to convince allies that the Obama administration takes the Iranian threat much more seriously than they appear to, nuke or no nuke:

The United States will “confront aggressively” Iran’s bid to expand its influence across the Middle East even if a nuclear deal is reached, a State Department official said Tuesday.

The official’s comments came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a controversial address to the US Congress, sought to highlight Iran’s expansionist hopes as one reason to halt the nuclear talks.

Top US diplomat John Kerry will travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to reassure US Gulf allies that an Iran deal would not mean Washington would turn a blind eye to the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions.

“Regardless of what happens in the nuclear file, we will continue to confront aggressively Iranian expansion in the region and Iranian aggressiveness in the region,” the official said.

It’s a tough sell. The Obama administration has found itself enabling that very expansion in the stubborn belief that the U.S. and Iran not only share interests but can cooperate to the West’s benefit on various conflicts around the Middle East.

The administration wants to divorce its nuclear diplomacy from Iranian expansionism because it doesn’t want an Iranian retreat in the Middle East, not while ISIS slaughters its way across Iraq and Syria, and not while the administration is intent on leaving a vacuum of American influence into which any number of militant groups can step.

It’s also a tough sell because of the administration’s own rhetoric. AFP quotes a State Department official today as follows: “You can’t read into the nuclear negotiation any kind of determination of where the US relationship with Iran may go in the future.”

In fact, you absolutely can. The administration’s posture toward Iran, as evident in this conciliatory deal on the table, is that Tehran is a power with legitimate “rights” to enrich uranium and have a nuclear program in place, and that it’s a country that can be trusted with a sunset clause to boot. Netanyahu’s speech clearly and convincingly laid out the case against that view. And Kerry knows it.

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Giving Iran a Piece of Iraq

Even his critics had to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a first-rate address to Congress—a masterpiece of persuasive oratory. While much of the attention rightly focused on what the prime minister had to say about the proposed nuclear accorded with Iran (“a very bad deal”), he also had an important message to deliver about Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.

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Even his critics had to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a first-rate address to Congress—a masterpiece of persuasive oratory. While much of the attention rightly focused on what the prime minister had to say about the proposed nuclear accorded with Iran (“a very bad deal”), he also had an important message to deliver about Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.

“Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guard on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror,” he alliterated. “Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran. Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea.”

As if to illustrate his point, the Wall Street Journal has an important report about how Shiite militias and the Iraqi army are combining to attack the Sunni town of Tikrit. “In addition to supplying drones,” the Journal reports, “Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard force has fighters on the ground with Iraqi units, mostly operating artillery and rocket batteries.” Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is apparently overseeing this operation in person.

At first blush this might sound no different from the kind of military aid that the U.S. provides to allied militaries but in fact, despite the superficial similarities, there is a major difference. U.S. advisers have always stressed to Iraqi and Afghan forces the importance of acting in an ethical and restrained manner, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because abuse of the civilian population risks driving them into the arms of the insurgents.

The Iranian-backed militias, whether in Syria or Iraq, have exhibited no such restraint. They became notorious in past years for kidnapping Sunnis and torturing them to death with power tools. More recently, under Iranian guidance, Bashar Assad has been dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Such a blood-thirsty assault, even if tactically successful in Tikrit, will sow the seeds of strategic defeat by encouraging Sunnis to fight even harder against Shiite encroachments. That may well be what Iran wants: the more polarized Iraq and Syria become, the more that Shiites (or, in the case of Syria, the Alawites) will feel compelled to look to Iran for guidance and protection.

That is why the Obama administration is supremely ill-advised, not just for granting Iran concession after concession to win a nuclear deal, but also for looking the other way as Iran assumes an increasingly prominent role in the anti-ISIS fight. The Journal notes that in Iraq “a de facto division” is “developing between areas where Iran has the lead in assisting the fight against the Islamic State, and areas where the U.S. has the lead,” with both sides taking “steps not to interfere with one another’s operations.”

The Journal quotes an anonymous “U.S. official” cheerleading for Iran, saying, “To the degree that they can carry out an offensive without inflaming sectarian tension and can dislocate ISIL, it can be helpful.” The anonymous official might very well be Brett McGurk, the State Department point man on the anti-ISIS fight, who has been tweeting merrily in support of the Iranian-directed offensive against Tikrit (without acknowledging that it is Iranian-directed).

Netanyahu warned against this dangerous tendency when he said: “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America… When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Too bad the administration isn’t listening to him on this subject, any more than it is on the nuclear negotiations. Instead Obama appears to be pursuing a broader rapprochement with Tehran that would have the U.S. grant de facto acquiescence to the actions of Iranian proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

In other words, the state of U.S.-Iranian relations at the moment is even more worrisome than Netanyahu (anxious not to burn every single bridge to the White House) was able to explain.

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How Republicans Benefit from Carly Fiorina’s Candidacy

The inability of liberal writers and journalists to hide their intellectual laziness around conservative women has been a recurring theme of the modern political era. As the Obama administration’s “war on women” showed, the left tends to believe women are incapable of thinking independently. And as liberals showed with regard to Sarah Palin in 2008, a certain degree of irrational hatred is an important component of the left’s political agenda when running against conservative women. But what happens when a Republican presidential candidate is a woman who can’t be caricatured? We’re about to find out.

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The inability of liberal writers and journalists to hide their intellectual laziness around conservative women has been a recurring theme of the modern political era. As the Obama administration’s “war on women” showed, the left tends to believe women are incapable of thinking independently. And as liberals showed with regard to Sarah Palin in 2008, a certain degree of irrational hatred is an important component of the left’s political agenda when running against conservative women. But what happens when a Republican presidential candidate is a woman who can’t be caricatured? We’re about to find out.

That’s because the prospective candidacy of Carly Fiorina, while a (very) long shot for the Republican nomination, has given the GOP a valuable voice: a woman unquestionably much smarter than her Democratic adversaries who can mock Hillary Clinton with abandon. Fiorina may be angling for the vice presidency, though she would be an obvious cabinet choice as well. And unlike Jeb Bush, Fiorina’s lack of support from the conservative base is a major asset to the seriousness of her candidacy as it’s perceived by the media. She’s not pandering quite as much, and she’s demonstrating, rather than simply claiming, independence.

And she’s going to force the media to expand their vocabulary beyond the phrases “Sarah Palin” and “Michele Bachmann.” They lean heavily on these parallels. The L.A. Times’s David Horsey wrote the perfect example of this laziness on the occasion of the new Republican Senate majority, headlined “Move over, Sarah Palin; Joni Ernst is the GOP’s new star.” Palin and Ernst are very different, but they’re both women, which was the best Horsey’s mental faculties were capable of.

Palin gets this a lot; two Israeli reporters recently profiled the Likud’s Miri Regev and called her “the closest thing Israel has to Sarah Palin,” without even bothering to build a case for their comparison. It was published in the Daily Beast, which (of course) went with the Palin comparison for the headline as well, plucked from the opening paragraph.

This brand of political “analysis” is familiar to Bachmann too. One of the strangest examples was in a recent New York Times Magazine piece on Russia by the Russian-Jewish novelist Gary Shteyngart. The piece was a nonfiction essay chronicling Shteyngart’s experience sitting in a fancy hotel room and watching Russian television. In the course of this snooze fest we’re treated to the following sentence: “When Conchita won, back in May, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist in Russia’s Parliament who is roughly equivalent to Michele Bachmann, said her victory meant ‘the end of Europe.’” (The essay did have the virtue of demonstrating why Shteyngart is not a political analyst.)

Fiorina won’t attract such lowest-common-denominator attacks. Her executive experience is in the private sector, at Hewlett-Packard and AT&T, and that not only gives her some economic fluency but also infuses her rhetoric and her persona with a non-politician’s accessibility. And of course, she can be condescending to Hillary without coming off as bullying or sexist.

Her CPAC speech contained a few good lines, such as:

  • “Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”
  • “She tweets about women’s rights in this country, and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights.”
  • “She tweets about equal pay for women but will not answer basic questions about her own office’s pay standards and neither will our president. Hillary may like hashtags but she doesn’t know what leadership means.”

There is only so much mileage to get out of such lines, but when said by a man the media would pounce and change the story to sexism and GOP “overreach.” Coming from Fiorina, the lines are at least allowed to hang in the air for a while.

She also had more substantive things to say, of course, and was able to personalize them in an effective way. Here’s one example from the speech:

When I battled cancer, I needed many helping hands. When my husband, Frank, and I lost our youngest daughter, Laurie, to the demons of addiction, we relied on the strength of our family, the solace of our faith, but we were also lifted up by the prayers and kindness of so many strangers who became blessings in our lives. Everyone needs a helping hand, but no one wants to be trapped in the web of dependence that has been woven over decades in our nation. To fill their potential, people need an education: tools, training, support, and they need a job.

The president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union once said this:

“We cannot be held responsible for the performance of the children in our classrooms because too many of them come from poor and broken families.”

Liberals may be prepared to dismiss and disregard Americans because of their circumstances. Liberals may be prepared to consign some to lives of dependence, while others, who think they are smarter, and they are better, will take care of them. But we, as conservatives, are not. We know that no one of us is better than any other one of us. We know that each one of us has God-given gifts and can live a life of dignity and purpose and meaning.

She’s not simply a one-liner generator, in other words. This is not to overstate her odds of winning the nomination: there does not seem to be a path for her to win, and I don’t think she’ll even amass enough of a following to end up on the veep shortlist. The fact that the base seems generally uninterested in her candidacy helps place her out of the “Tea Party extremist” category that the political press so generously uses. But it also means she doesn’t have the votes to make a run.

Nonetheless, Republicans might end up thrilled that she chose to run despite all that. Her presence in the debates would elevate the discussion and keep the details of policy in focus. And she can utilize a line of attack that most others can’t, and let that line of attack sink in over the course of the next year. And no one is likely to compare her to Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

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Bibi’s Triumph Puts Obama on the Defensive

If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

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If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

What had to most frustrate the White House was Netanyahu’s ability to debunk their main talking point about the speech. After weeks of hyping the address as an injection of partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship, the prime minister’s willingness to give the president his due for past support of Israel and his refusal to mention the many instances in which Obama had undercut the Jewish state’s position and deliberately attempted to create more distance between the two allies made the White House’s angry reaction look petty. The prime minister’s initial decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation gave the president the opening he needed to distract the country from his Iran policy. With the help of the president’s always helpful press cheering section, White House political operatives made Netanyahu’s supposed breach of protocol the issue rather than the appeasement of Iran. But they eventually succumbed to overkill in denouncing Netanyahu and by the time the prime minister took the podium at the Capitol, the administration’s efforts had the unintended effect of giving him a bigger audience than he might otherwise have had.

Thus, by the time the address was over, the issue was no longer whether he should have given the speech. Though the White House is doggedly trying to portray the speech as partisan, it was not. Now it is the substance of Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s behavior and the failure of the Western powers to negotiate a deal that would stop Iran from getting a weapon that is the subject of discussion. Which is to say that after winning news cycles at Netanyahu’s expense throughout February, the White House has set itself up to have to explain years of concessions to a dangerous regime with almost nothing to show for it in terms of making the world any safer.

At the core of the disagreement between Netanyahu and Obama on Iran is the president’s faith that Iran can or will change. Even Obama apologists no longer regard the notion that Hassan Rouhani’s election as president signaled a move toward moderation as a serious argument. Though the administration has been careful not to defend Iran’s past and present behavior, by eloquently laying out the Islamist regime’s record of terrorism and aggression, it put the onus on the president to explain why he thinks that over the course of the next decade, Iran is going to, “get right with the world,” as he has said.

Equally important, the speech forces the president to defend the substance of the deal he is desperately trying to entice the Iranians to sign. Netanyahu reminded the world what has happened since Obama’s pledge during his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal with Iran would force it to give up its nuclear program. Since then, the administration has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also agreed to let them keep several thousand centrifuges and the rest of their nuclear infrastructure.

As Netanyahu pointed out, even if they abide by the terms of the deal—something about which reasonable people are doubtful given their past record of cheating and unwillingness to open their country to United Nations inspectors—the ten-year sunset clause Obama mentioned in interviews yesterday gives the regime the ability to eventually build a nuclear weapon. Rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb, the path that Obama has travelled ensures they will eventually get one even if the accord works. The president not only guarantees that Iran will become a threshold nuclear power but, as Netanyahu rightly argued, sets in motion a series of events that will create a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Did Netanyahu offer an alterative to the president’s policy? The answer is yes. The administration is right when they say Netanyahu offered nothing new, but that was the point. After belatedly adopting sanctions, the administration quickly gave up on them just at the moment in 2013 when they were starting to bite. By toughening sanctions, as the Kirk-Menendez bill currently before Congress would do, and increasing the political and economic pressure on the regime, the U.S. has a chance to reverse Obama’s concessions and bring Iran to its knees. The West must insist that Iran change its behavior before sanctions are lifted, rather than afterward. Instead of Obama and Kerry’s zeal for a deal encouraging the Iranians to make no concessions, Netanyahu was correct to remind Congress that Tehran needs a deal more than the U.S. Indeed, Netanyahu not only offered an alternative; he put forward the only one that has a chance of stopping Iran from getting a weapon without using force.

Try as they might to continue to abuse Netanyahu for a brilliant speech, the White House’s response demonstrates nothing but its intolerance for criticism and inability to defend a policy of capitulation to Iran. Rather than engage in pointless discussions about the president’s hurt feelings or Netanyahu’s chutzpah for telling the truth about the negotiations, it’s time for the press and Congress to start asking the administration tough questions about a reckless deal before it is too late.

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Have a Strategy to Stop Iran? Not Obama.

In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

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In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

Let’s examine the president’s claims.

Both the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have insisted that agreeing to let Iran keep its nuclear program—something that he specifically promised he would never do in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney—was unavoidable. They claim that Western pressure would never have forced Iran to surrender its nukes. More than that, they assert that their concessions have enticed Iran to agree to strictures that have halted Tehran’s progress toward a bomb.

The answer to the first claim is that we don’t know if that would have worked because Obama never tried it. By abandoning sanctions just at the moment when Iran seemed to be feeling the pressure—and prior to an oil price collapse that would have made them even less capable of resisting foreign pressure—the president ensured that the Islamist regime never had to face a worst-case scenario. Instead of waiting for them to fold, he did, and the result was a nuclear deal that undid years of diplomacy aimed at building an international consensus against Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

The president and Kerry are now boasting that their interim deal hasn’t been violated by Iran and that it has stopped their progress in its tracks. But given the poor intelligence that the U.S. has about Iran and the regime’s lack of cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, this is purely a matter of conjecture and faith on the part of the president and his apologists. But even if we were to believe, in spite of Iran’s long record of cheating on nuclear issues, that somehow the interim deal was succeeding, even the president concedes that allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure means that Iran could always go back on its promises, re-activate the stockpile of nuclear fuel still in its possession, and “break out” to a bomb in short order.

The length of a “break out” is a key point in the president’s defense of his strategy. He told Reuters that as long as long as this period was at least a year, the U.S. would be able to detect it in time to re-impose sanctions or use force to stop them from obtaining a bomb. But this is another argument based more on faith than facts and which, even in the unlikely event it is vindicated, still makes Iran stronger and puts U.S. allies in the region as well as the West in peril.

The prediction of a year is an optimistic conjecture embraced by the president because it sounds better than the few months some others think is a more sensible estimate. The lack of credible inspections of Iran’s military research makes any predictions about the length of a breakout a guess, and not even an educated one. U.S. intelligence in Iran is negligible. Even the IAEA concedes that Iran may have extensive nuclear facilities that the West knows nothing about.

But let’s say it is a year. Given the poor state of U.S. intelligence on Iran, why would anyone believe Obama’s promise that he’ll know what’s going on in their secret facilities? This is the same president who assured us that his intelligence told him that ISIS was merely a “jayvee” terror team not worth worrying about. And even if a U.S. president did learn the truth about their plans, would Obama or a similarly weak-willed Democratic successor be ready and willing to believe the intelligence that showed a cherished diplomatic strategy had failed and be ready to re-impose sanctions, let alone order the use of force?

Obama’s commitment to the negotiations isn’t purely one of belief that it is the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear dreams. It’s a path to his dream of a new détente with Iran that will erase decades of enmity and create a new era of cooperation with that tyrannical, anti-Semitic, and terror-sponsoring regime. Why should we believe that he is ready to give up his hopes if he has already proven himself to be unconvinced by Iran’s past deceptions and prevarications? Why should any American president, even one more sensible about Iran than Obama, think that once sanctions are dismantled, our Western allies who are eager to do business with the regime would be willing to give up their profits to redeem a promise made by Obama?

Moreover, by reportedly agreeing to a sunset clause, the president has already legitimized Iran’s nuclear dreams and rendered it almost certain that the ten-year period now being mooted for the agreement will be shortened one way or the other.

The president’s critics can’t be sure that their strategy of a return to sanctions and tough pressure on Iran aimed at bringing the regime to its knees will succeed. But, despite the president’s claims, he never tried it before he prematurely abandoned pressure for appeasement. But we can be almost certain that a strategy that aims at entente with Iran is guaranteed to fail miserably. Indeed, it is not so much a recipe for failure as it is one for a completely different approach to Iran that is ready to acquiesce to their demands.

That is a position that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does well to protest tomorrow in his speech to Congress. So should Democrats and Republicans who take their pledges to stop Iran more seriously than the president.

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Netanyahu Is Everything Obama Is Not

A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

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A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

There are many arguments one could marshall to support that assertion, but it strikes me that among the most compelling is this: Mr. Obama has more anger toward Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, than he has toward any other regime in the world–including the most oppressive ones. He has treated the prime minister of the Jewish state with more disrespect and pettiness than any other world leader–including the most brutal ones. The time and energy that President Obama and his administration have spent on attacking Mr. Netanyahu–on the record, on background, and off the record–is astonishing. Only Obama’s golf game seems to command more of his time and passion than does Israel, though with the former it’s all positive energy and with the latter it’s all negative energy.

There is undoubtedly a troubling combination of reasons that explains Mr. Obama’s relentless hostility to Israel and Netanyahu; I suspect one of them is that the Israeli prime minister refuses to be intimidated by the president and is willing to publicly challenge his arguments–and worse, from Mr. Obama’s perspective, to embarrass the president by exposing (in this case) his policy of appeasement toward Iran. (For more on the disastrous deal the president has embraced, read this and this.)

I have spoken to members of Congress who have dealt with Mr. Obama and remarked to me that he gets most petulant and prickly when he’s challenged and bested in debate. It infuriates him, which is what you would expect from a president who is notorious for his facile arguments and intellectual dishonesty. No chief executive in my lifetime more closely fits the description by Kenneth Minogue: “a pyrotechnic in a field of straw men.” (h/t George Will.)

Narcissists hate to be embarrassed, which is precisely what Mr. Netanyahu will do to Mr. Obama tomorrow from the well of Congress. Unlike the president, the Israeli prime minister won’t be nasty or personal about it. Rather, he will do it, I suspect, with surgical precision, demolishing one Obama argument after another. Which will only infuriate Mr. Obama even more. (So will the fact that Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity in America is increasing despite, and perhaps because of, the administration’s childish attacks on him.)

Mr. Netanyahu is everything Barack Obama is not: Strong, tough, shrewd, unwilling to bend and bow to tyrants and willing to stand up for his nation and defend it abroad. On some level, Mr. Obama must surely know this. He hates Mr. Netanyahu for it, even as others of us admire him all the more for it.

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Howard Dean and the Elmer Fudd Theory of Economic Policymaking

How powerful is Elizabeth Warren? That question, oddly enough, is a key determining factor in the future of the Democratic Party. That’s not because Warren is set for a long career as a Senate powerbroker. It’s because she probably isn’t. Warren is a 65-year-old freshman who is already being encouraged to run for president and who came to government as an outsider. Warren’s power, then, will not be measured as much by her accomplishments in office (though she may accrue some) as by the growth of her faction within the Democratic Party.

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How powerful is Elizabeth Warren? That question, oddly enough, is a key determining factor in the future of the Democratic Party. That’s not because Warren is set for a long career as a Senate powerbroker. It’s because she probably isn’t. Warren is a 65-year-old freshman who is already being encouraged to run for president and who came to government as an outsider. Warren’s power, then, will not be measured as much by her accomplishments in office (though she may accrue some) as by the growth of her faction within the Democratic Party.

Warren’s power will also be evident in how much Hillary Clinton echoes Warren’s political rhetoric. Although Clinton will not consider herself bound by such rhetoric if she’s elected, the fact that she might believe she needs Warren’s approval will speak volumes about Warren’s influence over a Democratic nominating process that is expected to be a coronation and a cakewalk.

Indeed, the last time voters put the Clintons in the White House, it was Bill Clinton who was leading the party’s rhetoric in a new direction. Democrats followed Bill to the presidency. It will be quite a change of pace if the Clintons are next sent to the White House only after recognizing that they were no longer setting the ideological agenda of their party, but merely following instructions.

And that’s a chance centrist Democrats–who insist they still exist, and you are not imagining them after taking too much NyQuil–aren’t willing to take. According to The Hill, the old New Democrat Coalition is back:

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

“I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she’s a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side.”

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, “it’s going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition.”

It’s the revenge of the mushy middle. The rhetoric seems to be the biggest sticking point for these Democrats. How much does the policy agenda need to break with Warren and her wing to be successful? It depends who you ask.

For some, the aggressive anti-business rhetoric is the point. When The Hill asked one Democratic member of Congress about the two emerging camps, they responded: “There’s no need to get me in trouble … I don’t need an angry phone call from Bill Clinton.”

Comments like that suggest that on policy grounds, some of these Warren wingers are in it for the pitchforks and torches, but if they pipe down, the Clintons won’t even realize they think of Bill and Hillary and their supporters as filthy capitalist pigs. Along similar lines, some centrists seem to think that if you don’t tell businessmen and women you’re confiscating their earned income for redistributive schemes, they won’t notice. “Economic growth is a precondition to reducing inequality,” said Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall, another self-styled centrist. “You can’t redistribute wealth that you’re not generating.”

That’s true, but also a bit of a mixed message, to say the least.

That’s about where Howard Dean lands on the spectrum too. He told The Hill: “Our program cannot be soak the rich — that’s a mistake and alienates middle class people. But on substance, the Warren wing is correct.”

So, you can soak the rich, then? That’s the “substance” of the Warren wingers’ economic policy. What Dean seems to be calling the “program” is actually the party’s rhetoric. Of course, you could also follow Dean’s advice by enacting policies that are sold as one thing but accomplish another. You could theoretically design, say, a health-care plan that claims to be about providing access but is really a wealth transfer from the middle class to lower-earning Americans whose votes Democrats would really like to lock in for generations. You could call this policy “ObamaCare.”

The economic populists have the advantage of momentum and a president animated by class warfare. But they are at a disadvantage in another area, which Dean alludes to in what can best be understood as the Elmer Fudd theory of economic policymaking. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. According to Dean: “The rhetoric about wealth creation needs to be scaled back because Americans like wealth creation.”

You don’t say. Americans like capitalism and economic freedom. What Americans like, in other words, is the system the Warren wingers want to tear down. It’s also a system that has been very good to the Clintons. If the Warren wing can get Hillary Clinton to run on a program that implicitly delegitimizes the Clintons’ own success, the New Democrats will remain irrelevant.

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Iran Stakes Bigger Than Bibi and Barack

The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

The focus on Netanyahu is understandable. By choosing to accept an invitation to speak to Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without first gaining the approval of the administration, he injected himself into a debate over an Iran sanctions bill that looked to have massive bipartisan support and perhaps even a veto-proof majority despite the fervent opposition of the White House. That decision gave the administration the opening it needed to pick off many wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions advocates including some who probably will not boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But once the terms being offered the Iranians were leaked in late February the debate about the speech became a mere political sideshow.

It bears remembering at this point that the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations has nothing to do with protocol or a speech many in this country perceive as having more to do with Netanyahu’s efforts to win reelection later this month. The crisis is the result of more than six years of administration efforts to distance itself from Israel on both the Palestinian issue as well as the Iran nuclear threat. By choosing to discard his 2012 campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program and instead embracing a diplomatic effort aimed at creating détente with the Islamist regime, it is President Obama who precipitated the argument, not Netanyahu.

The question before Congress is, after all, not about U.S.-Israel relations. Rather, it is whether an administration that has already taken a step toward acquiescing to a nuclear Iran can, Power’s promises notwithstanding, take another even bigger one with the current negotiations. If, as reports indicate, the U.S. has not only already agreed to let Iran keep several thousand centrifuges but also agreed to a ten-year sunset clause that would give Tehran the ability to do as it likes after the deal expires, then what is under consideration is a fundamental re-ordering of U.S. security policy.

Allowing Iran to, in President Obama’s words, “get right with the world,” might involve the Islamist regime in efforts to fight ISIS. But it will also means that its efforts to achieve regional hegemony—a goal that the victories of its Syrian ally and the strength of Hezbollah and Hamas make possible—will also be strengthened and given the imprimatur of the United States.

Seen in that light, it is not possible to ignore Netanyahu’s warnings as mere political gamesmanship or a foolish game of one-upmanship being blamed by the two governments.

It no longer matters whether Netanyahu blundered when he stumbled into the trap Obama seems to have set for him when the speech was announced. Democrats who treat his speech and the underlying issues as a test of party loyalty are making a fundamental mistake. So, too, are any pro-Israel or Jewish groups that are trying to keep the prime minister at arm’s length right now.

After years of balancing his animus for Netanyahu against the political necessity of not undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance, Obama has finally and completely gone off the tracks with a potential Iran deal that could endanger the security of both countries. In a sense, it would be better for Israel if Netanyahu were not the face of opposition to this dangerous policy rather than Obama critics like Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. But with a dangerous deal that the president has no intention of submitting to Congress for approval perhaps only weeks away, there is no excuse for any supporter of Israel, no matter how devoted to their party, to stay away from the speech or to ignore its content.

Obama started this argument with Israel when he took office. But Congress has an obligation to act as a check on a policy that ought to alarm anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East or the survival of Israel. If Netanyahu’s speech can help focus attention back on that necessity, then it will be worth the grief it has caused.

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The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

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Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

One of the regular critiques from the administration and its spokesmen in the media of tomorrow’s speech by Netanyahu is that Bibi just wants to use the speech as a prop in his own reelection campaign. As Axelrod’s book demonstrates, catering to voters and representing their interests in the government is borderline incomprehensible to Obama. His disdain for other world leaders who follow the wishes of their employers–the taxpayers–instead of doing what Obama wants is especially strange, considering its undisguised imperialist overtones.

And Netanyahu, of late, has found himself the world leader who values democratic elections far too much for Obama’s taste. When Netanyahu pressed ahead with giving the speech to a joint session of Congress, the Obama administration said they’d hit back, and suggested one way of doing so would be for them to bash Bibi through the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, as they often do when they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. They did so; here is how Goldberg delivers the talking point:

It would be reassuring—sort of—to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu decided to set the U.S.-Israel relationship on fire mainly because he fears that President Obama is selling out Israel. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3—a speech arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner—is motivated by another powerful fear: the fear of unemployment. The message Bibi is preparing to deliver on Tuesday (a “statesmanlike message,” according to an official close to him) has as its actual target not Congress but, instead, Israeli voters who need reminding, in Netanyahu’s view, that he is the only leader strong enough to face down both the genocidal regime in Tehran and the Israel-loathing regime in Washington.

You can set aside the obviously false characterization of Netanyahu’s culpability. According to Goldberg–and the administration–Netanyahu’s “main” concern is not Israel’s perceived existential threats or a bad Iran deal or President Obama’s repeated insistence on selling out Israel (sometimes during wartime).

Now, obviously Netanyahu cares about reelection. He’s a politician in a democracy, and is acting as one, not as a tyrant or a religious cult figure. His decision to accept the speech without the president’s support was also clearly a mistake. He compounded that mistake by not backing out or rescheduling when he had ample opportunity to do so. And his mistake has already had tangible effects: the speech has almost certainly destroyed the possibility of the very veto-proof sanctions he hoped to inspire, at least for now.

But sufferers of Bibi Derangement Syndrome don’t see “mistakes”; they see arson. They violate the cardinal rule of democratic politics in a free society: Don’t attribute to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence.

And the Obama-Axelrod-Goldberg line is strange for another reason: the belief that Bibi doesn’t take the long view but instead focuses on near-term electoral fortunes is pretty much the opposite of what the administration’s critique of him had previously been. In May 2011, the consensus was that Netanyahu was practically obsessed with incorporating the grand sweep of history into his dialogue with Obama. “Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment,” Goldberg wrote in a post titled “Netanyahu Continues to Needlessly Alienate.”

(It was a common framing. ABC News: “In Oval Office, Bibi Offers History Lessons to Obama.” Chicago Sun-Times: “Obama gets Netanyahu Israeli history lecture.”)

Netanyahu has also come in for criticism for saying “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs… preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” And the press has taken a couple swings at him for referencing Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of Israel against the wishes of the State Department and other governmental agencies in his speeches, as he did this morning at AIPAC.

Also in his speech this morning, the prime minister returned to the long view of Jewish history:

For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak in our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more. No more. The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us–those days are over.

It’s no surprise the recitation of history makes Obama uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, the president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive, but he is especially unknowledgeable on Israeli and Jewish history. It doesn’t seem to interest him, and it shows.

So it’s always been a bit rich for the president who thinks history started with his own presidential election to accuse others of not thinking about the big picture. What Obama means by this is actually that these other politicians and world leaders aren’t thinking enough about Obama’s legacy, which he’d like them to prioritize over the needs and wants of their citizens, Israel being no exception.

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Jeb Bush’s James Baker Problem

Last month, Governor Jeb Bush unveiled a foreign-policy team with a number of Republican heavy hitters from the past three Republican administrations, and soon thereafter delivered a foreign-policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The big question that many analysts asked was whether Jeb Bush would lean more toward his father’s vision of foreign policy than toward his brother’s. The underlying spin behind that question was that the elder Bush had more foresight with regard to the application of military force and understood the limits of power. While both men oversaw an invasion of Iraq, many foreign-policy analysts and journalists approve of Operation Desert Storm but consider Operation Iraqi Freedom to have been a historic mistake. That’s something historians will decide. But a better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

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Last month, Governor Jeb Bush unveiled a foreign-policy team with a number of Republican heavy hitters from the past three Republican administrations, and soon thereafter delivered a foreign-policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The big question that many analysts asked was whether Jeb Bush would lean more toward his father’s vision of foreign policy than toward his brother’s. The underlying spin behind that question was that the elder Bush had more foresight with regard to the application of military force and understood the limits of power. While both men oversaw an invasion of Iraq, many foreign-policy analysts and journalists approve of Operation Desert Storm but consider Operation Iraqi Freedom to have been a historic mistake. That’s something historians will decide. But a better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

Jeb Bush gave a fine speech, even if a bit anodyne. Sure, Jeb criticized Obama’s “inconsistent and indecisive” leadership on the world stage, but that’s an issue of style and competence, not philosophy. Pretty much any successor to Obama, whether Democrat or Republican, will do better on the world stage. The same holds true for Jeb Bush’s insistence that red lines should matter. Few presidents would disagree, Obama being the exception. Calling for greater economic growth at home is also a no-brainer: Would any president really want moribund growth? Greater defense spending is a step in the right direction, as so many military and national-security experts and scholars across the partisan divide recognize.

While it may be commendable that Jeb Bush has hired folks who represent different sides of past policy debates, former Secretary of State James Baker who, alongside former Secretary of State George Shultz, is Jeb’s most senior and, perhaps because he is not fishing for a job himself, most influential advisor, has a track record of policy recommendations that hone closer to what Obama has implemented than the clean break Jeb Bush suggests he wants.

Baker was co-chair back in 2006 of the Iraq Study Group, better known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission which, in the darkest days of the Iraq war, not only counseled the type of retreat which George W. Bush refused but also blessed the idea of unilateral retreat which Barack Obama implemented. Baker went further, however, and worked into the report a call for Israel to make concessions under fire and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to be rewarded. Both a latent hostility to Israel and a benign reading of the Syrian regime have long been characteristic of Baker’s philosophy, as they have been Obama’s. Remember, Obama came into office believing Assad was a reformer and, despite the horrific civil war in subsequent years, now appears ready to again legitimize Assad as a partner. Baker also sought to partner with Iran in order to resolve difficulties in Iraq, leading to this brilliant David Zucker parody featuring Baker.

If there’s one thing that the past decade should have made clear it is that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not central to the divisions and problems which undercut Middle Eastern stability and American national security. The whole Iraq Study Group was a put-up job, with Baker and Lee Hamilton stroking the egos of those testifying all the while ignoring the substance of their input while aides wrote a pre-ordained report. As such, Baker should be held fully accountable for the report’s often counterproductive and self-defeating recommendations.

Alas, the Baker-Hamilton report was the rule rather than the exception. Against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential campaign, Baker traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he appeared to give an endorsement of the type of diplomacy with rogue regimes which George W. Bush shied away from, but which Obama had made the centerpiece of his campaign. Then, again, this merely restated the policy which Baker blessed as secretary of state with regard to North Korea. In The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992, he explained, “Our diplomatic strategy was designed to build international pressure against North Korea to force them to live up to their agreements.” In reality, however, Baker pioneered a philosophy which Obama has now perfected; that is, a belief that a bad deal is better than no deal, even if it means turning a blind eye toward an enemy’s cheating. As the State Department negotiated with Pyongyang, Baker accepted North Korea’s insistence that limited inspections regarding North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure to sites “agreed upon between the two sides,” in effect giving Pyongyang a veto. Baker offered this concession even though the CIA had warned that North Korea was hiding parts of its nuclear program. Such a philosophy laid the groundwork for a process that culminated during the Clinton administration in “The Agreed Framework,” an achievement celebrated in Washington but treated disdainfully in Pyongyang as the North Korean regime pocketed associated aid and accelerated its drive toward a nuclear bomb. Baker, however, bragged in his memoirs (published after the Agreed Framework was signed) that “American diplomacy [was] directly responsible for an end to six years of intransigence by the North.”

Much of Baker’s positive reputation comes from how he and George H.W. Bush handled Operation Desert Storm. And, for this, they deserve plaudits. What is interesting, however, is how Baker was for Saddam before he was against him. On February 15, 1990, after the Voice of America broadcast an editorial into several Arab countries celebrating the collapse of dictatorship in Eastern Europe and castigating Iraq as belonging to a club whose leaders maintained power “by force and fear, not by the consent of the governed,” Saddam was furious. Rather than defend the premise and maintain moral clarity, the Bush administration apologized and decided that the secretary of state, James Baker, would personally clear future editorials. Again, instinct matters.

Baker has been outspoken in his support for Jeb Bush. While Baker is friendly with Jeb Bush’s father, that did not stop the former secretary of state from signaling his displeasure with the governor’s brother. It is hard to imagine Baker giving such full-throated support to Jeb Bush unless he sees in Bush a kindred spirit. If that’s the case, then there is much to worry about as Jeb Bush develops his foreign policy.

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AIPAC Focuses on Iran, Not Israel

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

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The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference, a day before he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, and it is beginning to dawn on those who spent the last month lambasting him for his alleged breach of protocol that a very bad deal is in the works–now the focus of attention primarily because the Israeli prime minister decided that calling it out was more important than his (non-existent) personal relationship with the U.S. president.

Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote last month that Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress made “absolutely no sense” and was a “tone deaf ploy” that left Goldberg “unable to understand his thinking,” yesterday wrote that he expects a strong speech to Congress, because:

Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability is a dicey proposition; in fact, any agreement at all with an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. [Emphasis added.]

Goldberg is not only worried about the “sunset” clause that would permit Iran to become a nuclear power once the agreement expires, but worried even more “that the Iranians will find a way to cheat their way out of the agreement even before the sun is scheduled to set.”

In a panel yesterday at the AIPAC conference, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who has supported Netanyahu’s speech from the time it was announced, told a large audience “why the speech has to be given now, despite the consequences that will go down for the next 22 months”:

Number one, a deal is about to be signed and so this is the last opportunity just before an election the timing of which Bibi did not set [and] an election that Bibi didn’t want … and this isn’t timed for politics–although God forbid a politician should be guilty of committing politics. It was timed in connection to the negotiating timetable which was, in fact, established by John Kerry and his partners.

Secondly, representatives and senators ought to hear directly from the prime minister why this deal, which is terrible for the United States, is potentially fatal for Israel. And all these members of the House who pat themselves on the back as they vote for Iron Dome funding–as if that is the sole credential for being pro-Israel–ought to be put on record that this is the moment that counts … a final opportunity for Israel to make a case to the United States to act before Israel, I fear, will have to act irrespective of what the United States wants …

And, by the way, what is Bibi doing? He is giving a speech. He’s not hurling thunderbolts from Congress. He’s giving a speech! I would hope that in the spirit of democracy, civility, and–by the way–congressional self-respect for a co-equal branch of government, that every Democratic member, whether they agree with Bibi or not, will do him the courtesy of hearing him out.

Stephens noted that the administration is not only “not checking Iranian moves throughout the region–we are facilitating the rise of Iranian power”:

And I say this–I’m almost shocked to hear myself say this–but the deal we are going to strike isn’t that we’ve moved from a policy of prevention to containment: we are actively facilitating Iran’s bid to become a regular nuclear state … By the way, South Korea: we deny them the right to enrich. So, the South Koreans can’t enrich, according to this administration–we’re pressuring them not to enrich–but Iran, because it’s such a marvelous, wonderful regime, in 10 or 15 years, they’re going to get the bomb. We are facilitating this. We have facilitated their ability to maintain client regimes around the Middle East.

It is one of the reasons why we have not fulfilled the president’s other unmet promise of going after the Assad regime, and we now have a de facto pro-Assad policy in Syria. It’s one of the reasons why we have no strategy to speak of to prevent the Houti militia, who are not some tribal militia–they’re the Hezbollah of Yemen–from seizing [Yemen’s capital] Sana’a and then throwing out our client government. …

So, now the Iranians makes the boast–I’m sure all of you are familiar with this–that they have four Arab capitals in their hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a, and you might add Gaza City, if you consider that one. And that’s correct, and we have done nothing to stop it. We have no strategy to speak of, except accepting a new status quo on the hope that one day, the Iranians will change the nature of their regime and they’ll be nice to us. Good luck.

A “bad deal” does not begin to describe the strategic disaster the administration is attempting to conclude in secret, without informing Congress of the details and allowing a free and open democratic debate. The administration opposes even the new Corker-Menendez bill, introduced on Friday, which would prevent any deal from taking effect for 60 days, after Congress finds out what it is.

After AIPAC members listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, its thousands of delegates will lobby their representatives to urge them to support Corker-Menendez–bolstered by the speech of a prime minister who decided an existential threat to his country (the principal U.S. ally in the region) deserves to be fully considered by the representatives of the American people, before it is too late, not only for Israel but the United States.

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No, Mr. Kerry, There Can Be No Benefit of the Doubt on Iran

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

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Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

Mr. Kerry is right to highlight the problem with military action. At best, it would delay Iran’s program by two or three years. Those who believe a one-time strike would end Iran’s program are unrealistic. There is no parallel to Israel’s 1981 strike on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, an airstrike that crippled Iraq’s bomb program until Saddam Hussein’s regime ultimately fell. After all, Saddam was unable to rebuild Osirak because Iraq was embroiled first in an eight-year, World War I-style fight against Iran of Saddam’s own making. No sooner did that end that Saddam ordered Iraqi forces into Kuwait, unleashing a cascade of events that crippled Iraq further. It is doubtful that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would make the same mistakes in the wake of any potential strike.

To have American aircraft bomb Iran’s nuclear program, however, would effectively be using American servicemen to kick the can down the road because the White House, State Department, and Congress can’t come to a policy consensus about what it would take realistically to blunt the threat of any Iranian nuclear arsenal. The problem isn’t simply the nuclear weapons, but rather the ideology of the regime which would wield them.

This is where Kerry shows himself a narrow, shallow thinker. He artificially boils Iran options down to two: Either cut a deal, no matter how bad and no matter how likely Iran is to cheat, or engage in military action that will be expensive and won’t end with a single strike. He refuses to recognize that either way, it is the Iranian regime which is the problem.

This doesn’t mean the United States should engage in Iraq- or Libya-style regime change. But what Kerry and crew have essentially done is take a regime foundering under decades of economic mismanagement and sanctions, and effectively subsidized its survival to the tune of $7 billion per year (and $11 billion total) since negotiations began. They did this against the backdrop of a dramatic decline in the price of oil and so forfeited the best opportunity in decades not to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees but rather to allow it to stumble and trip on its own. Ultimately, if the Iran problem is going to be resolved, it will mean an end to the clerical regime, not Kerry’s false choice. Trusting Iran is a non-starter. And that is exactly what Kerry seeks when he asks for benefit of the doubt on an agreement whose parameters he is too embarrassed to show to America’s Arab allies and Israel because he knows they will point out the obvious loopholes. No, Mr. Kerry, neither the White House nor Iran deserve benefit of the doubt on nuclear negotiations. The world cannot afford the consequences.

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Sorry Peter Beinart: Young Americans Still Haven’t Turned Against Israel

This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

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This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

As I pointed out, previous dramatic declines in American support for Israel, as indicated by this poll or that poll, had been followed by recovery. But Beinart was nonetheless confident that this time the anti-Israel cake would bake at last, at least for the young. And Beinart was far from the only commentator to take this position.

It is therefore of some interest that Gallup is out with a new poll. Here is Lydia Saad, a senior editor: some “six months [after the poll on Gaza], young Americans’ broad sympathies toward the Israelis vs. the Palestinians are the same as a year ago.” Approximately 57 percent of 18-29 year olds surveyed both years said that they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians in the conflict. Sympathy with the Palestinians has also held steady at about 23 percent.

Compare this year to 2005, the year anti-Israel activists started Israeli apartheid week, a period devoted to demonizing Israel, mainly on college campuses, which is in full swing as I write. That year, support for Israel among 18-29 year olds stood at 51 percent. Ten years of a relentless campaign against Israel, specifically targeting the young, has not had its intended effect. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the wearying sameness of the distortions trotted out year after year, that Israeli apartheid week is getting almost no coverage in the United States this year. Look it up now, and the best known media outlet focusing on it is Iran’s Press TV.

I do not mean to say that we should not be concerned about these campaigns which may well, if they are not resisted, have the long-term effect of making Zionism a suspect, if not quite a dirty, word. But those who seized on one striking poll to predict that Israel had finally worn out its welcome with young Americans should be asked to comment on this one. It appears that when they hoped young Americans would pressure Israel into making unilateral concessions with a view to engaging nonexistent peace partners, they may have been indulging in wishful thinking.

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Whom Should the U.S. Train in Syria and Iraq?

The United States has begun vetting Syrian rebels to determine whom to train to fight Islamic State (ISIS) extremists inside Syria. It’s an effort that promises very little and comes extremely late. The goal is to train, in Turkey and with the cooperation of Turkish forces, 5,000 moderate fighters a year for perhaps three years. Actual training will begin within four to six weeks.

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The United States has begun vetting Syrian rebels to determine whom to train to fight Islamic State (ISIS) extremists inside Syria. It’s an effort that promises very little and comes extremely late. The goal is to train, in Turkey and with the cooperation of Turkish forces, 5,000 moderate fighters a year for perhaps three years. Actual training will begin within four to six weeks.

As currently conceived, the effort is doomed from the start. Including—and, indeed, relying upon—Turkey is a poison pill, given the growing extremism of the Turkish government and the sympathies of at least certain segments of the Turkish government to more extreme elements inside Syria.

At the same time, the United States has moved forward with training and assistance programs to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga.

The irony of both efforts is that the United States continues to ignore the most moderate, religiously tolerant, and most effective fighting force in the region: the Popular Protection Units (YPG) of the Syrian Kurds. Without formal training, the YPG held Kobane in the face of a tremendous onslaught. But Kobane is only the tip of the iceberg: I visited portions of Syria controlled by the YPG last year. They have made tremendous sacrifices and brought a modicum of stability and security to northeastern Syria.

But it is not only inside Syria where the YPG has seen success. Despite billions of dollars poured into the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, they at best have achieved little more than a stalemate. Prior to the Islamic State’s onslaught against the Yezidis of Mount Sinjar, Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani had turned down the Yezidis and local residents’ requests for reinforcements. Then, peshmerga and security forces commanded by his sons abandoned their posts, sacrificing thousands of Yezidis to the cruelty of the Islamic State. The YPG did not wait for coalition airstrikes before seeking to come to their rescue. At present, the YPG reportedly enjoys greater popularity than the Kurdistan Region Government’s peshmerga in Sinjar and those areas inside northwestern Iraq contested by the Islamic State.

The reason why Turkey objects to any training for the YPG is that they and their civilian political counterpart, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) fall under the general umbrella of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group which aligned with Soviet interests during the Cold War and long waged an insurgency inside Turkey. That may be a problem, but it’s time to set priorities: Defeating the Islamic State is more important than paying heed to Turkey’s obsessions. If Turkey won’t play ball if the YPG are included in training, then it’s time to stop working through Turkey. They are, after all, not the only U.S. partner to border Syria.

The Islamic State presents a grave and growing threat throughout the region. If they are to be defeated, no moderates should be excluded. If moderates can be found among Syrian Arabs, that would be great, although they are, at this point, likely a chimera. But there are worthy forces to train among the Iraqi army and even some of the Iraqi volunteers who answered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call to fight the Islamic State. Last fall, I stayed at a facility in which some of these volunteers trained in southern Iraq. While Iran has certainly tried to co-opt and control some of these volunteers, many more care only about defending their communities against the Islamic State and do not care an iota for geopolitics. The United States needs to support and help rebuild the Iraqi army, and those elements which survived their trial by fire. The Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga also are worthy of support. But the YPG complete the picture. If they can be as successful as they have been against the Islamic State without formal training, they might be the ace in the hole if they can hone their tactics and skills and actually receive the weaponry they need to do the job at hand.

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Why Are American Hostages Still Held in Iran?

Since President Obama initiated high-profile, high-stakes talks with Iran, the United States has released more than $11 billion in frozen funds to the Islamic Republic, and that comes on top of billions of dollars in new investment. To put just the $11 billion in perspective, that represents more than twice the Congressional Research Service-estimated official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the group responsible for killing hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. Now, consider that Iran’s economy had shrunk between 5.3 and 5.8 percent (depending upon which Iranian figure is speaking) in the year before Obama began his outreach while, despite the crash in oil prices, Iran’s current growth is positive, and it’s hard not to conclude that for the Iranian leadership, Team Obama has been a dream come true.

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Since President Obama initiated high-profile, high-stakes talks with Iran, the United States has released more than $11 billion in frozen funds to the Islamic Republic, and that comes on top of billions of dollars in new investment. To put just the $11 billion in perspective, that represents more than twice the Congressional Research Service-estimated official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the group responsible for killing hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. Now, consider that Iran’s economy had shrunk between 5.3 and 5.8 percent (depending upon which Iranian figure is speaking) in the year before Obama began his outreach while, despite the crash in oil prices, Iran’s current growth is positive, and it’s hard not to conclude that for the Iranian leadership, Team Obama has been a dream come true.

Given all that Iran has gained outside of the nuclear arena, what is most perplexing is how little the United States has received. Take for example the four American hostages which Iran now holds:

  • Saeed Abedini. Iran has long been hostile to Christianity. While the Iranian city of Isfahan hosts a large Armenian community which thrives today, the Armenian Christians settled in Isfahan only because they were forcibly relocated there from northwestern Iran as the shah at the time doubted their loyalty. Non-Orthodox Christians have special difficulty in Iran. Past State Department human-rights reports, for example, depict the disappearance and murder of priests and, especially, evangelical Christians whose community is small but growing in Iran. Abedini, a 34-year-old from Idaho, was arrested during a 2012 trip to Tehran to visit family and sentenced to eight years in prison. He is a married father of two small children.
  • Robert Levinson. A former FBI agent whom Iran alleges to have worked for a CIA contractor visited Kish Island, an Iranian free-trade zone which is visa-free, in an effort to research a cigarette smuggling case when he was seized by Iranian intelligence in 2007. While the Iranians have sought at times to deny responsibility or knowledge of Levinson’s case, the state-run Iranian press acknowledged Iranian involvement. He remains the longest-held Iranian hostage. Perhaps reflecting its role as the ­de facto lobby of the Islamic Republic, the National Iranian American Council has distinguished itself by omitting Levinson in its calls for the release of hostages.
  • Amir Hekmati. A former American Marine, Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting family in Tehran. Charged with espionage, he was initially sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted. While some Iranians might look askance at his military service, it should be remembered that because Iran has conscription, many male Iranian graduate students seeking to come to the United States to continue their education or to visit family have served in the Iranian military. The charges were more ridiculous considering Hekmati sought and received permission from Iranian authorities in the United States before traveling. Hekmati had briefly launched a hunger strike which he subsequently suspended.
  • Jason Rezaian. The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Rezaian was arrested on undisclosed security-related offenses on July 22, 2014, and initially held incommunicado. On January 15, 2015, an Iranian prosecutor announced that Rezaian would stand trial in a revolutionary court. His case is slated to be heard by one of Iran’s most notorious hanging judges.

That three of the four men are Iranian American should be irrelevant. Immigrants and their children do not check their citizenship at the door when they visit Iran, even if Iranian authorities insist they enter only on their Iranian documents. Ronald Reagan famously obsessed over American hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon. The “Tower Commission” found that Reagan obsessively peppered his staff with questions about their condition and the possibilities for their release. Never has the contrast between two presidents been so great. Obama seems more concerned with springing terrorists from Guantanamo Bay than in freeing Americans held captive by one of the world’s most repressive regimes. And, while Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly condemned the Iranian detention of American citizens and called for their release, Obama and Kerry’s willingness to continue business as usual in negotiations and in payments to Iran suggests to the Iranians a lack of seriousness on the Obama administration’s part.

There should not be a single press conference dealing with Iran where the first, second, and third questions don’t force administration officials to address those Americans in prison in Iran. The hostages should be household names. When the State Department counsels quiet diplomacy, what diplomats are seeking is enough distraction to sweep the problem under the rug. They should not be able to. Indeed, there should not be another meeting held, let alone incentive given or payment made, until they are happily at home and reunited with their families. Quite the contrary, there should be no end to sanctions and punishment until the Americans—all four—come home.

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Gerrymandering: an American Perversion of Democracy

Everyone is waiting for Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument regarding King v. Burwell and whether the phrase in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the states,” means what it plainly says. It’s the most important case on the Court’s docket this term because if the Court rules against the administration, ObamaCare will probably become financially untenable and so crash and burn, quite possibly taking the Obama presidency with it
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Everyone is waiting for Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument regarding King v. Burwell and whether the phrase in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the states,” means what it plainly says. It’s the most important case on the Court’s docket this term because if the Court rules against the administration, ObamaCare will probably become financially untenable and so crash and burn, quite possibly taking the Obama presidency with it
But there is an important case being argued tomorrow morning, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, that could adversely impact the movement to eliminate gerrymandering from American politics. It should be paid attention to.

Gerrymandering is named after Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who came up with the idea (although his name is pronounced with a hard G and the eponymous—and nefarious—practice he invented is pronounced with a soft one). It involves the setting of legislative district lines—whether state or federal—so as to give one party or the other partisan advantage. As someone described it, democracy is where the voters choose their representatives. Gerrymandering is where the representatives choose their voters. It is a wholly American perversion of democracy, unknown elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

The Court has always declined to flatly outlaw gerrymandering, although many people (myself included) think that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. After all, if you’re a Democrat living in a district carefully designed to return a Republican legislator, you are effectively disenfranchised. Your vote is worthless. That’s why Baker v. Carr (1962) rewrote the Court’s doctrine on “political questions” in order to require “one man, one vote.”

In 2002, Arizona voters in a public referendum took away the hopelessly self-interested state legislature’s power to draw district lines and established an independent commission to do it instead. The Arizona legislature sued, claiming that because the Constitution (Article I, Section 4) says that “The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; . . .” only the state legislature has the right to set district lines. A special three-judge district court ruled (2-1) in the commission’s favor and the legislature appealed to the Supreme Court.

There is a standing issue, but if the state legislature survives that and the Court gets to the merits, George Will thinks the Court should give the state of Arizona a lesson in remedial reading. He accepts as self-evident the legislature’s argument that the “Manner of holding elections” includes setting district lines. To me, it means nothing more than deciding how the vote should be taken: paper ballots, machines, online voting, early voting, a raising of hands, etc.

Other states, including California, have been moving in this direction, especially as computers have made it possible to draw district lines with exquisite precision, even house by house, and so make more and more districts uncompetitive.

This also makes American politics more extreme. One of the reasons the center of American politics has largely emptied out in recent decades (although not the only one) is that as general elections have become less and less determinative, primaries have become more so. In primaries, the left in Democratic races and the right in Republican ones exert much more influence, pulling candidates one way or another. Indeed the word primary has recently become a verb, as in “If Congressman Snoot doesn’t vote this way on the widget bill, he’ll probably be primaried.”

Gerrymandering does not belong in the world’s oldest democracy.

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