Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

Independence Day and the Left’s Unseemly Vanity

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices. Read More

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it has become more pronounced as the present era of progressivism reaches a zenith and invites what history suggests will be a correction in a more conservative direction. The latest example of this unattractive tendency was submitted by Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews who, in a sprawling tome, contended that the American Revolution was a mistake, an unfortunate accident of history, and that mankind would be better off had it never occurred.

Matthews based this contention on three pillars. The first is that the practice of African slavery in North America would have been abolished perhaps twenty years earlier and perhaps without any bloodshed had the colonies continued to fly the British flag. This claim is easy to make for someone who has so consciously determined to ignore the rebellious and individualistic nature of the American character. If Americans were so passive that they would simply accept British abuses in the late 18th Century, surely the planter class in the American South would have been equally servile in the early 19th Century. In Matthews’ fantasy, Southerners would have given up on the practice of slavery peacefully in response to an edict drawn up by an unrepresentative parliamentary body in London.

Matthews’ second contention is that, like American slaves, Native American tribes preferred the British to the American colonists and fought on their behalf during the Revolutionary War. What’s more, he contends that they were right to do so. “Absent the revolution, Britain probably would’ve moved into Indian lands. But fewer people would have died,” he averred. Matthews ignores or is simply unaware of many tribes who fought on the behalf of the Colonists. George Washington personally requested and was provided with Maine’s Passamaquoddy warriors. Massachusetts passed a resolution calling for the employment of 500 Malisset and Micmac Indians by the Continental Army. Indeed, those tribes that did side with the rebellious Americans did so because they believed siding with the devil they knew would better preserve their political neutrality. There was and remains no monolithic Native American position on the Revolutionary War, and to suggest that there was is nothing short of misinformation.

But the many paragraphs Matthews devoted to his self-flagellating sop to identity politics are a mere smokescreen that disguises his true aim: the condemnation of republicanism itself. “In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that,” Matthews remarked. “Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than presidential systems.” He goes on to insist that the American governmental system is lamentably democratic insofar as it gives “Wyoming the same power as California” in the upper chamber of Congress, and that the need to craft national consensus in order to advance his policy preferences is a lamentable millstone around the neck of “progress.”

It is tempting to dismiss Matthews’ self-loathing tract as just the latest example of ham-fisted provocative “takes” written and published only in order to attract views; a modern example of Barnum’s American Museum, a low form of entertainment in which oddities and curiosities violate taboos and titillate the intrigued. But this would be a disservice to Matthews and the tyrannical progressivism he represents. Though his is supposedly a sermon in praise of constitutional monarchy, he only celebrates the British system’s least democratic elements. Matthews wrote in praise of undiluted authoritarianism. On the left, he is not alone in this impulse. His admiration for anti-democratic governance is not all that dissimilar from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s desire to see America be “China for a day.”

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks,” Friedman graciously conceded. “But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.” Among those disadvantages Friedman underemphasized is the persistent historical fact that one-party autocracy tends not to surrender its power after that one productive day in the absence of considerable social upheaval and, often, butchery.

But Matthews and Friedman shouldn’t be dismissed as mere click-seekers. Their honesty in admiration for the authoritarianism that our enlightened Founders sloughed off in favor of revolutionary democratic republicanism is admirable. Conservatives would do well to note often and frequently that their opponents on the left are not fans of the messy and inefficient process of seeking public approval for their policy preferences. The left’s most honest voices openly concede that they would prefer you be made to accept their edified fiat at gunpoint.

A less toxic example of this grotesque self-assuredness was demonstrated by President Barack Obama’s White House this week. In keeping with this president’s desire to see every holiday politicized and to foist upon exhausted families one of his true believers who will ceaselessly proselytize in favor of the president’s policies, the administration asked its devotees to praise and promote the Affordable Care Act over the Fourth of July weekend. In a blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services provided administration supporters a script that they can recite for the unbelievers in their midst. “With greater access to affordable, quality health insurance, the Affordable Care Act is helping individuals and strengthening our economy!” HHS invited its backers to exclaim. “Now would you like more corn?”

This suggestion is in keeping with past administration behavior. It is, however, almost more unseemly for the secularists in this government to infringe upon the solemnity of the celebration of America’s birth than it is to invite Obama’s backers to spoil overtly or inherently religious affairs like Christmas or Thanksgiving. At a time when Americans should be reflecting on the sacrifices of the Founders and those subsequent generations who sacrificed so much to preserve freedom and self-determination, the administration’s narcissists prefer that you revel in their own accomplishments. This sentiment is of a kind with that expressed by first lady Michelle Obama who remarked that she had never been prouder of the United States than when it appeared set to elect her husband to the presidency. Rather than reflect on the sacrifices of those Americans who toiled so that we might enjoy our present comfort and security, those like Matthews, the first lady, and this administration prefer the reflection in the mirror.

Most Americans still know that the Founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor were not penning some frat house oath; in revolt against the Crown, those things were truly in the balance. Most Americans do not pine for the legislative efficiency of dictatorial government; they have voted for a divided Washington consistently since 2010, and only the most arrogant would contend that the voters simply don’t know what they want. Most Americans value the country that is still the shining city upon the hill, the golden door besides which Emma Lazarus eloquently noted the lady in the harbor lifts her lamp. Most Americans give thanks that their nation is the Arsenal of Democracy, and know innately that other less altruistic powers would fill that vacuum in her absence. Most Americans – left, right, and unaffiliated — are not as infatuated with themselves as are those who populate pro-administration blogs with content.

Most Americans do not cringe when they hear their neighbor unashamedly wish them a happy Independence Day, and they do not recoil when that is followed by the appeal to heaven that seeks God’s blessing on America. That was so for 239 years, and may it ever be thus.

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Despite Obama, Business as Usual for Cuban Tyrants

Yesterday, President Obama formally announced his plan to re-open a U.S. embassy in Cuba at an event held in the Rose Garden in the White House, declaring that he was opening a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. But while he was saying that “we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the communist dictatorship in Havana was demonstrating that it had no intention of changing its character in order to justify the enormous boost the infusion of American cash will give the regime. In recent weeks, while the president was preparing to pat himself on the back for ending a policy aimed at isolating the Castro government, the Cuban tyrants arrested a prominent artist who had returned home to test whether Obama’s rapprochement would yield any tangible benefits for those seeking to promote freedom in the island nation. The answer to that query from the president’s new partners was a resounding “no.” The Congress, which is being asked to both fund the new embassy and to lift the embargo on Cuba, should be paying more attention to that arrest than to Obama’s talk about reconciliation.

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Yesterday, President Obama formally announced his plan to re-open a U.S. embassy in Cuba at an event held in the Rose Garden in the White House, declaring that he was opening a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. But while he was saying that “we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the communist dictatorship in Havana was demonstrating that it had no intention of changing its character in order to justify the enormous boost the infusion of American cash will give the regime. In recent weeks, while the president was preparing to pat himself on the back for ending a policy aimed at isolating the Castro government, the Cuban tyrants arrested a prominent artist who had returned home to test whether Obama’s rapprochement would yield any tangible benefits for those seeking to promote freedom in the island nation. The answer to that query from the president’s new partners was a resounding “no.” The Congress, which is being asked to both fund the new embassy and to lift the embargo on Cuba, should be paying more attention to that arrest than to Obama’s talk about reconciliation.

As the Arts section of the New York Times noted yesterday, performance artist Tania Bruguera returned to her native Cuba last December at the same time as the president’s announcement of his decision to resume diplomatic relations with the island’s communist government. As the newspaper reported, “implicit in this development was the idea that Cuba would gradually loosen up on its policing of public dissent. Ms. Bruguera decided to stage a public performance that would put that to the test.”

Her venue for that test was the Havana Biennial, an arts festival that draws international attention, and to which artists and art critics have flocked. Bruguera used the occasion to perform something she calls “Tatlin #6” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza. It consists of her setting up a microphone and inviting anyone who wanted to participate one minute to speak without censorship. But as soon as Bruguera announced her intentions, she was arrested. She was later released and then staged a marathon reading with supporters of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism at her Havana home. A government-hired road crew set up outside to drown out participants’ voices with jackhammers. Afterwards, she was again taken into custody and questioned for hours.

Bruguera’s fate is not yet decided. The regime would clearly like her to leave the country again but the artist has so far resisted, knowing she would likely be never allowed back home again.

The Times declared her protest a “success” since it overshadowed the festival and exposed the realities of Cuba that the government and the arts establishment in that country wish the world to ignore. That may well be true but unfortunately one of those who continue to ignore Cuban realities is the man in the White House, who worries more about American policy being “imprisoned” by the need to go on resisting Cuban tyranny than the actual imprisonment of dissidents in that country.

The problem with Obama’s decision is not so much that he is trying to deal with Cuba; it’s that he has gotten virtually nothing in return for the economic bounty and legitimacy that U.S. recognition will give one of the last vestiges of communism in the world. Like his negotiations with Iran, the president cared more about getting an agreement at any price than obtaining concessions from Cuba that might have justified the move (other, that is, than the release of American hostage Alan Gross). The repression of Tania Bruguera is just one small example of how Cuban tyranny operates in a country whose prisons are filled with dissenters. Though the president may argue that a U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana could aid dissenters, his embrace of the regime, without forcing it to change, undermines any notion that America will make much of a difference on the ground. The only thing we know for sure is that if the president gets his way, the regime will be enriched (along with those American businesses that choose to profit from the relationship) and that ordinary Cubans will remain silenced and impoverished.

That is why Congress should resist the president’s appeal to lift the embargo. If Cuba wants the benefits of relations with the United States, it must cease imprisoning people like Bruguera and allow genuine freedoms. In the absence of such a shift, Congress must maintain the embargo and refuse to fund the new embassy. Though foreign policy remains the province of the executive, in this case the power of the purse allows the legislative branch to take up a task that the president has shown no interest in pursuing: defending American principles and values.

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Lawless Administration Won’t Enforce Law Against Israel Boycotts

The signing of a trade bill last week that included provisions specifically requiring U.S. trade negotiators to oppose European boycotts of Israel was a signal defeat for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement. The willingness of a bipartisan majority of Congress to label efforts to wage economic war on the Jewish state as inconsistent with American law was especially important since it rightly dismissed any distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those that only target Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it appears celebrations about that victory were premature. Comments by State Department spokesman John Kirby let it be known that, although President Obama signed the bill, he won’t enforce it. As it has on so many other issues, such as immigration, this administration regards laws that it likes differently from those it doesn’t and will simply ignore the latter.

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The signing of a trade bill last week that included provisions specifically requiring U.S. trade negotiators to oppose European boycotts of Israel was a signal defeat for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement. The willingness of a bipartisan majority of Congress to label efforts to wage economic war on the Jewish state as inconsistent with American law was especially important since it rightly dismissed any distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those that only target Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it appears celebrations about that victory were premature. Comments by State Department spokesman John Kirby let it be known that, although President Obama signed the bill, he won’t enforce it. As it has on so many other issues, such as immigration, this administration regards laws that it likes differently from those it doesn’t and will simply ignore the latter.

The statement by Kirby, which was related on Twitter by the Associated Press’ Matt Lee and picked up by Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Jewish Press, makes it clear that laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are null and void if they conflict with administration policy. According to Kirby:

By conflating Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories,” a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, include with regard to settlement activity. Every U.S. administration since 1967 — Democrat and Republican alike — has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This administration is no different. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.

Kirby is right that the U.S. government has never formally recognized the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem or the West Bank. But he’s wrong to assert that President Obama’s policies are entirely consistent with that of his predecessors. This administration has made an issue of the existence of 40-year-old neighborhoods in Jerusalem in a way that is unprecedented since it treats the presence of Jews in parts of Israel’s capital as being just as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlement. Moreover, no previous administration has ever considered boycotts of Israel, whether of the entire country or of the half million Jews who live on the other side of the 1967 lines as legitimate. Kirby’s statement is an implicit endorsement of some Israel boycotts while opposing others.

Nor does the focus on settlements aid the cause of peace as the administration claims. Israel has already made far-reaching offers of withdrawal from the West Bank including statehood that has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinians. The refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is the obstacle to peace, not the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank.

As I have written previously, the notion that it is okay to boycott some Jews but not others is one that sends a dangerous signal to Israel’s enemies. Once it is deemed lawful to anathematize parts of the Israeli economy, it is a slippery slope to treating all such boycotts as legitimate. Since the original Arab boycott that sought to strangle the Israeli economy was only broken by U.S. efforts to ban trade with those who enforced the boycott, a Congressional effort to move against BDS now was entirely in keeping with longstanding U.S. policy. But since this administration is obsessed with the idea of banning settlements, it is prepared to let a Europe in which a rising tide of anti-Semitism has fueled support for BDS activity get away with such boycotts.

This is a disgrace, but any thought of a legal challenge to the decision is a waste of time. Since the U.S. Supreme Court gave President Obama the right to invalidate laws about Israeli rights to Jerusalem in a decision handed down earlier this month, he can be confident that he will be granted similar latitude to ignore anti-BDS law.

But it isn’t just friends of Israel who should be outraged about this decision. This is an administration that views law enforcement as an option, not an imperative. Just as he did on immigration, where he ignored the will of Congress and used executive orders to effectively annul legislation by not enforcing those concerning illegal immigrants, President Obama regards his personal opinion as being above the law. That is a dangerous tendency to substitute his preferences for the rule of law ought to scare all Americans, regardless of their views about trade or Israel.

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Obama’s ‘Best Week Ever’ and the Coming Backlash

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction. Read More

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction.

In a typically insightful column, National Review’s Kevin Williamson recently observed that we might have entered a period of “peak liberalism” characterized by frantic, almost manic, pursuits of trivial cultural victories followed by excessive celebratory displays that serve primarily as tribal self-affirmations. Williamson suggests that this conspicuous behavior might be a subtle acknowledgment of the fact that cultural progressivism has reached its zenith and will soon being to recede. “If there is desperation, it probably is because the Left is starting to suspect that the permanent Democratic majority it keeps promising itself may yet fail to materialize,” he wrote. Williamson has identified a condition of which partisans on either side of the aisle would be shocked to learn. For those on the left, progressivism’s march is relentless; it’s speed, constant; it’s course, unalterable. For conservatives, the Obama era has been an endless stream of disappointments punctuated by only occasional and minor reprieve. If there were a pendulum swing in the works, both Democratic and Republican partisans would probably contend that it is sub-rosa to the point of imperceptibility.

But conservatives have reason to indulge in a little optimism. Since the end of World War II, American political culture has a remarkably constant tendency to counter the excesses of those in power. At the presidential level, this propensity is exaggerated and most easily observed (there’s a reason why only once has a party won three consecutive terms in the White House in the post-war period). To some extent, this is a natural function of the physics of political coalitions. As Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende put it, political coalitions are like water balloons: “When you press down on one side, another side pops up,” he noted. A winning national coalition must necessarily be so broad and diverse that it will eventually mature into something unwieldy without substantial maintenance. As the Democratic coalition of voters forged in the New Deal era dissolved amid neglect, Republicans began to pick off key elements of this coalition (working class whites, in particular). Democrats hope to replace their winning alliance of voters with a new emerging group of ascendant voters – the backbone of which is made up of students, women, and minorities. Hillary Clinton’s frantic efforts to ingratiate herself to Barack Obama’s voters are indicative of how uncertain Democrats are that Obama’s coalition of voters is now a permanent Democratic voting bloc.

Making it permanent is an urgent Democratic project, in part, because history suggests that the wind will not be at Democratic backs in 2016. No matter how “ascendant” your coalition may be, securing that elusive third term in the White House, much less maintaining coattails for your party’s down-ballot candidates, is always a struggle. This condition will probably be made worse for Democrats insofar as the electorate has been registering various levels of dissatisfaction with the state of affairs now for three consecutive elections, only to see progressive causes continually advanced.

Following two consecutive Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008, the electorate soured on Democratic governance and delivered the House of Representatives (as well as a slew of statehouses and legislative chambers) to the GOP in 2010. It was a victory that indicated the Republican revolution of 1994 and their ensuing 12 years of governance in Congress after generations of Democratic supremacy was no fluke. And what did voters gain from this no confidence vote? The Affordable Care Act signed into law, the Budget Control Act (sequester) indiscriminate cuts to defense spending, and a series of executive orders that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, the gutting of the 1996 welfare reform laws, and the watering down of American immigration law. Whether or not one views these as positive accomplishments, they are indisputably associated with liberal policy priorities.

The 2012 election can most charitably be described as a status quo election; Americans were dissatisfied with the state of affairs, both foreign and domestic, but were not sufficiently horrified by them to transfer any branch or chamber of government to the opposition party. The president and his party, however, chose to interpret his reelection as a mandate to redouble his efforts to set the nation down a liberal course. The Democratic Party rammed through tax increases on top marginal rates as well as payroll, which is not to mention the tax hikes associated with the implementation of the ACA. Democrats engaged in a failed gun control push that the president has pledged to pursue indefinitely regardless of how often it is rejected. Obama again rewrote immigration law via executive authority, pursued liberal priorities like carbon taxation and net neutrality through America’s regulatory agencies, and applauded as his party curtailed the minority party’s rights in Congress so as to see all of his nominees confirmed.

In 2014, the voters revolted again. A wave election arguably larger than 2010 swept a generation of liberal lawmakers out of office at the local level and delivered the U.S. Senate to the GOP. Again, the voters were ignored. The president’s party has obstructed the construction of the Keystone pipeline to death, preserved Obama’s determination not to enforce existing immigration law, and celebrated as the Supreme Court dubiously affirmed the ACA once more and dubbed same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Again, whether or not one agrees with these policy prescriptions is immaterial; they undeniably advance liberal objectives.

If history is any guide, change is coming. Dispirited conservatives will balk at the notion that Republicans can serve as change agents, but the out-party is the most frequent beneficiary of this voter sentiment. For progressives, the irrefutable moral justification of their cause renders any setback to its agenda a deviation from the norm, but this is self-flattery. American political history and the inherent dynamics of republican politics suggests that voters will soon correct for the excesses of the progressive left that it once empowered. When it happens, it will probably come as a shock to all those progressives who are forever citing the long march of history to justify their peculiar policy preferences.

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Iran’s Coming Betrayal and Our Jilted Allies

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks:

A couple of quick updates before everyone goes out to dinner here.

US diplomats are now telling journalists that talks will go beyond the original June 30 deadline. No surprise but consider it confirmed. The talks are still expected to conclude with a deal in the very early days of July. The current over/under is July 4th, which would give the Obama administration a full 5 days to meet the July 9 Corker deadline for filing the text of the agreement with Congress. If they file the deal before July 9, it sits in front of Congress for 30 days. If they miss the deadline, it sits in front of Congress for 60 days. The administration doesn’t want lawmakers to have an extra 30 days to discover the deal’s flaws, and so the State Department is under heavy pressure to conclude negotiations with enough time to get the text to Congress before the deadline.

Meanwhile the newest Associated Press article filed from Vienna – pasted below – is getting a lot of attention. It’s a broad overview of how US negotiations with Iran have created a “new normal” in which the Obama administration is far more comfortable talking to Iran than to America’s traditional Israeli and Arab allies. Lawmakers will ask how the administration can be trusted to enforce a deal: not only will evidence of Iranian cheating detonate the President’s legacy, but the President and his team have simply become – on a basic personal level – cozy with the Iranians:

Whether or not the U.S. and its negotiating powers can clinch a pact in Austria’s capital over the next several days, it’s hard to imagine the tentative U.S.-Iranian rapprochement ending anytime soon. It’s become the new normal… Although neither will use the word trust, for the first time in decades, U.S.-Iranian ties have in some ways “normalized.”… the interactions between Kerry and Zarif, and the two countries’ other negotiators, have expanded dramatically. They regularly chat in hotel breakfast halls before their daily discussions, hold regular calls and coordinate schedules…

In March, Kerry began a meeting by offering condolences to Rouhani after his mother died and wished the Iranians a happy Persian New Year with the traditional declaration of “Nowruz Mubarak.” Later, he approached Rouhani’s brother, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hugged him… And the good will has spread to others in the negotiating team.

Washington clearly remains light years closer to Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, but their coolness or outright hostility to the Iran talks has taken a toll. For the Obama administration, it has created the strange dynamic of sometimes finding it easier to discuss nuclear matters with Tehran… Only last week, many Iranian parliamentarians chanted “Death to America” as they passed legislation that would bar nuclear inspectors from visiting military sites – a key U.S. and international demand.

This article isn’t some random neocon opinion piece. It’s the Associated Press’s top diplomatic journalists filing a news report on the state of the talks.

When Iranian expansionism finally forces a future U.S. President to take action against Tehran – and it will, given that the Iranians are engaged in a region-wide hot war with the Arab world and are constantly looking to start another hot war with Israel – the Iranians will accuse that President of violating the nuclear deal and back out. Washington will then face an Iran that will be economically and militarily resurgent, opposite an array of abandoned allies.

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Former Obama Advisers Join Chorus of Iran Deal Critics

With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

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With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

The former Obama advisers that signed the statement are: Dennis Ross, the longtime diplomat and Middle East peace processor who oversaw Iran policy during the president’s first term; David Petraeus, the former general appointed by Obama to lead the CIA; Robert Einhorn, the veteran State Department official responsible for the enactment and enforcement of sanctions on Iran on Obama’s watch; Gary Samore, who served as the president’s chief adviser on nuclear policy; and General James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responsible for implementing the president’s decisions on building up forces in the region.

As the New York Times notes in its article on the statement, all of these men:

Joined in hours of Situation Room meetings during the president’s first term, and some into the second, to devise both the strategy to bring Iran to the negotiating table — a mix of sanctions, sabotage of the nuclear program and the prospect of a broader relationship with the West — and the negotiating objectives.

The statement also makes clear that, contrary to the efforts of the administration to smear all critics of their deal as advocates for war, the signatories support a negotiated settlement of the issue. Nor do they completely dismiss, as many critics rightly do, the current framework as a negligible achievement. But they say that unless the president insists on the deal meeting the same criteria that he has repeatedly enunciated are necessary for it to meet the goals he set forth when the negotiations began, then it will fail to accomplish his stated mission of preventing Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

The statement outlines five key areas where Western negotiators must stand their ground:

1. Monitoring and Verification: The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the “IAEA”) charged with monitoring compliance with the agreement must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. This must include military (including IRGC) and other sensitive facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities.

2. Possible Military Dimensions: The IAEA inspectors must be able, in a timely and effective manner, to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities (“Possible Military Dimensions” or “PMD”). This work needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.

3. Advanced Centrifuges: The agreement must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first ten years, and preclude the rapid technical upgrade and expansion of Iran’s enrichment capacity after the initial ten-year period. The goal is to push back Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges as long as possible, and ensure that any such deployment occurs at a measured, incremental pace consonant with a peaceful nuclear program.

4. Sanctions Relief: Relief must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations. Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement. Non-nuclear sanctions (such as for terrorism) must remain in effect and be vigorously enforced.

5. Consequences of Violations: The agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran is found to be in violation of the agreement, including by denying or delaying IAEA access. In addition, the United States must itself articulate the serious consequences Iran will face in that event

But the statement goes on to raise yet another important point concerning the nature of the framework that is set to expire after ten years, potentially leaving Iran free after that to build a bomb:

Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires. Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this.

This statement comes in the wake of a series of astonishing concessions on the part of the administration in which it has abandoned positions — such as the need for Iran to come clean about its past military research — that it declared were inviolable back in April when the framework was announced. Yet with so many important issues yet to be resolved in the negotiations such as the lifting of sanctions and the nature of inspections, the signatories urge the president to refuse to give in again to Iran as he has done on virtually every issue over the past two years. Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Tuesday that he would never allow inspections and would insist on lifting all sanctions immediately and permanently. Clearly, Iran expects the U.S. to fold again. If the negotiations are to continue, then the U.S. should stop acting as if they needed a deal more than the Iranians. If Obama’s spine finally stiffens, the West still has enough leverage to force Iran to give up its demands.

But the source of their anxiety is not that the administration lacks a strategy to achieve its goal. The problem is that the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he thinks a bad deal is better than no deal at all so every time Iran says no, he buckles. Given this history, it’s difficult to fault the Iranians for believing it won’t happen.

That’s why this statement is so important. It is a warning to Congress that the Iran deal should not be treated as a partisan issue in which Democrats will rally to the president’s side no matter their misgivings. The consequences of a nuclear Iran are too serious for this to be a political football. Democrats and Republicans must warn the White House that they will not acquiesce to surrender to a nuclear Iran that an unsatisfactory deal ensures. It is difficult to imagine the president deciding to change course at this late date. But the fact that some of his former confidantes are joining the ranks of the Iran deal’s critics shows that this deal can and ought to be stopped.

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Force? Obama Already Told Us There is No Plan B on Iran

In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

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In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

The chances of the U.S. ever resorting to force against Iran were always slim, but last month the president sent a very clear signal to Tehran they needn’t fear a change of heart on that score. Speaking to Israel’s Channel Two, the president not only didn’t repeat past promises about all options being on the table but specifically dismissed the utility of the use of force against Iran:

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

There’s some truth to this assertion but since the entire premise of the framework with Iran that he was trying to sell to the Israelis as well as Congress is to merely delay Iran’s program and to lengthen its “break out” time towards a bomb, his reservations about force seem to lack credibility.

But the main point to be gleaned from this statement is that it was a clear signal to Iran that Crowley’s scenario about the Americans walking out of the talks this week in frustration and ordering B-2 bombers loaded with MOP to be put on alert is something that will never happen.

Over the course of the last two years of negotiations with Iran, President Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that his desire for an agreement on virtually any terms outweighs any concern about Iran eventually getting a bomb. He jettisoned his demand for an end to their nuclear program (as he promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) as well as international demands that they cease enriching uranium. The current agreement already allows Iran to retain thousands of centrifuges and to maintain a program of nuclear research. Even worse, the deal will expire after ten years leaving Iran largely free to do, as it likes after that.

These overly generous terms were secured by tough Iranian negotiating tactic that have were answered with American surrenders on almost every crucial point. As Secretary of State John Kerry explained after the interim Iran deal was signed in November 2013, once the Iranians said “no,” the U.S. came to the conclusion that its demands were never going to be met so the administration simply accepted this situation and moved onto the next point. This was repeated only this month when the U.S. conceded that Iran won’t come clean about its past military nuclear efforts prior to the signing of the deal but, contrary to past promises, won’t consider this a reason to abandon the negotiations.

Now that the talks to finalize the nuclear deal are coming down the homestretch, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Iran believes this pattern won’t be broken. As I wrote earlier today, the statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader yesterday in which he made clear that the sort of inspections that would make the deal verifiable won’t be allowed are a direct challenge to President Obama.

If Iran had the slightest worry that the president believed force was an option they would never dare to throw down the gauntlet in the talks in this manner. But two years of Obama’s weak negotiating tactics have forced them to conclude that they can defy the U.S. with impunity. Nor are they afraid of Israel resorting to force because they are positive that the U.S. won’t allow it, a point that is reinforced by the fact that, as Crowley notes, the administration has not shared the MOP system with Israel despite its boasts about bolstering the security relationship with the Jewish state.

At this point, it doesn’t matter that the United States has the capacity to take out the bunker at Fordow and every other Iranian nuclear facility. Crowley writes that the existence of MOP may have helped bring Iran to the table and that it could influence their behavior in the future since it will remain as a deterrent to cheating on the pact. The first assertion is arguable but the latter is not. Without a president who is prepared to negotiate from a position of strength the ability of the MOP to take it out Iran’s nukes is irrelevant both to the current talks and to what follows.

An advanced bunker buster system like MOP should have empowered President Obama to demand an agreement that would have eliminated for all time any possibility of an Iranian weapon. But it didn’t. The deal now in place offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire. And the military option isn’t stopping Iran from making sure the deal that is being finalized now is substantially weaker than President Obama claimed it was back in April when it was announced.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s successor will be able to walk away from this mess, assuming that Congress isn’t able to prevent it from being put into effect. In January 2017, MOP may for the first time become a factor in U.S.-Iranian relations. But by then it may be too late. Even a commander-in-chief determined to get tough on Iran may be faced with the fact that sanctions can’t be easily re-imposed and the international seal of approval on Iran’s nuclear program may make it harder to justify using force to take out the same facilities that the U.S. gave a seal of approval to only a year and a half earlier. Still, MOP or an even more advanced system will be there to be used to stop an Iranian bomb if the U.S. has the will to act. But after years of exploiting Obama’s weakness, the Iranians probably think they’ll jump off that bridge when they come to it.

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Obama Gives Terrorists Another Incentive to Kidnap Americans

It appears that Iran isn’t the only Islamist entity that is about to get an infusion of cash from the Obama administration. With the announcement yesterday that the U.S. has revised its policy that seeks to prevent the families of hostages held by terrorists from paying ransom, the president has just given those criminals another incentive to target Americans. The president’s order also will mandate that the government provide more support and information for these unfortunate families, something that should have already been done a long time ago. But while the policy shift has been generated in no small measure by the enormous sympathy felt by most Americans for the captives’ relatives, the real reason this is happening isn’t purely humanitarian. It has also been dictated by the exposure of the administration’s hypocrisy in paying a huge ransom in released terrorist prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, an American deserter that wound up in the hands of the Taliban. That blunder was bad enough, but by opening a way for Americans to start pouring money into the coffers of ISIS and other Islamist groups in hostage ransoms, President Obama has again made it clear that this administration isn’t prepared to do what it takes to defeat these killers.

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It appears that Iran isn’t the only Islamist entity that is about to get an infusion of cash from the Obama administration. With the announcement yesterday that the U.S. has revised its policy that seeks to prevent the families of hostages held by terrorists from paying ransom, the president has just given those criminals another incentive to target Americans. The president’s order also will mandate that the government provide more support and information for these unfortunate families, something that should have already been done a long time ago. But while the policy shift has been generated in no small measure by the enormous sympathy felt by most Americans for the captives’ relatives, the real reason this is happening isn’t purely humanitarian. It has also been dictated by the exposure of the administration’s hypocrisy in paying a huge ransom in released terrorist prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, an American deserter that wound up in the hands of the Taliban. That blunder was bad enough, but by opening a way for Americans to start pouring money into the coffers of ISIS and other Islamist groups in hostage ransoms, President Obama has again made it clear that this administration isn’t prepared to do what it takes to defeat these killers.

There’s little question that most Americans both sympathize and identify with the situation that families like the Foleys, whose son James was beheaded by ISIS last year after rescue and ransom attempts failed. The fact that the Foleys and other families whose loved ones were held by terrorists were threatened with prosecution by the government if they attempted to pay a ransom for their release is seen as an egregious overreach by a heavy-handed administration that hadn’t the guts or smarts to rescue American hostages while refusing to let them be ransomed.

The Foleys and other hostage families were merely doing what any of us would do in their position. If my child or yours were in the hands of the enemy, any parent would move heaven and earth, and sell every principle we held about fighting terrorism down the drain, in order to ensure their safe release. But there is a difference between the impulse of a parent and the duty of a government that is supposed to be waging a war on the hostage takers.

One of the reasons behind the success of ISIS in recent years, other, that is, from the Obama administration’s precipitate withdrawal from Iraq and refusal to take action in Syria when it might have forestalled the victory of these terrorists, is their ability to generate huge amounts of revenue by taking Westerners prisoner. Most European nations have paid the ransoms demanded turning a ragtag bunch of terrorists that Obama once dismissed as the “JV” for al-Qaeda into a force that now controls much of the territory of two nations.

But the United States has rightly refused to add to ISIS’s wealth. Saying no to families in such distress is difficult, and better leaders than President Obama have sometimes succumbed to the pressure to salve their pain. President Reagan did so when he approved a guns-for-hostages swap with Iran. Various Israeli governments, including the one led by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have traded thousands of convicted terrorists to gain the release of a handful of Israeli prisoners. The reason for those swaps was understandable, and, in Netanyahu’s case, almost a political necessity given the outcry from Israelis demanding action to save kidnaped soldier Gilad Shalit. But that didn’t make them wise decisions.

Opening the door to American ransom payments to ISIS is even worse than those admittedly egregious examples of supposedly tough government jettisoning their principles in order to avoid being seen as hardhearted in the face of the tears of parents. Unlike Iran in the 1980s or even Hamas, ISIS is a dynamic organization that has shown itself capable of spreading its control over the Middle East. Though it can be argued that ISIS and the Taliban and every other Islamist terrorist group is already bent on capturing as many Americans as possible, the president has just given them an extra incentive to seek out U.S. citizens, perhaps by expanding its area of activity to places outside of its nominal control in the region in search of prey.

What’s more the real reason why the administration has been pressured into bending on this issue has less to do with sympathy for the Foleys than outrage over Obama’s hypocrisy in letting five terrorist killers with American blood on their hands go free to obtain Bergdahl’s release. The administration’s argument has been that regardless of Bergdhal’s disgraceful behavior, the United States was still obligated to bring him home. Perhaps so, but not at the cost of undermining the war the country has been waging against the Taliban. While Bergdahl may have been suffering, the notion that the plight of prisoners of war must take precedence over measures taken to win the war they were fighting in is indefensible. Such ransoms also give the lie to the idea that the U.S. is serious about fighting and defeating its enemies.

But instead of admitting they made a mistake with Bergdahl — something this president seems incapable of doing under any circumstances — the administration has doubled down on its error by extending tolerance towards other measures that will benefit the nation’s enemies.

We all should agree that families like the Foleys and others placed in that awful situation deserve to be treated with greater care than they have previously been given by the administration. After all, no one was ever going to actually be prosecuted for trying to ransom a relative. But the proper response to their tragedy is a greater determination to rescue hostages and to kill their captors. If American counterterror policy now shifts to one that focuses more on alleviating the pain of hostage families, then the only thing we can be sure of is that there were will be even more grieving Americans in the future than in the past. Like Iran, which is happy to accept U.S. appeasement that will lead to a massive infusion of cash due to the relaxation of economic sanctions, ISIS will be cheering the president’s decision.

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Obama Cedes Iraq to Iran

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli LakeRead More

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli Lake

It is all part and parcel of the Obama policy of tilting toward Tehran that has been evident for several years now — a trend that Michael Doran and I noted in January 2014 in this New York Times op-ed and that Doran had identified even earlier. This strategy has been evident at least since the president’s decision in the fall of 2013 not to bomb Iran’s client, Bashar Assad, for violating a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. Instead, Obama reached a deal with Assad for the peaceful removal of his chemical weapons — a deal that has made the U.S. complicit in Assad’s continuance in power even as Assad has continued to drop chlorine gas and barrel bombs on civilians.

Since then, the administration has bombed in Tikrit in support of an offensive mounted, for the most part, by Iranian-backed militias rather than Iraqi troops. It has cut funding to anti-Hezbollah Shiites in Lebanon. And, of course, it has continued to make crippling concessions to Iran in order to get a nuclear deal — even if the terms of the deal only increase Iran’s breakout time from two months to three months.

The administration is not vocal about what it is up to, but it is consistent: It is trying to realign the strategic chessboard of the Middle East so that Iran becomes a de facto partner of the U.S. rather than its adversary. Amazingly enough, the president does not seem to be deterred by the meager returns on his strategy so far: a region in flames.

There is every indication to believe that, as Doran and I predicted, the administration outreach to Iran is only exacerbating the sectarian divide and emboldening extremists of both Sunni and Shiite persuasion. The problem will become much more severe once a nuclear deal is concluded with Iran, because that could well spur Saudi Arabia to seek its own nuclear weapons and it will provide billions of dollars more that the mullahs can use to subvert their neighbors.

It is still not too late for the administration to reverse course — to demand more of Iran at the negotiating table and to take actions against Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq. A good beginning would be to ground Assad’s air force and declare safe zones along the borders where the moderate opposition can organize. But the intertwining of U.S. forces and Shiite militias in Iraq makes such a decision more dangerous because it will be all too easy for Iranian militias to attack U.S. forces again as they have in the past. Not that it matters: Obama has shown no desire to check Iranian designs. As long as that’s the case, the Iranian militias will happily coexist with U.S. troops because they will perceive, correctly, that the American presence is actually aiding their power grab.

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Chinese Cyber Attack on OPM Goes Unpunished

So, the penetration of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems is even more pervasive than previously reported.

CNN reported yesterday: “The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.” Read More

So, the penetration of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems is even more pervasive than previously reported.

CNN reported yesterday: “The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.”

The hack is not only gigantic and appalling but also inexplicable. CNN also reported:

OPM’s internal auditors told a House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee last week that key databases housing sensitive national security data, including applications for background checks, had not met federal security standards.

“Not only was a large volume (11 out of 47 systems) of OPM’s IT systems operating without a valid Authorization, but several of these systems are among the most critical and sensitive applications owned by the agency,” Michael Esser, OPM’s assistant inspector general for audits, wrote in testimony prepared for committee.

Yet, faced with this terrible failure, which exposes the most intimate data of countless Americans (including pretty much all of our national security officials, past and present) to Chinese espionage, what has been the Obama administration response?

Yesterday an official identified only as “senior State Department official” was asked about the issue at a press conference — and specifically what the US is doing to redress this Chinese intrusion. Here is what he or she said:

So we have had discussions ongoing with the Chinese in multilateral fora, in bilateral fora about all of the various aspects about cyber security, the activity of IT companies in China, in the United States, et cetera. It’s a very wide-ranging, obviously, topic. It’s a fast-changing area, and it’s an ongoing topic of discussion. We’re the two biggest users of the internet. We both have huge global sort of interests in seeing the internet be secured. I understand that iPhone – more iPhones were sold in China last year than in the United States. So it’s a huge area of interest for both of our countries, and we have ongoing conversations about all aspects.

That’s weak even by State Department standards. The notion that the U.S. and China have shared interests on the Internet is farcical, since China has emerged as the No. 1 hacker of American computer systems for both commercial and national security advantage. Saying that Washington and Beijing have a shared interest in Internet security is like saying that a cop and a robber have a shared interest in law enforcement.

Little wonder that members of Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, are frustrated with the administration attempts to minimize the size and severity of this breach. At a hearing last week in the House, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), told OPM chief Katherine Archuleta: “I wish that you were as strenuous and hardworking at keeping information out of the hands of hacker as are at keeping information out of the hands of Congress.”

What’s truly dismaying here is that this is hardly the first breach of cyber-security experienced by this administration. Recall that the massive breaches committed by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden occurred since President Obama took office. That’s not to suggest that the president is personally to blame for this negligence, but he is certainly as much to blame for these failures as President George W. Bush was for failures to respond to Hurricane Katrina and to a growing insurgency in Iraq. Yet, so far, the Obama administration has largely managed to avoid the kind of censure and wrath that the Bush administration earned for its handling of Katrina and the Iraq War.

Granted, these cyber breaches have not resulted in massive casualties and catastrophes that can be seen in video footage and photos. But these are catastrophes nevertheless that have done great (if hidden) damage to American security, and it’s high time that the public took this more seriously and demanded that high-level officials be held to account. At least FEMA director Michael Brown was fired over Katrina and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was ultimately ousted over Iraq. Who, if anyone, is going to be held accountable for the massive cyber-breaches the government has been suffering of late?

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It’s Not France, But an Obama Diktat That Israel Fears

With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

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With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

On Friday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack in the West Bank applauded by Hamas. On Sunday, a West Bank Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem in another of what are actually fairly routine incidents of terror. Though the Netanyahu has recently relaxed security measures intended to forestall such attacks, Palestinian assaults on Israelis are so commonplace that U.S. newspapers like the New York Times mention them only in passing and sometimes not all.

While a two-state solution would be ideal and is favored, at least in principle, by most Israelis, terror incidents highlight why large majorities regard the prospect of a complete withdrawal from the West Bank or a partition of Jerusalem are seen as madness. It’s not just that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly shown that it has no intention of ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor that Hamas, though it might endorse a continuation of the cease-fire along the Gaza border is utterly committed to war to destroy Israel. It’s also that both the PA and its Hamas rivals routinely broadcast hate and sympathy for terrorists who slaughter Jews. It is that culture of violence and rejection of coexistence still governs Palestinian politics making a two-state solution impossible even if their leaders were prepared to try to make peace.

As President Obama’s fruitless attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction showed over the last six years, more initiatives aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians actually lessened the chances of peace rather than strengthening them. That’s because each such gesture that demonstrated the unfortunate daylight that Michael Oren wrote about in his memoir only convinced the Palestinians that they need only wait for the West to deliver Israel’s surrender to them on a silver platter. That’s as true today as it has ever been.

The danger here is not just of French or European meddling that will encourage the Palestinians to keep refusing to return to direct negotiations with Israel. It’s that a proposal put forward in the next few months (assuming that Iran is off the table by then) will give President Obama a chance to demonstrate whether the off-the-record comments of administration aides that predict a U.S. abandonment of Israel at the UN are accurate. Obama has been sending clear signals to Israel and its supporters — even as he seeks to disarm their justified alarm at his Iran entente — that this administration intends to take at least one more shot at bludgeoning the Netanyahu government into submission,

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s warning to Fabius that Israel will never accept a “diktat” on matters that concern its security was entirely justified. In response, Fabius said diktat wasn’t a word that was part of his French vocabulary. But it’s not a French initiative that worries Netanyahu but the very real possibility of an Obama diktat that lurks behind it. Though President Obama may not speak German, Netanyahu is right to fear that the lame duck in the White House understands the word all too well.

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Why the State Department Won’t Discuss ‘Parameters’ for Iran

Another day, another attempt to have the State Department – one week before the deadline for a deal – state the U.S. position regarding Iran’s obligation to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. At yesterday’s press conference, the State Department spokesperson was asked to clarify his comments from Friday, which he had made in response to requests that he clarify his comments from Wednesday, and once again he declined to answer a basic question about the deal:

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Another day, another attempt to have the State Department – one week before the deadline for a deal – state the U.S. position regarding Iran’s obligation to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. At yesterday’s press conference, the State Department spokesperson was asked to clarify his comments from Friday, which he had made in response to requests that he clarify his comments from Wednesday, and once again he declined to answer a basic question about the deal:

QUESTION: … In your responses to us on Friday, you alluded to the possibility that the final deal could contain – your word now – “parameters” for IAEA access. And I just want to nail this down with you so that there is clarity. Could it be the case that any final deal that we would negotiate and ink would itself contain parameters for access that would be subject to further negotiation after the finalization of the final deal?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to talk about what the final deal will or will not look like. Again, negotiators are hard at work right now, and I think we need to give them the space to do that work. What I – what is true, however, is that at Lausanne in April, it was agreed that Iran would provide the parameters to allow the necessary access by IAEA inspectors. That was agreed in April, and that agreement is still in effect. That does not constitute the final deal, though, James, and that’s what they’re working out right now. And that’s really as far as I can go with it today.

Actually, the April 2, 2015 “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” does not contain the word “parameters” in the bullet point regarding the IAEA’s longstanding concerns about Iran’s PMDs. The bullet point provides as follows: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program” (emphasis added).

In four successive press conferences, reporters have asked whether the deal is going to contain the “measures,” or just “parameters”; whether requiring Iran to “address” the IAEA concerns means Iran must resolve them, or just make some response to the IAEA (since Iran has been stiffing the IAEA’s questions for years); whether the IAEA’s concerns regarding PMDs need to be fully resolved before sanctions are eased or removed or suspended; etc. In the four days, no less than seven reporters have been asking the questions, and none of the questions has been answered.

Perhaps reporters will try a fifth time, but there is a reason the State Department spokesperson will not answer these questions. Whatever the administration is able to negotiate with Iran, the administration is going to call a “good deal.” If it were to state now that the deal must contain specific measures enabling the IAEA to fully resolve its concerns about the PMDs before sanctions are eased, removed, or suspended, the administration will have provided Congress a standard by which to judge whether the deal is a good one. But it has become obvious that the administration believes that any deal is better than no deal, so that any deal is – by definition – good, even if it only has “parameters” that “address” PMD concerns but do not resolve them, and even if sanctions relief is not dependent on such a resolution.

After four days of questions that could easily be answered if the administration were concerned about having its demands met, rather than having a deal done, it is clear that the almost comic refusal of the State Department spokesperson to answer direct questions, posed multiple times by multiple reporters day after day, is a reflection of the colossal collapse on PMDs, which itself is simply the latest in the cascade of concessions by an administration desperate for a deal. There will be more.

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As the Flag Comes Down, the Civil War May Finally Be Over

Let’s hope South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley finally put an end to the debate over the Confederate flag Monday afternoon with her announcement that, “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” Long viewed by African Americans and others as an offensive symbol of racism, the flag became an issue again last week when a lone wolf racist terrorist entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine black Americans at prayer. Alleged murderer Dylann Roof had embraced the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy on his website where he also spewed racist and anti-Semitic hate. The response from some was that we should respect the flag as part of Southern heritage and a piece of history. But, fortunately, the impulse among some in South Carolina to reject these calls as Yankee interference was overcome both by grief over the murders and common sense. But beyond the imperative of the moment to make some symbolic gesture against hate (that also simplifies things for Republicans who feared to cross conservatives who might still revere the flag), the governor’s decision signals that, even in some parts of the Southern imagination, the Civil War is finally over. This isn’t political correctness or revisionism; it’s closure that was long overdue. And it’s absolutely vital if we are to rise above a persistent racism that President Obama cited in an interview that, like many of his pronouncements on race, seemed designed more to inflame sentiments than heal them.

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Let’s hope South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley finally put an end to the debate over the Confederate flag Monday afternoon with her announcement that, “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” Long viewed by African Americans and others as an offensive symbol of racism, the flag became an issue again last week when a lone wolf racist terrorist entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine black Americans at prayer. Alleged murderer Dylann Roof had embraced the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy on his website where he also spewed racist and anti-Semitic hate. The response from some was that we should respect the flag as part of Southern heritage and a piece of history. But, fortunately, the impulse among some in South Carolina to reject these calls as Yankee interference was overcome both by grief over the murders and common sense. But beyond the imperative of the moment to make some symbolic gesture against hate (that also simplifies things for Republicans who feared to cross conservatives who might still revere the flag), the governor’s decision signals that, even in some parts of the Southern imagination, the Civil War is finally over. This isn’t political correctness or revisionism; it’s closure that was long overdue. And it’s absolutely vital if we are to rise above a persistent racism that President Obama cited in an interview that, like many of his pronouncements on race, seemed designed more to inflame sentiments than heal them.

One must respect the respect for history on the part of those who, like our John Steele Gordon, see honoring the legacy of those who fought for the Confederacy as distinct from the pro-slavery cause or the post-war atrocities committed in the name of the so-called “lost cause.” As our Max Boot rightly pointed out earlier today, the myths about the Confederacy helped fuel a political culture that created despicable Jim Crow laws and segregationist practices that were a blot on America’s honor for a century.

Part of the debate about the symbols of the Confederacy was an attempt to paint the Civil War as being a conflict primarily motivated by the defense of state’s rights as opposed to slavery. That was always dubious history, but it fed the idea that that two sides to the war were essentially both justified or at least not involved in a conflict between good and evil. It is true that the North had no monopoly on righteousness, especially when one takes into account the crucial role those in the free states had in keeping slavery alive and even profitable. But lost in the attempt to bridge the divide between the two sides and make them both equally heroic, if not right, was the fact that those who fought for the Confederacy were fighting to keep slavery even if they were not slaveholders. Though we cannot judge them by the standards of our own day (a scrutiny that even Lincoln might not withstand), neither should we accept the conceit that both sides were engaged in an equally glorious endeavor. African-Americans rightly believed that the embrace of the Confederacy was not only offensive but also a denial of the basic truth that in a war over slavery. We should not be honoring both sides equally.

For a century, some southerners kept the war alive. At first, it was to rationalize their mad decision to destroy their region in a war that couldn’t be won. Then, it was to justify Jim Crow. As Max wrote, that South is dead. It lives on only in the fever swamps where extremists like Roof rage and neo-Confederates confuse legitimate contemporary arguments about the abuse of power by the federal government with illegitimate ones against the efforts of the Lincoln administration to preserve the Union. Those who want to celebrate the heritage of the South might do well in the future to refocus their hero-worship on the many Southerners that kept their oaths to the United States and fought for the Union rather than to destroy it to preserve an evil that still should still horrify us.

It took 150 years but Governor Haley’s promise that as of the next July 4th, only the flags of the United States and South Carolina would fly over state property was a much needed official acknowledgement in the place where the Civil War started that any governmental embrace of these symbols is outdated and harmful. While individuals have as much right to wave the Confederate flag as they do to burn an American one, let this be the end of the argument as well as an end to any idea of treating the Confederacy as anything but an embarrassing stain on American history.

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Inside Obama’s Head With Michael Oren

Michael Oren has been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse from the Obama administration for his memoir in which the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States detailed Washington’s hostility to the Jewish state over the past six years. But the second wave of attacks on Oren’s memoir has gone beyond the efforts of administration figures seeking to deny reality about the way the president sought to downgrade the alliance with Israel and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and Iran. Now the battle over Oren’s embarrassing revelations and all-too sharp insights has shifted to false charges alleging that his criticisms of Obama were “insensitive” because of his attempt to understand the president’s thinking as well as efforts to claim that the current member of Knesset made false charges against the New York Times or a prominent Jewish critic of the Israeli government. All these allegations against Oren are false. More to the point, the attack on Michael Oren says a lot more about the liberal imperative to destroy any critic of America’s dear leader than they do about Oren’s judgment or credibility.

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Michael Oren has been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse from the Obama administration for his memoir in which the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States detailed Washington’s hostility to the Jewish state over the past six years. But the second wave of attacks on Oren’s memoir has gone beyond the efforts of administration figures seeking to deny reality about the way the president sought to downgrade the alliance with Israel and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and Iran. Now the battle over Oren’s embarrassing revelations and all-too sharp insights has shifted to false charges alleging that his criticisms of Obama were “insensitive” because of his attempt to understand the president’s thinking as well as efforts to claim that the current member of Knesset made false charges against the New York Times or a prominent Jewish critic of the Israeli government. All these allegations against Oren are false. More to the point, the attack on Michael Oren says a lot more about the liberal imperative to destroy any critic of America’s dear leader than they do about Oren’s judgment or credibility.

The most damaging allegation against Oren comes from someone who is normally a bulwark of support for Israel: Abe Foxman, the outgoing head of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman claims in an ADL press release that Oren’s essay in Foreign Policy magazine published last Friday contained a passage that he labeled with the most damning phrase that can be uttered against someone in this all-too-politically correct age: “insensitive.”

What did Oren say? He had the chutzpah to speculate as to what had driven the clear animus against Israel that Oren observed in an up close and personal fashion during his four years as his government’s envoy in Washington. As he did in his book, Oren said he devoted a great deal of thought to trying to figure out what was at the roots of the president’s insatiable and generally unrequited (with the exception of Iran’s regime in the nuclear talks) desire for outreach to the Muslim world that was exemplified in his 2009 Cairo address and his clear belief that America should distance itself from Israel. His primary answer was that Obama was the product of the elite academic institutions where he studied, such as Columbia University where radical Palestinian intellectual Edward Said shaped attitudes toward Islam and Israel. He also noted that the president’s personal experiences had made him more predisposed to view Islam as fundamentally unthreatening and to be uncomfortable with confronting the religious roots of Islamist terrorism even to the point of refusing to label the attacks in Paris this past January as being anti-Semitic.

In addition to its academic and international affairs origins, Obama’s attitudes toward Islam clearly stem from his personal interactions with Muslims. These were described in depth in his candid memoir, Dreams from My Father, published 13 years before his election as president. Obama wrote passionately of the Kenyan villages where, after many years of dislocation, he felt most at home and of his childhood experiences in Indonesia. I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.

Merely referencing Obama’s family and his connections to Muslims (or even his middle name Hussein) is considered evidence of prejudice by many of the president’s supporters. But it was particularly egregious of Foxman to claim these words showed Oren was engaging in “conspiracy theories.” But Oren wasn’t claiming the president was a Muslim rather than a Christian or an agent of Islam, as some rabid Obama-haters claim. As a historian, he was merely exploring the president’s own autobiography to see what in his background helped formed a mindset that led him to see an Islamist regime like Iran as a worthy focus of American engagement.

Oren may well be accused of engaging in amateur psychoanalysis in the manner that many political observers employ in trying to get inside the head of leaders. But Oren is neither a birther nor a borderline racist, as Foxman seems to imply. Nor is it somehow prejudicial to Muslims, African-Americans, or even the president as an individual to comb his best-selling memoir for information that might explain an otherwise puzzling set of policy preferences and behaviors. Moreover it was simply false of Foxman to allege that speculation about the president’s background was Oren’s primary thesis when he spent far more space in both the Foreign Policy article and his book discussing other possible reasons. Though he claims to have often been a critic of the president’s policies toward Israel and Iran (though he has rarely been as personal or as publicly vocal in doing so as he has been in attacking Oren) Foxman seems to be following a more common pattern of behavior which consists of kowtowing to whichever party is in power in order to preserve his group’s access to the White House.

Equally egregious were other press attacks. In the Forward, Larry Cohler-Esses claims Oren wasn’t truthful when he relates a damning conversation in his book with New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal. Oren said that Rosenthal defended his decision to allow Mahmoud Abbas write a piece that, “suggested that the Arabs had accepted the U.N.’s Partition Plan in 1947 while Israel rejected it.” To Oren’s surprise and incredulity, the editor said this historical fact was a matter of opinion. Cohler-Esses then offers a link to the Abbas piece and says Oren’s charge was untrue and that Abbas had made no such claim. Those who don’t click on the link may accept the writer’s conclusion and agree that other facts in the book might be similarly suspect. But Oren is correct. Abbas speaks of the United Nations passing a partition plan that was followed by an Israeli invasion of Palestinian land and expelling the Arabs. The passage not only omitted that the Arab and Muslim world declared war on the partition resolution and that five Arab armies invaded Israel on the day it was born. He also clearly implied that it was the Israelis who rejected the UN vote and the Arabs who were its supporters. The only person whose credibility — or reading comprehension — that is at fault here is Cohler-Esses. Oren’s charge against the Times and Rosenthal stand up to scrutiny. But for some liberals attacking the Times is just as offensive as calling out Obama for his policies.

Another such example comes from Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, who writes that Oren compared former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier’s antagonism to Prime Minister Netanyahu to anti-Semitism. But, here again, the critics are distorting the truth. It was Wieseltier who admitted that his attitude was “pathological.” Ravid tries to paint Oren as attacking all liberal Jews as self-hating or fearful when the book says nothing of the kind, but does point out that some on the left had abandoned Israel, a statement so obviously true that it doesn’t need any defense.

The point here of these attacks on Oren by the left as well as groups that clearly fear the wrath of the administration is that they are not content to argue against the former ambassador’s straight-forward and painfully obvious thesis about Obama. Some on the right, like Israel Hayom’s Ruthie Blum, think Oren is far too soft on Obama. Oren absolves him of any feelings of hatred toward Israel and often cites examples of his support in what seems like a self-consciously even-handed approach to the subject. But for the sin of pointing out the president’s clear decision to distance the U.S. from Israel and to unsuccessfully embrace the Muslim world and trying to find a reason for this decision, Oren’s must be not merely be criticized by the left, the historian-turned-diplomat-turned-Knesset member must be destroyed.

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The White House’s Latest ObamaCare Lie

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was pitched and eventually sold to the American public on a foundation of lies. Many of the most egregious examples of the calculated mendacity of ObamaCare’s designers were exposed by the law’s very implementation, but a few of its more subtle deceptions and the duplicity of the law’s authors was revealed in a series of videos featuring the refreshingly honest Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and health care policy advisor Jonathan Gruber. It is fitting that, just days before the Supreme Court issues what might be its most far-reaching verdict regarding the ACA’s fraudulence, Gruber is again in the news. Read More

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was pitched and eventually sold to the American public on a foundation of lies. Many of the most egregious examples of the calculated mendacity of ObamaCare’s designers were exposed by the law’s very implementation, but a few of its more subtle deceptions and the duplicity of the law’s authors was revealed in a series of videos featuring the refreshingly honest Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and health care policy advisor Jonathan Gruber. It is fitting that, just days before the Supreme Court issues what might be its most far-reaching verdict regarding the ACA’s fraudulence, Gruber is again in the news.

As soon as the Affordable Care Act was implemented and revealed its hideous, multifarious visage to the public, the lies at the heart of the law became apparent even to observers committed to ensuring its success.

Premiums rose both for those on and off Affordable Care Act-related plans. Patients began losing their cherished and long-patronized doctors. The Supreme Court virtually rewrote the law when it ignored the administration and the solicitor general when it determined that the government had no right to penalize the public for failing to purchase health insurance. None of this would have come as a surprise to anyone who attended one of Gruber’s many lectures.

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” the health care policy advisor conceded, because “if CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”

As for the substance of the case the Court will rule on before the end of the month in King v. Burwell, Gruber appeared to validate the claims of those who believe the law was intentionally crafted to deny states the subsidies they presently enjoy if they did not set up a state-run insurance exchange. “There’s a lot of responsibilities on the states to set up these exchanges, like we did in Massachusetts, to regulate them and run them,” Gruber insisted in 2011. “Will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange, you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens?”

Later that year, Gruber expanded on his frustrations with those Republicans who opposed this monstrous social engineering scheme that had taken the form of a health care reform bill. “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens doesn’t get their tax credits,” he noted.

Most infamously, Gruber insisted that none of this would have been possible if not for him and his fellows’ faith in the “stupidity of the American voter.” He added “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

Perhaps fearing the obvious political fallout that would eventually result from these acerbic statements, those who invested their futures in the ACA rushed to insist that they had never heard of the man once praised by Democrats as the most accomplished man in his field. “I don’t know who he is,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Gruber. “He didn’t help write our bill.”

“I just heard about this,” President Barack Obama insisted amid growing national scandal. “The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is no reflection on the actual process that was run.”

According to emails belatedly obtained by House Oversight Committee investigators, however, Gruber had more fingerprints on the bill than its crafters would have preferred to admit. “The emails show frequent consultations between Mr. Gruber and top Obama administration staffers and advisers in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services on the Affordable Care Act,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. “They show he informed HHS about interviews with reporters and discussions with lawmakers, and he consulted with HHS about how to publicly describe his role.”

The emails show Mr. Gruber was in touch with key advisers such as Peter Orszag, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House that oversaw federal programs.

He was also in contact with Jason Furman, an economic adviser to the president, and Ezekiel Emanuel, who was then a special adviser for health policy at OMB.

One email indicates Mr. Gruber was invited to meet with Mr. Obama. In a July 2009 email, he wrote that Mr. Orszag had “invited me to meet with the head honcho to talk about cost control.”

“Thank you for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment,” according to Sept. 9, 2009 email to Mr. Gruber from Jeanne Lambrew, a top Obama administration health adviser who worked at HHS and the White House. In a November 2009 email, she called Mr. Gruber “our hero.”

The report quotes a Health and Human Services spokeswoman who adopted the supremely cynical tactic of insisting that all these new revelations contained in emails that the administration sought to keep secret amounted to “old news.” The transition from the Obama to Clinton White House appears to be proceeding apace.

It’s appropriate that Gruber would again become the focus of national controversy with just days to go before the Court decides whether it will again rewrite this hastily crafted law passed only as a result of parliamentary trickery. With just hours to go before that fateful moment, the nation was again reminded of the dishonesty that taints this law. Every step of the way, this White House has tried to foist onto the public legislation that would have long ago been scrapped had they been honest about its designs and effects. This latest bit of compulsive mendacity from the administration is sadly all too familiar.

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Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan…

For all the billions of dollars spent on defense, diplomacy, and intelligence, with tens of thousands of Americans employed in each, American policymaking is disturbingly myopic. President George H.W. Bush only became involved in Somalia because of the television images of starving Somali children, and President Barack Obama would probably still be making excuses for zero American involvement in Syria had the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) not begun beheading American journalists and aid workers on camera. Read More

For all the billions of dollars spent on defense, diplomacy, and intelligence, with tens of thousands of Americans employed in each, American policymaking is disturbingly myopic. President George H.W. Bush only became involved in Somalia because of the television images of starving Somali children, and President Barack Obama would probably still be making excuses for zero American involvement in Syria had the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) not begun beheading American journalists and aid workers on camera.

With all the media focus the floundering war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and renewed Russian and Chinese bluster, there seems to be very little attention paid to the continuing war in Afghanistan. As American forces come home, an attitude of out-of-sight, out-of-mind seems to pervade Washington.

In short, Obama appears to be making the same mistake he made with regard to the Iraqi withdrawal. If he believes that a small force in Kabul equates to effectiveness, he is sorely mistaken. Today, Taliban forces attacked the Afghan parliament. Afghan forces fought them back, but they injured dozens of civilians. Kabul is a relative island among the rest of Afghanistan, though. The problem now is what is happening in the provinces.

Tolo Television is Afghanistan’s most popular and most credible television station. Enter into any (non-Taliban) Afghan household and chances are people will be watching football, Bollywood films, or newscasts on Tolo. Part of Tolo’s credibility is its independence. Even as he sought to consolidate power, former President Hamid Karzai was unable to bring Tolo under his own control. The same holds true for Karzai’s successor, Ashraf Ghani.

It is worrisome, then, that on June 21, the Tolo News reported that the strategically important city of Kunduz is on the verge of falling to the Taliban. From the Open Source Center’s translation of the newscast:

A clash is taking place between the Taliban and Afghan security forces inside Kunduz City. The head of the Kunduz provincial council, Mohammad Yusof Ayubi, told TV in a telephone conversation that the Taliban group started progressing toward Kunduz City as they captured Chahardara District last night. He also added that at least 12 army soldiers have been killed have so far and 16 wounded during these clashes while the Taliban have surrounded more than 70 of security forces in outskirts of the city. Mr Ayubi has also warned if the government does not dispatch fresh forces to the area, Kunduz will fall to the Taliban… The officials have also added that this clash links with the Kunduz fight and if the Taliban block the Kunduz highway, so all ways will be blocked for supporting Afghan forces in Kunduz Province.

It is all well and good for the Pentagon and State Department to insist that training programs for the Afghanistan army and security forces are effective and that the Afghan army can fight. Even if that’s true, fighting is only one capability of many needed for self-sufficiency. Logistics and intelligence are others. If the Taliban can infiltrate a provincial capital and hold out, and if other Afghan forces are unable to get there to provide relief, then it is time to face the fact that the future of Afghanistan may look a lot like Iraq and Syria. But then again, for Obama, the buck stops not in his Oval Office but with whoever succeeds him. By then, however, it may be too late.

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U.S. Hypocrisy on Oren’s Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hate Motivated Killer, Not His Gun

The nation is in mourning today after the tragic shooting at a historic Charleston, South Carolina church where a pastor and eight worshippers were gunned down by what news reports say was a white supremacist. The alleged gunman appears to have been filled with irrational hatred of African-Americans and reportedly uttered an old stereotypical canard about blacks before he opened fire. In doing so, he sent a chill down the spine of every decent American who not only despises the twisted ideology he espoused but also understand the way an attack on a black church calls up horrible memories of the struggle for civil rights. That ought to be enough to give us all plenty of food for thought about the persistence of hate even in an era in which America has overcome its past prejudices to the point where an African-American man is serving out his second term as president of the United States. But unfortunately in his response to this tragedy, President Obama couldn’t resist using the incident to resurrect his crusade for more gun control. That was not only premature, it was largely irrelevant to the real danger that the Charleston shooting poses for our society.

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The nation is in mourning today after the tragic shooting at a historic Charleston, South Carolina church where a pastor and eight worshippers were gunned down by what news reports say was a white supremacist. The alleged gunman appears to have been filled with irrational hatred of African-Americans and reportedly uttered an old stereotypical canard about blacks before he opened fire. In doing so, he sent a chill down the spine of every decent American who not only despises the twisted ideology he espoused but also understand the way an attack on a black church calls up horrible memories of the struggle for civil rights. That ought to be enough to give us all plenty of food for thought about the persistence of hate even in an era in which America has overcome its past prejudices to the point where an African-American man is serving out his second term as president of the United States. But unfortunately in his response to this tragedy, President Obama couldn’t resist using the incident to resurrect his crusade for more gun control. That was not only premature, it was largely irrelevant to the real danger that the Charleston shooting poses for our society.

In his remarks, the president rightly said that with the investigation into the crime still under way, “Now is the time for mourning and for healing.” But almost immediately he segued into a familiar diatribe about the availability of guns that he implied is the only reason why mass shootings occur more frequently in the United States than in other countries:

But let’s be clear:  At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.  And it is in our power to do something about it.  I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.  But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.  And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.

All decent citizens no matter where they stand on the gun issue share the president’s concerns about these shootings. And there may well be some things that can be done to make these atrocities less frequent. But as with every other past attempt by the president to use such tragedies to promote his gun agenda, there is, at least as far as we know, no evidence that more background checks or registration procedures would have stopped Dylann Storm Roof from entering the Mother Emanuel Church and committing murder.

Each such crime brings with it not only grief and horror but also a sense of frustration about the ability of the killer to carry out his evil plan. It is in our nature as human beings to wish to devise some method or law that would somehow make such acts impossible or at least less likely. But while the measures that President Obama has put forward in the past would make the process of legally purchasing a weapon more onerous, none of the atrocities that he rightly laments as happening too frequently would have stopped Sandy Hook, Aurora or now Charleston.

Are guns the reason why mass shootings occur in the United States? One can make an argument that this is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from the circumstances. In nations, where firearm ownership is rare or highly restricted, it may be that those with the impulse to kill must use less efficient methods of committing mass murder. But unless the president is proposing to repeal the Second Amendment or persuade the Supreme Court to re-interpret to make possession of guns a rarity rather than commonplace, his desire for us to “come to grips” with gun violence is entirely disingenuous.

That is why many Americans who view gun rights as being under threat from seemingly anodyne measures like background checks have a point. Since we know that the perpetrators of these crimes usually have legal weapons or would not be denied one via such checks (the Charleston shooter appears to have no prior arrests), the desire to use his crime as an excuse to promote gun control leads one naturally to the conclusion that the ultimate goal of such laws would be to begin the process of disarming America. That is something that the president has specifically disavowed even if some of his supporters might be more honest about their intentions.

The Charleston shooting wasn’t caused by the fact that one young person in the grip of an evil ideology appears to have been in possession of a legal weapon. Gun ownership in South Carolina and much of the rest of the country is not only commonplace but also imbedded in our culture as well as in our history and laws. There are many Americans who might not regard that fact as a good thing. But it is a fact and to ascribe this crime to a gun rather than to adherence to white supremacist myths that are, thank Heaven, no longer commonplace even in the city where the Civil War started, is to distract us from a necessary discussion about hate into a pointless digression about guns.

As with most other such crimes, the issue of possible mental illness looms large in any discussion of motive. But if this is purely a case of hate rather than derangement the Charleston shooting requires us to confront the fact that the tendency to do evil remains part of the human predicament. And that is something that cannot be legislated out of existence, least of all by a background checks law.

That doesn’t mean we are completely powerless to act. This crime must motivate us to continue to condemn racism as well as to advocate for better treatment of mental illness whether or not that was an element in this specific case. But if we are browbeaten into another political dead end about ineffectual measures embraced by the anti-gun lobby, then nothing we do will make this crime less likely to happen in the future.

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U.S.-Israel Alliance Won’t Be Fixed Without Honesty

The Obama administration isn’t very happy about Michael Oren’s new book. The revelations in the memoir by the former Israeli ambassador to the United States aren’t particularly shocking for anyone who has been following the news since January 2009. President Obama came into office with some set ideas about creating daylight between Israel and the United States and has followed with more than six years of quarrels and public animosity. As our John Podhoretz writes about the book in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, “The sheer unfriendliness of the administration is startlingly present on nearly every one of his memoir’s 374 pages of text—and runs far deeper than the problematic relationship between the president and Oren’s boss, Benjamin Netanyahu.” But though Oren, a respected historian and no right-wing ideologue, tempers his account with paeans to the goodwill of some figures in the administration and stops well short of attributing to Obama any ill wishes about Israel’s survival, the reaction to his book from Washington has been furious. That rage and the willingness of some Israeli politicians to kowtow to the pretense that everything is awesome between the Jewish state and Obama won’t fix the problem that Oren has illustrated. To the contrary, if the relationship is to be repaired in the coming years, it will require the kind of honesty Oren has displayed.

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The Obama administration isn’t very happy about Michael Oren’s new book. The revelations in the memoir by the former Israeli ambassador to the United States aren’t particularly shocking for anyone who has been following the news since January 2009. President Obama came into office with some set ideas about creating daylight between Israel and the United States and has followed with more than six years of quarrels and public animosity. As our John Podhoretz writes about the book in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, “The sheer unfriendliness of the administration is startlingly present on nearly every one of his memoir’s 374 pages of text—and runs far deeper than the problematic relationship between the president and Oren’s boss, Benjamin Netanyahu.” But though Oren, a respected historian and no right-wing ideologue, tempers his account with paeans to the goodwill of some figures in the administration and stops well short of attributing to Obama any ill wishes about Israel’s survival, the reaction to his book from Washington has been furious. That rage and the willingness of some Israeli politicians to kowtow to the pretense that everything is awesome between the Jewish state and Obama won’t fix the problem that Oren has illustrated. To the contrary, if the relationship is to be repaired in the coming years, it will require the kind of honesty Oren has displayed.

The official position of the administration about Oren’s book is that his account doesn’t reflect reality and that he is nothing more than a politician who is seeking to sell books. State Department Spokesman John Kirby, who made a fool of himself on his first day on the job by trying to claim that Secretary of State John Kerry had not reversed himself on the conditions for an Iran deal, called the book “absolutely inaccurate and false” without actually contradicting a single fact in it. Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro similarly trashed Oren, claiming his account of Obama’s hostility to Israel during last summer’s war when the U.S. not only stopped arms shipments but also handed Hamas a victory by stopping American flights to Ben Gurion Airport was “imaginary.”

Not satisfied with that, they demanded that Prime Minister Netanyahu disavow Oren’s accounts of events. That Netanyahu refused to so even though Oren joined a different political party and didn’t hesitate to criticize the prime minister, both in the book and in the campaign for the Knesset earlier this year, is very much to his credit. Less honorable was the speed with which Oren’s political ally, Kulanu Party head Moshe Kahlon, denounced the book and praised Obama. The same was true of Likud politician Gilad Erdan who rushed to attack Oren.

The motives for these denunciations are obvious. The president knows that the truth about his hostility to Israel is not only politically damaging but extremely ill timed. With the Iran nuclear agreement likely to be signed this summer, the administration wants to portray itself as a loyal friend to Israel in order to convince a skeptical Congress that this weak pact isn’t a betrayal of the Jewish state. On the other hand, unprincipled and opportunistic Israeli politicians like Kahlon and Erdan want to be viewed favorably in Washington because they think it gives them a leg up at home.

Is there an argument to be made for keeping quiet about the way Obama has sought, as Oren tells us, to downgrade the alliance? Might not Israel be better served by pretending that everything is okay while waiting and hoping for the election of a better ally next year? That’s the instinct of many Israelis but they are mistaken. There may be times when silence is wise but given the nature of the threats to Israel and the extent of the damage done by Obama over the past years, now is the time for some truth.

The angry denials of tension by the Americans and the obsequious flattery of Obama by some Israelis might lead us to think that Oren is exaggerating things. But the former ambassador, whose even-handed account is highly critical of some decisions made by Netanyahu’s government, merely wrote what everyone who follows the Middle East knows. This administration came into office seeking to distance itself from Israel and has not missed an opportunity to ambush the Israelis and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of their foes.

There is also no secret about the fact that these efforts did nothing to advance the cause of peace or the interests of the U.S. or Israel. And that is why Oren’s truth telling is so important at this moment in history.

Obama’s hostility to Israel has deepened the conviction on the part of the Palestinians that they needn’t compromise to make peace. Similarly, Iran has come to view the Obama administration as not only a soft touch in the nuclear negotiations but also not a stalwart ally to either Israel or the Arab nations that fear Tehran as much as Jerusalem does.

What has happened on Obama’s watch has not merely created tension in the U.S.-Israel alliance, it has undermined the ability of the United States to be a force for stability or good in the Middle East. Though, as Oren has made clear, the security relationship between the two countries remains strong, the perception that the U.S. no longer may have Israel’s back at the United Nations or when it is under attack by terrorist foes like Hamas makes the already dim chances for peace even slimmer. Obama may long, as he made clear in a recent speech, for a mythical Israel of the past but the more complex vibrant democracy that exists in reality is materially damaged by his efforts to isolate it. Honesty about the problems he has created is the first step toward fixing them and re-establishing the united front between the two allies that is the prerequisite for stability in the Middle East. That’s a lesson that both American and Israeli politicians need to take to heart.

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Kerry’s False Choice on Iran

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from his sickbed to confirm last week’s report about the United States abandoning its previous insistence that Iran come clean about its past work on military applications of nuclear technology. As I noted last week, this is just the latest in a long list of U.S. concessions that have resulted in a proposed nuclear deal that appears to offer Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating and another by patiently waiting for the current framework to expire. It is, as Rick Richman wrote earlier today, nothing less than a shameful collapse. By itself this ought to serve as a good reason why Congress should reject this Iran nuclear deal when it inevitably comes before them for consideration sometime this summer. But in addressing Kerry’s excuse for his surrender, we find the same sort of false reasoning that landed the U.S. in this embarrassing position in the first place.

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Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from his sickbed to confirm last week’s report about the United States abandoning its previous insistence that Iran come clean about its past work on military applications of nuclear technology. As I noted last week, this is just the latest in a long list of U.S. concessions that have resulted in a proposed nuclear deal that appears to offer Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating and another by patiently waiting for the current framework to expire. It is, as Rick Richman wrote earlier today, nothing less than a shameful collapse. By itself this ought to serve as a good reason why Congress should reject this Iran nuclear deal when it inevitably comes before them for consideration sometime this summer. But in addressing Kerry’s excuse for his surrender, we find the same sort of false reasoning that landed the U.S. in this embarrassing position in the first place.

In explaining his decision to drop a demand that Iran reveal the truth about its military research, Kerry said that the administration wasn’t “fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.” That’s quite a change in tone from his testimony to Congress on the issue in February when he assured the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that there would be no agreement with Iran unless this was resolved. In excusing this retreat, Kerry said the U.S. knew exactly what Iran has already done, a claim that is transparently false since it is well known that U.S. intelligence in and on Iran is at best sketchy.

Even worse, it represents an assumption that Iran has ceased such work even though everything we do know about the regime tells us that they will never give up their nuclear ambition and will do just about anything to conceal such efforts. As with so much of the Obama administration’s policy, the entire underpinning of diplomatic engagement with Iran is based on wishful thinking and blind faith in the goodwill of a determined Islamist adversary that the president thinks wants to “get right with the world.”

Yet as disturbing as Kerry’s assumptions about Iran’s willingness to give up its nuclear dreams is the way he has again talked himself out of a strong position. As with every other impasse during the course of the last two years of negotiations, when presented with an Iranian refusal, Obama and Kerry simply gave up. That was true when Iran refused to give up enriching uranium or to dismantle its centrifuges or even to accept a permanent agreement rather than one that would expire in ten years. And it is now again true when it comes to knowledge about their military research.

It bears repeating that contrary to Kerry’s dismissal of the problem, without an exact knowledge of just how far Tehran’s program has gotten on military dimensions of their nuclear effort, all of the administration’s assumptions about the length of time it will take for them to “break out” to a bomb are mere guesses. Rather than a detail that as no relevance to the future, this information is vital to the admittedly slim chances that the proposed pact will succeed in halting their march to a weapon.

Just as infuriating as this disingenuous point is Kerry’s attempt to claim that the military research information isn’t as important as inspections and access to Iran’s facilities now. He’s right that the latter is essential but it is not an either or question. If the U.S. is serious about stopping Iran, it needs both. Such a false choice is a rhetorical trap, not a serious argument for contradicting the promises that Kerry made to both Congress and the media on this issue.

Unfortunately, the Iranians are balking at providing the access that Kerry rightly insists must be obtained. And we all know what happens when Tehran says “no” to this administration. As with the question of how and when sanctions will be lifted, we must expect more Obama surrenders on important issues in the coming weeks as Kerry fights to save a deal that any self-respecting diplomat would walk away from. Iran has no reason to believe a word Kerry says about what the U.S. must obtain in the nuclear deal. Nor should Congress when it is finally allowed to have its say on this fiasco.

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