Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

Obama on Israel: A Judgmental Friend and Its Open Enemies

President Obama’s sales pitch for his still unfinished nuclear deal with Iran went to the next level today as he spoke at a Washington, D.C. synagogue to commemorate Jewish Heritage Month. As he always does when speaking before friendly liberal Jewish audiences, the president knows just what buttons to push to win the hearts of his listeners. Flattery about the place of Jews in American history? Check. Appeals to common liberal values and Jewish participation in the civil rights movement? Of course. Support for Israel? I’ve got your back. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb? I’ll never let it happen. Outrage about anti-Semitism? You got it. The result is always the same. Liberal Jews reconfirm their love affair with the president and file away any doubts they have about his predilection for picking fights with the Jewish state and for his pursuit of détente with one of the most anti-Semitic governments in the world. But Barack Obama’s troubling ideas about friendship with Israel should give even his most ardent Jewish fans pause. The problem with Obama is not that he’s an avowed enemy of Israel but that he’s the sort of judgmental friend whose positions are often indistinguishable from those of its foes.

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President Obama’s sales pitch for his still unfinished nuclear deal with Iran went to the next level today as he spoke at a Washington, D.C. synagogue to commemorate Jewish Heritage Month. As he always does when speaking before friendly liberal Jewish audiences, the president knows just what buttons to push to win the hearts of his listeners. Flattery about the place of Jews in American history? Check. Appeals to common liberal values and Jewish participation in the civil rights movement? Of course. Support for Israel? I’ve got your back. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb? I’ll never let it happen. Outrage about anti-Semitism? You got it. The result is always the same. Liberal Jews reconfirm their love affair with the president and file away any doubts they have about his predilection for picking fights with the Jewish state and for his pursuit of détente with one of the most anti-Semitic governments in the world. But Barack Obama’s troubling ideas about friendship with Israel should give even his most ardent Jewish fans pause. The problem with Obama is not that he’s an avowed enemy of Israel but that he’s the sort of judgmental friend whose positions are often indistinguishable from those of its foes.

Obama’s purpose was twofold.

One is to rally liberal Jews behind the Iran nuclear deal despite its many shortcomings. The president doesn’t need to win the votes of the majority of the House or the Senate, just one third plus one, the amount to sustain a veto of what might be a strong “no” vote in both bodies. Getting 34 members of the Senate to back a terrible deal whose final form may wind up even weaker than we thought it would be won’t be easy. But so long as a critical mass of liberal Jews are willing to stick with him, it will be easier.

The other is to soften up domestic opposition to a policy shift on Israel in which the president will effectively abandon Israel at the United Nations. Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has only increased in the last few months. Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran deal and his re-election that led to the creation on an even more right-wing government has deepened the president’s resolve to increase pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions to the Palestinians. That leaves open the possibility that the administration will stop vetoing Palestinian efforts to gain recognition for their independence at the UN without first having to make peace with Israel.

But the president’s message to the Jews today was that they shouldn’t regard any of this as a sign of his lack of regard for them or Israel.

The argument for accepting this point of view was rehearsed often enough during the 2012 presidential election. We were told then, as we were today, that Obama likes Israel and won’t let anything bad happen to it. But what was different about today’s speech is that the Iran deal and the open scorn that administration officials have directed at Israel in the last year (chickensh*t) while wrongly blaming Netanyahu for the latest collapse of the peace process gives the lie to many of his re-election promises. Nor is it easy to sell a liberal Jewry that was promised in 2012 that Obama would insist that any Iran deal made them give up their nuclear program on the idea that an agreement that treats allows them to keep that program is kosher.

So to justify this open hostility and policies that seem clearly aimed at downgrading the alliance as he embraces Iran, the president was forced to explain his ideas about the nature of friendship with Israel. Obama sees himself as a critical friend who prefers the Israel of the early years of the country when it was widely lauded as an example of how ideas of social justice could blend with nationalism to the complex reality of the current day:

I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war.  The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world.  Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive.  And those values in many ways came to be my own values.  They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

That is the sort of sentiment that many liberal Jews would echo. They liked the Israel that was run by the Labor Party of previous generations because it didn’t seem too right-wing or religious and acted as if peace were always just around the corner. A lot of Israelis may share that idea but the problem here is that the real life Israel of 2015 is different. More to the point, Israel changed for a reason. If support there for the peace process collapsed, it was because the Palestinians never accepted Israel’s peace offers and responded instead with terrorism.

Obama’s says he is as judgmental of Israel as he is of the United States, and perhaps that is true. But that judgmental attitude is rooted in the notion that he knows better than both Israel’s government and its people what is good for its security or its survival. And he thinks it’s good for the relationship for these differences to be fully aired.

But if there is anything we have learned in the last six-plus years, it is that the daylight between Washington and Jerusalem that Obama came into office seeking has not advanced the cause of peace one bit. To the contrary, his open arguments with Israel’s government have only made it even less likely that the Palestinians will ever accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. That has enhanced the chances of violence and conflict in a region where Islamist terror has grown on Obama’s watch. His embrace of an entente with an Iran is just as dangerous.

The point here is not just that his Iran deal is a sham or that his refusal to hold the Palestinians accountable for their refusal to make peace is wrongheaded. It is that Obama’s conception of the relationship with Israel is such that he thinks it empowers him to pressure it to adopt policies that are clearly detrimental to its security despite all the lip service for that concept. He not only thinks Netanyahu is wrong, he thinks his delusional nostalgia for the Israel of the past gives him the right to be a scourge to the Israel of the present; even if that means cutting off arms supplies during war (as he did last summer during the conflict with Hamas), isolating it at the UN or allowing Iran to become, at the very least, a threshold nuclear power.

That’s the sort of friendship that is insufferable to a country that is still beset by enemies that are fueled by the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that Obama acknowledged. But in its willingness to excuse or reward the behavior of Israel’s open foes, it downgrades the alliance to a conditional relationship rather than a genuine alliance.

Like any democracy, Israel isn’t perfect, but its government and people need no lessons from Barack Obama about values or which policies best serve its long-term interests. Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself, and anyone who thinks it should be has no respect for the Israeli people. American Jews who warmly applauded Obama’s speech need to understand that friendship on those terms is not only not much of a friendship but also, if he follows through on his threats, tiptoes perilously toward open hostility.

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The Press Leaps to Protect Obama, Hillary From Abusive Anonymous Twitter Users

A strikingly candid New York Times dispatch published on Friday has apparently spooked Hillary Clinton’s cadre of supine acolytes. The arch-conservatives at the Times noted accurately that Clinton only reluctantly broke her 28-day streak of ignoring inquiries from the press after Fox News Channel White House correspondent Ed Henry aggressively prodded her. The Times dispatch from journalist Jason Horowitz observed truthfully that the media has only barely been able to conceal their “annoyance” with the former first lady’s stonewalling.

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A strikingly candid New York Times dispatch published on Friday has apparently spooked Hillary Clinton’s cadre of supine acolytes. The arch-conservatives at the Times noted accurately that Clinton only reluctantly broke her 28-day streak of ignoring inquiries from the press after Fox News Channel White House correspondent Ed Henry aggressively prodded her. The Times dispatch from journalist Jason Horowitz observed truthfully that the media has only barely been able to conceal their “annoyance” with the former first lady’s stonewalling.

“In Iowa, Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table distribute alms to the clamoring press,” Horowitz later tweeted. This editorializing inspired a backlash from the coterie of palace guards at Media Matters for America, but it was also perfectly justified. If you haven’t had the opportunity to review Clinton’s response to Henry’s question, and I highly recommend you do, her unconcealed disdain for the Fox reporter’s impertinence is best described as similar to that of a sovereign.

“Maybe when I finish talking to the people here,” Clinton said response to Henry’s query. Adopting a wry smile while surrounded by a group of Iowans handpicked by her campaign to represent a random sample, the likely Democratic presidential nominee added, “How’s that?”

“You’ll come over?” Henry probed.

“I might,” Clinton replied, chin pointed toward the heavens. “I have to ponder it, but I will put it on my list for due consideration.”

All that was missing was a reference to herself in the first person plural.

Clinton earned and received some due mockery for this display of airs both within and outside the journalistic establishment. But that is itself a problem for some in the world of political reporting. Some in the media have begun to concern themselves with the problematic nature of those insolent Americans who have the temerity to mock and even insult both the president and his heir apparent.

It seems that both the Times and Politico discovered this week the existence of the microblogging site Twitter, and the fact that anonymous users on that site can be, gasp, mean to public figures in positions of authority.

This week, Politico published a bizarre dispatch focused entirely on the “trolls,” or social media users who behave in an intentionally provocative fashion, that hound Clinton’s online presence.

“Some call her names like ‘witch,’ ‘dictator,’ ‘monster,’ and even ‘Hitlary,’” the report read, “all reminders of how polarizing Clinton can be — a feminist hero and glass-ceiling cracker to supporters; an untrustworthy, pandering operative to the haters.”

Politico noted that Clinton’s Twitter presence is followed by more people than the entire Republican 2016 field combined, “But that formidable footprint comes with a price.”

[S]he also trumps her opponents in terms of her legions of trolls, who sometimes overwhelm the conversations she generates, picking at the scabs and scars Clinton has accumulated over nearly four decades in public life.

When Clinton recently tweeted “Healthy women ? healthy communities. Sign up if you agree with Hillary,” one quick response to that relatively anodyne message was, “On average how much does Bill spend on hookers each week?”

Indeed, even Clinton’s “physical appearance is not considered out of bounds” for those anonymous cads who dare speak above their station. Apparently, one unnamed micro-blogger who saw the former secretary of state walking down a street near her Brooklyn headquarters as “a human pear.” How vulgar.

The Times, too, lashed out on Friday at the uncivilized elements on social media who hurl slurs at their betters. In a 1,113-word dispatch, the Times noted that Twitter is full of coarse barbarians who have a penchant for slinging repulsively racist insults at the president.

This week, President Barack Obama revealed that he would use Twitter when he leaves office and unveiled the account handle from which he will send out 140 character messages. This revelation yielded a slew of racially insensitive comments that would surely sap anyone’s faith in their fellow man.

“The posts reflected the racial hostility toward the nation’s first black president that has long been expressed in stark terms on the Internet, where conspiracy theories thrive and prejudices find ready outlets,” the Times reported. “But the racist Twitter posts are different because now that Mr. Obama has his own account, the slurs are addressed directly to him, for all to see.”

But there was one measure of a specific slur. According to analytics compiled by Topsy, a research company that collects and analyzes what is shared on Twitter, the number of postings that included Mr. Obama’s name and one particular racial epithet jumped substantially on Monday, the day of the president’s first posting, to 150.

One Twitter user who did not use that specific racial slur responded to the president with just two words: “Black monkey,” a comparison that was not uncommon. “Get back in your cage monkey,” another person wrote.

This is repulsive, unalloyed racism, and it should not be excused. Indeed, no one of merit is excusing it. But only the anonymous or those utterly unconcerned with their livelihoods would dare issue such slurs in a public forum. It’s not much of a secret that the Internet is populated with jerks. Hopefully, the New York Times is fully stocked up on smelling salts in the event the Gray Lady’s editors ever discover YouTube’s comments sections.

A White House reporter even determined that the abuse the president suffered on social media was a worthy line of inquiry during the daily press briefing. Press Sec. Josh Earnest had the unfortunate duty of disabusing this reporter of the rosy notion that the web is a safe space when he noted that uncivil discourse is “all too common on the Internet.”

Those media outlets feigning shock over the abuse dealt out to public figures are being more than a little dishonest. Reporters should not be surprised to learn that George W. Bush was not spared the belligerence of anonymous commenters over the course of his presidency. Though they did not have Twitter to vent their rage, it was not difficult to find anti-Bush “trolls” who did not shy away from attacking the former president’s character, his relations, and his heritage. This condition did not result in handwringing pieces in the Times about the left’s incivility or the nation’s lingering antipathy toward representatives of Southern states.

People are mean on the Internet, but that is not a story. In order to scold a nation that includes citizens who are rude to Clinton and Obama on the web, these outlets had to pretend as though this was a unique and new phenomenon. While the worst of the comments that the president and the former secretary of state have had to endure are certainly condemnable, it’s perhaps as offensive that these journalistic institutions leapt at the chance to morally preen and posture in order to deflect criticism, however unhinged, from these leading Democrats.

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Obama Blames Iraqis for America’s Failure

There is a lot of interesting material in President Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic beginning with the president’s claim: “No, I don’t think we’re losing, and I just talked to our CENTCOM commanders and the folks on the ground.” I can’t help remembering that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush said some variation of that statement regularly between 2003 to 2006 even as we were manifestly losing. Earth to Oval Office: Just because military commanders tell you that they’re not losing doesn’t mean that they’re right!

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There is a lot of interesting material in President Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic beginning with the president’s claim: “No, I don’t think we’re losing, and I just talked to our CENTCOM commanders and the folks on the ground.” I can’t help remembering that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush said some variation of that statement regularly between 2003 to 2006 even as we were manifestly losing. Earth to Oval Office: Just because military commanders tell you that they’re not losing doesn’t mean that they’re right!

The US military is the finest fighting force in the world, but its officers are prone to over-optimistic assessments—the flip side of their “can do” ethos. It’s striking that this president who so routinely ignores military advice (by, for example, imposing a time limit on the surge in Afghanistan and by forbidding US advisers in Iraq from leaving their bases) now embraces military thinking when it’s so deeply flawed, yet convenient for him. Like the assessments of progress that emanated from the Pentagon and the White House during 2003-2006, this one is not going to be believed by many people.

But that’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to focus on is this statement from the president: “If the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.” That’s a statement that’s likely to have wider resonance even among Republicans. Indeed, it was a common trope during debates over whether to send more forces to Iraq in 2006-2007. Many on both the left and the right wondered why the US should be helping Iraqis when Iraqis appeared not to be willing to help themselves.

This misses the point on several levels.

First and foremost, we’re not in Iraq now, any more than we were during the 2003-2011 period, to help the Iraqis. We’re there to help ourselves because we perceive threats to our national security. Before those threats came from Al Qaeda in Iraq and from Iranian-backed Shiite militias; today from ISIS and Iranian-backed Shiite militias. We need to work with Iraqis to advance our interests, but if we feel that there is insufficient effort on the part of the Iraqis, we can’t simply throw up our hands in despair and walk out—that would be a serious blow to American interests in the region. Instead, we need to figure out how to better motivate the Iraqis to fight hard.

Obama’s broad-brush indictment of Iraqis misses the all-critical circumstances in which Iraqis find themselves. Imagine that a vicious street gang were terrorizing a neighborhood of Detroit or South Central Los Angeles. Would we blame the residents for not being willing to confront the gang on their own and thereby conclude that the residents were not worth saving? Of course not. Because we would recognize that a small number of heavily armed toughs can terrorize a neighborhood—and if sufficiently vicious they can even cow the local police force. That doesn’t mean that the residents want to live under the domination of the street gang, any more than Iraqis today want to live under the domination of ISIS or the Quds Force. The problem is that they don’t feel strong enough at the moment to rise up against those terrorist organizations.

Plenty of Iraqis have shown themselves more than willing to fight for their country—just recall how the Iraqi armed forces and the Sons of Iraq, in cooperation with US forces, routed Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007 and then later took on the Mahdist Army. The reason that today we consistently see small ISIS formations scattering much larger Iraqi units is that the Iraqi units have been undermined from within by corruption and sectarianism. Iraqi soldiers today are badly trained, badly led, badly supplied, badly motivated. But that’s not the fault of rank and file troops. The blame goes to the Shite sectarians who have dominated Baghdad since the American pullout in 2011. If Iraq forces have better leadership and training and supplies, as they did in 2007-2008, they will fight far more effectively.

It’s in America’s interest to increase the quality of Iraqi forces but that won’t happen unless we make more of a commitment ourselves, not only sending more American troops but also loosening restrictions that currently prevent our advisers from operating side by side with Iraqi units—the only way to significantly enhance Iraqi combat performance.

President Obama’s comments have a whiff of “blame the victim” about them, because ordinary Iraqis are the main victims of the vicious sectarian extremists who currently dominate their country. Most Iraqis would love a more moderate government of the kind they enjoyed until the US pullout in 2011, and it’s in our interest to help them achieve that goal. But don’t blame Iraqis for not being willing to stand up to the cut-throats of ISIS or the Quds Force on their own. Both organizations have substantial outside backing and to roll back their advance will require substantial support for more moderate forces—especially Sunni tribes—from the US and its allies.

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Iran Gives Obama a Lesson in Negotiating

President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

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President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

As I noted yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader made it clear yesterday that the rigorous inspections of their nuclear facilities that President Obama has promised will never happen. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised that inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency aren’t going to be allowed into their facilities or to talk to their scientists. The terms enunciated by the administration are bad enough because they give the Iranians two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by abiding by them and just waiting patiently for it to expire while they continue nuclear research without interference from the West. But if Khamenei’s interpretation of the deal is correct, it will be a sham.

That leaves us wondering whether the president is prepared to risk his long sought after deal in order to obtain the terms that he has said make it viable. With only weeks to go before the self-imposed deadline of June 30 to get the pact on paper, the question would seem to be which of the two Khamenei or Obama will blink. But the answer is not so clear-cut as that. The Iranians are clearly baiting Obama but are also sending out signals they will accept a “compromise.”

That’s the upshot of an Associated Press report about comments from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about the Iran deal. Fabius said the Iranians are currently offering the West a deal on inspections that would allow the UN to visit a site of a suspected violation of the deal’s terms but only after a 24-day notice being given. Needless to say, such a waiting period is almost as bad as no inspections at all. Indeed, even if the Iranians go down a bit from 24 to a lower number, anything other than the right to rigorous surprise inspections is a lock-solid guarantee of cheating by the Islamist regime. But by publicly staking such an absurd stand on the issue, the Grand Ayatollah has set up Obama for a compromise that will undermine the entire foundation of the agreement.

So while Obama is defending his partners in a new Middle East entente as being rational anti-Semites, his Iranian counterpart is demonstrating a degree of diplomatic skill far above that of the president. Having spent the last two years undressing the president in public as his demands for an end to their nuclear program has given way to an agreement that at best, enshrines Tehran as a threshold nuclear power, Khamenei is now pushing Obama to the brink knowing full well that the president will never give up his legacy-making agreement if Iran doesn’t agree to his terms. Obama told Goldberg that he knows that if Iran gets a bomb, it will have his name on it even if it is 20 years from now. Sadly, that inscription is being written in the final weeks of talks as the Iranians give Obama one last lesson in how to negotiate.

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Obama: Just Because Iran Is Anti-Semitic Doesn’t Make It Irrational

At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

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At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, an interlocutor so highly regarded by this administration that he manages to coax incendiary quotes out of White House officials with near metronomic regularity, Obama appeared to let his guard down a bit. On the subject of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Goldberg noted that the president has in the past argued, “quite eloquently in fact,” that the Islamic Republic officially subscribes to a particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism. The destruction of the state of Israel is official Iranian policy. That is an end that Tehran works arduously toward as a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is a goal that it might achieve should it develop one or more fissionable devices.

“You have argued,” Goldberg queried, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

The president’s amiable interrogator noted politely that he could not square these two entirely antithetical concepts. Goldberg then asked, with all due deference, if the president might help him to reconcile this contradiction. Obama’s unconvincing response demonstrated clearly that, if any party in this conversation suffered from some cognitive shortcomings, it was not Goldberg.

Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—

They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

How callous.

First, and it’s not out of bounds to make note of this, but strict adherence to a prejudicial belief system like anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry is, at root, irrational. It is a weltanschauung that is unprincipled, unthinking, brutish, and serves as the basis for the contention that Iran’s messianic approach to geopolitics renders them an irresponsible international actor. The White House has in the past dismissed Iran’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism as propaganda products packaged for purely domestic consumption. This is classic projection bias; the president imagines that the anti-Semitic agitation of Iran’s ruling class is mere political positioning because he so often makes assertions he doesn’t truly believe.

Secondly, irrationality is not synonymous with insanity. Because the Islamic Republic’s leaders are effective governors of a state with a return address and they can engage in effete diplomatic courtesies with their Western counterparts in Lausanne does not mean that Tehran is incapable of making calculations that outside observers would find reckless. Irrationality is subjective. What Tehran might see the reasonable pressing of a perceived advantage the West might consider dangerous brinkmanship.

There is nothing illogical, for example, for the Islamic Republic’s leaders to believe that a preemptive terrorist attack on Israeli targets with weapons of mass destruction would consolidate their grip on power. Moreover, Tehran might see some upside in the inevitable defusing of the tensions between the region’s Sunni and Shiite powers in the wake of an Israeli retaliatory response. It would be irrational, it would spark a regional war characterized by weapons of horrible destructive power, but it is a misunderstanding of rationality to suggest this strategic approach is totally unhinged.

Barack Obama is most likely to get himself into trouble when he indulges his inner professor and waxes longwinded on subjects better suited to the classroom than the Oval Office. This self-indulgent intellectual exercise might have a place in an introductory international relations theory course, but it is terrifying to hear uttered from the commander of America’s armed forces. If the president’s strategic approach to Iran is founded on the fallacious assumption that they are just like him insofar as they don’t really mean what they say in public, the last 18 months of this administration are going to be particularly perilous.

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Should Israel Take Obama’s Iran Payoff?

For months, President Obama has been trying to find a way to silence Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran. Up until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant in his opposition to what he and many Americans feel is an effort to appease the Islamist regime that will have catastrophic consequences for the security of both the United States and Israel. But, if reports are correct, the Israeli government is preparing to make the best of an awful situation by accepting a massive military assistance package from the U.S. in exchange for what an unnamed senior administration official describes as “some quiet from the Israelis.” While it can be argued that expediency demands that Netanyahu seek to get what help from the Americans that he can, with the outcome of the nuclear negotiations still hanging in the balance, this isn’t the moment for the Israelis to go into the tank for Obama on Iran.

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For months, President Obama has been trying to find a way to silence Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran. Up until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant in his opposition to what he and many Americans feel is an effort to appease the Islamist regime that will have catastrophic consequences for the security of both the United States and Israel. But, if reports are correct, the Israeli government is preparing to make the best of an awful situation by accepting a massive military assistance package from the U.S. in exchange for what an unnamed senior administration official describes as “some quiet from the Israelis.” While it can be argued that expediency demands that Netanyahu seek to get what help from the Americans that he can, with the outcome of the nuclear negotiations still hanging in the balance, this isn’t the moment for the Israelis to go into the tank for Obama on Iran.

As the Israeli press is reporting, the Americans are prepared to pay what the administration official called, “a hefty price” for Israel’s silence in the upcoming months as a nuclear agreement is debated in Congress. That price will supposedly include up to 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets and anti-missile batteries. Given the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge over potential Arab and Iranian foes, it’s a tempting offer. Especially alluring for the Israelis is the prospect of more Iron Dome batteries as well as funding for more short-range David’s Sling batteries and the long-range Arrow-3 missile defense.

If, as seems likely, there is nothing Israel can do to prevent the U.S. from appeasing Iran and signing a weak deal that may not even guarantee rigorous inspections, then perhaps the only rational alternative is to accept a bribe from the administration for their silence. The same reasoning led some Arab countries to attend a summit here last week which, though boycotted by the kings of both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, resulted in a U.S. promise about selling them more advanced military hardware. Even if it was accompanied by a weak guarantee of their security that impressed no one, let alone Iranians, the Arabs were not so proud that they turned down U.S. assistance.

Moreover, it can be argued that if Israel doesn’t accept Obama’s bribe now, the offer may be off the table once the nuclear agreement is a done deal. The U.S. has been openly threatening to abandon Israel at the United Nations once the nuclear deal is put to bed. It’s not likely that they’ll be as forthcoming in the next year and a half. Given the ongoing threat of another war with Hezbollah or Hamas, anything that can help augment the Jewish state’s anti-missile defense arsenal is vital.

But even though the outcome of the Iran talks seems like a foreordained conclusion now, Netanyahu would be foolish to throw in the towel on the nuclear question. There are four key reasons why this is so.

The first is that no matter how much of a done deal the Iran negotiations seem, there is still no guarantee that the Iranians won’t ultimately pull out of them. Given the sweet deal that Obama has given them that would make no sense. The president hopes to create a new entente with Tehran but predicting Iran’s behavior is never easy. It is always possible that the Iranians will torpedo the talks in the hopes of getting an even sweeter offer from an administration that is desperate for detente with the Islamist regime. Until proven otherwise, the Israelis should not do anything that would be seen as a seal of approval for even more far-reaching Western concessions.

Second, though the process by which Congress will vote on a potential deal with Iran is geared towards guaranteeing its passage, there is still a sliver of hope that opponents of a dangerous deal will be able to hold support for the president to lower than one-third of the House and Senate thus preventing a presidential veto. If the Israelis were to take Obama’s bribe, it would be even more difficult to persuade many Democrats to vote against the president’s wishes. It would also give the false impression that the strong arguments they raised against the Iran deal appeasement were insincere.

Third, as important as the planes and anti-missile batteries are, they aren’t a real answer to the strategic threat that Iran poses for Israel. As the Arab states have also realized, Iran’s bid for regional hegemony has gotten a shot in the arm from Obama. Addressing Iran’s dangerous adventurism in the region will require more than an arms package.

Last, as weak as their position may be vis-à-vis Obama, the Israelis shouldn’t act as if they are desperate. As desperate as the situation seems, Congress still has Israel’s back and will likely vote in all the arms Israel needs, even if the administration doesn’t request it. Just as important, Obama won’t always be president. In 20 months, someone else will be sitting in the Oval Office. While there are no guarantees, the likelihood is that his successor won’t be making the same mistake and seeking to distance the U.S. from Israel. Anything Obama is offering now will likely still be available for them in the future. Surrendering a principled position on Iran simply isn’t worth the hardware that Obama is offering them. Netanyahu must hang tough and hope for the best, confidant that both Congress and the next president will be someone that he can trust more than Obama.

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Obama Insists It’s ‘Not a New Cold War,’ But It Sure Looks Like One

It is a testament to the persistent influence of hard power and the dominance that state actors enjoy in the international arena that the Obama administration’s fondest hopes for Russia’s rehabilitation have been thoroughly and permanently dashed. The president took office with the hope that props acquired from a local Staples and an obstinate commitment to overlook the Kremlin’s revanchism would transform Putin’s government into a responsible global actor. That naiveté has been dispelled, but not before hundreds if not thousands of lives were lost and America’s approach to global grand strategy suffered a variety of debilitating setbacks.

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It is a testament to the persistent influence of hard power and the dominance that state actors enjoy in the international arena that the Obama administration’s fondest hopes for Russia’s rehabilitation have been thoroughly and permanently dashed. The president took office with the hope that props acquired from a local Staples and an obstinate commitment to overlook the Kremlin’s revanchism would transform Putin’s government into a responsible global actor. That naiveté has been dispelled, but not before hundreds if not thousands of lives were lost and America’s approach to global grand strategy suffered a variety of debilitating setbacks.

It seems like a generation ago that the president embarked on an effort to “reset” bilateral relations with Russia. The administration imagined that Moscow had mounted a cross-border invasion of neighboring Georgia and carved off Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a response to George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy.” The White House was shown the error of their ways when Russia invaded another neighboring country, this time outright annexing occupied territory rather than erecting the complicated fiction that these provinces had been liberated from their oppressive former parent states. In the interim, Barack Obama leveraged Russia’s desire to preserve their client Damascus so as to help extricate him from his commitment to enforce his “red line” for action against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad by force. In doing so, Barack Obama consigned that country to years of a bloody civil war characterized by the repeated use of chemical weapons on civilian populations.

While the administration steadfastly refuses to address the conflict in Ukraine outside the context of financial sanctions, none of which have had an appreciable effect on Russian behavior, the United States appears to be getting serious about the threat posed by Moscow’s irredentism.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin revealed that the United States is preparing to respond aggressively to alleged Russian violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The West believes that Russia violated the terms of that Soviet-era treaty by developing and pledging to forward deploy nuclear delivery vehicles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. “The State Department admitted publicly last July that the U.S. government believes Russia is violation of the treaty,” Rogin observed. “Privately, top administration officials have known that Russia was in violation since at least 2012, because it has tested ground-based cruise missiles with the prohibited range.”

Two U.S. officials briefed on the options said that the Pentagon has submitted a list of potential countermeasures to the National Security Council, but the White House has yet to schedule a high-level NSC meeting to discuss and decide what to do. Some of the more aggressive options would include deploying more land-based military hardware to NATO allies for missile defense near the Russian border, to counter the new Russian cruise capability. Expanded targeted sanctions and added patrols near Russian space are less aggressive options on the table.

The European theater is not the only space in which the West and Russia are waging a sub rosa conflict. On Monday, American officials were informed that Russia had closed a key military transit corridor that allowed NATO allies to support and resupply forces serving in Afghanistan with non-lethal aid. Russia determined to close that transit route that had been in use since 2008 due to the fact that NATO combat mission in Afghanistan ended in December of last year, although over 12,000 foreign servicemen and women remain deployed there.

“Russian observers said there was a clear political element to Mr. Medvedev’s order, in light of Russian unhappiness with Western sanctions over Ukraine and Crimea and suspicions that NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is being extended indefinitely,” the Washington Times speculated.

Just days after pro-Moscow forces in Ukraine used a Russian-supplied anti-aircraft missile to shoot MH 17 out of the sky, taking the lives of 298 primarily Western civilians in the process, Obama assured the press that America and Russia were not entering into a “new Cold War.” But with military balancing and counterbalancing ongoing in Europe and Central Asia, the return of nuclear brinkmanship, and diplomatic offensives designed to de-escalate tensions becoming an increasingly pressing priority, it sure looks like one.

The United States and Russia have always maintained a divergent set of strategic objectives, but the theaters in which Moscow and the West are coming into conflict are rapidly proliferating. If the president had entered office with a reasonable understanding of Russia’s perspective and its long-term strategic aims, much of the threat the Kremlin presently poses to the geopolitical order might have been managed more effectively.

Better late than never, I guess.

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Iran Isn’t Budging. Will Obama?

When the Obama administration trumpeted the conclusion of a framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, it assured skeptics that its terms would be enforced by rigorous inspections. The agreement would, the president and his foreign policy team told us, be verified by a system that would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s acknowledged facilities as well as any “suspicious sites” in the country. At the time, administration officials said that Iranian statements saying the U.S. interpretation of the as yet unwritten accord was incorrect were purely for domestic consumption. But with only a little more than a month remaining before the June 30 deadline for completing the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader is once again reminding the Americans that their hopes for a deal that could be verified are unfounded. In remarks broadcast today on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there be no such inspections. After two years of getting the Americans to concede on virtually all of their demands in order to secure a deal, Khamenei is counting on Obama folding again.

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When the Obama administration trumpeted the conclusion of a framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, it assured skeptics that its terms would be enforced by rigorous inspections. The agreement would, the president and his foreign policy team told us, be verified by a system that would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s acknowledged facilities as well as any “suspicious sites” in the country. At the time, administration officials said that Iranian statements saying the U.S. interpretation of the as yet unwritten accord was incorrect were purely for domestic consumption. But with only a little more than a month remaining before the June 30 deadline for completing the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader is once again reminding the Americans that their hopes for a deal that could be verified are unfounded. In remarks broadcast today on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there be no such inspections. After two years of getting the Americans to concede on virtually all of their demands in order to secure a deal, Khamenei is counting on Obama folding again.

As the New York Times reports:

“The impudent and brazen enemy expects that we allow them talk to our scientists and researchers about a fundamental local achievement but no such permission will be allowed,” Khamenei told military commanders in Tehran Wednesday, in remarks broadcast on state TV. “No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed.”

Khamenei said interviewing Iranian nuclear scientists would be an affront to Iran’s dignity.

“I will not allow foreigners to interview — which is tantamount to interrogation — the prominent beloved scientists and sons of this nation,” he said.

That flatly contradicts the characterization of the accord that we heard from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Indeed, it is, if anything, a toughening of the Iranian position on inspections. Combined with their insistence that economic sanctions must be lifted immediately and permanently once the terms are finalized, it presents a very different picture of the post-deal world than the one we’ve been getting from the administration.

Is Khamenei bluffing? That’s the position of the administration’s defenders who tell us that this is all posturing for the Iranian public and will be forgotten once the hard work of finishing the negotiations is undertaken. But there are two problems with that argument.

The first is that the pattern of U.S.-Iran diplomacy over the course of the negotiations points in only one direction: an American retreat from its positions about inspections and sanctions.

Remember that it was only 29 months ago during the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that President Obama said that any deal with Iran would be predicated on the dismantling of their entire nuclear program. But once re-elected, his negotiators walked that position back step by step to the point where the current deal would allow Iran thousands of nuclear centrifuges and to continue conducting nuclear research. Instead of ending the Iran nuclear threat for all time, the deal will expire within 10-15 years. That leaves Tehran an option for a bomb that would not even require it to cheat but allows them to wait patiently for it to be over before the Islamist regime may do as it likes.

Why shouldn’t the Iranians expect that Obama, who considers the Iran deal the centerpiece of his vision for the future of the Middle East and his foreign policy legacy, to fold again? Why would anyone think the president would risk throwing it all away merely to force Tehran to comply on these points when he has never stood his ground in the talks before?

But even if we think the U.S. will try to budge the Iranians, what Khamenei is doing is setting up the final round of talks in such a manner as to ensure that his representatives are in the strongest possible position. By taking such a public stand, it will mean the Americans will treat even the most minimal concessions on Iran’s part, even if they don’t involve actual transparency as great victories. The result will be a far weaker deal than even the flimsy framework that Obamas presented last month.

Throughout this process, Iran has regularly taken Obama to the cleaners on every key issue. The question remains whether Congress, which has given itself the right to vote on an Iranian deal, albeit in a manner that virtually guarantees its approval, is paying attention to these details. It is not too late for principled Democrats to send a strong signal to the White House that they will abandon the president if he doesn’t get the full inspection regime he has promised them. If they don’t, it will be hard to blame the Grand Ayatollah for thinking that he is on the verge of another astounding and completely undeserved diplomatic triumph at Obama’s expense.

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The Myth of the Progressive Movement

When the last of the GOP’s viable conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney had been dispatched, a sense of fatalism briefly consumed the right’s ideological stalwarts. They knew that, eventually, they would be compelled to pull the lever for the technocratic father of socialized health care in America. Those who did not engage in a process of self-delusion designed to assuage their own guilt over this condition raged futilely against the prevailing winds.

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When the last of the GOP’s viable conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney had been dispatched, a sense of fatalism briefly consumed the right’s ideological stalwarts. They knew that, eventually, they would be compelled to pull the lever for the technocratic father of socialized health care in America. Those who did not engage in a process of self-delusion designed to assuage their own guilt over this condition raged futilely against the prevailing winds.

Reason’s A. Barton Hinkle scoffed that it would not be “easy” for conservatives to justify supporting Romney. “And it’s especially hard because it requires them to do the one thing they most revile Romney for: change positions for the sake of political expedience,” he wrote.

The conservative movement that had appeared ascendant amid the tea party wave of 2010 had run out of steam just 18 months later. Some wondered whether the conservative insurgency was a mere figment in the first place.

Similarly, the political commentariat is forever touting the progressive populist movement that they claim is today only just dawning. Though the voices in print and on television that foresee a great progressive tide on the horizon are also surely cheering on its arrival, they are not without evidence to support this contention. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s popularity and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s progressive manifesto, compiled with the support of luminaries like Susan Sarandon and Van Jones, validate the notion that the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left is a broad-based phenomenon.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spent an inordinate amount of time appealing to the supposedly ascendant left wing of her party, even despite the absence of a viable presidential primary challenger. But just as the Republican Party’s base was not convinced by Romney’s unctuous claim to have governed “extremely conservative” as the Bay State’s chief executive, the progressive wing is justifiably skeptical of Clinton’s liberal bona fides.

In opposition to a proposed free trade agreement with a variety of Asian nations, Senate Democrats demonstrated just how lame of a duck President Barack Obama had become when they denied him trade promotional authority earlier this month. In response to progressives’ suspicions of this proposed trade deal, Clinton has adopted a cagey stance on the matter. Though she has taken $2.5 million in speaking fees from pro-trade groups and has called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of free trade agreements, she would have her left flank believe that she is now deeply conflicted about the potentially negative effects free trade will have on American labor.

On what the progressive wing now regards as the defining civil rights issue of our time, the legal right of gay and lesbian couples to wed, Clinton was suspiciously slow to embrace the consensus position. She came out in favor of same-sex marriage only after President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden did the same. When probed by NPR’s Terry Gross about her evolution on the issue, Clinton lashed out defensively. It was an understandable fit of pique on her part; Clinton’s husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act and a travel ban for individuals infected with HIV into law, both of which the gay community has long regarded as betrayals from the last Democratic president.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Hillary Clinton’s close aides at the State Department attempted to withhold politically sensitive documents from being revealed to the public as a result of successful FOIA requests. This Machiavellian approach to governance is hardly surprising from Clinton’s team, but the documents they were attempting to suppress should raise eyebrows. Some of them pertained to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project vehemently opposed by the environmental left. One of the emails uncovered was addressed to Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for the firm seeking approval for that pipeline and a former staffer on Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.

“In one email, the [Ottawa] embassy official sent Mr. Elliot a message saying “Go Paul!” after he circulated some potentially positive news on the pipeline plan,” the Journal revealed. “She also complimented an appearance by the CEO of the company seeking to build Keystone XL.” The Friends of the Earth, the environmental group that successfully secured the release of these documents, called it the “smoking gun” that revealed the Clinton State Department’s pro-pipeline bias. Clinton has refused to take a position on Keystone, leading many environmentalists to draw their own unflattering conclusions.

There is a reason why President Barack Obama will attempt to link the trade promotional authority he wants to the threat of climate change in a report released on Wednesday morning. However dubious the link between these two issues, the White House is gambling that the progressive left’s near religious devotion to the cause of reducing carbon emissions will trump their antipathy toward free trade. But outside of the U.S. Senate, where a handful of committed ideologues can derail just about any initiative, is there any evidence to suggest that the progressive movement is worthy of this kind of deference?

If the Democratic Party’s far left was going to advance a truly liberal candidate for the presidency, that window is rapidly closing. There is no shortage of prospective usurpers who might assume the mantle of progressive champion ahead of 2016, but they have been largely cowed by Clinton’s stature within her party. As Republicans acquiesced to the inexorable Romney juggernaut in 2012, Democrats are apparently forced to come to terms with Clinton’s predestined ascension to the nomination.

A truly dominant political force would extract more concessions from Clinton and Obama than halfhearted mollification and lip service. At the moment, neither of them seems to think that more substantive concessions are necessary. For all the self-serving television presenters who are forever presaging the progressive moment that is about to dawn, there is precious little evidence to support that conclusion.

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Obama’s Orwellian World

At his press briefing today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl if our war strategy against the Islamic State is a success. “Overall, yes,” Earnest replied.

Overall, that answer is untrue. Overall, that answer is insane. Overall, that answer is Orwellian.

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At his press briefing today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl if our war strategy against the Islamic State is a success. “Overall, yes,” Earnest replied.

Overall, that answer is untrue. Overall, that answer is insane. Overall, that answer is Orwellian.

To show how utterly dishonest this claim is, you might want to look at these pictures of members of the Islamic State holding a massive military parade in West Anbar, celebrating their victory in Ramadi. That would be Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in Iraq, which fell completely to militants of the Islamic State on Sunday. This represented, in the words of the New York Times, “the biggest victory so far this year for the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls.”

But that victory by ISIS shouldn’t obscure the fact that, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Islamic State leaders in Syria have sent money, trainers and fighters to Libya in increasing numbers, raising new concerns for the U.S. that the militant group is gaining traction in its attempts to broaden its reach and expand its influence. In recent months, U.S. military officials said, Islamic State has solidified its foothold in Libya as it searches for ways to capitalize on rising popularity among extremist groups around the world.”

And those gains in Libya, in turn, shouldn’t obscure the fact that last week, as the Associated Press points out, “The Islamic State group … seized more territory in Syria’s central province of Homs amid clashes with government forces that left dozens dead and wounded on both sides.”

The Islamic State’s gains in Libya, in turn, shouldn’t conceal the fact that “Militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Nigeria’s fearsome Boko Haram – all once linked to al Qaeda – have … pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

Beyond all these gains in individual countries — because of these gains in individual countries — CBS News reports, “ISIS has a dynamism and fervor that has seemed to fade for al Qaeda.”

Remember when President Obama pledged to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State? And assured us earlier this year that the Islamic State is “on the defensive and … is going to lose”? Those pledges were bluster, just as was Mr. Obama’s assurance that if Syria’s Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, he would be crossing “a red line for us.” President Assad used chemical weapons — and Mr. Obama did nothing in response.

The world — our adversaries and our allies — got the message. President Obama’s words mean nothing. He’s supine. He’s weak. He’s a laughingstock.

That is bad enough. But for the president and his press secretary to enter an Alice in Wonderland world makes things even worse. There is no known universe in which our current war strategy against the Islamic State can be considered, overall, a “success.” In fact it is, by virtually every objective measure, a failure. And not just any failure. It is the latest link in a chain of catastrophic foreign policy failures by Mr. Obama.

For Josh Earnest to claim that what we are witnessing in Iraq and throughout the Middle East is evidence of success is beyond spin. It’s beyond insulting. It is literally unbelievable. The contempt Mr. Earnest and the president he serves have for the truth, and the American people, is stunning. It’s a kind of corruption that is rare and worrisome to find in any political office, but especially in the presidency. And as Mr. Obama’s failures continue to multiple, so, we can assume, will his administration’s deceptions.

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The White House Deploys Spin and Denial in Response to Setbacks in Iraq

If you’re getting the impression that the White House sees the latest ISIS advances in Iraq culminating in the fall of Ramadi as a political setback rather than a strategic nightmare, you’re not alone.

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If you’re getting the impression that the White House sees the latest ISIS advances in Iraq culminating in the fall of Ramadi as a political setback rather than a strategic nightmare, you’re not alone.

“Ramadi has been contested over the last 18 months. We’ve always known the fight against ISIS would be long and difficult, particularly in Anbar Province,” White House Deputy Press Sec. Eric Shultz conceded on Monday. “There’s no denying that this is, indeed, a setback.”

Apparently, Schultz’s boss resented his deputy’s demoralizing candor. On Tuesday, he went about offering a variety of dubious claims designed to tamp down speculation that the president’s strategic approach to the war against the Islamic State was in shambles.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest urged reporters to “maintain perspective” when reporting of the fall of the capital of Anbar Province, a key city situated just 70 miles from Baghdad. Though he hinted that the president might entertain a “tweak” or two to his strategic approach to the war, Earnest insisted that the West’s tactical approach to the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is regularly modified according to circumstances on the ground.

“We have seen important progress that has been made, but there have also been periods of setback,” Earnest insisted. When pressed on whether the president believes that the war against ISIS is generally a success, Earnest insisted, “overall, yes.”

Courting the charge of insensitivity, Earnest mocked reporters for engaging in figurative self-immolation over the fall of a second major Iraqi city to the ISIS insurgency. “Are we going to light our hair on fire every time there’s a setback?” the exasperated press secretary said of the Sunni militia’s efficacy on the battlefield, perhaps failing to recall that this terrorist organization is composed of a number of proficient arsonists.

If the White House’s communications team set out to abate their humiliation over the abject and empirical collapse of America’s halfhearted war fighting strategy in the Middle East, they failed rather spectacularly. Not only are these comments reflective of a dangerous frivolousness on the part of this administration, they are indicative of the unsettling reality that the White House views the trifurcation of Iraq along ethno religious lines as a political challenge to be messaged away.

It is not merely the military front in the war against ISIS that is collapsing. The fall of most of Anbar has given way to a bloody purge of government officials and anyone who ever worked closely with U.S.-allied institutions in Iraq. Officials in Baghdad believe that some 500 civilians and soldiers have been murdered while another 5,000 were displaced since Friday, when ISIS began its final assault on Ramadi. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the Shiite militias loyal to Tehran to descend on a military base near the occupied provincial capital in preparation for a counterassault, despite the White House’s concerns that a Shiite-led attack on a Sunni-dominated city could ignite a sectarian civil war.

The war on ISIS’s assets is equally bereft of successes. Despite a successful mission conducted by U.S. Special Forces which resulted in the death of a figure described as the Islamic State’s CFO, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that ISIS’s finances are generally healthy.

“The Islamic State has revenue and assets that are more than enough to cover its current expenses despite expectations that airstrikes and falling oil prices would hurt the group’s finances, according to analysts at RAND Corporation, a nonprofit that researches public policy,” the Times revealed. “The group minimizes costs by looting military equipment, appropriating land and infrastructure, and paying relatively low salaries. The group also limits its vulnerability by shifting operations, transitioning between expanding its territory and fueling terrorist activity.”

Given all this, the administration has the temerity to blame House Republicans for setbacks in Iraq by failing to pass a new authorization to use military force in Iraq and Syria – a measure that, as written to the White House’s specifications, would constrain coalition military planners and limit the freedom of action they presently enjoy.

In early February, American military planners trumpeted ill advisedly their intention to mount the assault to liberate Iraq’s second city, Mosul, from ISIS terrorists in the late spring. That optimistic plan has been subject to some revision in the interim. With another major city in ISIS’s hands, the portions of that country in need of liberation are accumulating rapidly.

Even before Earnest’s buck-passing escapade, it was clear to most observers that the White House was focused more on managing public opinion than safeguarding Iraqi security. Today, there should be no doubt about the president’s priorities.

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Can Obama Repair the Damage He’s Done to Race Relations Before Leaving Office?

Heady optimism, embedded as it is in the American genetic code, was perhaps never more pronounced than in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Even the most cynical among us looked forward to the effect that the election of the first black president would have on lingering racial disparity and antipathy. Six and a half years later, and that sanguinity seems as misplaced as was the belief that the president’s very aura would force the tides to recede. Americans believe that Barack Obama has failed to live up to his promise on the issue of race, and polls suggest racial comity has receded to its lowest point since before Bill Clinton took office. The president and his administration bear much of the blame for this condition, but can Obama repair his legacy on race relations before he leaves office?

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Heady optimism, embedded as it is in the American genetic code, was perhaps never more pronounced than in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Even the most cynical among us looked forward to the effect that the election of the first black president would have on lingering racial disparity and antipathy. Six and a half years later, and that sanguinity seems as misplaced as was the belief that the president’s very aura would force the tides to recede. Americans believe that Barack Obama has failed to live up to his promise on the issue of race, and polls suggest racial comity has receded to its lowest point since before Bill Clinton took office. The president and his administration bear much of the blame for this condition, but can Obama repair his legacy on race relations before he leaves office?

The spate of urban violence that rocked the nation over the course of the last nine months has led political observers to wonder whether the defining themes of the 2016 election would closely resemble those in 1968, when a losing war abroad and unrest at home propelled the “law and order” candidate into the White House. The present urban tension has its roots in fertile soil composed of chronically high black unemployment, a disproportionate African-American male prison population, and racial agitation on the part of this president and his administration.

The president’s allies spent much of the 2012 election campaign tearing at the American social fabric, particularly on the issue of race, in order to propel the beleaguered president back into the White House. Former Attorney General Eric Holder might be the worst offender in this arena. America’s chief law enforcement officer has in the past insisted that the nation was composed of “cowards,” merely because they failed to come to his preferred conclusion on matters racial. He denounced the treatment he and the president had received from Republicans as “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly, and divisive” before a predominantly African-American audience at Rev. Al Sharpton’s tax-evading charity. Holder has insisted that the ubiquitous and anodyne political petition to “take the country back” has a racial component when uttered by Republicans, though he was curiously silent about Hillary Clinton’s use of this phrase.

The president’s supporters in the media dutifully mimicked their allies in the administration, and proceeded to perfect the art of racial agitation. 2012 was the lamentable year in which the pet project of divining racial animus from everyday language was refined in liberal venues like MSNBC. “Coded” racial language became a pet fascination for the carnival barkers in the left-leaning opinion press. Words like “golf,” “Monday,” “apartment” and even “Constitution” were dubbed racially suspect.

All of this agitation has undoubtedly had far-reaching repercussions. But as the president begins to contemplate his legacy, he is perhaps looking to retroactively validate his approach to addressing racial grievances.

On Monday, the president restricted some of the surplus military equipment that could be purchased by local police forces; a policy aimed at reducing tensions between law enforcement and the communities they police. While justifying that policy shift, the president made note of the fact that racial tensions cannot be tackled comprehensively if we are unwilling to speak honestly about the subject.

One of the things I also want to focus on is the fact that a lot of the issues that have been raised here and in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York goes beyond policing. We can’t ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about. If we as a society don’t do more to expand opportunity to everybody who is willing to work for it, then we’ll end up seeing conflicts between law enforcement and residents. If we as a society aren’t willing to deal honestly with issues of race, then we can’t just expect police departments to solve these problems.

If communities are being isolated and segregated without opportunity and without investment and without jobs, if we, politicians, are simply ramping up long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes that end up devastating communities, we can’t then ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able bodied men in the community. Or kids are growing up without intact households.

There is no shortage of irony in this statement from a president who once said Florida teen Trayvon Martin looked like the son he never had, a clear implication that there was a racial element to his killing, well before the jury that would eventually acquit George Zimmerman of wrongdoing was even empanelled. But these are praiseworthy comments, nonetheless.

“Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Obama said courageously before a black audience in 2008. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

Obama largely abandoned that premise over the course of his presidency, but his return to the theme is noble. Obama’s embrace of criminal justice reforms, particularly those relating to the practice of creating felons out of non-violent drug offenders, is equally laudable.

Americans are optimists, and that characteristic is perhaps evident in praise for the president’s most recent attempt to tackle lingering racial resentment. In concert with Obama’s post-presidential goal of serving as a role model for disaffected black male youth, the president seems to have made it a priority to at long last have a positive effect on interracial relations in America. Let’s hope he succeeds in that endeavor.

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Egypt’s Life and Death Struggle

Few could have been surprised when an Egyptian court sentenced Mohammed Morsi, the country’s former president, to death on Saturday. But the announcement generated condemnations from most of the West including a pointed denunciation from the State Department on Monday. The U.S. said the verdict was “unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” Given the arbitrary nature of both the trial and the sentence, it’s hard to argue with that statement. The announcement was merely the culmination of a prosecution that bore little resemblance to a search for justice. But those who seek to use the sentence as a reason to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt are equally wrong. However harsh the government’s methods, it seems to understand something that many of its foreign critics as well as Obama administration often forgets: It is locked in a life and death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in which there can only be two outcomes: allowing the Islamists another shot at transforming Egypt into an Islamist tyranny or the continuation of military rule. The latter is clearly the lesser of two evils even if the military’s methods are deplorable.

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Few could have been surprised when an Egyptian court sentenced Mohammed Morsi, the country’s former president, to death on Saturday. But the announcement generated condemnations from most of the West including a pointed denunciation from the State Department on Monday. The U.S. said the verdict was “unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” Given the arbitrary nature of both the trial and the sentence, it’s hard to argue with that statement. The announcement was merely the culmination of a prosecution that bore little resemblance to a search for justice. But those who seek to use the sentence as a reason to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt are equally wrong. However harsh the government’s methods, it seems to understand something that many of its foreign critics as well as Obama administration often forgets: It is locked in a life and death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in which there can only be two outcomes: allowing the Islamists another shot at transforming Egypt into an Islamist tyranny or the continuation of military rule. The latter is clearly the lesser of two evils even if the military’s methods are deplorable.

The death sentence is just the latest sign that the military government led by former General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is determined to wipe out every vestige of resistance from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood regime Morsi led. Morsi is just one of many who have been railroaded in trials whose outcome was predetermined. These verdicts won’t win Sisi many friends abroad. Nor will they conciliate radical Muslims to accept his rule since killing Morsi will just give them another martyr. But as much as his death won’t do Cairo much good, Sisi isn’t interested in half measures with the Brotherhood or its Hamas allies in Gaza. In a real-life Game of Thrones scenario, the former general seems to think letting Morsi live would be to ultimately prolong a bloody struggle.

Though the trial was a parody of justice, what was interesting was the fact that among those condemned for the prison break that sprung Morsi from prison in 2011 during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak were 70 Palestinians. These were apparently members of Hamas who came into Egypt from Gaza via smuggling tunnels determined to help their Brotherhood cousins seize power. They succeeded in toppling Mubarak and then helping elect Morsi in what was at least superficially a democratic election. These details illustrate both how closely tied the Brotherhood (which tried during its bid for power to deceive the West about its alleged moderation) is with fellow Islamist terrorists and why the military has been so adamant about isolating Gaza since then.

What followed was a nightmarish year in which the Brotherhood sought to consolidate power and to forestall any effort to replace them by democratic means. This led to a mass uprising that sent tens of millions of Egyptians into the streets against Morsi triggering the military coup that brought Sisi to power. Critics of Sisi are right when they call him an autocrat and his government repressive. But he also seems to have the acquiescence of most Egyptians if not their support because they realize the only alternative to the military would not be liberal democracy, but another round of Islamist tyranny.

If President Obama had not forfeited the trust of most Egyptians, he might be in a position to save Morsi. But after torpedoing Mubarak and then supporting the Brotherhood government and condemning the coup and threatening aid cuts, few in Egypt, let alone Sisi, are interested in his opinion. If Egyptians aren’t listening to Americans talking about human rights violations it is because they see such advocates as hypocrites, since they were perfectly willing to let Morsi hold onto power and thereby plunge Egypt into the darkness of an Islamist regime.

Though refraining from transforming Morsi into a martyr would be smart, those who advocate for isolating the Sisi government in order to force clemency aren’t helping Egypt or the cause of human rights. The only hope for ultimate liberalizing Egyptian society is for the Brotherhood to be so utterly crushed that there is no chance of it trying again for power. Until then, the military will persist in its draconian tactics and probably have more the majority of Egyptians on their side.

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Hillary Clinton’s Incredible Shrinking Electoral Targets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Team Obama Members Profit From the Iran Nuclear Deal?

One of the calumnies embraced by some on the left with regard to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was that it was a war fought for oil. This was nonsense, of course. Nor was United States military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan (to just name the Muslim majority countries) motivated by oil. Kuwait is no exception to this rule, as every time in recent history when one country has invaded another for the purpose of annexing it in its entirety—North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam, for example—the United States has become involved.

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One of the calumnies embraced by some on the left with regard to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was that it was a war fought for oil. This was nonsense, of course. Nor was United States military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan (to just name the Muslim majority countries) motivated by oil. Kuwait is no exception to this rule, as every time in recent history when one country has invaded another for the purpose of annexing it in its entirety—North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam, for example—the United States has become involved.

Still, Washington is not the most ethical of towns. Both Bush administration officials and some Democrats who supported the war have sought to translate their support or the contacts they made into a golden parachute. It may not be illegal, even if it is unseemly. Nor is Iraq a special case. Too many U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia have turned around and gone to work for Saudi interests in their retirement from the diplomatic service. Many U.S. ambassadors to Turkey have done likewise. David Welch, a top Bush-era diplomat handling the rapprochement with Libya, upon retirement turned around and used his contacts both to garner business from Libya and, behind the scenes, also worked to advise Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Whether or not the Iran deal comes off—the ball is in Tehran’s court as the U.S. Congress has played into President Obama’s hands and effectively traded its say for the sake of a symbolic vote—only one thing is certain: In January 2017, there will be a new president in the Oval Office. Whether or not there has been rapprochement with Iran, many who have been active on the Iran account among Obama’s staff, Secretary of State John Kerry’s staff, the State Department’s negotiating team and, if she fails to win the presidency, Hillary Clinton’s staff as well will be looking for new jobs. Many will enter the private sector.

It’s time to put Team Obama and Kerry on the spot: Will they eschew any possibility that they will work for companies working in the Iranian market? Such a pledge may not be legally binding, but perhaps it’s time for the chief proponents of the Iran diplomacy and the architects of the collapse in the sanctions regime to assure the public that their motivation does not include a golden parachute based on the contacts with senior Iranian officials that they have made over the course of the Obama administration. If they lie to the press after the fact, then at least they can suffer some embarrassment for their actions and a lesson can be learned for future efforts to bring rogue regimes in from the cold.

It was unseemly and wrong during the Clinton administration when officials traded on their contacts with Saudi Arabia, the PLO, and Turkey, and wrong in the Bush administration when diplomats and military officers did likewise with the Kurds, Iraqis, and Turks. It’s time for assurance that only American national security interests and nothing else now drives diplomacy with Iran.

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Time for Military to Admit ISIS is Winning

Is ISIS on the defensive and about to lose? To listen to U.S. military commanders, you would think the answer is yes. On Friday, as Ramadi was falling, Brigadier General Thomas D. Weidley (USMC), Chief of Staff, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, and Colonel Steve Warren, Director, Defense Press Office, gave a surreal news conference. Said General Weidley:  “We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria … It’s the CJTF’s assessment that the Iraqis, with coalition support, are making sound progress.” Sadly, the only progress that Iraqi troops are making is in rapidly retreating before the ISIS onslaught which has led the Islamic State to capture not only Mosul and Fallujah but now Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

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Is ISIS on the defensive and about to lose? To listen to U.S. military commanders, you would think the answer is yes. On Friday, as Ramadi was falling, Brigadier General Thomas D. Weidley (USMC), Chief of Staff, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, and Colonel Steve Warren, Director, Defense Press Office, gave a surreal news conference. Said General Weidley:  “We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria … It’s the CJTF’s assessment that the Iraqis, with coalition support, are making sound progress.” Sadly, the only progress that Iraqi troops are making is in rapidly retreating before the ISIS onslaught which has led the Islamic State to capture not only Mosul and Fallujah but now Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

If you listen to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ramadi doesn’t matter. A month ago he told reporters that Ramadi “is not symbolic in any way. … I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of a campaign should it fall.” In the real world, Ramadi does matter and its fall is a sign that Operation Inherent Resolve, as the U.S. campaign against ISIS is called, is failing.

Yet rather than engage this stark reality military leaders prefer to engage in ludicrous spinning that is sadly reminiscent of what their predecessors did while the Iraq War was being lost from 2003 to 2006. Who can forgot the statements made by Gen. George Casey, then commander of US forces in Iraq, while the situation was spinning out of control? For example, on March 19, 2006, General Casey said, “In 15 of the 18 provinces, there are six or less incidents of violence a day — (and) that’s not just sectarian (violence), that’s all kinds of violence. … So the country is not awash in sectarian violence. … I’m fairly confident that what we’re doing here in Iraq will be successful. … There’s a lot of hard work still to be done here in Iraq. But I’m optimistic that we will ultimately be successful.”

Those comments came just a month after the bombing of the Samarra mosque, the point at which Iraq headed toward the abyss of all-out civil war. But even as violence escalated out of control, Casey blithely claimed that all U.S. troops could be pulled out within 18 months and Iraqis could take charge of their own security.

Such optimism seems ludicrous in hindsight, except that we are now hearing equally nonsensical assessments from senior military figures. By claiming that everything is going just fine, military commanders are guilty of “dereliction of duty.” That was the name of a best-selling history of the Joint Chiefs during the Vietnam era, written by now-Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, which accused those generals of not doing their duty by not speaking up about failure of U.S. strategy in Vietnam. Today another generation of generals is staying similarly mute even as the U.S. is losing another war.

I understand why President Obama is refusing to take steps that might reverse the disastrous course of the war effort in Iraq—he doesn’t want to be drawn into another war, even if it means ceding much of the Middle East to Sunni and Shiite fanatics. But why are the generals enabling his dubious decision-making by pretending that the current war effort is making progress when it isn’t? Granted, generals serve the commander-in-chief but they also have a responsibility to the Constitution and to the men and women under their command to level with the public and especially Congress about what’s really going on. It is nothing short of a disgrace that no uniformed military personnel are willing to concede the obvious—that we’re losing, not winning, against ISIS.

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Focus on Obama’s Terrible Iraq Blunder

I remember walking down the ruined streets of Ramadi in the spring of 2007. The vista resembled pictures of Berlin in 1945: ruined buildings everywhere, water bubbling in the streets from water mains damaged by too many explosions. But what was most remarkable was not the evidence of violence but, rather, the fact that no insurgents were shooting at my military escorts or me.

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I remember walking down the ruined streets of Ramadi in the spring of 2007. The vista resembled pictures of Berlin in 1945: ruined buildings everywhere, water bubbling in the streets from water mains damaged by too many explosions. But what was most remarkable was not the evidence of violence but, rather, the fact that no insurgents were shooting at my military escorts or me.

“A few weeks ago you couldn’t drive down this street without being attacked. When I went down this street in February, I was hit three times with small-arms fire and IEDs,” Army Colonel John W. Charlton told me as we drove into town in his up-armored Humvee. But now Ramadi was eerily quiet; by the time I visited in April, not a single American soldier had been killed in Ramadi for weeks. Everywhere there were Joint Security Stations and Observation Posts where American and Iraqi security forces worked side by side to keep the peace.

Ramadi was really where the Anbar Awakening began—the movement, started by Colonel Sean MacFarland in Ramadi in 2006, to mobilize Sunni tribes against AQI. After having lost hundreds of American soldiers in Ramadi and its environs since 2003, US efforts finally appeared to have paid off. AQI had been routed of the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate, and would soon be routed out of the rest of the Sunni Triangle. Victory was in sight.

It is all the more heartbreaking, therefore, to read now that the Islamic State—AQI’s successor organization—has seized the government center in Ramadi. Islamic State extremists detonated a series of suicide car bombs on Thursday to punch their way through fortifications protecting the government headquarters. Reports were that, after the headquarters fell, black-clad fanatics were going to door-to-door, executing tribal fighters who opposed their onslaught. Government security forces and many civilians were fleeing in panic. As Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute points out, it’s as if the Marines, having taken Iwo Jima, had abandoned it and the Japanese had lowered the stars and stripes on Mount Suribachi.

Just a month ago, when the ISIS offensive against Ramadi began in earnest, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to reassure the world that it was no big deal. Ramadi, he claimed, “is not symbolic in any way…. I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of a campaign should it fall.”

We can only watch and wait to hear what spin General Dempsey—who has increasingly defined his role as telling the president what he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear—will put on this latest catastrophe. It is, in fact, unspinnable. The fall of Ramadi is a sign of the abysmal failure of the misnamed Operation Inherent Resolve launched by President Obama in August 2014 to “degrade” and ultimately to “destroy” ISIS.  Operation Uncertain Resolve is more like it.

There is no doubt that US bombing has succeeded in slightly degrading ISIS—Central Command helpfully puts out a long laundry list of all the buildings and vehicles its aircraft have blown up. But there is scant sign that ISIS is on the path to destruction. True, its offensive toward Baghdad has been blunted and it lost control of Tikrit. But the fact that the assault on Tikrit was led by Shiite militiamen under the effective control of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, indicates the self-defeating nature of this offensive. Sunnis will never turn on ISIS, as they turned on AQI in 2007, if by doing so they will open themselves to domination by Shiite militias.

A reminder of what that would mean was delivered earlier this week in Adhamiyah, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad. Shiite mobs, with Shiite militiamen allegedly in the lead, rampaged through the area on a pogrom. As terrified Sunni families cowered in their homes, a number of homes were burnt and at least four people were killed. The security forces of a Shiite-dominated government were nowhere to be seen.

“Leading from behind” is a bad enough strategy when America’s allies take the lead. It is an utterly ruinous strategy when America’s enemies take the lead. But that’s what is now happening in Iraq.

Obama has sent fewer than 3,000 trainers and they are confined to base and prohibited from going out and directly recruiting, training, and arming Sunni tribesmen. Nor, of course, are they allowed to personally call in air strikes from the frontlines; they have to depend on Iranian-dominated Iraqi security forces and aerial imagery to tell them what to bomb. US aid flows through the government of Baghdad, which, despite a change of prime ministers, remains for the most part dominated by Iran and its proxies. Instead of trying to rebuild the Iraqi army, shattered by the fall of Mosul nearly a year ago, the Baghdad regime is encouraging the recruitment of Shiites into sectarian militias closely aligned with Iran. In the guise of fighting ISIS, Iran is taking over most of Iraq.

The fight against ISIS is in even worse shape in Syria where there is no credible ground force—none—that can challenge Islamic State, which is why its domains have actually expanded since US bombing began last August. The US is only now training a company—i.e., roughly one hundred men—from the Free Syrian Army in the hope that somehow they will be able to defeat Islamic State’s army, which is estimated to number more than 20,000. That kind of thing happens in action flicks like “The Expendables” or “The Dirty Dozen,” not in real life.

Far from being on a path to defeat, ISIS appears stronger than ever notwithstanding the anemic American assault. And yet all last week presidential candidates have been forced to opine on a historic question—whether or not they would have authorized the invasion of Iraq given all that we now know. The real debate we should be having is not what we should have done in 2003 but what we should do now, today, to defeat ISIS and Iran—the twin forces, mirror images of one another — that are ripping the Middle East asunder. All of the candidates, including the silent Hillary Clinton, need to tell us what they would do.

And President Obama, who remains commander in chief, needs to go on television and explain to the American people where the war effort stands and what if anything he is going to do differently.  If the answer is “things are going fine” and “we’re not going to do anything differently,” he will be repeating the very mistake that President George W. Bush made from 2003 to 2007 when he was lulled by over-optimistic reports from PowerPoint-happy military commanders. A losing war effort only began to reverse itself in places such as Ramadi once Bush acknowledged that we were on the edge of the abyss.

Today we are fast falling into an ever worse abyss—and it is one to which, by all indications, President Obama and his senior military commanders and civilian aides are utterly blind. Perhaps we should be talking about that rather than about what happened 12 years ago.

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Obama’s Not-So-Ironclad Guarantee

This was supposed to be the week when President Obama put on a show of his desire to reaffirm America’s support for its Arab allies. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have spent the last year in the unusual position of agreeing more with Israel than the United States, as Obama pushes for détente with Iran. Like the Israelis, the Arabs are pondering their future in a region dominated by an Iranian nuclear threshold state that appears to be the lynchpin of the president’s foreign policy legacy. So to demonstrate his good will, Obama invited these nations to a summit at which he would convince them they had nothing to fear. But with the U.S. putting nothing on the table of substance that would allay those concerns about the weak nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran, the Saudi king and other leaders snubbed the event, turning it into a fiasco even before it began. But it turned out King Salman didn’t miss much. Though Obama offered what he called an “ironclad guarantee’ of America’s support for the Arabs, it was phrased in the kind of ambiguous language that rendered it meaningless. The meeting and especially the statement epitomized an Obama administration foreign policy that puts a premium on appeasing foes and alienating friends.

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This was supposed to be the week when President Obama put on a show of his desire to reaffirm America’s support for its Arab allies. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have spent the last year in the unusual position of agreeing more with Israel than the United States, as Obama pushes for détente with Iran. Like the Israelis, the Arabs are pondering their future in a region dominated by an Iranian nuclear threshold state that appears to be the lynchpin of the president’s foreign policy legacy. So to demonstrate his good will, Obama invited these nations to a summit at which he would convince them they had nothing to fear. But with the U.S. putting nothing on the table of substance that would allay those concerns about the weak nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran, the Saudi king and other leaders snubbed the event, turning it into a fiasco even before it began. But it turned out King Salman didn’t miss much. Though Obama offered what he called an “ironclad guarantee’ of America’s support for the Arabs, it was phrased in the kind of ambiguous language that rendered it meaningless. The meeting and especially the statement epitomized an Obama administration foreign policy that puts a premium on appeasing foes and alienating friends.

The wording of the president’s “guarantee” is a marvel of lawyerly ambiguity that any connoisseur of diplomatic doubletalk must appreciate:

In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners.

Let’s unpack this carefully so we’re clear about what the United States isn’t promising its Arab allies. As even Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times noted, this “carefully worded pledge that was far less robust than the mutual defense treaty the Gulf nations had sought.” In the event of aggression, the U.S. isn’t going to spring into action to defend them. Instead it will “work” with them to “determine” what they might do. That falls quite a bit short of a hard promise of collective action, let alone the drawing of a line in the sand across which the Iranians may not cross. In other words, if something bad happens, Obama will talk with the threatened parties but he won’t say what he will do in advance or if he will do anything at all. If that is an “ironclad guarantee,” I’d hate to see what a less binding promise might sound like.

To understate the matter, this is not the sort of pledge that will deter an Iran that is emboldened by its diplomatic victory in the negotiations that let them their nuclear infrastructure and continuing working toward a bomb. Iran’s push for regional hegemony has also been boosted by the triumph of their Syrian ally Bashar Assad with the help of Tehran’s Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries. With the Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatening to take over Yemen and Iran also resuming its alliance with Hamas in Gaza, the axis of Iranian allies has Arab states understandably worried about their future. Now that the nuclear deal makes an Iranian bomb only a matter of when rather than if, the Gulf nations were hoping for more than just a carefully worded expression of American indifference.

That’s why the statement at the end of the summit made no mention of America’s chief worry about the Gulf states: the possibility that the Saudis will, either acting alone or in concert with their neighbors, seek to match Iran’s nuclear potential. As critics of the Iran deal foretold, far from saving the Middle East from an Iranian bomb, it has set off an arms race that has will make the world a fare more dangerous place.

This omission will likely make the Iranians even more reluctant to give in to U.S. demands about sanctions, Tehran’s military research and the disposition of its stockpile of enriched uranium in the final stages of the nuclear talks. A better guarantee for the Arabs might have convinced the Islamist state that the president really meant business about strengthening the deal. In its absence, they have no reason to think Obama won’t fold as he has at every other stage of the negotiations.

Under the circumstances, it’s little wonder that Bahrain’s King Hamad preferred to go to a horse show London rather than confer with Obama. Just as Israel has learned that the United States is more interested in a new Iran-centric policy than it backing its traditional allies, so, too, must the Arabs come to grips with a new reality in which their Iranian foe is no longer restrained by the United States.

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Police Lives Matter

Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

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Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

Messrs. Deen and Tate, both police officers, were shot dead in Hattiesburg, Mississippi last Saturday night during a traffic stop that ended in a hail of gunfire. The suspects fled the scene but were later arrested. Four individuals were charged, two of whom face capital murder charges.

According to news reports, Deen, 34, married his high school sweetheart and had two young children and a great family, according to those who know him. Tony Mozingo, a local judge, left red roses near the scene of the shooting.

“We all just are heartbroken because we know and work with these officers every day,” said Mozingo, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Deen was a “consummate law enforcement professional.” He had been awarded his department’s Officer of the Year Award after rescuing a family from a burning home.

J.T. Taylor, a friend of Deen’s for 30 years, recalled Deen as a surrogate brother who enjoyed family more than anything else in his life. “He didn’t go anywhere without his family,” Taylor said. “You could usually find him one or two places: at his house or at his mom and dad’s house with his family.”

According to this account, Dean will be remembered as “a guy who was a little reserved, but still managed to have more friends than anyone else.”

“He was really and truly an awesome person to be around, always smiling, always making people laugh,” said Carla Higdon, who graduated with Deen in 1998.

“He grew up in a rich family environment and he had many friends because he really never met someone that he didn’t think, ‘Hey, this is a friend,’ ” said Taylor. “He had a smile that set you at ease. When he smiled, it was like you got a hug.”

The legacy Deen will leave behind, the Clarion-Ledger reports is “one of devotion to family and duty, to service and friends.”

“There really, really was not anybody who didn’t love him,” Higdon said.

The funeral service for Officer Deen is this morning.

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Liquori Tate, 25, grew up in a tough part of Starkville, Mississippi, 150 miles north of Hattiesburg, and became a police office so he could make a difference in the black community, according to Jarvis Thompson, who knew him from childhood.

“He wanted to become an officer because we’ve seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail,” said Thompson. “He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better.”

According to this story, Tate graduated last June from the police academy. Here’s what he wrote on his Facebook: “I am now a Police Officer. I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love ones.”

“I’ve never seen anyone more happy to be a cop than him,” Officer Jason Jarvis said.

Liquori worked at auto parts stores for years and was thrilled to have found his calling as an officer, his father, Ronald Tate, told CNN. “He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul,” his father recalled. “He really knew the risk. But I think my son just thought people are generally good, and that’s just the way he was. He thought people are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”

The two talked on the phone every week and texted every day. “My son didn’t see color,” according to Tate. “We didn’t have all this animosity between races, and my son didn’t see that. He didn’t have time for that. He was just mellow and laid back and didn’t want to get into that.”

On Facebook, where his timeline had been filled with condolences, Mr. Tate wrote that he’d been in a “dizzy haze” since 10:11 p.m. Saturday, when he son was gunned down.

“This was my baby, who I was willing to allow to go into this type of dangerous work,” Ronald Tate said. “A guy who understood and loved everybody. Peaceful, passive, understanding. Wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

“My heart has been ripped out of my chest, and torn into a million pieces,” Liquori Tate’s father said. “Gotta get down to MS where my daughter is. She’s absolutely devastated. He was clearly her protector, and friend.”

“I just need some kind of mercy right now.”

Officer Tate’s funeral service will be on Saturday.

* * * *

So why hasn’t President Obama said anything about the slayings of Officers Deen and Tate? I ask because Mr. Obama weighed in, emphatically so, on the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the death of Eric Garner in New York City, and even the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for disorderly conduct, with Obama accusing Police Sgt. James Crowley of acting “stupidly” despite the president being unaware of all the relevant facts. So it’s not like Mr. Obama is reluctant to insert himself into local law enforcement matters.

I understand that cops can do bad things. Just last month a South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after shooting and killing a man after a routine traffic stop. But I do wonder why the president’s heart or conscience weren’t stirred by the events in Hattiesburg like they were in Cambridge, Ferguson, New York City and Sanford, Florida. Why hasn’t the president used the killings in Hattiesburg as a “teachable moment” in order to lead a “national conversation” that deepens our respect and gratitude for law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom are professional and dedicated public servants (my brother is one of them)? Why did Mr. Obama choose to identify with Trayvon Martin, saying, “If I would had a son, he’d look like Trayvon?” when his son could also have looked like Liquori Tate.

And what about the press? Some media outlets have covered the killings of Officers Deen and Tate, but with nothing like the intensity of the cases I’ve mentioned. Why? Do the lives of two cops mean less than the life of Michael Brown, who fought Officer Darren Wilson and then charged him before he was shot? Why did the death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin dominate coverage, while the murder of two cops — one black, the other white — doesn’t?

Some may argue that it’s because the other cases triggered community protests and violence and therefore demanded greater attention. Perhaps, though it should be said that (a) the intense media coverage can accelerate tensions; (b) there’s no reason we can’t we draw larger social lessons from the lives and deaths of Officers Deen and Tate; and (c) anyone watching media coverage of stories like Ferguson could see that journalists want these stories to fit a preconceived narrative. So much so that President Obama and many journalists insisted on putting a racial frame around the Cambridge, Ferguson and New York City stories when there’s no evidence race played a role in the actions of the cops. Michael Brown was shot because he attacked Officer Darren Wilson. He was not shot because he was black. But Americans could be excused for thinking otherwise based on the coverage.

These stories get attention because they play into a preferred narrative in which the cops are the source of tension with the community. Yet when events like the killing in Hattiesburg occurs – when everything we know reflects well on the cops and there’s no racial frame to put around it – well, that’s just not as interesting, is it? After all, it’s only two dead cops, and two grieving families, and a grieving community of friends.

Here’s what bothers me and may bother you. For some individuals, the lives of cops don’t really matter as much as the lives of those who are killed by cops, even when the killings are justified. If the story allows people to focus on racial divisions and conflicts between cops and citizens, they’re all in. If not — if the story is about good and decent people who dedicated their lives to the protection of others and died in the line of duty — they quickly move on to other things. It turns out that it’s the narrative, not the individual lives that matter. Except to those who loved Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate, those whose lives have now been shattered, those whose hearts have been torn into a million pieces.

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Snap Back Sanctions on Iran? Nyet!

In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

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In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

As Blomberg News reports, yesterday, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin made it clear that any plans for a snap back response was a figment of the president’s imagination:

The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating.

Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t  elaborate.

Russia’s role in finalizing the terms of the Iran deal will be crucial. The endless string of concessions to Iran in the talks was in no small measure the function of a P5+1 formula that gave Russia an implicit veto on every stand made by the West. When critics of President Obama’s strategy point out that tougher sanctions could still retrieve the situation and get a better deal, we were told that Russia and China will never go along with such a plan so the only thing to do is to make the best of it and take the bad deal that is on the table. Since Russia and China could effectively neuter the impact of sanctions by resuming full business ties with Iran, the administration felt it had no choice but to go along with whatever they wanted.

If that was true before, it’s even more to the point now since the existing sanctions are already crumbling even before a deal has been signed. If Russia says it wont go along with snap back, it is impossible to see how President Obama thinks such a provision can either be inserted into the final terms or implemented if it is not.

Let’s also remember that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also vowed that his country will not sign any agreement that does not lift the sanctions immediately and permanently. So if Iran won’t agree to it and Russia says snap back is off the table, how then is it going to happen?

With the June 30 deadline for finalizing the deal looming, the administration is clearly floundering. It entered into the negotiations determined to cut a deal with Iran at virtually any price and on any terms because the president believes that Iran can be brought back into the community of nations and become the lynchpin of a new U.S. strategy in the Middle East. That’s fine with Russian President Vladimir Putin who wants no part of a confrontation with Iran. He views the Obama approach as part of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East that enables Russia to recapture some of the influence that the old Soviet empire used to have in the region.

But selling a weak Iran deal to Congress and the American people is already hard enough on the terms that President Obama has promised. It will be the United Nations, and not Congress, that will initially lift the international sanctions once the pact is signed. If there are no snap back sanctions put into the deal’s text and a Russian veto forecloses any possibility of them being implemented anyway, then an essential element of the president’s vision for ensuring that Iran will abide by it has just vanished.

No one who has seen this administration negotiate with Iran ever really believed that President Obama would stand his ground on any of the remaining sticking points, whether it involved the sanctions, forcing Tehran to open up its military research facilities to UN inspectors or the future of their stockpile of enriched uranium. He’s backed down at every previous point and with U.S. leverage over Iran reduced to zero the only card left in Obama’s hand is to walk away from the deal. That won’t happen.

It remains to be seen how Congress will react to this development. But chances are President Obama is counting on retaining the votes of at least 34 Senate Democrats who could sustain his veto of a vote rejecting the deal. If, despite his recent brave talk about forcing Iran to accept his demands, he is sure that he has those votes, it won’t matter that his promises about snap back sanctions will be thrown down the memory hole along with his 2012 re-election campaign promise that any deal would require Iran to give up its nuclear program. That’s a sobering thought for those members of Congress celebrating their “victory” in gaining the right to vote on a deal.

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