Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

Obama Assures Iran It Has Nothing to Fear

At this point, there is virtually no one in Israel or the United States who thinks it is remotely possible that the Obama administration would ever, under virtually any circumstances, use force against Iran. Though President Obama and his foreign policy team have always claimed that “all options,” including force, are always on the table in the event that Iran refuses to back down and seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, that is a threat that few took seriously. But President Obama has never been quite as explicit about this before as he was in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he reportedly said there is no military option to stop Iran. If Obama wanted to telegraph Iran that it could be as tough as it likes in the talks over the final text of the nuclear deal being negotiated this month this statement certainly did the job. Though they had little worry about Obama’s toughness or resolve, the ayatollahs will be pleased to note that the president no longer even bothers to pretend he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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At this point, there is virtually no one in Israel or the United States who thinks it is remotely possible that the Obama administration would ever, under virtually any circumstances, use force against Iran. Though President Obama and his foreign policy team have always claimed that “all options,” including force, are always on the table in the event that Iran refuses to back down and seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, that is a threat that few took seriously. But President Obama has never been quite as explicit about this before as he was in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he reportedly said there is no military option to stop Iran. If Obama wanted to telegraph Iran that it could be as tough as it likes in the talks over the final text of the nuclear deal being negotiated this month this statement certainly did the job. Though they had little worry about Obama’s toughness or resolve, the ayatollahs will be pleased to note that the president no longer even bothers to pretend he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambition.

According to the Times of Israel, Obama said:

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

Though he continued to use rhetoric that left force as an option, the implicit threat of American action if a nuclear weapon were a possibility has lacked credibility since the president began his second term. Once he embarked upon secret back-channel talks in which, one by one, he abandoned his previous pledges about forcing Iran to shut down its program in concessions and virtually every other U.S. position on the issue, force was never a real possibility. The signing of a weak interim deal in November, 2013, and then the framework agreed upon this spring signaled the end of any idea that the U.S. was prepared to act. That is especially so because the current deal leaves Tehran in possession of its nuclear infrastructure and with no guarantees about inspections or the re-imposition of sanctions in the event the agreement collapsed. The current deal, even with so many crucial details left unspecified makes Iran a U.S. partner and, in effect, the centerpiece of a new U.S. Middle East policy that essentially sidelines traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel that are directly threatened by Iran.

Moreover, it must be conceded that the use of force against Iran would be problematic even for the United States and its vast military resources. As for Israel, despite a lot of bold talk by some in the Jewish state, there has always been skepticism that its outstanding air force had the ability to sustain an air campaign for the length of time that would be required to make a difference. Nevertheless, the notion that force would not be effective in forestalling an Iranian bomb is mistaken. Serious damage could put off the threat for a long time and, if sanctions were kept in place or made stricter as they should have been to strengthen the West’s bargaining position, the possibility of an Iranian nuke could have been put off for the foreseeable future.

Yet, while talk about using force has been largely obsolete once the interim deal was signed in 2013, for the president to send such a clear signal that he will not under any circumstances walk away from the current talks, no matter what Iran does, is significant.

After all, some of the most important elements of the deal have yet to be nailed down. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publicly stated that he will never allow the sort of inspections that would make a deal verifiable. He has also demanded that sanctions be lifted permanently on the day the agreement is signed, and that there should be no provision for them to be snapped back. Nor are the Iranians conceding that their stockpile of nuclear fuel be taken out of their hands.

So if Obama is to get the “verifiable tough agreement” he told Channel 2 he seeks, the U.S. must somehow convince the Iranians to back down on all these points. That’s going to be difficult since the past two years of negotiations with Obama have taught them to wait for him to give up since he always does so sooner or later. The president’s statement makes it clear that, no matter how obdurate the Iranians remain, he will never walk away from the talks. And since this deal is the lynchpin of his foreign policy legacy, they know very well that all they have to do is to be patient.

Iran already knows that the deal in its current form allows them two clear paths to a bomb. One is by cheating on its easily evaded terms. The other is by waiting patiently for it to expire, the sunset provision being another astonishing concession by Obama.

If a tough deal were even a possibility, this would have been the moment for the president to sound tough. But throughout this process, the only toughness the president has shown has been toward Israel as he sought to disparage and dismiss its justifiable worries about his course of action. Merely saying now, as he does in the Channel 2 interview, that he understands Israel’s fears is mere lip service, especially since it comes along with a virtual guarantee to Iran that it needn’t worry about a U.S. strike under any circumstance.

With only weeks to go until the June 30 deadline for an Iran deal, there is no question that Obama’s statement makes an unsatisfactory final text even more certain than it was before. That’s good news for Tehran and very bad news for an Israeli people who have no reason to trust the president’s promises or believe in his good intentions.

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Obama’s Bankrupt Anti-ISIS Strategy Confuses Even His Allies

At the risk of getting your work week off to a bad start, I thought I would share some of the latest articles on the fight against ISIS. The news is unrelievedly grim.

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At the risk of getting your work week off to a bad start, I thought I would share some of the latest articles on the fight against ISIS. The news is unrelievedly grim.

ISIS is expanding in Libya where it is pushing a rival militia out of the town of Misurata.

–In Syria, one of the major Free Syrian Army leaders whose 1,000 men have been designated for American training to fight ISIS is threatening to pull out of the program. “The issue: the American government’s demand that the rebels can’t use any of their newfound battlefield prowess or U.S.-provided weaponry against the army of Bashar al-Assad or any of its manifold proxies and allies, which include Iranian-built militias such as Lebanese Hezbollah. They must only fight ISIS, Washington insists.” As Michael Weiss of The Daily Beast notes, this “wouldn’t just mean the loss of a few fighters for the anti-ISIS army the U.S. is trying to assemble. It could mean a fracturing of the entire program—a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s plan to fight ISIS in Syria.”

–“Nearly 75 percent of U.S. bombing runs targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria returned to base without firing any weapons in the first four months of 2015, holding their fire mainly because of a lack of ground intelligence and raising questions about President Obama’s key tactic in pushing back an enemy that continues to expand its territory in the war zone.” Embedding forward-air-controllers with Iraqi units could provide much better targeting information but this is forbidden by the White House.

Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the large Iranian-directed militia in Iraq, says, “Iraqi forces will make no immediate attempt to recapture the city of Ramadi. “ He also brags about his influence: “We send the key points of the operation to the prime minister, and he agrees them,” he said. “Mr prime minister is a civilian. It is not his job to lay our plans.”

–“Iraq’s parliamentary speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, has admitted that his government does not have full control of the predominantly Shia militia, the so-called Popular Mobilisation force.”

These news articles, randomly gathered during my reading today, suggest the utter bankruptcy of US strategy against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq—to say nothing of countries farther afield such as Libya. In Syria there is no ground force able to oppose ISIS and, in Iraq, the only credible ground force is composed of Iranian-directed militias such as the ones that Hadi al-Amaeri commands. Unfortunately, the Shiite militias cannot clear and hold predominantly Sunni areas without sparking a lethal backlash.

In light of all this, the New York Times editorial board has some sensible advice to offer today. While the Times editorialists are wrong to dismiss the possibility of beefing up the US military presence in Iraq, they are right to say “the Americans should consider working more directly with the Sunni tribes if Baghdad continues to refuse” to arm the Sunnis.

Alas there is no sense that the Obama White House is seriously considering this or other steps that would represent a significant modification of its failed policies in the struggle against ISIS.

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The Left’s Self-Conception and Self-Delusion

In my most recent New York Times column, I argued that the Democratic Party has moved to the left compared to where it was during the Clinton presidency. Further, I argued, “in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn’t moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s.” And to demonstrate just how far the Democratic Party has moved to the left, I compared Barack Obama with Bill Clinton. Read More

In my most recent New York Times column, I argued that the Democratic Party has moved to the left compared to where it was during the Clinton presidency. Further, I argued, “in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn’t moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s.” And to demonstrate just how far the Democratic Party has moved to the left, I compared Barack Obama with Bill Clinton.

This sent many people on the left into a tizzy. One of them is Jonathan Chait of New York magazine. Mr. Chait offered up a lengthy criticism of my column, and since he’s a pretty good representative of the modern liberal mind, I thought it might be worth taking a close look at his arguments. Just for the fun of it.

1. According to Chait:

Wehner likewise ignores the studies made by political scientists to answer this question quantitatively. The most commonly used measures, DW-NOMINATE scores, show the precise opposite of what Wehner claims. Republicans have moved extremely far right, and Democrats slightly to the left, and the latter shift is a function of the extermination of its conservative white southern wing. Of course, quantitative measures can be flawed. But Wehner does not explain his disagreements with the quantitative measures, or mention their existence.

My column was focused on the Democratic Party’s shift on issues between the Obama and Clinton presidencies, but since Mr. Chait asked, I’m happy to deal with the matter he raised.

L.J. Zigerell of Illinois State University, in an article that deals with DW-NOMINATE scores, points out that this pattern of “asymmetric polarization” that supposedly proves that Republicans have moved more to the right than Democrats have moved left, is not present in other estimates of ideology. He cites data from Adam Bonica‘s CFscores that “indicates that since 1980 congressional Democrats have moved left slightly more than congressional Republicans have moved right.” He also refers to estimates developed by Michael Bailey that not only don’t show that Republicans have polarized more than Democrats; it shows the opposite. So the assertion of a Republican-caused polarization is not quite as simple and self-evident as Chait and others on the left suggest. As Zigerell puts it, different analyses show different patterns, “complicating recent accounts and inviting reflection about how polarization is defined and measured.”

So how, then, should we think about it and measure it? My column suggested looking at where today’s Democrats are on some key policy issues—and especially some of those that defined Bill Clinton’s “new Democratic” approach.

2. Chait concedes (if only in a parenthetical aside) my point that President Obama has moved to the left of Bill Clinton on some key cultural issues, immigration, and criminal justice. That is hardly a minor concession. But he goes on to write that my claims that Obama is more liberal than Clinton on religious liberties, abortion rights, and drug legalization “lack substantiation.” Fortunately I have more space in a blog post than in a column, so let me provide the substantiation for Chait thirsts for:

  • Earlier this year the Obama White House charged that Indiana’s religious freedom law “legitimize[s] discrimination.” This despite the fact that President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 — legislation championed by Democrats like Chuck Schumer (then in the House) — and there is “nothing significant” that differentiates the federal law from the Indiana law.
  • Bill Clinton was certainly liberal on abortion, but Obama – who as a state legislator opposed a bill protecting infants who survive abortions — has been even more extreme. On abortion, no less of a source than Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of American, has declared, “President Obama has done more than any president in history for women’s health and rights.”
  • On drug legalization, President Obama said in a recent interview, “We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side. At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.” In an interview with The New Yorker, the president said of the two states experimenting with legalized marijuana, Colorado and Washington, “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.” And the Obama Justice Department has hardly taken a strong stance against legalization. President Clinton, in contrast, stated in his 1996 State of the Union address, “Tonight I am nominating General Barry McCaffrey as America’s new drug czar… Tonight I ask that he lead our Nation’s battle against drugs at home and abroad. To succeed, he needs a force far larger than he has ever commanded before. He needs all of us. Every one of us has a role to play on this team.” In the 1992 campaign, during a presidential debate, Clinton declared, “I am adamantly opposed to legalizing drugs.”

3. As for Chait’s assertion that I was wrong to claim the Obama administration loosened welfare work requirements: In fact, the administration proposed to allow waivers of the work requirement (in Section 407 of the Social Security Act). Allowing waivers of work requirements is, I think it’s fair to say, a way of loosening work requirements. (“Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements,”according to a summary of the law published by the House Committee on Ways and Means.)

I understand those in the administration said they wanted to revitalize work requirements by allowing states more flexibility to use more educational and training programs; that they wanted to change the definition of work activities in a way that improves things. But there is a serious case to be made that the administration’s intent was different than its claim. The welfare expert Robert Rector has written, “HHS’s illegal waiver edict repeatedly asserts that the administration seeks to exempt states from the law’s ‘work-participation requirements’ and to replace those requirements with new standards devised by HHS without any congressional input.” The fact that the administration acted in a unilateral fashion to waive work participation rules, in a way that was directly contrary to the legislation, was also a problem. And it certainly doesn’t help Chait’s case that Barack Obama opposed Bill Clinton’s welfare plan at the time and said he would have voted against it. The idea that a liberal who opposed work requirements when welfare reform was being debated and criticized work requirements after they became law would loosen work requirements when he’s president is hardly far-fetched.

4. One of the ploys Chait uses is to imply I said things I never claimed. For example, I never said that Bill Clinton didn’t take steps to address climate change. What I said is that Obama’s approach has been more aggressively liberal. And it has been. Time magazine’s Michael Grunwald argues that Mr. Obama “has probably done more than anyone in the history of the planet to reduce carbon emissions.” President Obama has been praised by some of the most prominent climate scientists. He declared in his State of the Union address earlier this year that “No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” And President Obama even mentioned the threat of climate change in his second inaugural address. This had never been done before. Climate change, then, is a priority for Obama, particularly in his second term, in a way it never was for Clinton. Indeed, it was none other than Jonathan Chait who last year wrote, “When President Obama leaves office three years from now, the major policy story of his second term — barring some kind of unforeseen invasion — is likely to be climate change.” No such claim could be made about President Clinton.

5. According to Chait

Obama, claims Wehner, “has focused far more attention on income inequality than did Mr. Clinton, who stressed opportunity and mobility.” Actually, both Clinton and Obama stressed inequality and mobility alike. President Clinton endlessly promised to make the rich “pay their fair share,” while Obama has stressed opportunity and mobility.

Here we go again. I never said Clinton didn’t address income inequality or that Obama never mentioned opportunity. But Obama has focused on income inequality in a way Clinton never did.

Two examples. In a much-discussed speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, in December 2011, Obama argued that income inequality “distorts our democracy.” He spoke about our “gaping inequality” and said that “breathtaking greed” had contributed to America’s economic troubles and that this was a “make-or-break moment for the middle class.”

Extending the theme in 2013, Obama said income inequality “challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.” The liberal Washington Post writer Greg Sargent called it “one of the most important speeches of the Obama presidency… It will likely serve as another touchstone in an evolving argument among Democrats over the need for the party to embody a truly progressive economic agenda, one that will likely continue resonating through at least 2016 and beyond.” Tim Smeeding, an expert on inequality at the University of Wisconsin, put it this way: “This is a major speech on a topic that American presidents normally stay away from. The fact that a sitting president faced with a crowded agenda had the courage to discuss this overarching problem is historic.” [emphasis added].

6. My assertion that Mr. Clinton ended one entitlement program while Mr. Obama is responsible for creating the largest new entitlement (the Affordable Care Act) since the Great Society is true. As is my claim that Mr. Obama is the first president to essentially nationalize health care and that he proposed raising the capital-gains tax rate while Mr. Clinton lowered it. Chait writes that Clinton tried and failed to do the former and agreed to do the latter, but reluctantly. To which I would say: In judging a president’s legacy, results actually matter — and in judging a party’s ideology the views and votes of its Members in Congress matter, too. And note well: Bill Clinton was willing to embrace conservative policies as part of a compromise. That is something Mr. Obama has been unwilling to do, for the reasons my column make clear: He is far more of an ideologue.

7. In response to my statement that Mr. Clinton cut spending and produced a surplus, while under Mr. Obama, spending and the deficit reached record levels, the best Chait can do is to say, “In fact, both Clinton and Obama had similar fiscal policies.”

Let’s stick with the point I originally made and that Chait would like to avoid. Spending under Obama and Clinton was dramatically different, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. You can look for yourself by going to this OMB document (see in particular Tables 1.2 and 1.3) and the most recent Economic Report to the President (especially Tables B-19 and B-20) to see just how profligate the Obama years have been. But let me summarize: The Obama years have in fact set a high-water mark for the size and reach of the federal government, including a post-World War II record for federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product at 25.2 percent (for comparison, the post-war average has been 19.8 percent). The United States has amassed more than $7 trillion in debt since January 2009. Prior to Obama, no president had submitted a budget with a trillion-dollar deficit; he has submitted four of them. Even as the administration’s projections for the coming years promise smaller deficits, they also promise a larger and more expensive government than Americans have ever seen. Yes, President Obama faced a financial crisis when he took office — but he also used the financial crisis to advance his progressive agenda. That is what his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, meant when he said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” And if you want to see who cut spending more between Obama and Clinton, you might take a look at this. It isn’t a close call.

8. “It is true that Obama, unlike Clinton, has failed to yield a surplus,” Chait says. “Of course, Wehner used to point out that the Clinton surplus was the temporary product of a tech bubble.”

Here’s yet another claim that needs to be untangled. What I wrote was, “The chief reason the nation went from a surplus to a deficit … was that President Bush inherited an economy skidding toward recession (it officially began just a few months after he took office). The dot.com bubble burst — and with it, so did the projected surpluses.” Which is true. It’s also true that I have said on several occasions, including here, that “over the last 40 years and eight presidencies, only two presidents have kept spending below 20 percent of GDP in even a single year: George W. Bush did it in six of his eight fiscal years; Bill Clinton in four.” It’s not inconsistent to say that Bill Clinton kept spending low by historical standards and benefited from the tech bubble.

9. Chait makes this claim:

“In foreign policy [Wehner writes], Mr. Obama has shown himself to be far more critical of traditional allies and more supine toward our adversaries than Mr. Clinton was.” These are the exact same criticisms conservatives made of Clinton during the Clinton administration. The neoconservative Richard Perle in 1996 lambasted “the nearly chronic tendency of the Administration to abandon any policy that encounters even mild opposition, guarantees that adversaries are not deterred — nor are allies assured.”

This is a silly argument. Because Richard Perle was critical of Bill Clinton in 1996 doesn’t mean my claim (or anyone else’s) about Barack Obama in 2015 isn’t accurate. I believe it is, and I’ve made that case here and here. And regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Perle about Clinton, Obama’s policies have led to an unprecedented period of American retrenchment and retreat, at least since World War II.

10. According to Chait, “The centerpiece of the conservative claim that Obama criticizes his allies is Israel, and the actual basis for this is that Israel’s government has abandoned its support for a two-state solution…” The actual basis for this is that Barack Obama has shown a reflex against, and a hostile double standard toward, Israel. Some of us find that quite disturbing. (See here for more.) I’d also point out that tensions with our allies is hardly confined to Israel. They extend to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Turkey, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada and others.

11. Chait writes

Obama has enacted more dramatic policy changes than Clinton did, but this is not because he had dramatically different goals, but because he had dramatically more success in enacting them. (This, of course, is another reality Wehner has repeatedly denied.)

Actually, if you go to this article that Chait links to, you’ll see that my argument isn’t that President Obama wasn’t successfully in getting his policies implemented. In fact, I have argued the opposite, saying “For the first two years of his presidency, Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, ‘cash for clunkers,’ financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the endless extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, ‘Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.’”

The point I was making is that where Obama has most fallen short during his presidency is not in the implementation of his policies so much as in the results of his policies. Where Mr. Obama is most vulnerable is judging him by his own words and promises – on job creation, economic growth, reducing poverty and income inequality, transparency, depolarizing our politics, the Russian “reset”, peace in the Middle East, and on and on. Some years (like 2013) Obama has had more difficulty than other years (2009-2010). But overall Obama has enacted much of what he wanted. And America is paying quite a high price because of it.

The reaction on the left to my Times column revealed how deeply and emotionally invested many progressives are in a particular self-conception and self-delusion. They have constructed a world in which they see themselves as hyper-rational, moderate, reasonable, and empirical. When those assumptions are challenged, and when their own extremism is revealed, they more or less freak out. They have a much higher opinion of themselves than they should.

I should say, too, that it’s rather bizarre to hear people on the left insist that President Obama isn’t a good deal more liberal than Bill Clinton, who after all fashioned himself as a “New Democrat” and chaired headed the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC, remember, was an effort to move the Democratic Party – which had been beaten in five out of six presidential elections (1968-1988) – toward the center on certain key issues. One of Mr. Clinton’s goals, like that of “New Labour’s” Tony Blair, was the ideological renovation of his party. Now and again he showed a willingness to confront ideological excesses within his own coalition in ways that Mr. Obama would never dream of. Which makes sense, since Obama is much more a man of the left than Bill Clinton was.

On many of the issues the New Democrats emphasized, today’s Democratic Party has turned against their ideas and returned to roughly where it was in the 1970s. And there’s no sign things are about to turn around. The Washington Post, in a story about how Hillary Clinton is banking on the Obama coalition to win in 2016 and underscores Obama’s ideological effect on his party, said, “Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues … that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge.” So even Hillary Clinton is running from Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party. As I said,  in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. For progressives, call this an Inconvenient Truth.

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Fifteen years ago Mickey Kaus, who used to work at The New Republic, wrote that the magazine had been lurching to the left. In citing examples, Kaus wrote this about one of its then-senior editors:

There was Jonathan Chait charging that “today’s GOP remains the most radical political party since World War II” (Barry Goldwater? George McGovern?) while simultaneously arguing that “where [George W.] Bush is given credit for his centrism, he is actually following his colleagues on the Hill.”

Referring to Chait’s colleagues and to Chait himself, Kaus wrote that the “strained, sloppy attacks” were “dispiriting.” As it was then, so it remains today.

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Obama Has Given Up on Iraq

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was busy yesterday commenting on the calamitous situation in Iraq—and in the process making it even worse. Read More

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was busy yesterday commenting on the calamitous situation in Iraq—and in the process making it even worse.

He told Fox News: “The United States is not going to be responsible for securing the security situation inside of Iraq.”

And then on NPR he rejected calls to send 25,000 or so troops to Iraq, saying:

We are unwilling to dedicate that kind of blood and treasure to Iraq again. We saw what the result of that previous investment was. And that is not discounting the bravery and courage of our men and women in uniform – they had a substantial impact on the security situation there. But the Iraqi people, and because of the failed leadership of Prime Minister Maliki, was not able to capitalize on it.

So our strategy right now is predicated on building up the capacity of those local forces and giving them another opportunity to control the security situation inside their own country and to do so with the support of the United States and our coalition partners. But we’re not going to be able to do it for them.

This comes only days after Defense Secretary Ash Carter excoriated Iraqi troops for their lack of will to fight. What does it say about the US will to fight when the White House spokesman is saying that Iraq is so unimportant that we will not take any responsibility for the outcome there? That we are not willing to dedicate American “blood and treasure” to defeat ISIS?

The obvious takeaway is that this White House has little will or desire to oppose ISIS — that this president doesn’t see the destruction of ISIS as an important US national security objective even though that is exactly what he pledged to achieve. Once again, there is a major disconnect between the president’s strong rhetoric (“we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” he promised on Sept. 10), and his anemic actions that can only cause a further loss of American credibility.

Another obvious takeaway is that not even the failure of Obama’s present strategy will cause him to rethink his approach. The loss of Ramadi has not shaken him out of his complacency. He’s willing to send 3,000 advisers and some warplanes under very restrictive rules of engagement, but that’s about it. Beyond that, the Iraqis are on their own. The White House just doesn’t care that much.

That’s quite a message to send to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been deployed to Iraq since 2003, and especially to the relatives of the 4,491 who gave their lives there (as well as the tens of thousands wounded, many severely). Obama, via his spokesman, seems to be saying that their sacrifices didn’t matter much because the US has no overriding security interest in Iraq.

That is also the message that Obama is sending, of course, to those US military personnel currently deployed to Iraq. One can only imagine what it does for their morale to hear the chief spokesman of their commander-in-chief — the man who sent them into harm’s way — explaining how unimportant their mission is.

But the worst effect of Josh Earnest’s seeming sangfroid about the future of Iraq is the message that he sends to Iraqis themselves. They are caught between two blood-thirsty ogres: ISIS and Iran. The US is the only outside force that could conceivably bolster a third alternative — a more moderate alternative — that would have wide appeal to Iraqis. That’s what we were doing until 2012, and with considerable success. But Obama was not willing to play that role anymore. He pulled out US troops and not even the consequent rise of ISIS is causing him to making a serious commitment.

So what he is basically signaling to Iraqis is that they need to choose sides among the outside powers that, unlike the U.S., ARE willing to risk blood and treasure in Iraq. Inevitably that means Sunnis will choose to go with ISIS and Shiites with Iran’s Quds Force.

It’s astonishing that even after all these years in power President Obama and his aides still have not grasped the importance of displaying presidential will in warfare. The lack of that will has already undermined the US mission in Afghanistan (remember that 18-month timeline on the surge that Obama ordered in 2009?) and it is now making progress hard to imagine in Iraq, much less in Syria.

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If Obama Wants a Nuclear Deal, He Must Free Iran’s U.S. Hostages

After having consistently outmaneuvered, out-negotiated and out-waited President Obama during the course of the last two years of negotiations over their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders think they are holding all the cards as the clock ticks down toward a June 30 deadline to complete a pact with the West. They may be right about that but not content with merely taking advantage of Obama’s zeal for a deal as they have throughout the process, the Iranians are also reminding the U.S. that they have other forms of leverage: American hostages. The plight of imprisoned Washington Post report Jason Rezaian has gotten increased coverage in recent weeks as Tehran prepared to bring him to trial on bogus espionage charges before a revolutionary court judge known for harsh sentences. The message to Obama was clear. Don’t try to hold our feet to the fire on key nuclear issues such as inspections or the snapping back of sanctions or we will make Americans in our hands pay the price of your principles. His message in reply should be equally clear: Release the hostages now or forget about the economic windfall that will be yours if the nuclear deal is passed by Congress. That such a response from Washington is unthinkable tells us all we need to know about how the current weak deal was negotiated.

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After having consistently outmaneuvered, out-negotiated and out-waited President Obama during the course of the last two years of negotiations over their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders think they are holding all the cards as the clock ticks down toward a June 30 deadline to complete a pact with the West. They may be right about that but not content with merely taking advantage of Obama’s zeal for a deal as they have throughout the process, the Iranians are also reminding the U.S. that they have other forms of leverage: American hostages. The plight of imprisoned Washington Post report Jason Rezaian has gotten increased coverage in recent weeks as Tehran prepared to bring him to trial on bogus espionage charges before a revolutionary court judge known for harsh sentences. The message to Obama was clear. Don’t try to hold our feet to the fire on key nuclear issues such as inspections or the snapping back of sanctions or we will make Americans in our hands pay the price of your principles. His message in reply should be equally clear: Release the hostages now or forget about the economic windfall that will be yours if the nuclear deal is passed by Congress. That such a response from Washington is unthinkable tells us all we need to know about how the current weak deal was negotiated.

That Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini and businessman Amir Hekmati are all hostages is not in doubt. The trumped up charges on which they are all held are transparent efforts to gain leverage over the United States. As with other cases of Americans held by Iran, we know the only way they will ever gain their freedom is if the United States buys it.

In the past, this has generally been in the form of American concessions to the Iranians on whatever issues or disputes that existed between the two governments. That’s the same pattern that applied during the nuclear talks when Obama steadily retreated form positions demanding the end of Iran’s nuclear program and wound up endorsing a deal that left them in possession of thousands of centrifuges, continuing their research in a pact that will eventually expire and let Tehran do as it likes.

The problem wasn’t just Iran’s tough minded negotiating style but an administration that acted as if a deal that would end the Islamist regime’s economic isolation was wanted more desperately by the United States than the ayatollahs. That’s why Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been laying down markers about the agreement as part of the prelude to the final weeks of talks. By demonstrating his unwillingness to contemplate the sort of inspections and sanctions rules that the president has said are required for the completion of the agreement, Khamenei has dared Obama to walk away from what would obviously be a bad deal. But since he knows that Obama regards a nuclear-based entente with Iran as essential to his vision of American policy in the Middle East, the chances that the president will make good on his threats are small.

The hostages are merely extra insurance for Iran. Just as Iran might allow Obama to get them to back down a smidge on their refusals on inspections to agree to a procedure that would still allow them to cheat, so, too, do they understand that throwing in these victims of circumstances might sweeten up even a bad deal enough to ensure that it gets through Congress one way or the other.

The problem here is not that Obama doesn’t want to win their freedom. It’s that he is going about in the wrong way. Instead of continuing to negotiate the text of the deal with their fate hanging in the balance, the president ought to be issuing some stern warnings of his own. The freedom of Rezaian, Abedini and Hekmati should be the price of continued American participation in the talks, not a present to be given or withheld from the U.S. if its representatives behave themselves in the negotiations. Without their freedom, the deal should not go forward.

Just as important, it should be made clear to the president by Congressional Democrats that he should not even bother submitting a deal for their approval if the hostages are not already safely released. The nuclear pact ought to be rejected on its own merits. But if Americans are still being held in Iran when it is considered, it ought to be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Even more to the point, unless they are freed before the deal is sealed, Congress will know that the agreement will be one that ought never to have been signed.

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Why Won’t Obama and the Palestinians Push on Netanyahu’s Open Door?

Israel’s critics didn’t need much prompting to damn the latest government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But his appointment of tough-minded figures from his own party and inner circle to hold key foreign policy posts (as I pointed out here and here), has led to an increase of lamentations about the Israelis putting a fork in any hope for a two-state solution. But if they were listening closely to the prime minister’s statements in the last week, they would see he’s leaving the door wide open for a new round of peace. Earlier this week, Netanyahu stated his willingness to enter into talks about defining settlement blocs that would be kept by Israel and leaving open the possibility of settlement freezes elsewhere and with it the possibility of territorial compromise. Today, he doubled down on that by saying the “general idea” behind the 2002 Arab peace initiative was “a good idea.” But we didn’t have to wait long to learn that the Palestinians want no part of any new negotiations with the Israelis. The reason for that tells us more about their intentions than whether or not Netanyahu is being sincere.

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Israel’s critics didn’t need much prompting to damn the latest government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But his appointment of tough-minded figures from his own party and inner circle to hold key foreign policy posts (as I pointed out here and here), has led to an increase of lamentations about the Israelis putting a fork in any hope for a two-state solution. But if they were listening closely to the prime minister’s statements in the last week, they would see he’s leaving the door wide open for a new round of peace. Earlier this week, Netanyahu stated his willingness to enter into talks about defining settlement blocs that would be kept by Israel and leaving open the possibility of settlement freezes elsewhere and with it the possibility of territorial compromise. Today, he doubled down on that by saying the “general idea” behind the 2002 Arab peace initiative was “a good idea.” But we didn’t have to wait long to learn that the Palestinians want no part of any new negotiations with the Israelis. The reason for that tells us more about their intentions than whether or not Netanyahu is being sincere.

Netanyahu’s last minute pronouncement before the March election that a Palestinian state wouldn’t be created on his watch is still held against him by those urging a two-state solution. His subsequent explanation when he walked it back after winning was that all he was saying was that given the Palestinians refusal to talk or recognize Israel as a Jewish state, there was no way a peace deal could ever be concluded. He was right about that, but his bluntness about this obvious fact made it appear that he was opposed to a two-state solution in principle when his conduct during his previous three terms in office makes it clear that he has consistently shown a readiness to talk about the possibility.

So there should be no surprise that now that he’s safely back in office, he’s sending signals to Washington and the Arabs that they should try him. The settlement bloc proposal would, if the Obama administration or the Palestinians were serious about making incremental progress toward peace, be of special interest to them.

The question of the blocs has been part of the reality of the peace talks for the past 15 years. Israel’s retention of them was implicitly endorsed in a letter signed by President George W. Bush as part of Israel’ agreement to completely withdraw from Gaza. And even President Obama implied that Israel would keep them when he endorsed the concept of territorial swaps in the context of his advocacy of using the 1967 lines as the basis for future peace talks.

It is true that defining them would allow Israel to go on building there thus putting a stop to the pointless controversies with the Obama administration that have erupted every time homes are built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or built-up communities close to the 67 lines. But defining them would also make it clear that all the settlements that are not included in the blocs are essentially on the table for withdrawal. That means a settlement freeze in areas that amount to most of the West Bank. It would also be a clear signal that a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would control that territory was theoretically in reach.

But the Palestinians want no part of it. Instead they repeated their old, tired demands for negotiations that would start on the basis of a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem as well as the release of another batch of convicted terrorists. Moreover, even if an Israeli government was weak or insane enough to agree to negotiations in which they would be committing themselves to giving up all their chips in advance, that still doesn’t seem to be enough to persuade the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

The Palestinians say they won’t recognize Israel’s rights to any part of the West Bank or the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. For them, it is a zero-sum game in which they view the retention of any land by Israel, even in the context of a peace that would give them a state as intolerable. That is only understandable in the context of their repeated refusals of statehood and sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem. They said no in 2000, 2001, and 2008, and refused to talk two states even when Netanyahu agreed to a U.S. framework for such a deal in 2013 and 2014.

The key point here is that if Obama were as dedicated to peace and defending Israel as he keeps telling us he is, he wouldn’t be lecturing the Israelis to live up to his ideas about them but prodding the Palestinians to take advantage of this opening. The president won’t because he is far too obsessed with scolding the Israelis than in recognizing thata Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible is the real obstacle to an end of the conflict.

American critics of Netanyahu can be as cynical as they want about him and his flip-flopping about two states. But if they aren’t willing to push on the door he has opened for them, then their laments about his opposition to peace must be labeled as being far more insincere than anything he has said or done.

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The Left’s Free Trade Freak Out Is Not About Trade

There is perhaps no more prolific liberal conceit than the notion that their concerns are shared by the masses they purport to represent. Take your pick: “women’s health,” AKA access to elective abortions, climate change, police militarization, et cetera. The left has at one point seen each of these as the most urgent of matters, and has insisted that the vast majority of thinking Americans would necessarily agree. Only the latest example of this myopia is the left’s collective freak out over the nature of free international trade agreements, and specifically a proposed trade deal with a variety of Asian nations. But like so many other matters of paramount importance to the left, they simply don’t resonate outside the vast and comfortable liberal bubble.

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There is perhaps no more prolific liberal conceit than the notion that their concerns are shared by the masses they purport to represent. Take your pick: “women’s health,” AKA access to elective abortions, climate change, police militarization, et cetera. The left has at one point seen each of these as the most urgent of matters, and has insisted that the vast majority of thinking Americans would necessarily agree. Only the latest example of this myopia is the left’s collective freak out over the nature of free international trade agreements, and specifically a proposed trade deal with a variety of Asian nations. But like so many other matters of paramount importance to the left, they simply don’t resonate outside the vast and comfortable liberal bubble.

Before we achieve escape velocity and take a look at the world beyond the center-left media complex, it’s worth reviewing the apoplexy that the latest proposed free trade agreement has inspired on the left.

“Free trade isn’t about trade,” The Nation’s Mike Konczal revealed. “Free trade is about bureaucrats. And guns.”

“Why, in the year 2015, is the White House teaming up with Republican leaders essentially to defend the practice of slavery?” a team of Huffington Post reporters asked, citing an element of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that now includes Malaysia despite the prolific human trafficking that occurs in that nation.

Some liberals have even noted without a hint of irony or self-awareness that the pro-trade side of the aisle is guilty of stoking undue fears to advance their agenda. “At a news conference earlier this month, Obama warned that without TPP, ‘China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses,’” The New Republic’s David Dayen scoffed. “Clinton/Obama free trade agreements are not just good in their own right, but models for the world to follow. Veterans of both administrations will admit that didn’t work for NAFTA; why should we believe it for TPP?”

And, of course, progressive icon and Bay State Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ongoing efforts to undermine a Democratic White House that seeks authority to ink necessarily opaque free trade agreements has heightened the left’s sense of urgency on the matter.

The apocalyptic tone of the internecine spat over this relatively parochial issue has been perhaps amplified by the fact that, as this presidency winds to a close, the far left is consumed not with Barack Obama’s achievements but the opportunities he failed to take full advantage of over the course of his tenure.

Now let’s ascend to cruising altitude and take a look at how the rest of the nation views the left’s wildly disproportionate fit of pique over a prospective trade deal. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the vast majority of Americans are generally favorable toward free trade agreements. 58 percent of all Americans, including a majority of every subgroup sampled, believe free trade is good for the United States. That includes 58 percent of self-described Democrats, and 59 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats.

Interestingly, the groups most predisposed to view free trade arrangements with suspicion are those who identify as conservative Republicans and those age 65 or older. But 50 percent of both of these constituencies still see trade as ultimately beneficial. “There are only modest partisan differences on views of free trade agreements’ effects on economic growth, with Republicans somewhat more likely (40%) than either Democrats (30%) or independents (32%) to say they slow the economy,” Pew revealed.

Given this revelation, where is the uproar from Republican circles over the extension of trade promotional authority to President Barack Obama from a GOP-dominated Congress? While it certainly exists, the concern over free trade is far more muted on the right than the polls would suggest it should be. So, what gives? In part, the energy being expended on the left over a trade deal that Democrats largely support is a proxy war over the future ideological and programmatic direction of the Democratic Party. The fierceness of this family feud is certainly not justified by the general public’s interest in the subject.

So, the next time that you see Democrats engaged in heated debate over the issue of free trade and wonder where the passion comes from given the disinterest outside of media circles, remember that they’re probably not talking about trade.

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Getting Away With Amnesty Not as Easy as Obama Thought

When President Obama issued his executive orders implementing amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants after the midterm elections, the assumption among most of his supporters and the bulk of his opponents was that there was very little anyone could do to stop him. But due to a successful legal counterattack the plan has yet to be implanted. The latest setback to the administration came in the 5th Circuit court of Appeals where a 2-1 majority voted to deny a stay of an injunction that a lower court put on the amnesty project. That means the president now has the choice of either waiting for a different panel of that circuit to rule on the merits of Texas v. United States in which the state seeks to demonstrate that amnesty will hurt its citizens or wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the stay. Either way, the case drags on. While the odds are still with the administration on the Texas case, which hinges on a technicality rather than whether the president has the power to act to change immigration policy without Congress, these setbacks leave open the possibility that the unthinkable may happen and the entire idea could actually be struck down.

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When President Obama issued his executive orders implementing amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants after the midterm elections, the assumption among most of his supporters and the bulk of his opponents was that there was very little anyone could do to stop him. But due to a successful legal counterattack the plan has yet to be implanted. The latest setback to the administration came in the 5th Circuit court of Appeals where a 2-1 majority voted to deny a stay of an injunction that a lower court put on the amnesty project. That means the president now has the choice of either waiting for a different panel of that circuit to rule on the merits of Texas v. United States in which the state seeks to demonstrate that amnesty will hurt its citizens or wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the stay. Either way, the case drags on. While the odds are still with the administration on the Texas case, which hinges on a technicality rather than whether the president has the power to act to change immigration policy without Congress, these setbacks leave open the possibility that the unthinkable may happen and the entire idea could actually be struck down.

The executive orders are, almost by definition, extra-legal because the president spent his first six years in office explaining his refusal to act in this matter by saying that he lacked the legal authority to amend a law on his own rather than waiting for Congress to do so. But most observers saw the executive orders as being largely impervious to protests since the president’s power to implement rules challenges or merely to order authorities not to enforce the law gave him free rein to do as he liked.

But the efforts of one activist conservative judge in Texas have thrown a monkey wrench into the president’s plans. Judge Andrew Hanen’s finding that the president had broken the law came days after the president issued the orders, and the business has been stuck there since then. Though Hanen’s injunction was widely derided at the time as a case of conservative legal guerilla warfare, the appeals ruling grants his decision a touch of legitimacy that most observers denied it at the time. If indeed, the courts rule that Obama had the obligation to go through the normal rules-making procedures that the president ignored when he issued his orders.

Moreover it also opens up the possibility that the state of Texas may have a legal leg to stand on when it claims that amnesty puts its citizens on the hook for the costs associated with amnesty that would be granted to more than half a million people in the Lone Star State alone. Can this opinion prevail on the merits all the way through the judicial system. The answer is probably not since states could sue the federal government for a host of unfunded mandates on many issues. As the dissenting judge in the appeals ruling observed, this case is blatantly political. A total of 26 states support Texas in the lawsuit.

But that’s what happens when a president attempts to rule on his own. Even if you agree with the president that a solution must be found for the illegals, that doesn’t involve deportation. The longer this drags on, the clearer it is that the proper venue for changing the immigration laws isn’t in the courts but in Congress, to which the Constitution has given the power to legislate. While the president does have the right to decide who should be deported, by effectively annulling the laws of the land without benefit of Congress or any sort of legal process undermines the rule of law. No matter who eventually prevails in this case, the attempt to make an end run around the Constitution, and have the president decide such issues on his own because he is tired of watching Congress fail to obey his orders, has done real damage to respect for the law.

Just as important, he has made it even more difficult for Congress to ever consider liberalizing the laws since arguments for reform have been hurt by the president’s refusal to abide by legal norms. The president may wind up getting away with executive amnesty, but it isn’t as easy or as clean as he thought it would be. And the close we get to 2016, the more likely it will be that immigration reform is not only finished until the next Congress but perhaps also for the foreseeable future.

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Where They Burn People

Where they burn books, the maxim goes, they will ultimately burn people. This prescient quotation predated the rise of the German National Socialists by over a century, but Heinrich Heine did not need a Nazi foil to identify where the authoritarian mindset that outright prohibits objectionable thought ultimately leads. Today, the international community’s cowed reaction to Russian aggression both on the foreign and domestic fronts seems to have reduced the axiomatic admonition “never again” to “well, maybe once in a while.” One of history’s greatest insanities threatens to repeat itself, and we dare not address the warning signs in the stark terms they deserve lest we acknowledge the gravity of the threat to our comfortable existences.

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Where they burn books, the maxim goes, they will ultimately burn people. This prescient quotation predated the rise of the German National Socialists by over a century, but Heinrich Heine did not need a Nazi foil to identify where the authoritarian mindset that outright prohibits objectionable thought ultimately leads. Today, the international community’s cowed reaction to Russian aggression both on the foreign and domestic fronts seems to have reduced the axiomatic admonition “never again” to “well, maybe once in a while.” One of history’s greatest insanities threatens to repeat itself, and we dare not address the warning signs in the stark terms they deserve lest we acknowledge the gravity of the threat to our comfortable existences.

The government of the Russian Federation long ago committed to a policy that embraced the revisionist reconstruction of recent history and the remaking of Russian culture in the mold of an idealized past. For years, it was understood that journalists critical of the conduct of the Russian government were gambling with their lives. It seems likely that the next target of the Kremlin’s campaign to dismantle the reforms of the Gorbachev era will be the nation’s artists and visionaries.

The Russian government has already gone about the process of reintroducing Soviet-style bans on undesirable artistic content. For filmmakers, novelists, bloggers, and playwrights, to write provocative content with explicit language is to risk being charged a substantial fine. Moscow has also begun to censor evocative imagery. The graphic novelist Art Spiegelman was dismayed to discover last month that the Russian Federation has banned his Pulitzer Prize-winning series of books about the Holocaust, Maus, which ran afoul of the nation’s ban on the publication of the Swastika.

Calling it a “harbinger of a dangerous thing,” Spiegelman warned that Russia is attempting to sanitize the horrors of that period. At least, those that do not relate to the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazi menace. “We don’t want cultures to erase memory,” he added.

The Russian government’s crackdown on dissent has been so thorough that few dare to challenge it. “[A]lmost a quarter-century on, only remnants are left of that golden media era, and the few outlets still publishing bold, independent work are under constant threat,” The Committee to Protect Journalist’s Ann Cooper wrote of the demise of the Glasnost reforms. “Vladimir Putin, now in his 15th year as Russian leader, has systematically dismantled independent media and rolled up press freedoms within his own country.”

Having figuratively burned books, the Russian Federation now literally burns bodies.

To hide the evidence of the illegal war Russia is waging and supporting in neighboring Ukraine following the invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, American lawmakers allege that Moscow is using mobile crematoriums to destroy the evidence of their involvement in the fighting.

“The Russians are trying to hide their casualties by taking mobile crematoriums with them,” Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin. “They are trying to hide not only from the world but from the Russian people their involvement.”

The U.S. and NATO have long maintained that thousands of Russian troops are fighting alongside separatists inside eastern Ukraine, and that the Russian government is obscuring not only the presence but also the deaths of its soldiers there. In March, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told a conference, “Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting — and dying — in large numbers in eastern Ukraine.”

Thornberry said he had seen evidence of the crematoriums from both U.S. and Ukrainian sources. He said he could not disclose details of classified information, but insisted that he believed the reports. “What we have heard from the Ukrainians, they are largely supported by U.S. intelligence and others,” he said.

This is not the only grotesquely familiar anecdote to emerge from the devolving Russian Federation within the last 24 hours. According to reports, the Kremlin is seriously investigating the use of prison labor to help prepare the nation for its showpiece World Cup games.  Though that labor would not be entirely uncompensated, the use of prisoners to construct the facilities that will house members of the international soccer community is eerily reminiscent.

If this sounds alarmist, it should. There is no shortage of observers who will scoff at those who warn that Russia is going down a very dark road and opening a Pandora’s Box in the process. There is not much risk and even less virtue by adopting this outlook in regards to a still nascent crisis. And while the 21st Century’s scolds jealously preserve and enjoy the benefits of their pleasant and secure lives, the echoes of the 20th Century reverberate relentlessly, growing louder by the day.  We dismiss them at our peril.

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Obama’s UN Favor for Israel All About a Selling a Bad Iran Deal

After giving the Israelis a scare, the Obama administration stepped in at the last moment last week and spiked a proposal for a United Nations conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The conference would have targeted the Jewish state for its nuclear program and weapons and the Netanyahu government was quick to express gratitude to the administration for at least this one instance, having, as it keeps saying it does, Israel’s back. But contrary to the spin about this coming out of the administration that was reported by the Wall Street Journal, the move tells us nothing about whether President Obama will keep other commitments to Israel or, if necessary, “walk away from a bad deal” with Iran. To the contrary, as welcome as the U.S. stand on this conference was, it was all about keeping Israel and its friends quiet about an impending nuclear deal with Iran that is likely to be terrible.

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After giving the Israelis a scare, the Obama administration stepped in at the last moment last week and spiked a proposal for a United Nations conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The conference would have targeted the Jewish state for its nuclear program and weapons and the Netanyahu government was quick to express gratitude to the administration for at least this one instance, having, as it keeps saying it does, Israel’s back. But contrary to the spin about this coming out of the administration that was reported by the Wall Street Journal, the move tells us nothing about whether President Obama will keep other commitments to Israel or, if necessary, “walk away from a bad deal” with Iran. To the contrary, as welcome as the U.S. stand on this conference was, it was all about keeping Israel and its friends quiet about an impending nuclear deal with Iran that is likely to be terrible.

There’s no question that Israel is greatly relieved about the U.S. keeping its word and heading off what would have been yet another UN-sponsored Israel-bashing festival. With so many senior administration officials issuing thinly-veiled threats about abandoning Israel at the UN out of pique at the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. decision to stick to its longstanding policy of backing Israel’s public ambiguity about its nuclear arsenal was a pleasant surprise. But any predictions about this being an indications that relations between Israel and the United States will start to warm up in the last 20 months of the Obama presidency are likely to prove misleading.

This gesture and other moves, such as the president’s speech at a Washington, D.C. synagogue last Friday, are clearly aimed at walking back previous administration efforts to distance the U.S. from Israel and specifically to antagonize and treat Netanyahu as a pariah. But the purpose of this new Jewish charm offensive is tactical, not strategic. As negotiations with Iran head into the homestretch in the coming weeks, the administration is characteristically focused more on the politics of an agreement than on the policy implications of their effort to craft an entente with the Islamist regime.

Though the president reiterated last week that he is prepared to walk away from the talks if they prove unsatisfactory, no one, least of all his Iranian negotiating partners, thinks he will abandon a deal that is the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. After having given in to Iran on virtually every U.S. demand over the course of the last two years of negotiations, Tehran expects him to do so again, even on key issues such as inspections and snapping back sanctions. With Iran’s leaders making it clear it will never allow rigorous inspections or for sanctions to be easily re-imposed, what emerges from the final weeks of negotiations is likely to be a final document that contains many compromises that mark the deal as a Western seal of approval on the regime’s nuclear program and not one that forecloses a path to a bomb.

But even as America’s goal of stopping Iran appears to have been sacrificed in order to achieve what the president hopes will be a new détente with the Islamist regime, the administration is all over the politics of preventing Congress from interfering with such an arrangement. All the president will need is enough votes to sustain a veto of a Congressional vote against the deal (one more than one-third of either the House and the Senate). In order to get those votes, he needs to keep wavering pro-Israel Democrats in line. Given the terms of what looks to be a deal that will sound more like appeasement than restraint of Iran, the president knows he needs to convince those Democrats that the pro-Israel community is not united in opposition to his efforts. And in order to accomplish that, he needs to undo some of the damage that his open hostility toward Netanyahu in the last year has done.

This is, after all, an administration that unfairly blamed Israel for the collapse of the Middle East peace talks even though it was the Palestinian Authority that blew them up with their unity pact with Hamas and by conducting an end run around the talks by going to the United Nations for recognition. And it was only a few months ago that top administration officials were calling Netanyahu a “chickensh*t,” and then treated his speech to Congress about the Iran deal as an insult to Obama. Nor should it be forgotten that Obama halted an arms resupply to Israel during the war with Hamas last summer and subjected it to bitter and unfair criticism during that conflict in order to show the Israelis that they could not count on the alliance.

Those actions as well as the previous fights Obama picked with Israel have raised serious questions about his attitude to the alliance with Israel especially as he warms up to an Iran that still is spouting language about wanting to eliminate the Jewish state. But Obama knows that selling a weak Iran deal to a Congress that is still dominated by friends of Israel won’t be easy. Hence the abrupt shift of atmospherics toward Israel from intense hostility and threats to the sort of friendly gestures and language that we have seen in the last few weeks.

But as welcome as that change may be, no one should be under the impression that this is the last shift in administration policy toward Israel. Once the Iran deal is signed and Congressional interference is headed off, the Israelis should expect the pressure to be back on them. Another push for Israeli concessions to restart the peace process should be expected in spite of the lack of interest on the part of the Palestinians in ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. And in a region where Iran has become bolder and U.S. influence weaker, another round of violence with Hamas or Hezbollah is not out of the question.

Like the last Jewish charm offensive from Obama during his successful re-election campaign, no one should expect this one to last. Moreover, those Democrats who are the targets of this effort should remember how a key element of the last effort to convince them of the president’s intentions — a pledge to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program — has now morphed into something very different and dangerous both for Israel and U.S. security.

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Iran’s Third Path to a Bomb

The emerging agreement with Iran that President Obama sees as his legacy will give Iran three paths to a bomb: it can break out, wait out, or sneak out of the agreement. Iran will pocket its huge signing bonus; take reversible steps toward “compliance”; then either break out (perhaps after a dispute about implementation, or while the U.S. is involved in some other crisis), or wait out (after which, President Obama concedes, Iran will face no further barrier to a bomb), or sneak out (using secret sites and undetectable methods). In an important new paper entitled “Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes that “the most likely scenario” is “an Iranian breakout using undeclared facilities” (emphasis in original). Congress should read the paper carefully before it signs onto ObamaPeace in our time.

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The emerging agreement with Iran that President Obama sees as his legacy will give Iran three paths to a bomb: it can break out, wait out, or sneak out of the agreement. Iran will pocket its huge signing bonus; take reversible steps toward “compliance”; then either break out (perhaps after a dispute about implementation, or while the U.S. is involved in some other crisis), or wait out (after which, President Obama concedes, Iran will face no further barrier to a bomb), or sneak out (using secret sites and undetectable methods). In an important new paper entitled “Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes that “the most likely scenario” is “an Iranian breakout using undeclared facilities” (emphasis in original). Congress should read the paper carefully before it signs onto ObamaPeace in our time.

Eisenstadt cites the November 2014 testimony of former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which he said that “[a]bsent an invasive inspection regime, with freedom to visit all sites on short notice, American intelligence cannot provide adequate warning of Iranian nuclear developments.” Eisenstadt notes that Iran’s fact sheet on the “framework” says its implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol will be “voluntary” and “temporary,” and he describes the U.S. “fact sheet” as “too good to be true”:

Iran has already stated that enriched uranium will not be sent out of the country, that IAEA inspectors will not have access to military facilities, and that all sanctions should be lifted immediately upon conclusion of the agreement. The stockpiling of enriched uranium – even in dilute form – would vitiate much of the purpose the accord. Denial of access to military facilities could create no-go zones in which Iran could engage in undeclared activities and build clandestine facilities. And the immediate lifting of sanctions would instantly reduce the international community’s leverage over Iran …

And not only that: an “even greater monitoring challenge” will be presented by the transfer of nuclear fissile material or a weapon from North Korea, which will “likely remain a critical weakness of any monitoring effort in Iran.”

Knowing what we know now, the total American withdrawal from Iraq, the abysmal failure to enforce the presidentially-declared “red line” in Syria, the absence of any response against any group for the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the failure to stand by allies such as Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all sent a signal to Iran that is about to culminate in a negotiated disaster, precisely the separate peace that Benjamin Netanyahu warned against in his speech to Congress. All that stands against it is a Congressional vote that requires a two-thirds bipartisan majority to succeed. But members of Congress who read the Eisenstadt report are unlikely to vote for ObamaPeace — unless they want to join a legacy of shame.

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Counting Up Obama’s Cataclysmic Foreign Policy Failures

With the Islamic State expanding its reach after two key victories in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, and Palmyra, a strategically important city in Syria, it might a good time to ask: What are the worst foreign policy failures of Barack Obama’s presidency? The list is long; here are several to choose from.

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With the Islamic State expanding its reach after two key victories in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, and Palmyra, a strategically important city in Syria, it might a good time to ask: What are the worst foreign policy failures of Barack Obama’s presidency? The list is long; here are several to choose from.

1. The Rise of ISIS. President Obama failed to anticipate the rise of ISIS, which he ridiculed as a “jayvee team” as recently as last year, and he has since failed to do anything effective to impede it. ISIS had established territory in large parts of Syria and Iraq; it now “controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.” Under Mr. Obama’s watch, a jihadist caliphate has been established in the heart of the Middle East — and the president has no strategy to deal with it.

2. Losing the War in Iraq. President Obama’s predecessor handed to him a war that had been won. Don’t take my word for it; take the word of Mr. Obama and his vice president. On December 14, 2011, in welcoming troops home at Ft. Bragg as he was ending the American presence in Iraq, the president declared “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” It was, the commander-in-chief said, a “moment of success.” A year earlier Vice President Joe Biden put it this way: “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s going to be one of the great achievements of this administration.” All our hard-earned achievements were undone by the president’s determined commitment to withdraw all American troops from Iraq during his presidency. He did what he was determined to do and, as a result, Iraq is collapsing and Iran is rushing in, increasing its influence to an unprecedented degree.

3. Failing to Aid Iran’s Green Revolution.  In the summer of 2009, a revolution in Iran threatened to topple the mullahs. Leaders of the so-called “Green Revolution” pleaded for support. They got none. President Obama, in saying he “want[ed] to avoid the United States being the issue inside Iran”, did nothing to aid the pro-democracy elements that were seeking to overthrow the Islamic theocracy.  Whether our assistance would have altered the course of events is impossible to know — but the president, in essentially casting his lot with the Iranian regime during its most vulnerable period since the 1979 revolution, ensured the democratic uprising would fail. And with it, our best chance of the Middle East cleansing itself of the most malignant and dangerous regime on earth.

4. Triggering a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has long advocated a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. But President Obama’s determined effort to strike a deal with Iran, in which all the important concessions are made by us and none by the Iranians, has petrified our traditional Sunni allies in the region. Fearful of Iran, nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others are now considering and/or preparing to acquire nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al Faisal, declared in March that whatever Iran gets in its nuclear deal with the United States, “we will want the same.” Ibrahim al-Marie, a retired Saudi colonel and a security analyst in Riyadh, put it this way: “Our leaders will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon while we don’t. If Iran declares a nuclear weapon, we can’t afford to wait 30 years more for our own—we should be able to declare ours within a week.” The president’s effort to strike a deal with Iran, then, is triggering a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region, with the risks of nuclear war increased by the threat of terrorist groups acquiring radioactive material.

5. Erasing the “Red Line” in Syria. In 2012, President Obama said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad — who the previous year was referred to as a “reformer” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — should step down and that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against rebel forces would constitute crossing a “red line.” Mr. Assad crossed the red line, and President Obama did nothing. The brutal Syrian leader is still in power, Syria is being torn apart by a civil war in which around a quarter of a million people have died, around four million have fled as refugees, and around eight million have been internally displaced. Syria’s neighbors are being destabilized. And an unmistakable message of weakness was sent by Mr. Obama and received by every adversary and ally of the United States: Mr. Obama’s words and threats are worthless.

6. The Failure to Arm Syrian Rebels. As Syria began to unravel, in 2012 then-CIA director David Petraeus and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton developed a plan to vet Syrian rebels and train a cadre of fighters who would be supplied with weapons. The plan was supported at the time by Leon Panetta, who was defense secretary, and Martin Dempsey, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But it was ultimately vetoed by President Obama, according to Mr. Panetta. The president was worried about becoming more deeply involved in Syria. That hasn’t worked out very well, though. America is not only involved in Syria; we have launched military airstrikes against it and Mr. Obama has proposed a major program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels, though it’s likely too late to influence events on the ground. It’s impossible to know if the Petraeus plan would have succeeded when it was proposed three years ago. But what we do know is that today, with America taking a hands-off approach, (a) Syria has become a humanitarian and geopolitical catastrophe and (b) we have been drawn into the conflict.

7. Libya Collapses and Becomes a Terrorist Safe Haven. On March 19, 2011, President Obama unilaterally authorized the U.S. military to begin “a limited military action in Libya” to protect Libyan civilians. He said by intervening in Libya’s civil war, he was acting “in the interests of the United States and the world.” Six months later, during a September 21, 2011 speech to the United Nations, President Obama declared, “Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free… Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli. This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.” Since then — and in good part because of the lack of American follow through and engagement — we have closed our embassy. Syria has been declared a terrorist safe haven by the State Department. No central authority exists. The Libyan state has collapsed and is being torn asunder by civil war. According to the New York Times, “the violence threatens to turn Libya into a pocket of chaos destabilizing North Africa for years to come.” An intervention Mr. Obama once hailed as a model now lies in ruins.

8. Russian Aggression in Crimea and Ukraine. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the “Russian reset.” It was said to be a “win-win” situation for both sides. It hasn’t worked out quite that way. The United States scrapped a missile-defense system the Poles and the Czech Republic had agreed to house despite Russian threats, as a way to pacify Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In return, Russia has reasserted its presence in the Middle East in ways unseen since the 1970s, propped up the Assad regime in Syria, supported Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its repression at home, invaded Crimea, militarily intervened in Ukraine, and given safe haven to Edward Snowden. During Mr. Obama’s watch, Putin has “position[ed] contemporary Russia as the heir to the Russian Empire as it was constituted under the czars,” according to the Russian American journalist and author Masha Gessen. That is what the “Russian reset” looks like in real life.

A few summary thoughts on all this: There are limits to America’s capacity to influence world events. It’s difficult for even the best presidents to deal with an untidy and sometimes uncooperative world. And in some of the examples I’ve cited, President Obama is more responsible for the failures that have occurred than in others. But in each of these instances Mr. Obama has made things worse, and in most cases he has made things markedly worse. The cumulative and convulsive effects of his failures are extraordinarily damaging to America and the world.

President Obama, in describing his foreign policy doctrine in private conversations to reporters, said, “We don’t do stupid sh*t.” He actually does, quite a lot, and in ways that may be unmatched by any president in our history. Over the course of his presidency, Mr. Obama has implemented the policy he’s wanted. As a result, in several nations and in some regions, he has helped open the gates of hell.

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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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