Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

Inside Obama’s Head With Michael Oren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The White House’s Latest ObamaCare Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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U.S. Hypocrisy on Oren’s Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hate Motivated Killer, Not His Gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kerry’s False Choice on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Will Take Poor Down With Him If SCOTUS Sinks OCare

With the clock ticking down before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the fate of ObamaCare, most of the attention and pressure is on Congressional Republicans. If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, conservatives will celebrate the implosion of President Obama’s unpopular signature health-care legislation. But they will also be placed in a difficult political position since the demise of the federal subsidies for insurance will deprive millions of the coverage they obtained as a result of the law’s passage. That possibility looms as a distinct political liability for the GOP heading into 2016 unless Congress can pass at least a temporary fix for the bill that will enable the ObamaCare subsidies to continue until a long-term solution is found once a new president is elected. But as much as that puts the onus on House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find a way to get their fractious caucuses to agree on a plan, the real obstacle to a resolution of this potential crisis is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If President Obama is, as he claims, unwilling to compromise and accept a fix that will not ensure the law’s permanence, it will be him and not the GOP who should be blamed for the problems of the uninsured.

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With the clock ticking down before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the fate of ObamaCare, most of the attention and pressure is on Congressional Republicans. If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, conservatives will celebrate the implosion of President Obama’s unpopular signature health-care legislation. But they will also be placed in a difficult political position since the demise of the federal subsidies for insurance will deprive millions of the coverage they obtained as a result of the law’s passage. That possibility looms as a distinct political liability for the GOP heading into 2016 unless Congress can pass at least a temporary fix for the bill that will enable the ObamaCare subsidies to continue until a long-term solution is found once a new president is elected. But as much as that puts the onus on House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find a way to get their fractious caucuses to agree on a plan, the real obstacle to a resolution of this potential crisis is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If President Obama is, as he claims, unwilling to compromise and accept a fix that will not ensure the law’s permanence, it will be him and not the GOP who should be blamed for the problems of the uninsured.

The growing debate over how to deal with the aftermath of an end to the subsidies may be cut short if the Court upholds the law in its current form. After the shocking decision of Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold ObamaCare’s constitutionality on grounds at odds with both of the parties to the case, it is impossible to predict how the vote will go. But though there is a good chance that Roberts will care more about the politics of the decision than the Constitution, it is entirely possible that this time the majority will defend the principle that the law means what it says. That would mean it would decide that the words “established by the states” in the text of the legislation would mean that subsidies are illegal if they are only provided by the federal government.

As I noted last month, such a decision would create a new set of people affected by the law that can’t be ignored. Just as its passage meant that millions of consumers lost their existing coverage (contradicting President Obama’s oft-repeated pledge that such a thing would never happen), thus creating a large number of embittered opponents of the law, the end of the subsidies will mean yet another group will come into existence. These people will be looking to blame those who caused their entitlement to vanish.

There’s little question their anger will be focused on members of the GOP, who have repeatedly attempted to repeal the misnamed Affordable Care Act. But if, as they should, Boehner and McConnell get their members behind a temporary fix to the problem created by King v. Burwell, the failure of the initiative will likely belong to the president, not the Tea Party.

Though Republicans are being chided for not having already put a fix in place, there are a number of reasonable proposals already being debated that have been put forward by Republicans like Senators Ron Johnson and Bill Cassidy. While not ideal for either defenders of the law or those who want to see it completely repealed, they have the virtue of protecting those who are getting the subsidies.

But sensing political weakness on the part of its opponents, the White House is sending clear signals that it will not agree to any compromise that alters ObamaCare or fails to establish its permanence. As was the case during the government shutdown debate in the fall of 2013, when conservatives sought to defund ObamaCare as the price of keeping Washington funded, it is the White House that is the most intransigent player in the game.

But while in 2013 that meant preserving a law that had yet to be implemented, Obama’s willingness to take the country to the brink this time will have a devastating impact on precisely those persons he sought to help.

This sort of confrontation brings out the worst in the president because it tempts him to demonstrate the defining characteristics of his interactions with Congress: a refusal to compromise on any terms but his own and the temptation to demonize opponents rather than work with them.

This White House has already proven its skill when taking Congressional Republicans to the brink but if it allows the subsides to expire when they might have been saved it will take more than the cheers of the liberal mainstream media to portray the president as being in the right. It wasn’t hard to beat down Republicans in 2013 as they self-destructed but it may not be as easy if a fix is delivered to his desk or if a Democratic filibuster in the Senate spikes it.

If Obama and the Democrats prevent passage of a subsidy solution and simply assume the public will blame Republicans, they may be surprised this time. ObamaCare has never been popular and the country knows that if it is in peril of being overturned by the court it is because it was passed in a slipshod and rushed manner in order to avoid further debate that might have improved it. Rather than his legacy being a health-care law, such a decision would ensure that posterity remembers Barack Obama as a president that preferred to see the poor suffer rather than bend a little and compromise with his opponents.

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How Obama Undermined the U.S.-Israel Alliance

With his nuclear deal with Iran still hanging in the balance, President Obama is trying to convince Congress and the American people that he hasn’t completely abandoned Israel. The latest sign that the administration is trying to rebuild relations with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East is the story that the president is planning to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the White House sometime this summer. If true, it’s a sign that Obama knows he’s in trouble in a negotiation where Iran appears to be insisting on a deal that is even more of a sham than the weak framework that was announced in April. But it also illustrates just how bad relations with Israel are that Obama is treating a meeting between the two leaders as a major concession. It is in that context that former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal proves instructive. Oren, whose forthcoming book Ally, about his four years dealing with the administration is due out next week, gets to the heart of the problem with the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though the Jewish state’s leaders have sometimes made mistakes, the Obama administration’s blunders were not similarly inadvertent miscalculations. To the contrary, they have been deliberately aimed at creating distance between the two allies to the detriment of both Israel’s security and U.S. influence and interests in the region.

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With his nuclear deal with Iran still hanging in the balance, President Obama is trying to convince Congress and the American people that he hasn’t completely abandoned Israel. The latest sign that the administration is trying to rebuild relations with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East is the story that the president is planning to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the White House sometime this summer. If true, it’s a sign that Obama knows he’s in trouble in a negotiation where Iran appears to be insisting on a deal that is even more of a sham than the weak framework that was announced in April. But it also illustrates just how bad relations with Israel are that Obama is treating a meeting between the two leaders as a major concession. It is in that context that former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal proves instructive. Oren, whose forthcoming book Ally, about his four years dealing with the administration is due out next week, gets to the heart of the problem with the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though the Jewish state’s leaders have sometimes made mistakes, the Obama administration’s blunders were not similarly inadvertent miscalculations. To the contrary, they have been deliberately aimed at creating distance between the two allies to the detriment of both Israel’s security and U.S. influence and interests in the region.

Though he was Netanyahu’s envoy for four years, Oren is no apologist for the prime minister, a point that was underlined by his decision to run for the Knesset this year on the ticket of the Kulanu Party. Though that makes him a member of Netanyahu’s current slender governing majority, his views have always been more centrist on territory and settlements, something that comes through clearly in his memoir. Indeed, both Oren’s diplomatic skills and his decidedly unenthusiastic attitude toward Netanyahu’s Likud come through clearly in the Journal article. He even-handedly apportions some of the blame for tensions between Washington and Jerusalem to Netanyahu and his government.

But despite his desire to repair the damaged alliance, Oren can’t avoid the facts about an Obama administration that came into office determined to create more “daylight” between the two countries. Though Oren isn’t the first to note that the president believed that the U.S. had become too close to Israel during the administration of George W. Bush and that more distance would make peace possible. But Oren offers an eyewitness accounts of how the president and his foreign policy team undercut Israel’s position at almost every turn. That not only soured the alliance, it also had the unintended consequence of strengthening the conviction of the Palestinians that they don’t need to compromise or even to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state — no matter where its borders might be drawn — in order to get independence and peace.

Just as damaging is Obama’s decision to cease coordinating strategy with Israel. The president chose not to consult with the Israelis when it came to diplomatic endeavors relating to both the peace process and to the nuclear threat from Iran. At every key point in the last six years, Israel wound up being surprised, if not completely ambushed by Obama’s initiatives. That was true of Obama’s diplomatic attacks on Israel’s hold on Jerusalem and his attempt to establish the 1967 lines as the starting points for future peace negotiations, not to mention his discarding of Bush’s pledges that Israel could hold onto the West Bank settlement blocs (in exchange for which Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005). It also was the case with the secret negotiations with Iran that led to the interim nuclear agreement signed in November 2013. As Oren writes, it was these surprise attacks, as much as the misguided belief in daylight that degraded relations to their current low point.

While crediting the administration with some help, Oren’s book provides copious details of the animus for Israel that is the core explanation for everything that has gone wrong with U.S. policy in the Middle East in recent years. Loyal Jewish Democrats who have sought to rationalize or minimize the administration’s predilection for picking fights with Israel need to read Oren’s book carefully to understand just how wrongheaded their apologies for Obama have been. As our John Podhoretz wrote last week in the New York Post, the one thing you won’t get in Oren’s book is an attempt to draw the obvious conclusion about Obama’s ideology from all these slights and attacks.

As I noted last month, even now as he seeks to seduce the pro-Israel community into supporting his appeasement of Iran, the president continues to talk of his admiration for a mythical Israel of the past and his dislike of the real Israel of today whose people have rightly come to understand that the Palestinians don’t want peace. Obama’s disdain for the reality of an embattled yet vibrant democratic Israel has little or nothing to do with Netanyahu and everything to do with his own ideological affinity for its foes. As we face a future in which a U.S. seal of approval will be given to Iran’s becoming a threshold nuclear power and to its quest for regional hegemony, there’s little doubt that blame for the disasters that are likely to follow will belong to Obama.

Oren, however, is right when he seeks to remind Americans and Israelis of their mutual need for each other and the necessity of charting a new path for the alliance, a path that rejects Obama’s tactics of daylight and surprise attacks. That’s a message that all of the 2016 presidential contenders should take to heart. It’s also a message that those friends of Israel who helped elect Obama should remember before they try to elect another American leader who might further damage the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Obama’s Cascade of Iran Concessions Continues

This morning the Wall Street Journal editorializes on the latest concessions in President Obama’s pursuit of his Lausanne legacy: (1) defunding the Lebanese civil-society initiative that was an alternative to Iran-sponsored Hezbollah; (2) removing the CFO of the A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network from the sanctions list; (3) eliminating sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program; and (4) ending sanctions on 23 of 24 Iranian banks. These come on top of: (i) early elimination of all nuclear sanctions, (ii) waiving answers to outstanding International Atomic Energy Agency questions before signing a deal, (iii) a huge “signing bonus,” (iv) the lack of “anywhere, any time” inspections, (v) subjection of “snap back” sanctions to an unrealistic administrative process, (vi) failure to dismantle any centrifuges (which will simply be stored) or facilities (which will continue to operate), and (vii) the sunset provision that guarantees Iran nuclear capability at the end of the agreement. And these are not likely to be the last concessions.

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This morning the Wall Street Journal editorializes on the latest concessions in President Obama’s pursuit of his Lausanne legacy: (1) defunding the Lebanese civil-society initiative that was an alternative to Iran-sponsored Hezbollah; (2) removing the CFO of the A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network from the sanctions list; (3) eliminating sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program; and (4) ending sanctions on 23 of 24 Iranian banks. These come on top of: (i) early elimination of all nuclear sanctions, (ii) waiving answers to outstanding International Atomic Energy Agency questions before signing a deal, (iii) a huge “signing bonus,” (iv) the lack of “anywhere, any time” inspections, (v) subjection of “snap back” sanctions to an unrealistic administrative process, (vi) failure to dismantle any centrifuges (which will simply be stored) or facilities (which will continue to operate), and (vii) the sunset provision that guarantees Iran nuclear capability at the end of the agreement. And these are not likely to be the last concessions.

Iran will likely want to run the negotiations past the June 30 “deadline,” if only to demonstrate again that an Obama “deadline” is the only date by which a new deadline must be set. If the president wishes to avoid the embarrassment of another ignored “deadline,” he will likely face a last-minute demand for a compensating concession. Moreover, in any negotiation in which one party knows the other is too invested in the deal to abandon it, the first party will frequently make a last-minute demand, secure in the knowledge that it is too late for the other party to reject it. The president has disclosed publicly that he believes there is no viable alternative to a deal, and the cost of that disclosure is likely to be another last-minute demand.

It is perhaps worth remembering in this connection that on September 22, 1938, Neville Chamberlain flew to Germany to meet with Hitler and conclude the Munich agreement, having already joined France in pressuring Czechoslovakia to hand over the Sudeten lands to Hitler. To his profound shock, Chamberlain found that Hitler had more last-minute demands, which were “proposals of a kind which I had not contemplated at all.” But a week later, Chamberlain essentially accepted them, and returned to cheering crowds happy for “peace in our time.” The rest is history, which may be repeating itself.

We do not know what the culminating Obama concession will be, only that it is not likely that we have seen it yet.

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The Democratic Party is Officially Leaderless

President Barack Obama wanted Congress to pass a variety of trade-related proposals, and he didn’t want to have to rely on Republican votes in order to see that happen. He lobbied his fellow Democrats in favor of trade, and he lobbied them hard. In the end, it wasn’t enough. On Friday, the president endured a stern censure from the very members of the party for whom he once served as a savior. Barack Obama’s presidency is all but over. It’s Hillary Clinton’s party now, but she does not seem inclined to lead it so much as to emerge as its supervisor by default and through a process of attrition. She is not in a hurry to rush that process, and there is no alternative Democratic leader waiting in the wings. Inadvertently, what House Democrats did on Friday was to decapitate their own party. Read More

President Barack Obama wanted Congress to pass a variety of trade-related proposals, and he didn’t want to have to rely on Republican votes in order to see that happen. He lobbied his fellow Democrats in favor of trade, and he lobbied them hard. In the end, it wasn’t enough. On Friday, the president endured a stern censure from the very members of the party for whom he once served as a savior. Barack Obama’s presidency is all but over. It’s Hillary Clinton’s party now, but she does not seem inclined to lead it so much as to emerge as its supervisor by default and through a process of attrition. She is not in a hurry to rush that process, and there is no alternative Democratic leader waiting in the wings. Inadvertently, what House Democrats did on Friday was to decapitate their own party.

By a hair’s margin, the GOP-dominated House passed fast-track trade promotional authority (TPA) that will allow the president to prioritize trade negotiations and conclude the terms of a free trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries. But by a resounding 302 to 126-vote margin, however, the House rejected a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) proposal passed in the Senate. The TAA, a giveaway to unions and other labor interests that will potentially be negatively impacted as a result of the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was soundly rejected.

Obama was not merely supportive of the passage of both TPA and TAA; he pressed his fellow Democrats in the House to pass both proposals. During the annual indulgence that is the Congressional baseball game at Nationals Park on Thursday, the president surprised the press when made an impromptu visit to the Democratic dugout. He smiled and waved to the adoring crowds, but Obama wasn’t there merely to soak in the applause; he was there to work House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It was clear that his cajoling was unsuccessful on Friday morning when the president made another surprise visit to the Capitol Building to implore his fellow Democrats not to abandon him. None of this extraordinary effort was enough.

“[A] president who has long kept Congress at arm’s length may have paid a price,” the New York Times reported. And Democrats were not shy about scolding the president’s approach to lobbying his fellow Democrats in the press and on the record. “I wish there had been much better outreach,” Texas Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar lamented.

Other anonymous Democrats were even sterner in their rebukes of Obama, according to the background quotes they gave CNN host Jake Tapper. “Pelosi sealed the deal to vote no.” “Democrats believe they often are taken [for] granted and not appreciated.” “[Obama] was fine until he turned it at the end and became indignant and alienated some folks.”

“Democrats desert their president,” screamed an apoplectic New York Times headline. “As they return to their home districts for the weekend, Democrats will now have the distinct pleasure of experiencing what Republicans have undergone for the last few years – a narrative of their party in disarray and divided.”

The Obama presidency is over. For Democrats, the transition into the era of Hillary Clinton began in earnest on Friday, but it did so without her participation. On the issue of trade, as well as a whole host of pressing matters related to public policy, Hillary Clinton has chosen to keep quiet.

From the nation’s center-left editorialists to Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Democratic opinion leaders are vocally frustrated by Hillary Clinton’s conspicuous silence on the issue of free trade. But Hillary has been silent on virtually every other matter that isn’t a gauzy appeal to emotion or a recapitulation of long-settled consensus liberal opinion. Moreover, Hillary Clinton has taken a position on trade, and specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership: She called it the “gold standard in trade agreements.” To the extent that Democrats are desirous of hearing Clinton speak up, it is to hear her unequivocally renounce her position on trade and lead a party that has demonstrated clearly that it rejects free trade agreements in their already chosen direction. In other words, they want her to lie.

What’s most bizarre about all this is that polls show that the Democratic rank-and-file resents free trade less than do grassroots Republicans. “[T]he loud minority of Democratic activists and voters behind the party’s zombie anti-trade dogma makes smart, globally-minded presidential primary candidates feel as though they must pretend to be something else,” the colorful Stephen Stromberg wrote for the Washington Post. And that’s exactly what Democrats want: someone else.

But they also want to win in 2016, and they know that, as much as they’d love it, Bernie Sanders won’t get that job done. So Democrats will allow Hillary Clinton to pretend to be that someone else, but she needs to engage in that project of reinvention soon. Hers is a party adrift and leaderless. For all the talk of Clinton as decisive aspiring commander-in-chief, she has demonstrated nothing but cowardice when confronting even modest challenges posed by her domestic allies. Given this display, how are Americans supposed to have confidence in Clinton to confront adversity in the Oval Office?

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Obama’s Iran Deal Surrender Confirmed

Among the many promises made by the Obama administration after the framework nuclear deal was announced in April was a commitment to insisting that Iran come clean on all its past work on military dimensions of its nuclear project. Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly promised that Iran had to provide all this information to the West before the final version of the agreement could be put on paper and signed prior to the June 30th deadline. Though it was feared that President Obama’s commitment to getting a nuclear deal at any price would lead to such an important aspect of an agreement being jettisoned, we were reassured that the administration would stick to its demands. But now it appears that those promises were worthless. As the Associated Press reports, U.S. and Western diplomats are now saying they “are prepared to accept a nuclear agreement with Iran that doesn’t immediately answer questions about past atomic weapons work.” That leaves us wondering what other concessions are also imminent and whether Congress will consider, as it should, this abject surrender to be a sufficient reason to reject the pact when it comes before them for approval.

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Among the many promises made by the Obama administration after the framework nuclear deal was announced in April was a commitment to insisting that Iran come clean on all its past work on military dimensions of its nuclear project. Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly promised that Iran had to provide all this information to the West before the final version of the agreement could be put on paper and signed prior to the June 30th deadline. Though it was feared that President Obama’s commitment to getting a nuclear deal at any price would lead to such an important aspect of an agreement being jettisoned, we were reassured that the administration would stick to its demands. But now it appears that those promises were worthless. As the Associated Press reports, U.S. and Western diplomats are now saying they “are prepared to accept a nuclear agreement with Iran that doesn’t immediately answer questions about past atomic weapons work.” That leaves us wondering what other concessions are also imminent and whether Congress will consider, as it should, this abject surrender to be a sufficient reason to reject the pact when it comes before them for approval.

Lest there be any doubt about the administration’s promise to get Iran to open up about its military work, here’s what Secretary of State John Kerry said about the issue in an interview on PBS’s News Hour with Judy Woodruff on April 8:

Woodruff: Still, another issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past military-related nuclear activities. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?

Kerry: No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal; it will be done.

Woodruff: Because it’s not there now.

Kerry: It will be done.

Woodruff: So that information will be released before June 30th, will be available.

Kerry: It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.

Apparently not.

What makes this surrender so appalling is that it is just the latest of a long string of Western concessions to Iran. At every point during the last two years of negotiations, the United States has backed down on key demands on allowing Iran the right to enrich uranium, the scale of the nuclear infrastructure it is allowed and virtually every other vital aspect of the issue. Whereas in the fall of 2012, President Obama was promising Americans during his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal would involved the end of Iran’s nuclear program, by this year that position had evolved to one that granted it the right to go on enriching uranium and keeping thousands of centrifuges spinning in an agreement that would expire after a set number of years rather than constituting a permanent stricture on Tehran’s ability to produce a bomb.

The reason for these concessions was explained away by claiming that the original demands were unrealistic and that a deal that didn’t include them was better than no deal at all. That appears to be the same dynamic that is driving the West to back down on Iran revealing its past military work.

Why is this important? The answer is that, without such information, the West can have no real idea about how close the Iranians are to building a weapon. The entire conceit of the current deal is a belief that the structure it imposes on Iran lengthens the period during which they could “break out” to a nuclear weapon supposedly leaving the U.S. sufficient time to detect the violations and then take action to stop it. But if the exact level of Iran’s military development is unknown then talk about a coherent response to a breakout is meaningless. Far from a meaningless detail, Kerry was right in April to say that a deal wouldn’t be possible without this information. But faced with an intransigent Iran that is confident that President Obama will blink any time the deal is threatened, the West has once again backed down.

The commitment to getting complete information about Iran’s military research and development wasn’t the only such pledge since at the time of the announcement other important details of the pact, such as provisions for lifting and possibly snapping back sanctions, the disposition of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel and rigorous inspections of its facilities were also unresolved. To make matters worse, Iran soon made it clear it had no intention of agreeing to any of the West’s requests in order to get a deal signed. Though the administration has continued saying that it will insist on these points, the concession on military research shows that such promises can’t be trusted.

Over the course of the past two years, President Obama has consistently demonstrated that his priority is détente with Iran, not stopping its nuclear program as he had promised. Where once he and Kerry insisted that no deal is better than a bad deal, it’s now abundantly clear that getting a terrible deal at any price is their only objective. Congress should be paying attention to this dispiriting display and send an equally clear message to the White House that it will block adoption of any agreement with Iran that doesn’t fulfill the administration’s own pledges.

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Obama Embraces Hope But Little Change in Iraq

On Monday, The Hill reported, quoting defense officials, that “Baghdad has not identified or sent any new recruits to the Al Asad air base in western Iraq for as many as four to six weeks”. Yesterday President Obama announced that he was sending 450 more trainers to Iraq. Those trainers are specifically designed to train Sunnis in Anbar Province to retake Ramadi. There’s a disconnect between the two events: How is sending more trainers going to help anything if Baghdad, dominated by sectarian Shiites, is refusing to send Sunnis to be trained? Read More

On Monday, The Hill reported, quoting defense officials, that “Baghdad has not identified or sent any new recruits to the Al Asad air base in western Iraq for as many as four to six weeks”. Yesterday President Obama announced that he was sending 450 more trainers to Iraq. Those trainers are specifically designed to train Sunnis in Anbar Province to retake Ramadi. There’s a disconnect between the two events: How is sending more trainers going to help anything if Baghdad, dominated by sectarian Shiites, is refusing to send Sunnis to be trained?

The administration is apparently pinning its hopes on the passage of a law authorizing a National Guard composed of Sunni tribesmen, but Iraqi officials have been promising to pass that law for at least a year and haven’t delivered because sectarian Shiites have no interest in arming Sunnis. Perhaps that will suddenly change. And perhaps 450 additional trainers will somehow make a difference when the previous deployment of 3,000 personnel hasn’t done much to stop the ISIS onslaught. Perhaps the administration will get lucky, but hoping to fill an inside straight isn’t a good basis for policymaking.

If the administration were really serious about defeating ISIS, it would have to lift the rules that prevent American personnel from going into battle with Iraqi forces and calling in air strikes. It would also have to be prepared to order US Special Operations Forces to engage ISIS directly, staging regular raids like the one that recently killed an ISIS mid-level leader in Syria. In addition, it would have to mount a major political initiative to give the Sunnis a reason to fight ISIS by assuring them that they will not again be subjugated to extremist Shiite rule. Oh, and the administration would also have to come up with some strategy for fighting ISIS in Syria — and in far-flung lands such as Libya, where the Islamic State is now expanding.

If the administration has any plans to address these issues, they are well-concealed secrets. What we can tell from public statements and leaks is that the president is willing to tinker around the edges with the current strategy, much in the way that President Bush did during 2003-2006. But, unlike Bush in 2007, Obama is not willing to question the flawed assumptions on which his current strategy is based. Until that happens don’t expect to see much success in rolling back the Islamic State.

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The Left’s War on Informed Voters

The founding generation was keenly aware of the fact that the public they had empowered to shape the destiny of their new republic might be primarily composed of simpletons.

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both,” wrote James Madison in an 1822 letter advocating expanded access to publicly funded education in order to ameliorate the condition he outlined. “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the Power that knowledge gives.” For the left, it increasingly seems, knowledge is overrated. Read More

The founding generation was keenly aware of the fact that the public they had empowered to shape the destiny of their new republic might be primarily composed of simpletons.

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both,” wrote James Madison in an 1822 letter advocating expanded access to publicly funded education in order to ameliorate the condition he outlined. “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the Power that knowledge gives.” For the left, it increasingly seems, knowledge is overrated.

The Father of the Constitution and America’s fourth president was not alone in fearing the world that the willfully ignorant would vote themselves. Of course, the Constitution’s drafters also understood that not everyone would participate in the system they had crafted even if they were eligible to do so. Either out of disgust, or indifference, or simple ignorance in the affairs of state, the Founders afforded to Americans the freedom to disengage from the political system.

“Political ignorance in America is deep and widespread,” Cato Institute scholar Ilya Somin averred. It would be a mistake to presume that this remark is meant as a disparagement. In many ways, it is a complimentary observation that many Americans prioritize matters that are of more relevance to their daily experience than the trivia occupying the minds of policymakers in a far-flung national capital.

“[P]olitical ignorance is actually rational for most of the public, including most smart people,” Somin added. “If your only reason to follow politics is to be a better voter, that turns out not to be much of a reason at all. That is because there is very little chance that your vote will actually make a difference to the outcome of an election (about 1 in 60 million in a presidential race, for example).”

For all their wisdom, the Founders were not especially fond of enfranchisement. Subsequent generations of Americans have sought to correct for this over-caution and most municipalities now err on the side of inclusion when it comes to voting rights. Great wars and incredible social upheaval was endured so that the right of African-Americans, women, and those of military service age to vote was enshrined in the Constitution. In general, Americans are supportive of extending the right to vote to those who are of majority age and are stakeholders in the system.

Recently, however, the left has become infatuated with conflating the rights associated with enfranchisement with the exercise of that franchise. This is a fallacy. Of late, progressives have embraced extending voting rights to demographics with a dubious grasp on civics and often conflate choosing not to participate in the electoral process with being prevented from doing so.

“Lowering the voting age to 16 in [San Francisco] is not about redesigning adulthood but redesigning civic participation,” declared San Francisco District 11 Supervisor John Avalos on Twitter with the accompanying hashtag “#Vote16SF.” That’s right: A proposal to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in that city has been tabled until next year when city council members could approve putting the measure on the November, 2016 ballot.

The Bay Area isn’t the only progressive enclave expanding the franchise out to those who might not have a sound command of the issues. While a variety of American municipalities have in the past expanded the right to vote out to non-citizen permanent residents, the right to vote has primarily been exclusively reserved for those who are citizens or have achieved legal status. Until recently, that is. This year, the New York City council drafted a measure making it just one of eight municipalities (six in Maryland and the seventh the city of Chicago) to extend the right to vote in local or school board elections to illegal immigrants.

“Noncitizen voting would probably enhance the power of Democrats — not that they particularly need it in this city,” Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio said of the measure that was too extreme even for the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

But many progressives view expanding access to the ballot as a half measure. Full enfranchisement can only be realized if participation in the electoral process is made mandatory. “Other countries have mandatory voting,” President Barack Obama said in March, demonstrating once again his uniquely tenuous grasp on the concept of American exceptionalism. “It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything.”

The president added that countries like Australia and Belgium have instituted compulsory voting, and the failure to participate in elections can result in fines or even prison sentences. “The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups,” Obama said. “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”

Obama is not advocating for expanded access but compulsory participation. He has defined a freedom as complete only if it is enjoyed at gunpoint.

The president’s statement is of a kind with a comment made by Hillary Clinton who recently endorsed the far-left’s hobbyhorse of mandatory and automatic voter registration.

“The need to register to vote is just about the most modest restriction on ballot access I can think of, which is why it works so well as a democratic filter: It improves democratic hygiene because the people who can’t be bothered to register (as opposed to those who refuse to vote as a means of protest) are, except in unusual cases, civic idiots,” National Review’s Daniel Foster wrote in opposition to Clinton’s proposal. “If you want an idea of what political discourse looks like when you so dramatically lower the burden of participation that civic idiots elect to join the fray, I give you the Internet.”

Interestingly, Foster added that he favors expanding voting rights to a class that might want to vote but has been denied that privilege: former convicts. Championing the voting rights of some ex-cons who long ago paid their debts to society is a measure that has been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. And while expanding this group’s access to the polls would likely augment Democratic vote totals, it has been embraced by GOP icons like Senator Rand Paul because they believe these individuals are endowed with the civic virtue required of a voter.

One could argue that expanding the right of minors and illegal immigrants to vote and instituting a policy of mandatory voter registration are designed to increase access to the ballot for those who want to participate, but the president let the veil slip when he endorsed frog marching those reluctant voters to the polls. None of this is about enfranchisement; it’s about enhancing one party’s political clout unburdened by having to sell their policies to an informed electorate. By giving groups like minors, non-citizens, and the disinterested access to the ballot, the left has inadvertently confessed that they are increasingly unable to pitch their policy preferences to the system’s traditional stakeholders. Rather than address this deficiency, they have determined that new stakeholders must undergo forcible ascension.

It is increasingly becoming taboo to stand in defense of those who take the rights and demands of citizenship seriously, educate themselves, and endure basic hardships like registering to vote and knowing when Election Day is. It will never be popular to oppose extending voting rights to what Daniel Foster calls, perhaps uncharitably, “civic idiots,” but there is something to be said for privileging the informed voter.

If the left had their way, the informed and civic-minded would have their vote diluted by the newly enfranchised 16-year-old undocumented immigrant who is only voting in order to avoid paying a penalty. That is the true injustice.

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Obama Bending Over Backwards to Preserve Iran Nuclear Deal

On April 2, the State Department released a “fact sheet” on the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran that included this pledge: “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Today the Associated Press is reporting: “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement.” The “may have to” could be puzzling to outsiders: Why does the administration have to do anything? The answer, of course, is because the president wants a deal concluded with Iran by June 30, no matter the details. Read More

On April 2, the State Department released a “fact sheet” on the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran that included this pledge: “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Today the Associated Press is reporting: “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement.” The “may have to” could be puzzling to outsiders: Why does the administration have to do anything? The answer, of course, is because the president wants a deal concluded with Iran by June 30, no matter the details.

This requires some extremely creative reinterpretation of the April 2 fact sheet by State Department spinners who are now claiming that, on second thought, pretty much ALL sanctions are nuclear-related: “For example, they say measures designed to stop Iran from acquiring ballistic missiles are nuclear-related because they were imposed to push Iran into the negotiations. Also, they say sanctions that may appear non-nuclear are often undergirded by previous actions conceived as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.” Clearly the current leaders of the State Department are graduates of the Bill Clinton School of Linguistics: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

That the Obama administration is willing, nay eager, to concede points that were considered non-negotiable a mere two months ago should hardly be surprising. The entire history of the administration’s talks with Iran is the story of one American concession after another. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Top Obama administration officials entered negotiations with Iran in September 2013 hoping to dismantle most of the country’s nuclear infrastructure,” but the Iranians wouldn’t agree to that. So “the goal of the talks shifted—away from dismantling structures and toward a more complex set of limitations designed to extend the time Iran would need to ‘break-out’ and make a dash toward a nuclear weapon.”

Even now, after all of the concessions the administration has made, some points of difference remain, at least in public; for example, on how quickly sanctions will be phased out and how much freedom Iran will need to grant to international inspectors. The Iranians are demanding an immediate lifting of sanctions while the Obama administration claims that it will be conditional based on compliance. The Iranians are also insisting on the right to deny inspectors access to their military sites while the Obama administration claims that the agreement will be enforced by the most intrusive inspections ever. Is there any doubt about how these disputes will be resolved? There is little doubt that, after the reported latest cave-in on non-nuclear sanctions, the administration will cave on those points, too, while obfuscating to deny that it has done so.

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Obama Instructs the Court

Presidents nearly always come with fully-functional egos. After all, climbing the greasy pole of American politics requires rich reserves of self-confidence. And self-confidence is equally necessary to being an effective president. No one wants a Captain Queeg in the White House. But Barack Obama combines his egocentricity with an almost boundless intellectual arrogance. It is one of the primary reasons his presidency has been so devoid of successes and so filled with failures and disasters. Only Woodrow Wilson comes anywhere close to being in the same league. And look what happened to him.

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Presidents nearly always come with fully-functional egos. After all, climbing the greasy pole of American politics requires rich reserves of self-confidence. And self-confidence is equally necessary to being an effective president. No one wants a Captain Queeg in the White House. But Barack Obama combines his egocentricity with an almost boundless intellectual arrogance. It is one of the primary reasons his presidency has been so devoid of successes and so filled with failures and disasters. Only Woodrow Wilson comes anywhere close to being in the same league. And look what happened to him.

The reason, as Noemie Emery points out in the Washington Examiner, is that men like Obama and Wilson can’t learn from their mistakes because they cannot admit, or even conceive, that they can make mistakes.

The conventional view of what has gone wrong — that Obama lacked experience, and that first-term senators should be viewed with suspicion — is undercut by the fact that he has had six years of experience, and failed to learn from it. At home and abroad, Obama makes mistakes over and over, with the same result, and takes nothing from them. He disses his friends, placates aggressors and seems surprised that aggressors advance and whole regions catch fire.

His arrogance keeps him from even listening to anyone who disagrees with him.

He refuses to bargain with Congress, insults opponents, imposes unpopular policies by fiat and seems surprised when his measures result in court challenges, when polarization increases, opposition solidifies, divisions harden and gridlock prevails. Deal-making is the essence of politics, but Obama finds it demeaning, so he resorts to brute force when he has the means to (as in the still-festering matter of healthcare). Alternatively, as with immigration, Obama resorts to executive actions that stir angry resistance and are frequently halted by courts.

Yesterday, at a news conference in Germany, Obama criticized the Supreme Court for a decision the court has not yet even made. It is not uncommon for presidents to criticize the court after decisions they don’t like (Andrew Jackson famously said in one case, “the court has made its decision, now let it enforce it”), but only Obama, as far as I know, has shown so little respect for a co-equal branch of government as to, effectively, instruct the court on its duty. He’s done it before.

Yesterday’s instructions to the court are with regard to King v. Burwell and whether federal subsidies are available in the federal health insurance exchanges. Obama said that it, “should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.” I imagine the Supreme Court justices — not without their own egos by any means — appreciated that from someone who has not spent 30 seconds on even a night court bench. The decision, opines Obama, is “not something that should be done based on a twisted interpretation of four words, in, as we were reminded repeatedly, a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation.”

Is it really a “twisted interpretation” to think that “established by the states,” means, well, “established by the states”?

We’ll all find out what the Supreme Court thinks it means by the end of the month. It is not unprecedented, by any means, for the court to change its mind at the last minute. Telling the court what its obligations are is a pretty good way of nudging a justice or two to decide against the administration.

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Obama Plays Analyst-In-Chief in Fight Against ISIS

President Obama caused a lot of eye-rolling with his comment yesterday at a press conference where he admitted that he does not yet have a plan to defeat ISIS. “The details of that are not yet worked out,” he said, even though it’s been a year since Mosul fall and ten months since the US started bombing ISIS. If the details aren’t yet worked out, it’s hard to know when they will be. Read More

President Obama caused a lot of eye-rolling with his comment yesterday at a press conference where he admitted that he does not yet have a plan to defeat ISIS. “The details of that are not yet worked out,” he said, even though it’s been a year since Mosul fall and ten months since the US started bombing ISIS. If the details aren’t yet worked out, it’s hard to know when they will be.

The president also neatly dodged the issue of whether he would be prepared to commit more U.S. forces. Asked about that, he replied, “I think what is fair to say is that all the countries in the international coalition are prepared to do more to train Iraqi security forces if they feel like that additional work is being taken advantage of.” That reveals muddled thinking on two levels. First the question wasn’t just about more trainers—it was about more US forces, period. Trainers alone will never be very effective; what are needed are more advisers, tactical air controllers, and special operations personnel to work alongside Iraqis in battle to call in precision air strikes and to bolster their professionalism. With his answer, Obama revealed a willful refusal to even consider this kind of commitment even though most military experts agree it is the only one with any shot of success.

The second problem with Obama answer is that he is once again putting the onus on Iraqis to get their house in order before the U.S. will do more assist them. Obama was right that the effort to enlist Sunnis to fight ISIS “has not been happening as fast as it needs to.” He was right, too, that “the political agenda of inclusion remains as important as the military fight that’s out there. If Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia all feel as if they’re concerns are being addressed, and that operating within a legitimate political structure can meet their need for security, prosperity, non-discrimination, then we’re going to have much easier time.” But what if anything is President Obama himself going to do to break through the political log jam, to provide a check on Iranian influence, and to push for the inclusion of Sunnis in Iraq’s governing structure? Here is the entirety of his answer: “And so we’ve got to continue to monitor that and support those who are on the right side of the issue there.”

What was missing was any pledge by Obama that he was going to roll up his sleeves and work on this personally or even that he would send a high-profile envoy to Baghdad, of the kind the administration has employed on other issues. All we got was pretty much more of the same — more a description of the problem than a pledge to find a solution. Once again, the president is showing himself to be more analyst-in-chief than commander-in-chief. But dispassionate analysis will not defeat a determined organization like ISIS. That requires a massive effort that is plainly not forthcoming from this administration.

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The Supreme Court Decision on Jerusalem Lets Obama Ignore Reality

The problem with American Middle East policy during the Obama administration has always boiled down to one factor: the president and his foreign policy team prefer their fantasies about the way things should be to the cold hard reality of Palestinian rejectionism, Islamist terror, or Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. That hasn’t worked out well for America or its allies, as the U.S. has suffered setback after setback with the collapse of revived peace negotiations that were doomed to fail, Hamas’ hold on Gaza, Iran’s growing power, and the rise of ISIS. But let it not be said that the president hasn’t won any victories. By siding with the administration in the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the executive branch’s constitutional power to recognize foreign governments. In this instance, that meant allowing the president to declare that, contrary to an act of Congress as well as the facts on the ground, Obama is entitled to pretend that the city of Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel or even part of the Jewish state. This triumph may cause celebration in the White House as well as among Israel’s foes. But it should also be put down as yet another win for fantasy over reality as well as one that won’t further the cause of peace.

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The problem with American Middle East policy during the Obama administration has always boiled down to one factor: the president and his foreign policy team prefer their fantasies about the way things should be to the cold hard reality of Palestinian rejectionism, Islamist terror, or Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. That hasn’t worked out well for America or its allies, as the U.S. has suffered setback after setback with the collapse of revived peace negotiations that were doomed to fail, Hamas’ hold on Gaza, Iran’s growing power, and the rise of ISIS. But let it not be said that the president hasn’t won any victories. By siding with the administration in the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the executive branch’s constitutional power to recognize foreign governments. In this instance, that meant allowing the president to declare that, contrary to an act of Congress as well as the facts on the ground, Obama is entitled to pretend that the city of Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel or even part of the Jewish state. This triumph may cause celebration in the White House as well as among Israel’s foes. But it should also be put down as yet another win for fantasy over reality as well as one that won’t further the cause of peace.

The case involved American citizens living in Israel who wanted the government to put down Jerusalem, Israel as their son’s place of birth on his passport. Considering that this is where he was born and that U.S. law states that Jerusalem is part of Israel, there shouldn’t be any problem with this request. But since, due to an awkward diplomatic dance it has been conducting since 1948, the U.S. has never recognized that Jerusalem is part of Israel, the consulate refused leading the Zivotofskys to sue and to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The impact of this decision is outrageous, but it is easy to understand where the majority is coming from. The Constitution is clear that foreign policy is the prerogative of the executive branch, not Congress. One would wish the Obama administration might have equal respect for constitutional dictates that don’t favor increasing its power, as it did here. But while the president feels free to ignore the Constitution when he wants to flout the will of Congress and legislate on his own by granting amnesty to millions of aliens, he is happy to hide behind the Constitution when it comes to upholding the longstanding denial that Jerusalem is Israel.

As Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Scalia stated in their sensible dissent in the case, it’s not quite as simple as that. This area of law is, as even Justice Anthony Kennedy admitted in the majority opinion, not well defined because the body of case law is meager. In the past, the legislative and the executive branches have largely settled any disputes without the judiciary having to intervene as the referee. But while the Constitutional principle that the president has the right to make foreign policy must be respected, the notion that he may ignore U.S. law when doing so is not well established. Just as President Reagan did not have the right to fund the Nicaragua contras during the period when Congress forbade it, it can be argued with equal force that once a law was passed and signed (though President George W. Bush said he wouldn’t enforce it) that stated the U.S. recognized that Jerusalem was part of Israel, the executive did not have the ability to go on denying it. As with immigration, President Obama wants to have his cake and eat it too and a 6-3 majority in Zivoftosky appears happy to let him have it.

But let’s, at least for a moment, leave the legal technicalities of this subject to the lawyers and comment instead on what this means for U.S. foreign policy.

The administration thinks being upheld on this point is good for America because it allows it to continue maintaining the fiction that Jerusalem isn’t part of Israel. The bizarre refusal of the U.S. to formally acknowledge that even West Jerusalem — that section that has always been part of Israel since May 1948 — is part of the Jewish state also makes peace less likely. The administration or any of its predecessors could have simply moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem even if they insisted that the eastern part was not part of Israel. But they have all refused, making it even more difficult for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Reversing that stand would be unpopular in the Arab and Muslim world. This fiction enables the Palestinians to go on insisting that Israel give up the portions of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948-1967. The presumption is that once peace is achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, including, at least according to President Obama, a re-partition of the city, the U.S. might have a more realistic policy about Jerusalem. What’s wrong with that seemingly position is that so long as the U.S. is encouraging the Palestinians to think they can have all of that portion of Israel’s capital as part of that state — including mostly 40-year-old neighborhoods where hundreds of thousands of Jews live — they’ll never come to terms with the fact that they are going to have to accept a compromise and leave those people in place and allow the city to remain united.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Obama, more than any other president since 1967 has encouraged this delusion by treating these Jewish neighborhoods as being as offensive to him, and the Jews who live there as just as liable to be thrown out of their homes as the most remote West Bank settlement. That broke new and even more dangerous ground on the issue and made a resolution on Jerusalem even less likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Obama can celebrate the court’s dubious endorsement of his power to deny reality in Jerusalem, but no one should be under the impression that this is good for peace. All the Supreme Court decision on Jerusalem has done is to reinforce the president’s worst instincts that reflexively always cause him to prefer his fantasies about Jerusalem and the rest of the region to reality and common sense.

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Obama’s Contemptibly Casual War on ISIS

It was the gaffe so good, he made it twice. Apparently, the president does not see his shamelessly lackadaisical approach to conducting the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a failure of which his administration should be ashamed. After conceding that he didn’t have a comprehensive ISIS strategy, much less one that would result in unambiguous victory, last August, President Barack Obama reiterated that admission on Monday.  Read More

It was the gaffe so good, he made it twice. Apparently, the president does not see his shamelessly lackadaisical approach to conducting the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a failure of which his administration should be ashamed. After conceding that he didn’t have a comprehensive ISIS strategy, much less one that would result in unambiguous victory, last August, President Barack Obama reiterated that admission on Monday. 

The president’s admission in August, exactly 20 days after the start of renewed airstrikes in Iraq targeting ISIS, that “we don’t have a strategy yet” was met with shocked gasps and myriad disapproving opinion pieces. Many saw the fact that the commander-in-chief did not have a clear and executable strategy for victory even after sending American forces into combat as the height of irresponsibility. Today, exactly 10 months after the beginning of new coalition combat operations over Iraq, the president said that he still has no clear vision for victory in the war against ISIS.

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” Obama said at a press conference at the G-7 gathering in Germany, “because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out.”

It was deplorable that an American commander of the armed forces did not have a plan for victory after the fall of a major Iraqi city to a terrorist organization, but it is simply reprehensible for the president to continue to cling to a failing war plan even amid cascading losses. Obama may, however, benefit from Americans’ reduced expectations of him. 20 days into the new campaign against ISIS, it was revelatory to learn that Obama had no strategy. Today, after so many setbacks, that might not come as much of a shock.

The president did his best to shift blame for his failure of leadership onto Pentagon commanders. Obama claimed that Defense Department officials had not yet presented to him a “finalized” plan for victory in Iraq that consists of relying on Iraqi Security Forces to serve as the primary ground combat forces. But what if the plan that the president wants is simply unfeasible? The U.S. was reportedly caught “off guard” by the spectacular implosion of the ISF in the summer of last year, as waves of ISIS forces poured over the Syrian border and sacked city after city including Mosul, the second largest urban center in Iraq. By November of 2014, U.S. troops began speeding the training and equipping of Iraqi Security Forces in preparation for an assault on that city that never came. Now Ramadi, the capital of restive Anbar province and a city located just 70 miles from the seat of Iraqi governance, has also fallen to ISIS. The return on American investment in the ISF seems a long way off.

And while it is simply inexcusable that the President of the United States has so far refused to craft an achievable strategic plan for victory in Iraq and Syria nearly one year after committing American personnel and material to the fight, it’s perhaps more galling that his apparent intention is to bequeath his war to the next president. It would be a unique political failure if Obama, a president elected with a mandate to withdraw from Iraq, were compelled to again commit U.S. ground forces to combat operations in Iraq as a direct result of the premature pursuit of that agenda item. Obama appears content to do his best to contain ISIS insofar as it is possible and let the next president make the inevitable case that Western forces must again return to Iraq before the nascent caliphate can export terrorism abroad.

In this way, Obama does have a strategy that he has applied to fighting ISIS in Iraq. It is not, however, a strategy designed to achieve a victory.

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The Scorched Earth Hillary Clinton Campaign

For partisan Democrats, the Hillary Clinton campaign is an unstoppable juggernaut and has the potential to upend virtually every foundational assumption about American politics. But Clinton’s approach to campaigning for the presidency should cast doubt on the supposedly preternatural abilities of this figure that we have been so often told is a natural campaigner and a political virtuoso. Read More

For partisan Democrats, the Hillary Clinton campaign is an unstoppable juggernaut and has the potential to upend virtually every foundational assumption about American politics. But Clinton’s approach to campaigning for the presidency should cast doubt on the supposedly preternatural abilities of this figure that we have been so often told is a natural campaigner and a political virtuoso.

2014’s pro-Republican tsunami did little to temper the expectations shared by Democratic operatives that Hillary Clinton’s acumen would shift America’s political center of gravity measurably in the Democratic direction. In mid-November of last year, Mitch Stewart, President Barack Obama’s battleground state director and a senior strategist for the pro-Clinton PAC Ready for Hillary, was certain that the former secretary of state would not only win in 2016 but expand on even Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral map. States like Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, and Georgia were in play, he told Talking Points Memo. “Where I think Secretary Clinton has more appeal than any other Democrat looking at running is that with white working-class voters, she does have a connection,” Stewart averred. “I think she’s best positioned to open those states.”

Team Clinton is today scaling back its lofty set of initial targets, but Democrats remain convinced that the former secretary is still best positioned to win the election in 2016 and take more than a handful of her fellow Democrats with her into high federal office. That inference can be drawn from the fact that the Democratic Party’s 2016 senatorial slate is composed of a number of top-tier candidates. When Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, and former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold revealed their intention to run for U.S Senate in 2016, they also indicated that they think Hillary Clinton will have coattails.

But the sincere confidence outwardly displayed by partisan Democrats contrasts mightily with what neutral observers are seeing from her admittedly nascent campaign.

It now seems like a fancy of wide-eyed liberal consultants that Hillary Clinton’s legacy last name and her presumed appeal to working-class white voters, last observed in the wild circa 2008, would possibly turn states like Arkansas blue. In fact, according to some reporting, Clinton’s campaign anticipates losing ground among white voters in 2016 even when compared with Barack Obama’s relatively poor showing among this demographic.

“[Clinton’s] strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign,” the Washington Post’s Anna Gearan observed last month. That’s not merely optimistic; it’s sanguine to the point of naïveté. Only 28 percent of the 2008 electorate was made up of minority voters, and the minority share of the electorate declined by two points four years later. “Clinton will have to expand Hispanic support, increase turnout among independent women and still hold on to a large share of black voters who were drawn to the first African American major-party nominee,” Gearan noted. And that’s precisely what Clinton has been doing.

As Jonathan Tobin noted, one of the central pillars of Clinton’s effort to revive Barack Obama’s coalition consists of fanning the flames of fear surrounding Republican support for voter identification laws. It doesn’t matter to Clinton that voter ID was upheld by the Supreme Court and is wildly popular, even among minority voters, she has cast these and other efforts as “voter suppression” and equated them to Jim Crow era efforts to disenfranchise black voters. The fact that Clinton is deploying a tactic this cynical before she has even secured the nomination should not be inspiring confidence in Democrats.

Some Democratic strategists are starting to concede that Clinton’s pathway to the White House will be a narrow one. “If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you’re not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need,” Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, told the New York Times.

That admission, one that implicitly dismisses rural voters and traditionally Republican states, is troubling for those historians who fretted to the Times reporters that President Hillary Clinton will not enjoy the mandate she needs to govern if she does not run an inclusive and broad-based campaign for the presidency. Indeed, writing off a large portion of the electorate is what landed former GOP nominee Mitt Romney in hot water following the exposure of his now infamous comments about the “47 percent” of the electorate that receives federal benefits and thus would never support a Republican.

The Times noted that Clinton will have to run Obama’s campaign but, being unable to run as a post-partisan unifier in the way that Obama did in 2008, her path to the White House consists of driving Democratic base voters to the polls.

Mrs. Clinton and her husband expressed concern last year when Democratic turnout fell precipitously. Recognizing that Democrats had to be galvanized to show up at the polls, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers used surveys and focus groups to assess the risks of running a strongly liberal campaign. They concluded that there were few.

So she is embracing the central lesson of the Obama school: that voters turn out when they believe that an election makes a difference and that their party’s standard-bearer is a champion on issues important to them.

Clinton is already signaling that division and tribalism will characterize her run for the White House. If Democrats do buck historical trends and secure a third consecutive term in the Oval Office, it will be by narrow margins. Recognizing this, Clinton is ready to run the scorched earth campaign that Barack Obama ran in 2012. But hers might even be more divisive and factional, pitting one demographic against another, in order to knit together a modest majority of American presidential voters. But what kind of a country will she inherit after such a dangerous and callous effort? What will be left to govern after Hillary Clinton has set fire to national comity in service to her insatiable ambition? We might soon find out.

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