A welcome cease fire, but no winners

As Scott wrote earlier this morning, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease fire that essentially mirrors the one Hamas rejected in July, before the real fighting, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, began.

I welcome the cease fire for personal reasons. My wife and one of my daughters are in Israel now. No one knows how long the cease fire will last, but it should hold for ten days — the remaining duration of their stay in Israel.

The cease fire is also good news for Israel, Gaza, and Hamas. Israel wasn’t going to send troops back into Gaza, and there was little to be gained from more missile attacks. Now Israelis can get on with their lives.

Gazans have less to celebrate when it comes to getting on with their mostly impoverished lives, but at least they will no longer face the danger and destruction of Israeli air attacks. And Hamas’ leadership can come up of hiding and claim “victory.”

Who won the war? No one, as things stand now. Israel comes out ahead by virtue of having destroyed so many terror tunnels. But unless Hamas is overthrown in Gaza — which seems unlikely — more tunnels will be built and the security threat will persist.

Hamas is declaring victory, but if anything it is marginally worse off than before the war. Under the current cease fire, it gains virtually nothing (a few more miles of rights for Gaza fisherman, and that’s about it).

As for who lost, there is no doubt. The people of Gaza. And even though they chose, as a group, to ride with Hamas, I find it impossible not to sympathize with them.

Hamas will be the winner if Israel agrees to a “peace plan” that substantially loosens Gaza’s economic isolation. And it’s possible that Israel will agree to this in exchange for this or that “guarantee.”

But after discovering the extent of Hamas’ tunneling and seeing Ben Gurion airport threatened, I don’t expect Netanyahu to make meaningful concessions. Even if he wanted to, and there’s little reason to think he does, Netanyahu is constrained. His cabinet, reportedly, was deeply divided on whether to agree even to this cease fire. Nor will Israelis in general be clamoring to make concessions as life returns to normal.

As negotiations with Hamas drag on, the terror group will face a difficult decision. Does it settle for, in essence, the pre-war status quo or does it break the cease fire?

Hamas’ decision will help us evaluate how it really views its “victory.”

Reaganpalooza, This Week on The American Mind

Last month I taped an episode of the Claremont Institute’s “American Mind” video interview series with Claremont Review of Books editor and professor extraordinaire Charles Kesler.  This first segment describes the writing of The Age of Reagan as well as some observations about how Reagan historiography has evolved.  More to come–stay tuned! (more…)

As he’s always made clear

President Obama spoke yesterday to the annual convention of the American Legion in Charlotte, North Carolina, at what seemed like Castroite length. The Teleprompters were on hand and in service. The White House has posted the text of his speech here; the video is below. I think it’s fair to say, as the Daily Mail’s David Martosko does, that the response of Obama’s audience was “tepid” at best. Andrew Malcolm comments on the speech for IBD in “Obama describes a happy, thriving America to veterans, who know better” (“not so much detached as delusional,” he writes in an email message).

The excerpt I have pasted in below addresses the national security issues that are in the news. It consists of the usual fingerpointing, non sequiturs, begged questions with an added dollop of Obama’s “Don’t do stupid s***” doctrine that sounds so good in the dorm lounge late at night. While the speech is largely a mashup of his greatest hits, Obama silently omits his frequently repeated declaration that al Qaeda has been “decimated,” is “on the run” and “on the path to defeat.” Rather, he asserts: “[A]s I’ve always made clear, the blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat.” Analyze this:

Now, sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely. History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences. And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families — our veteran families, because you’re the ones who bear the wages of war. You’re the ones who carry the scars. You know that we should never send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan, and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through. (Applause.) You know the United States has to lead with strength and confidence and wisdom.

And that’s why, after incredible sacrifice by so many of our men and women in uniform, we removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home. It was the right thing to do. It’s why we refocused our efforts in Afghanistan and went after al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driving the Taliban out of its strongholds, and training Afghan forces, which are now in the lead for their own security. In just four months, we will complete our combat mission in Afghanistan and America’s longest war will come to a responsible end. And we honor every American who served to make this progress possible — (applause) — every single one, especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to keep us safe.

And now, as Afghans continue to work towards the first democratic transfer of power in their history, Afghan leaders need to make the hard compromises that are necessary to give the Afghan people a future of security and progress. And as we go forward, we’ll continue to partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States. (Applause.)

Now, as I’ve always made clear, the blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat. Al Qaeda affiliates still target our homeland — we’ve seen that in Yemen. Other extremists threaten our citizens abroad, as we’ve seen most recently in Iraq and Syria. As Commander-in-Chief, the security of the American people is my highest priority, and that’s why, with the brutal terrorist group ISIL advancing in Iraq, I have authorized targeted strikes to protect our diplomats and military advisors who are there. (Applause.)

And let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq. I will not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq. Because ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves. (Applause.) The limited strikes we’re conducting have been necessary to protect our people, and have helped Iraqi forces begin to push back these terrorists. We’ve also been able to rescue thousands of men and women and children who were trapped on a mountain. And our airdrops of food and water and medicine show American leadership at our best. And we salute the brave pilots and crews who are making us proud in the skies of Iraq every single day. (Applause.)

And more broadly, the crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today’s evolving terrorist threat. The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military, and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism. Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL.

So we’re strengthening our partners — more military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria. We’re urging Iraqis to forge the kind of inclusive government that can deliver on national unity, and strong security forces and good governance that are ultimately going to be the antidote against terrorists. And we’re urging countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.

Today, our prayers are with the Foley family in New Hampshire as they continue to grieve the brutal murder of their son and brother Jim. But our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans — (applause) — to go after those who harm Americans. (Applause.)

And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland. And rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.

Risen rules

In an email message over the weekend, Gabriel Schoenfeld writes to raise a question close to my heart:

Should journalists be free to choose which laws they are required to observe and which ones they can break at will? That, essentially, is what James Risen, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter at the New York Times, is demanding as the trial of alleged CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling draws near.

Is the Justice Department going to send Risen to jail if he refuses to testify as a key prosecution witness? Or will Eric Holder wither under the certain-to-come ferocious criticism from the press? The Sterling case is likely to turn out to be the most important and controversial of the many leak prosecutions that the Obama administration has brought. As I argue in “A Privileged Press?” in the latest edition of the Weekly Standard, at stake in the outcome are a couple of no small things, like our national security and the rule of law.

Mr. Schoenfeld, it should be noted, is the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media and the Rule of Law, which I believe to be the best book out on the subject.

Hamas’s “victory”

Hamas and Israel have entered into a ceasefire on terms mediated by the government of Egypt. I believe that the terms mirror those to which Israel agreed on July 15. Hamas proclaims victory while Israel is already engaged in the political debate and self-criticism that follows its inconclusive wars. Bassam Tawil takes an illuminating look at Hamas’s “victory.’” Unfortunately, Hamas survives to continue on its genocidal mission.

The genocidal mission is set forth in Hamas’s charter and the mission explains Hamas’s modus operandi. See, for example, the facts laid out in Tawil’s column. Hamas’s charter does not explain the useful idiots who fail to take its charter seriously.

Is Yahoo News Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff one such useful idiot? He did not seem to mind playing the fool in his recent interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, speaking from his lair in Doha, Qatar. Isikoff’s account of the interview is posted together with a six-minute video in which Isikoff can be seen earnestly asking Meshaal such tough questions as “what did you mean?” when you said that what the Israel is doing in Gaza is “like the Holocaust.”

Just before the ceasefire, the UN published maps showing the damage in ‎Gaza‬, but, according to the IDF, the UN’s maps tell only half the story. The truth is that many of these buildings, including schools and hospitals, were used by Hamas‬ for to launch rockets. This is one video you probably won’t be seeing on CNN.

UPDATE: For the Israeli political aftermath as of today, see David Horovitz’s “The war Netanyahu one, and the one he may lose.”

Obama can’t wiggle out of his ISIS as the jayvee analogy

Unless ISIS somehow turns out to be a flash-in-the-pan terrorist outfit, there’s a good chance that the signature statement of Barack Obama’s presidency will be his characterization of ISIS as “the jayvee.” To avoid this stain, Obama’s new press secretary, Josh Earnest, has been assigned to explain the statement away.

Earnest argued that when Obama referred to local terrorists groups as “the jayvee,” he wasn’t singling out ISIS. Here is the exchange in which Earnest made this claim:

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC: Did the president underestimate ISIS when he referred to them in an interview only a couple months ago as a JV squad and making a reference to National Basketball Association basketball teams like the Lakers?

JOSH EARNEST: Well, I thought somebody might ask this question today so I wanted to pull the transcript of the interview because it’s important to understand the context in which this was delivered. So let me just read the full quote and then we can talk about it just a little bit. The president said quote:

I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.

So the president was not singling out ISIL [ISIS], he was talking about the very different threat that is posed by a range of extremists around the globe. Many of them do not have designs on attacking the West or attacking the United States, and that is what puts them in stark contrast to the goals and capability of the previously existing al Qaeda core network that was let by Osama bin Laden.

Earnest is not telling the truth. As Peter Wehner shows, Obama was, in fact, referring to ISIS when he derided jihadists engaged in local power struggles.

This becomes clear once we refer to the comment by the New Yorker’s David Remnick that prompted Obama’s now infamous comment. Here is Remnick’s account:

In the 2012 campaign, Obama spoke not only of killing Osama bin Laden; he also said that Al Qaeda had been “decimated.” I pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.

Obama then discussed Fallujah specifically:

“Let’s just keep in mind, Falluja is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines. And how we think about terrorism has to be defined and specific enough that it doesn’t lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology are a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”

Thus, when Obama characterized “local jihadists” as the jayvee, he plainly had in mind the group that planted the al Qaeda flag in Fallujah.

Which group had planted al Qaeda’s flag in Fallujah? That would be ISIS.

The New York Times reported on January 3, 2014:

Black-clad Sunni militants of Al Qaeda destroyed the Falluja Police Headquarters and mayor’s office, planted their flag atop other government buildings and decreed the western Iraqi city to be their new independent state on Friday in an escalating threat to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose forces were struggling to retake control late into the night.

The advances by the militants — members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — came after days of fighting in Falluja, Ramadi and other areas of Anbar Province.

As Wehner concludes:

There is therefore only one possible interpretation: the president had ISIS/ISIL in mind when he made his “jayvee” reference. And there’s only one possible conclusion about what Mr. Earnest said: It’s false. He’s distorting the truth in order to exonerate his boss, the president, from having made a statement that was deeply and dangerously misinformed.

There is no getting around it. And given what ISIS has since achieved — plus the administration’s recent concession that ISIS has designs on attacking the U.S. — Obama’s “jayvee” comment will probably become the tag line of his presidency, in something like the way “Mission Accomplished” is President Bush’s.

There’s this difference, though. “Mission Accomplished” was a banner made for a military unit that had, in fact, accomplished its mission and was arriving home. Bush stood under the banner.

The jayvee analogy is something the oh-so-clever, oh-so-cool Obama professed himself. It makes the man some used to call our “smartest president” look criminally foolish.

Barack Obama, the Teflon President

Back in the 1980s, the Democratic Party media dubbed Ronald Reagan the “Teflon President.” By this, they meant that their false, dishonest and trivial attacks on Reagan didn’t sway the public, which appreciated the most meteoric economic recovery in modern history and restoration of America’s status as not just a great power, but a competent one.

Something quite different is happening with Barack Obama. By any possible measure, he has been an awful president. His administration has been good for hedge fund managers and “green” energy scammers, but disastrous for working class Americans, especially African-Americans. Median income and household wealth are down, and let’s not even talk about foreign policy or the national debt. Yet, Obama’s approval ratings have a relatively high floor of around 40%.

Currently, the Gallup Poll has Obama under water at 42%/51%, while Rasmussen has him at 45%/53% among likely voters. Is it conceivable that more than 40% of Americans are really satisfied with the Obama administration? I don’t think so. But ignorance doesn’t tell the story; low information voters have been hurt worse, personally, by the Obama administration’s policies than anyone else.

I think what is happening is that America’s politics have become so tribal that large numbers of people lie to pollsters. We have seen this throughout the Obama administration, when African-Americans have told pollsters the economy is doing well, more than any other demographic group, even as they have been hammered disproportionately by unemployment and wage cuts. American politics have become so polarized, and the Democratic Party has whipped its followers into such a frenzy, that 40% of us would purport to approve of a Democratic president if he burned down the White House, disbanded the Navy, and spent his evenings howling at the moon.

Barack Obama really is a Teflon president: for close to half of Americans, the facts bounce off him. Because they really don’t care about the facts; either that or they are cashing government checks and are indifferent to anything else. This does not bode well for our democracy.