Ron Radosh

Ron Radosh

As Benjamin Netanyahu prepares for his speech on Monday night to AIPAC, and his historic speech to both houses of Congress on Tuesday, the Obama administration and its acolytes have increased their attacks on the prime minister for supposedly tearing apart the long-standing special relationship between the United States and Israel.

The truth is that it is the Obama administration, and not Benjamin Netanyahu, that has been working around the clock to weaken America’s support for Israel–all for the purpose of putting into effect a very bad nuclear deal with Iran. Obama is doing this by trying to change the issue from the nature of the forthcoming Iran deal to whether or not Netanyahu should have accepted John Boehner’s offer to speak before Congress. Obama’s goal has been explained best by Matthew Continetti:

America is about to give away a lot. This week the AP reported on what an agreement with Iran might look like: sanctions relief in exchange for promises to slow down Iranian centrifuges for 10 years. At which point the Iranians could manufacture a bomb—assuming they hadn’t produced one in secret. Iran would get international legitimacy, assurance that military intervention was not an option, and no limitations on its ICBM programs, its support for international terrorism, its enrichment of plutonium, its widespread human rights violations, and its campaign to subvert or co-opt Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. Then it can announce itself as the first Shiite nuclear power.

Even if one argues that Netanyahu should have turned down Boehner’s offer and did his part to  inflame the U.S.-Israel alliance, as does The Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, the focus should be on Obama and Kerry’s forthcoming deal with Iran, which will amount to appeasement. And on that issue, it is Netanyahu, not Obama and Kerry, who is correct. Horovitz writes:

The US-led international community has failed Israel, and failed itself, in its handling of Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons. It is on the point of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And Netanyahu has been trying desperately to warn against this misguided course of action… .Netanyahu has incessantly stressed that a good deal — a deal, that is, that denies Iran the capacity to break out to the bomb — is infinitely preferable to the resort to military action. He has campaigned relentlessly for a deal that dismantles Iran military nuclear infrastructure, highlighting that energy-rich Iran has no need whatsoever for its claimed “peaceful” nuclear program, that it has repeatedly misled the world about the program, and that it can be guaranteed to continue lying and manipulating and deceiving all the way to the bomb if it is left with the opportunity to do so.

Obama has spared almost no effort to undermine Netanyahu.  He has allowed a former aide to work in Israel as a campaign strategist for Netanyahu’s main opponent, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. He has had Susan Rice appear on the talk shows, where she accused Netanyahu of endangering the U.S.-Israeli alliance, and has allowed John Kerry to publicly insult and condemn the Israeli prime minister. In addition, an unnamed member of the White House staff told the press that Netanyahu was “chickenshit,” a man who sought war with Iran instead of working with Washington on behalf of an agreement with Iran.

The sharpest attack on Obama himself was that made a short time ago by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez. Menendez’s call for sanctions if there is no deal with Iran is particularly odious to the president. Menendez’s position undermines the argument of the White House that only Republicans oppose the administration’s policies.

At a Senate Democratic Issues Conference meeting in mid-January, Obama argued with senators who were at the closed-door meeting to withdraw their support of sanctions as a way to pressure Iran. The New York Times reported:

The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain, according to the senator. Mr. Menendez, who was seated at a table in front of the podium, stood up and said he took “personal offense.”

Menendez responded that he had worked for over 20 years “to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” and that if the talks collapsed, sanctions could not be imposed quickly. As for those “donors” whom Obama blamed, everyone knew what the president was implying — that Jewish donors from the Israel lobby were responsible for the senators’ decision to not stand with the administration.

This past Friday, Sen. Menendez and Sen. Bob Corker introduced a bi-partisan bill that would have Congress review any nuclear deal that the Obama administration strikes with Iran. The bill would institute a 60-day waiting period, during which time Congress would review the deal’s terms. It does not mandate that Congress then vote on it, although it could. Nevertheless, Kerry is urging that it not be supported, and Obama has made it clear that he would veto it should the bill pass the Senate and House.

The administration and its supporters in the press are not only blaming Netanyahu for driving a wedge in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, but they would have us believe that his speech is going to destroy bi-partisan support for Israel and tear apart the Jewish community.  But who exactly are they talking about? Many of the Democrats who have announced they are going to boycott the speech were never supporters of Israel. That list includes 23 congressmen who have previously taken money from groups opposed to Israel such as CAIR, and who in 2010 signed a letter penned by Rep. Keith Ellison opposing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, a stance that in effect was support of Hamas’ own demands.

Other supporters of Obama in the American Jewish community include J Street, which has gone all out in opposition to Netanyahu. Their actions include a full-page ad in the New York Times attacking Netanyahu, instructing Netanyahu that “Congress is not a prop in your election campaign.” Nowhere does J Street acknowledge, as David Horovitz has, that Netanyahu is right about Iran and the goals of the mullahs.

That is not surprising. J Street has lobbied against sanctions on Iran and, although purporting to be “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” always acts as a front group for Obama’s anti-Israel policies. Even Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman pointed out on February 11th that “at the height of the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress, J Street’s petition campaign that attempts to distance itself and American Jews from Israel’s duly elected prime minister is inflammatory and repugnant. It exacerbates an already heated and politicized moment for U.S. Israel relations at a critical juncture in the West’s negotiations with Iran.” Foxman, it should be noted, had previously criticized Netanyahu’s decision to accept the Boehner invitation.

The truth is clear for anyone who pauses to examine the trajectory of the past few weeks. It is Barack Obama, and not Benjamin Netanyahu, that has done everything possible to put a monkey-wrench into the U.S.-Israeli alliance. As Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary, “ AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington … aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.” It is the president who has inserted partisanship into the alliance with Israel throughout his time in office and, as Tobin points out, reneged on his campaign pledge to put an end to Iran’s nuclear program, “and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues.”

And make no mistake. The charge of appeasement may have been used too many times,  but this is not one of them. There is a very strong case that Obama’s actions and policies meet the criterion for a comparison. The argument that the analogy is appropriate  has been put forth by Victor Davis Hanson in National Review and by Michael Makovsky in the Weekly Standard. By giving in to Iran and abandoning our most important ally–Israel–Obama is choosing to make the United States the kind of power that bends U.S. policy to its enemy Iran, and which alienates its most reliable ally in the Middle East, Israel.

Democrats who understand the stakes at hand should do their part to make support of Israel a bi-partisan policy, and both attend and listen carefully to the arguments Benjamin Netanyahu will make in his speech to Congress.




Has there ever been an American president as inept and clueless as Barack Obama? It was not so long ago that he said ISIL — as he calls ISIS — was nothing but a JV team, and that al-Qaeda was defeated and in retreat.

He responded to ISIS’s recent barbarities by arguing that the Crusades proved Christianity was once just as evil. No worries — they got over it. Strangely, he has continued in W’s footsteps by insisting there is only a war on terror, and not one against radical Islam. Obama, like Bush, refuses to state who is guilty.

His views have been reinforced by Eric Holder, who said:

We spend more time, more time, talking about what you call it, as opposed to what do you do about it. You know? I mean really. If Fox didn’t talk about this they’d have nothing else to talk about. You know, radical Islam, Islamic extremism, you know … I’m not sure an awful lot is gained by saying it. It doesn’t have an impact on our military posture …

Those damn talking heads on Fox News. If not for them, no one would be talking about radical Islamic extremism. As for tactics and military strategy, the same president who said last year that the Syrian rebels should not be armed because they were disorganized, ineffectual, and we would not know in whose hands the arms would end up, is now floating the idea of arming them. This might have helped three years ago, but it may be too little, too late. And at the same time, the promise to arm the Kurds has been slow and bogged down in red tape.

All of the above, and Obama’s apparent desire to ally with Iran to fight ISIS, is made clear by Eric Edelman, former under secretary of defense and ambassador to Turkey. He writes the following in his summary of a forthcoming book by Colin Dueck:

[Obama’s] strategy is twofold: retrenchment, and accommodation. Retrenchment means liquidating some of what Obama construes to be overinvestments the U.S. has made around the world, particularly in the Middle East, while also reducing the strength of the U.S. military — since, in his view, our temptation to resort to military force has itself been responsible for many of the world’s ills. Accommodation, in turn, means reaching out and “engaging” America’s adversaries, thereby turning them, in the common phrase, from part of the problem into part of the solution.

Recent statements made by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf are in sync with the White House. She argues that the root cause of terrorism has to be addressed. She implies that finding jobs for alienated and poor Muslim youth in the European cities in which they live would be a meaningful solution. As she said to Chris Matthews: “We cannot kill our way out of this war.”

In the longterm, finding a way to reach disaffected Muslim youth should be addressed, especially in Europe. In the short term, ISIS is brutally murdering whomever they can get their hands on and must be stopped. Terror, fear, and intimidation have gotten them far. The next target, they say, is Italy.

Why are they doing it? Eli Lake in Bloomberg News explains:

No amount of small-business loans, education scholarships or political reform can compete with the toxic temptation of being part of a movement that claims to be changing history.

That temptation is the dream of restoring a caliphate. Moreover, contrary to what Harf says, we know that many radical Islamists who go to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, like those who joined al-Qaeda before, are not poor, uneducated, and without jobs. They seek to be part of history, to achieve something grand and pure and to leave their mundane lives behind. The groups they join give their lives meaning, and the more brutal they are proves their seriousness. Lake interviews Shiraz Maher, a former Islamist who had joined a group named Hizb ut Tahrir  after 9/11. The group was something like a political wing of the global jihad movement, akin to what Sinn Fein in Ireland was to the IRA.  He wanted to become part of history. ISIS, he told Lake, is “actually achieving a caliphate that we were only philosophizing about.”

The first day of the White House conference concentrated on themes like the one that Lake cites, such as “Vectors of radicalization.” They discussed the concept in general, and avoided the religious component because — as Obama keeps stressing — the jihadists are not real Muslims. As the president said to Matthew Yglesias in his Vox interview, “we don’t have military solutions to every problem in the 21st Century.” Instead, he seeks to win the “hearts and minds” of young people who join the jihad out of both “demographic problems and economic problems.”

How do you win “hearts and minds” if you refuse to address the ideas which are attracting so many to join ISIS?

Many U.S. and foreign diplomats are skeptical about what the Preventing Violent Extremism conference will accomplish.  As John Hudson writes in Foreign Policy:

The more substantive internal issue at play … is the summit’s emphasis on a broad approach to countering extremism that risks yielding few actionable goals. From poverty, corruption, and girls’ education to unemployment and building “resilient communities,” the State Department leadership is bent on mashing together a variety of potential drivers of extremism into its part of the conference.

In America, the issue will most likely be treated as crime prevention. Hence the new “Preventing Violent Extremism” policy advocated by Sarah Sewall, Undersecretary of State, who said in a speech that instead of seeking how to counter radical Islamist ideology, the State Department will concentrate on addressing “alienation and anger that drives communities to align or tolerate the violent extremists.”

Quoting President Obama in May 2013, when he stated that the U.S. should “be addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed terrorism,” Sewall made it quite clear that anything but addressing the religious ideology of the Salafists and the jihadists will be taken up — the very concepts that should be addressed in the place of social work gobbledygook.

To do that, of course, would quickly lead to charges of “Islamophobia.” Don’t be surprised if after the three days of meeting, the 60 nations represented will agree on one thing: Islamophobia must be prevented, because it is alienating the Muslim community.

Today, the world is mourning the death of Kayla Mueller, the supposed humanitarian aid worker who was captured by ISIS. They claim that she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. The Jordanian military authorities say that the building they bombed was an ISIS weapons storage facility, and hence a legitimate target. In any case, the blame rests with ISIS, who kidnapped her and put her in harm’s way.

Her family and friends, the New York Times reported, described her as “a deeply idealistic young woman eager to help those less fortunate.” President Obama sent condolences to the family, and at an emotional statement made on the Senate Floor, John McCain mourned the loss of a young woman who was a native of Prescott, Arizona:

After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 2009, Kayla committed her life to helping people in need around the world – first in India, then Israel and the Palestinian territories and back home in Prescott, where she volunteered at an HIV/AIDS clinic and a women’s shelter. (my emphasis)

William Turnbull, a 66 year-old Vietnam veteran who lives nearby, told the Times:

 [Kayla Mueller] represented everything good about being an American. In the outgoing battle between good and evil, she represented the best of the good. She took great risk to help other people.

Our nation’s commander-in-chief  said much the same. She represented, he said, “the best of America.” President Obama described her in these glowing terms:

Kayla dedicated her life to helping others in need at home and around the world. In Prescott, Arizona, she volunteered at a women’s shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic. She worked with humanitarian organizations in India, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, compelled by her desire to serve others. Eventually, her path took her to Turkey, where she helped provide comfort and support to Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes during the war. Kayla’s compassion and dedication to assisting those in need shows us that even amongst unconscionable evil, the essential decency of humanity can live on.

We must, of course, mourn the loss of any American who, for whatever reason, finds himself or herself a captive of ISIS. In this case, Kayla Mueller was leaving Syria and was abducted as she was boarding a bus with a man she knew, possibly a boyfriend or colleague. When Mueller had first arrived at the Doctors Without Borders office in Aleppo, their staff was “flabbergasted” since, according to the New York Times report, she was in a “no-go zone for most international aid workers.”

The problem with the tributes, especially that made by President Obama, is that Mueller was not a simple human rights worker. Nor was she, as Mr. Turnbull said, “the best of the good.”

The truth is that Kayla worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories with the International Solidarity Movement, the same group that the late Rachel Corrie was part of.

The ISM placed Corrie in a dangerous situation, and falsely told the world that Israel’s IDF had purposefully killed her in order to scare off foreigners coming to aid the Palestinian people.

The ISM, as anyone can easily find out, supports Israel’s enemies, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and those in the Palestinian Authority who work for Israel’s destruction.

Like Corrie, Ms. Mueller’s work in the Middle East was not that of a humanitarian and non-partisan aid person, but rather, as the ISM statement put it, she “worked with Palestinians nonviolently resisting the confiscation and demolitions of their homes and lands.” She bragged in her internet posts of working in anti-Israel demonstrations in East Jerusalem, in an area which an Israeli court decision recognized as one in which Israelis had a legal right to build homes in. She also supported the throwing of rocks by Palestinians at Israelis, viewing that as a just tactic of the oppressed.

She bought into the narrative that the Israelis were the oppressors and the Palestinians and others who opposed them, the heroes. These are her own words in a post of Oct. 29, 2010:

 Oppression greets us from all angles. Oppression wails from the soldiers radio and floats through tear gas clouds in the air. Oppression explodes with every sound bomb and sinks deeper into the heart of the mother who has lost her son. But resistance is nestled in the cracks in the wall, resistance flows from the minaret 5 times a day and resistance sits quietly in jail knowing its time will come again. Resistance lives in the grieving mother’s wails and resistance lives in the anger at the lies broadcasted across the globe. Though it is sometimes hard to see and even harder sometimes to harbor, resistance lives. Do not be fooled, resistance lives.

Those words are not that of a humanitarian aid worker, but of a propagandist for the supporters of worldwide jihad who seek Israel’s destruction.

So, as Israeli writer and activist against the ISM Lee Kaplan accurately writes:

This is another Rachel Corrie propaganda story in the making, and the western media is falling for it again, or embracing it on purpose.

Thus Ms. Mueller died not only at the hands of ISIS, but by her own work in the region on behalf of a terrorist support group that regularly put her in harm’s way.

Her work was on behalf of the supporters of Hamas, and it is not surprising to find that she wrote propaganda against Israel on the ISM’s website. To her, throwing rocks at Israelis was a “nonviolent” act, and like Rachel Corrie, Kayla also slept in front of homes that were to be demolished and waited “for the one night when the bulldozers come to finish them off.”

One of her letters claimed that the IDF used phosphorous along with tear gas that poisoned one woman’s lungs, a victim who shortly died at home from asphyxiation. That the IDF does not use phosphorous is simply a fact that did not get in the way of her hateful propaganda. She somehow also failed to mention that the IDF destroyed homes that either were munitions storage facilities or in which a known terrorist who had been involved in specific acts against Israel lived.

The tragedy of Kayla Mueller’s life is that out of an idealistic urge to do good, she went to work on behalf of supporters of terrorism and violence who believe openly in a revolutionary route to salvation. Like so many others, back in the United States she fell prey to the overtures of leftist revolutionaries, who are adept at using the aims of young and innocent students who yearn only to build a better world.

In taking that path, she died on behalf of those who believe in violence and world-wide revolution, beginning with the destruction of Israel.


The Left, as well as most Democrats, favor and regularly call for an increase in the minimum wage. They argue that inequality is growing, that families earning the minimum wage cannot support themselves at the current rate, and that the best way to address the issue is to build up pressure for a mandated wage increase.

They are correct that growing income inequality and the widening gap between the rich and the rest of the country have to be addressed. Reform conservatives have in fact addressed the issue for some time, as in this article by Matthew Continetti, and this one by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. Perhaps one of the most insightful articles by a conservative on the issue is this piece by Prof. Patrick Gerry of the University of South Dakota.

Conservatives by and large have made the argument that increasing the minimum wage will not solve the problem, but will only make it harder for lower income people to get beginning jobs, and will adversely affect students who have to work while in college or during the summer. Most have used this argument, made here by economist Stephen Bronars. On the other side, Ron Unz has waged a campaign in favor of raising it to $12 an hour.

This is already a large increase from the federal minimum wage of $7.25. I understand the need to raise the minimum wage, but wouldn’t it make more sense to do it over a number of years, taking inflation into account? To instantly raise it by a very large amount will produce a new set of problems that the Left does not want to address.

A few days ago, ABC 7 News in San Francisco reported that Alan Beatts, owner of the popular independent bookstore Borderlands Books, announced that he was shutting its doors. The reason he gave was the ballot initiative, passed in the previous mid-term elections, which mandated that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour by 2018. While the rest of the nation focused on the incredible Republican victory in the midterms, “progressive” activists bragged that in the cities and states, their campaigns and protests worked, as regular citizens voted on behalf of their agenda.

After running the numbers, Beatts determined that he could not afford the increase which would put him in the red. He had survived the birth of Amazon and San Francisco’s current minimum wage of $11.05 per hour, but $15 was the tipping point for him. (You can see him explain his decision in more detail on Morning Joe.)

Unfortunately, those who worked there will be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

In his case, the small bookstore has only five employees including Beatts, three of whom get the minimum wage. He pointed out that book stores will be especially hard hit, because they won’t be able to absorb the increase gradually by raising prices: the prices are already printed on the book. But it would also affect other small businesses, including auto body shops, gas stations, mom and pop stores, shoemakers, etc. In the future, if not sooner, San Francisco may find large numbers of people previously employed and paying taxes to the city unable to find employment, and now adding to the expenses of the city and state.

All this reminds me of the fate of the Eighth Street Bookshop, a very popular bookstore in New York’s Greenwich Village which closed decades ago. Ted and Eli Wilentz opened the store way back in 1947 and closed it 1979. At its height, it had a stock of 60,000 books, and was a literary salon as well as a site where authors regularly appeared. After a fire, it was rebuilt, and former employee and writer Bill Reed noted:

The Eighth Street Bookshop rapidly became a literary gathering-spot reflecting and in turn influencing the latest local, national and international vogues in everything from poetry to astrophysics. Over the next few decades Eighth Street would become as fine a book emporium as any in the U.S., and a worthy rival to Blackwell’s in London.

The owners were on the political left, and the store became a beacon of the 1960s counter-culture, and was known throughout the nation by readers. Reed continues:

Most Greenwich Village retailers had gone the way of high-tech security systems to snare shoplifters, Eighth Street did not require one to “Please check all bags, etc. at the front counter.” So lax was overall security that one employee who worked there was able to steal many thousands of dollars from the till before getting caught. A self-styled struggling artist, even though the Wilentzes paid wages nearly twice as high as any other bookstore in the city, he most likely felt his actions justified. But emblematic of the fluffy white cloud of paradox hanging over the place, when this not-so-petty thief was finally uncovered and sent packing he was given generous severance pay. Just what you might expect from a couple of only partially reconstructed lefties like Ted and Eli. The aforementioned pilferer notwithstanding, working at Eighth Street was considered a sinecure by most who toiled there. Another time, an employee, known for his hangovers, mistakenly ordered a mammoth number of non-refundable books: “Just give me one of everything,” he had told a salesman. Typically, he was allowed to stay on.

So the brothers paid twice as much as other bookstores in New York City, and even let an embezzler who worked there off, because he was a struggling artist. But this did not warm the hearts of the Left. In the ’70s, a fledging leftist group began an effort to unionize small independent businesses, including bookstores. Whom did they choose to begin their new campaign, and to post picket lines in front of?

The answer, of course, is the Eighth Street Bookshop. The socialist writer and activist Michael Harrington (whose own books were sold there and did quite well) led a picket line in front of the store, chastising it for hiring workers who were not union members. That the owners were small businessmen who were also leftists and who already paid higher wages than other bookstores did not matter.

As Reed writes:

Under a headline reading, “Great Moments in Labor History,” the October 1, 1979 issue of the Village Voice reported that the store’s personnel had shown up for work earlier that week to find, without prior notification, the locks on the door changed. The Voice implied that Eli Wilentz, rather than give in to unionizing his operation, as the majority of his employees were now pushing for, Eli Wilentz decided to close up his store for good (although Eli later denied that was the reason). A sign in the window read:

“To customers and friends — After thirty-two years of running the bookshop, I have decided to retire. I appreciate your friendship over the years. Long live Greenwich Village and its poets, writers and readers.”

When it comes down to it, small businesses (which are responsible for creating most new jobs) have to make a profit and can’t run on a deficit the way that countries can. It doesn’t matter how much their owners want to stay open or what their political beliefs are. In the end the business has to be profitable to make their investment worthwhile and all of their hard work worth it. That is the way economics works, no matter how many wish it wasn’t so.

I would like to do an update on my last column, which apparently angered many PJM readers.  Since I wrote it, there have been new developments which should be taken into consideration  when looking at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s forthcoming speech to both houses of Congress. I previously expressed the view that Netanyahu should have handled things differently and worked to stop Iran from getting a bomb without making an appearance in Washington since that  had the effect of  enraging the administration. Some have argued his action could even endanger the U.S.-Israeli alliance as well as bipartisan support of Israel.

The view that it is a folly for Netanyahu to appear was argued today by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a strong supporter of Israel who is a liberal Democrat. Cohen writes that the U.S. has to give the negotiations more time to succeed, and agrees with the administration that  “additional sanctions may drive the Iranians from the table.” I find that argument more than naïve. Cohen ignores the many statements of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who insists that Iran must develop a bomb and that it has a right to do so. It can thus be argued that no matter how long the U.S. keeps extending the deadline, Iran will work steadily day by day to come as close as possible to achieve their goal.  Certainly, negotiations without sanctions will make it easier.

Cohen also ignores that Iran already has more than one bomb’s worth of enriched material, a plutonium track close to completion and almost 90 percent there. Moreover, Iran recently announced that it is building two more nuclear plants — proving that the administration is wrong when it claims Iran’s nuclear program has been halted.

Cohen, however, has another concern — that Netanyahu’s appearance could endanger the long-standing “bipartisan understanding and support of Israel” and that “support of Israel will become a partisan political issue in the United States.” In other words, Democrats could be incensed at what they see as an insult to the president and the nation and therefore might be more inclined to reject a vote for sanctions should the current talks lack results.

Cohen’s argument questioning the effectiveness of Netanyahu’s visit was reinforced by an analysis appearing in today’s Times of Israel. In this issue, Raphael Ahren writes:

It is highly doubtful, however, that the prime minister’s March 3 speech will succeed in making Israel much safer; if anything, it could turn out to be counterproductive.  A polished and passionate speech, delivered in unaccented American English, is sure to be greeted with minutes-long standing ovations. But will it persuade even a single lawmaker to change his or her position on the Iran sanctions bills that are currently under discussion in Washington?

The bill under discussion, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, known as the Kirk-Menendez bill, began being circulated out of the Senate Banking Committee on January 16th. It threatens to expand sanctions on Iran should it not come to a comprehensive nuclear deal by the official deadline of July 1, 2015. Ahren believes that no one will change their position as a result of this speech, because the legislators are already familiar with the issues, and have already made their decision on how to vote when the Kirk-Menendez bill comes before the House and Senate. He fears that Bibi’s speech “might actually lead the Iran sanctions bills to fail when otherwise they might have succeeded, according to several experts, including top officials in Jerusalem.” In other words, his sources tell him that the affront to the White House “will lead some Congressmen who originally favored the sanctions bill to vote against it, making its success virtually impossible.” An Israeli expert on U.S-Israeli relations told him that “Netanyahu’s actions were so blatant that some Democrats, who might otherwise support more sanctions, will side with the president.”

This argument, however, has lost force as a result of developments that took place today. An important group of Senate Democrats — including Menendez and New York’s Chuck Schumer –has told the administration in a letter that they will not support a vote on the sanctions bill until March 24th, therefore  putting off  what had previously been imminent. And if a vote was taken, with Democrats holding off, the Kirk-Menendez bill would not have enough votes to overtake a presidential veto. They also told Obama, as the Times of Israel reports, they will support passage “only if there is no political framework agreement because, as the letter [to the President] states, we remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability.” The letter ended, however, with the understanding that “they remain very skeptical that Iran is committed to making the concessions necessary to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful by March 24.”

So while the Democrats have delayed acting until March, a step that appears at first glance to  give Obama more time to negotiate while Iran enriches its stockpile and builds more centrifuges, in reality, as The Hill reports, in effect the letter “warned the White House” that they will vote for a sanctions bill in two months — not a long time period — if Iran does “not roll back the country’s nuclear program.” Moreover, in addition to Democrats Menendez and Schumer, there will now be 10 additional Democrats pledging to do so in both the House and Senate. The signers include Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich), Bob Casey Jr. (PA), Ben Cardin (MD), Chris Coons (Del), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Debbie Stabenow (Michigan). These Democrats have made it clear that they are not buying the administration’s line that to put forth a sanctions bill will empower those so-called hard-liners in Iran.  To the contrary, they argue that a bill would put serious pressure on the Iranian regime to pull back, which they will not do without the pressure of sanctions. On the other hand, their move gives the administration a little breathing room and forestalls Republicans who would have wanted to act more quickly.

The last line of the Menendez letter says that the bill is “reasonable and pragmatic,” but “sends a strong signal to Iran…that endless negotiations under the interim agreement are dangerous, unacceptable, and could leave Iran with a threshold nuclear weapon capability.” And as Omri Ceren of The Israel Project points out, the bill can no longer be portrayed as simply a message of Republican and neo-conservative hardliners in the U.S. Instead of Democrats staying “frozen on the sidelines,” it means when it comes up for a vote it will be with bipartisan support.

Josh Block, CEO of The Israel Project, points out in a message just sent out that, contrary to those who argue the Democrats caved in to Obama (as in the analysis in Times of Israel), the Democrats’ letter to the White House says that if the negotiations fail by the July deadline “there will be negative consequences.” All the steps putting the bill in the process of going to the Senate will now have solid bipartisan support. It has already just been officially introduced, Block reports, “with 16 original co-sponsors, nine Republicans and seven Democrats.” This means, he notes, that the sponsors already have between 62 and 65 supporters of the bill, “close to the 67 needed for an override of a veto.” There are 52 Republicans, 10 Democrats, and three more who co-sponsored the bill in the last Congress. Thus, Block concludes, “opponents of the bill, including the White House, have misrepresented it and implied [incorrectly] that it would impose sanctions during negotiations.” As we know, the bill would implement sanctions only after the Iranians have not reached an agreement by July.

In light of this, I think that Netanyahu’s upcoming speech will actually have the effect of bolstering both Republican and Democrat support of the bill.  Marc Thiessen  has written a compelling argument for why Bibi should come and present his speech. He writes in his Washington Post column that in fact Netanyahu is not doing anything that the Obama administration itself has not done:

Clearly, it is not a breach of protocol for a foreign leader to lobby Congress. After all, Obama himself deployed British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby lawmakers to oppose new sanctions on Iran. It seems Netanyahu’s crime is not so much a breach of diplomatic protocol, but rather, opposing the administration’s position…..If the leader of one of our closest allies is so worried about the deal Obama is going to cut with Iran that he is willing to risk a diplomatic rift with the administration to speak out, perhaps the problem is not with Israel, but with the Obama administration.

Thiessen also exposes the hypocrisy of the administration:

Obama claims that new sanctions on Iran “will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.” If the mere threat of sanctions is enough to derail Iran’s nuclear talks, then whatever deal is in the works is not worth having. It means that Obama is far more desperate for a deal than Tehran is — which is a sure-fire way to guarantee a bad agreement.

I now think Netanyahu has good reason to come and give his speech, since it will bolster the resolution of  Congress, will be an appeal to both Republicans and Democrats, and will reach  the American people with his sharp analysis of the high stakes if Iran got a nuclear weapon.  At this point, Netanyahu would have much more to lose by doing an about face and canceling his trip.

Both Washington and Jerusalem are buzzing about two top officials who have decided to publicly criticize the government in which they served. One worked in the Obama administration and the other in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

In the U.S., the person in question is Dennis Ross, who was the chief negotiator for the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1993 to 2001, and a special assistant to the president for the Middle East and South Asia from 2009 to 2011. Considered to be a skilled and knowledgeable diplomat by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, Ross resigned from his post in 2011 without making any public statement.

Now he has decided to come forth, by penning two op-eds in the New York Times, the first appearing last September, and the second a few days ago. In September, Ross stated, as the title stressed, that “Islamists Are Not Our Friends.” Among the Sunnis, Ross singled out ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, the latter of which the Obama administration was backing in Egypt at the time of the Arab Spring and thereafter. The Brotherhood, Ross wrote, “was Islamist before it was Egyptian.”  Ross, unlike the Obama team, favored making a clear break with the Assad regime in Syria, which would have ensured that the U.S. did not end up “partnering with Iran against ISIS,” which is now what the administration seems to be doing.

In his second op-ed, Ross turned to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Referring to Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court for violations of human rights, Ross told a European official that “it’s time to stop giving the Palestinians a pass.” He then proceeded to recount the three major negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis that attempted to resolve the conflict: Clinton’s in 2000, Olmert’s in 2008, and Kerry’s last year. To each set of proposals, the answer of the Palestinians was “either ‘no’ or no response.” That is because, as he put it, “Palestinian political culture is rooted in a narrative of injustice.”

 [Its sense of grievance] treats concessions to Israel as illegitimate. Compromise is portrayed as betrayal, and negotiations- which are by definition about mutual concessions- will inevitably force any Palestinian leader to challenge his people by making a politically costly decision.

Today, Ross realizes that all the pressure now is on Israel and virtually none on the Palestinians, emphasizing what “Israel must do and what Palestinians should get.” He thinks it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who should be held accountable and who should have their international support by Europe weakened, and that such support should come to an end. Only such action “could well change their calculus.”   Nothing will be accomplished unless Palestinians show they are willing to compromise. They also have to be able to deal realistically with the settlement of the refugee issue “that allows Israel to retain its Jewish character.” In other words, the Palestinians have to give up the “right of return.”

In Israel, it is former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, picked personally in 2009 by Netanyahu to represent Israel in the U.S., who is now challenging the direction of the government and leader he once served. The issue is Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress.  The purpose of the prime minister’s talk will be to argue on behalf of tough sanctions on Iran if it continues to prepare its infrastructure to quickly build a nuclear weapon, and to urge Congress to pass a resolution in favor of sanctions if Iran doesn’t come to an agreement by the next deadline. The president is not happy, refusing to meet with Netanyahu when he’s in the country and promising to veto the sanctions bill should it arrive on his desk.

Speaking during a television interview yesterday in Israel, Oren stated that Netanyahu should cancel his upcoming speech set for March 3, which will take place two weeks before Israel’s elections. The reason, Oren told Israel’s Channel 2, was to avoid a rift with the American government. “Much responsibility and reasoned political behavior,” he argued, “are needed to guard [Israel’s] interests in the White House.” Netanyahu’s behavior has “created the impression of a cynical political move” which Oren believes “could hurt our attempts to act against Iran.” Israel, he wrote on Twitter, must not sacrifice one of its two most important needs — “preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and strengthening our relationship with the US.”

In making this argument, Oren — now a leader of the new Kulanu party  who is on its election list of those running for the Knesset in the March elections — is clearly being political himself, by staking out a new stance distancing himself from his former boss. His position also puts him in line with other opponents of the prime minister, including Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid. Lapid argued that Bibi was ruining Israel’s relationship with the U.S. purely for political gain. As one unnamed U.S. official told Israel’s Channel 2, close cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on “strategic matters” was being jeopardized for Bibi’s “political interests while disrupting the correct working relationship” between the two nations. The term “strategic matters” was a euphemism for the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

So who is correct, Bibi or Oren, Livni and Lapid? Those who make the case for Bibi include Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who writes that “there is nothing wrong with an Israeli Prime Minister doing his utmost to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, even if it offends the sensibilities of the American president,” and Caroline Glick, who is now being considered by Netanyahu to be on Likud’s list for the Knesset from a safe Likud district. At and the Jerusalem Post, Glick writes that Speaker Boehner was correct to invite Netanyahu, because “Boehner didn’t invite Netanyahu because he cares about Israel’s election. He invited Netanyahu because he cares about US national security. He believes that by having Netanyahu speak on the issues of Iran’s nuclear program and radical Islam, he will advance America’s national security.”

I think that both Boteach and Glick are wrong in stating their case. Of course, Boehner was within his rights to offer Bibi a platform, and Netanyahu within his to accept the offer. The question is whether or not his acceptance of the offer will help or harm the effort to rein in Iran. Congress will most likely pass resolutions for sanctions against Iran if necessary without Netanyahu’s speech, and the conflict over his acceptance gives ammunition to those against sanctions, such as the editors of the New York Times, who argue that the invitation  is a “hostile attempt to lobby Congress to enact more sanctions against Iran, a measure that Mr. Obama has rightly threatened to veto.”

Glick is undoubtedly correct when she argues that Obama has such a radical position that even Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey stated publicly that he never expected the administration to present a position that “sounds like talking points that come straight out of  Tehran.” And last week, Obama verged on overt anti-Semitism when he told the press that the senators opposing his agenda were doing so because of pressure on them from donors. Everyone knows that he was referring obliquely to Jewish donors, and to lobbies like AIPAC.

This truth does not mitigate the dangers to our common goal of stopping Iran. Jonathan S. Tobin spells out the main reason why Netanyahu’s speech could serve the interests of those who favor appeasement of the mullahs:

Though his American fans are thrilled with the idea of Netanyahu addressing Congress and rallying it to the cause of stopping Iran, the prime minister did the White House a favor by accepting Boehner’s invitation without going through the normal protocol of consulting with the State Department and/or the White House. Instead of the focus being on Obama’s illogical opposition to any pressure on an Iranian regime that has been stonewalling him and running out the clock in nuclear negotiations, attention has been focused on the prime minister’s chutzpah. There is already a strong majority in both Houses of Congress for more sanctions on Iran, a step that would strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations, and the controversy over Netanyahu’s appearance gives some weak-willed Democrats an excuse to do the president’s bidding and sink the proposed legislation.

We all understand that Obama wants détente with Iran, and is willing to give them the bomb and even forge an alliance with this state that is responsible for terrorism throughout the world, because he sees them as part of a new alliance against ISIS. Why, then, give his supporters an issue to turn the public’s attention from a failed foreign policy, and to allow them to portray Netanyahu as the opponent of peace and a firm American-Israeli alliance? Therefore, I agree fully with Tobin’s conclusion:

The prime minister would do well to stay home and to lobby quietly and effectively for Congress to raise the pressure on Iran. But even if he does give the speech, the U.S.-Israel alliance is sufficiently strong to withstand Obama’s assault on it. Blowing smoke about revenge is as close to a real rupture in relations with Israel as Obama and his staff will get.


Israeli Election Update: Netanyahu Likely to Remain Prime Minister

Photo: The March on Selma; King with Ralph Abernathy and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In Selma, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was all about the film Selma. As the local newspaper reported:

The Queen City shined in the spotlight Sunday as thousands of people welcomed the cast and crew of the movie “Selma” to town and marched on the same bridge that changed history 50 years ago.

The film’s director Ava DuVernay, its producers Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, star David Oyelowo, and [rapper] Common and John Legend who together wrote the movie’s powerful song Glory were all in Selma for the historic day….

Of course, celebrities joined King in Selma at the time of the actual march. But they were there to give support to the civil rights movement, not to publicize a film.  There’s no doubt that in their own minds, Winfrey and company believe they are honoring King, and not building up momentum for their movie. Selma, in fact, tanked at the box office and did badly compared to the other Oscar “Best Picture” nominees, and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is the film that  broke the box office weekend record.

Criticisms of the historical inaccuracies of the film, and of director DuVernay’s distortions, continue to grow. On Sunday, Maureen Dowd devoted her column to the issue, and for once got things right. It is a shame, she writes, that young people who learn about Selma from the movie will see the relationship between King and Lyndon Johnson through the director’s lens. “The director’s talent,” she puts it, “makes her distortion of L.B.J. more egregious. Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.”

It is true that LBJ stalwarts, like Joseph  Califano, Jr. in his angry , exaggerated Johnson’s role, seeking to make him the one who pushed for civil rights rather than King and the movement. But if you read the piece by the African-American writer David Lewis in a 2006 article in The New Yorker, where he quotes from the second volume of  Taylor Branch’s magisterial three-volume biography of King, you will learn about the real relationship between King and Johnson:

[Branch] briskly relates how Johnson moved from annoyed doubt about Selma to outright collaboration within a matter of weeks. He urged King to expose the worst of voting conditions in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana, but he could hardly have had in mind the brutal reaction of Selma’s sheriff, Jim Clark. For King’s purposes, however, Clark and his deputies were ideal—studio-cast thugs guaranteed to provoke national outrage and instigate federal intervention….

[Branch’s book] vividly captures the exact hour when the political order of the Deep South finally invalidated itself in the eyes of mainstream America. The carnage inflicted by municipal and state police at the bridge and along the marchers’ route of retreat accomplished for voting rights what song, prayer, and marching had not.

In essence, the civil rights movement upped the ante and led to a changed America, while in Lyndon Johnson they found a sympathetic Southern politician who might have tactically disagreed with the pace that King demanded, but who approved of his goal. Of course, DuVernay argues that she was making a film, and that she is not a historian or a documentarian. That is a cop-out. On the one hand they push the film as a depiction of the truth; and when they are caught creating stick-figure villains, they reply by saying accuracy isn’t the point. One cannot have it both ways. Or as Dowd writes, “filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season.”

And now, yet another distortion in the film has come to light. Last week I wrote about the downgrading of the role of Ralph Abernathy. Now Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, has publicly written about her father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose key role in support of the march was also erased from history in Selma. She writes:

The religious inspiration that led us to Selma continues, and the photograph of my father marching in the front row there — with King, Ralph Bunche, John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. C.T. Vivian — has become iconic. What a pity that my father’s presence is not included in “Selma.” More than a historical error, the film erases one of the central accomplishments of the civil rights movement, its inclusiveness, and one of King’s great joys: his close friendship with my father. The photograph reminds us that religious coalitions can transcend and overcome political conflicts, and it also reminds us that our Jewish prophetic tradition came alive in the civil rights movement. Judaism seemed to be at the very heart of being American.

Not only was King’s friend Rabbi Heschel erased from the film, most people do not realize that King was a defender of Israel and stood in solidarity with the Jewish state against its enemies.  King considered himself an ally of American Jews in their common fight for civil rights.  As Dumisani Washington writes, “Israel’s enemies refuse to accept the fact that the unparalleled civil rights champion of the 20th century was a staunch, vocal supporter of Israel and loyal friend to the Jewish people.” King had said the following:

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.

All this leads me to end with what is perhaps the most disgraceful celebration of Martin Luther King’s legacy — the decision by two universities to have the ’60s revolutionary  Communist Party activist Angela Davis chosen as the speaker to commemorate King’s life and vision. That honor is given her by the Univ.of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Davis is a hater of Israel, a defender of terrorist groups that fight Israel, and, as I pointed out in an earlier column, a woman who melded together black nationalism with Marxism-Leninism. She was an unabashed defender of the Soviet Union, a lifelong Stalinist who fought with the Soviet leaders to fight movements of democracy anywhere in the Soviet bloc, and a woman who condemned that period’s dissidents as traitors to socialism. Those associated with her at the time called King “da Lawd” and “Uncle Tom King.” To have someone who opposed King’s politics and tactics honor him today is the height of hypocrisy.

As for Selma, it is perhaps necessary to have new generations learn about the brave people who fought to fulfill America’s democratic promise. The March on Selma as it actually occurred was dramatic and a significant turning point.  It did not need Hollywood filmmakers distorting the contributions of LBJ, Ralph Abernathy, Abraham Joshua Heschel and others to the achievement of the Voting Rights Act to honor the bravery of those who risked their lives in nonviolent protest. The truth, on its own, is enough.

The Truth, History, and the Movie Selma

January 12th, 2015 - 8:04 am


The nationwide release of the film Selma, which concentrates on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1965 Selma marches for the cause of African-American voting rights in the segregated South, has been received with much fanfare and enthusiastic accolades. It is likely to be short-listed for “Best Picture” from the voters in this year’s Academy Awards.

Questions have been raised, however, about the film’s historical accuracy in its depiction of LBJ’s relationship to Dr. King, and his role in securing the Voting Rights Act, first by Joseph A. Califano Jr., chief advisor for domestic affairs to Johnson, and then by many others.

A major distortion that film critics did not notice was the absence of Ralph Abernathy, who, as King’s chief lieutenant, was always by his side during the marches. King said that he “was the best friend I have in the world”:

Dr. Abernathy and King travelled together, often sharing the same hotel rooms, jail cells, and leisure times with their wives, children, family, and friends. They fought together against segregation and discrimination, helped to establish new legislation, and tried to instill a new sense of pride, dignity, and self-worth in African Americans.

Abernathy suffered bombings, beatings by southern policemen and State Troopers, 44 arrests, and daily death threats against his life and those of his wife and children. His family’s land and automobile were confiscated and he had to re-purchase his automobile at a public auction. Some of his colleagues and some volunteers in the civil rights movement who worked with him were murdered.

Why, then, is Abernathy not shown at King’s side during the marches in Selma? Instead, he has been removed in much the same way they did it in Stalin’s Soviet Union, where photos of purged leaders who stood next to Stalin were erased and encyclopedia entries about them taken out of new editions.

While there are some sightings of Abernathy, his children stress that “the depiction of the role of [our] father is grossly mischaracterized.” Not only were King and Abernathy partners in the creation of the Selma protests, Abernathy, as journalist Jim Galloway writes, was even taken out of the opening scene at the White House, depicted as a one-and-one meeting of King with LBJ, which actually occurred with Abernathy present. In fact, King never went to the White House without Abernathy.

Selma’s director, Ava DuVernay, apparently gave in to the wishes of the King family that Abernathy’s role be diminished. Galloway suggests this took place because of their anger at what Abernathy wrote in his 1989 autobiography, in which he claimed that the night before he was assassinated in 1968, King had spent the night with two women. The film does let viewers know that King was not faithful to his wife, but the King family never forgave Abernathy for what he wrote. Abernathy’s own son has a different suggestion, which is that today people like a simplification of history and only have room for one hero to celebrate, who supposedly alone created the movement he led. King, therefore, was the “only symbol of the movement.”

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Cuban dissidents meet in Havana.

Cuban dissidents meet in Havana.

Charles Krauthammer gets it right. He writes the following about the Cuba deal in his most recent column:

Obama brought back nothing on democratization, a staggering betrayal of Cuba’s human-rights crusaders. No free speech. No free assembly. No independent political parties. No hint of free elections. Not even the kind of 1975 Helsinki Final Act that we got from the Soviets as part of detente, granting structure and review to human-rights promises. These provided us with significant leverage in supporting the dissident movements in Eastern Europe that eventually brought down communist rule.

Indeed, on Tuesday — a short time after the dramatic announcement of a new Cuba policy — Cuban dissidents announced that the Castro regime has arrested leading opposition figures, and prohibited others from leaving their place of residence. They report:

Reinaldo Escobar was arrested when he left the building where he lives in the company of the activist Eliécer Ávila, founder of the group “Somos Más” (We are More). Both were handcuffed and put in a patrol car waiting in front of the building in the Havana neighborhood of Neuvo Vedado. Reinaldo’s daughter, Luz, who was with her father, has not been arrested, but a State Security agency told her, “We are not going to let you leave.” The same official visited Luz Escobar’s home yesterday to warn her not to go near the Plaza of the Revolution today, where the artist Tania Bruguera has scheduled a performance titled “Tatlin’s Whisper #6” for 3:00 in the afternoon, to demand freedom of expression for Cuban’s citizens.

The dissidents referred to the effort of a performance artist, Tania Bruguera, to assemble Cuban citizens in Revolution Square, the area in which the government holds its official rallies, and where for decades Fidel Castro harangued the crowds in the blazing sun during speeches that went on for hours. What Bruguera argued was that having average Cuban citizens come and express their hopes for the future was itself an artistic endeavor. As many people came to the site to participate, the dissidents reported that the police “also arrested …photographer Claudio Fuentes and his companion Eva Baquero. Social networks also inform us of the arrests of Antonio Rodiles, José Díaz Silva, Raúl Borges, Lady in White Lourdes Esquivel, and of the  14ymedio reporter Víctor Ariel González.”

With the foreign press present, including American TV networks, they let the famous Ladies in White demonstrate as they do every Sunday for the freedom of their families’ political prisoners held in Cuban jails. But the police immediately arrested Bruguera, for the audacity of her attempt to embarrass the regime with a public anti-government demonstration. Reinaldo Escobar confirmed that he saw Bruguera  in prison “wearing the gray uniform of a convict.”  The New York Times reported that the arrests were “the biggest move against the opposition in two weeks since the United States and Cuba announced they would renew diplomatic relations.”

Bruguera said the arrests “would test the climate for change in Cuba under the diplomatic thaw.” Bruguera herself will most probably be released, since she now lives in the United States in Corona, Queens, and regularly goes back to Havana, where she is running a workshop program for immigrants.

Clearly, two things are evident, as we’ll explore on the next page.

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The U.S.-Cuba Normalization: Who Won?

December 24th, 2014 - 4:15 pm

President Barack Obama’s sudden and drastic change in U.S. policy towards Cuba has produced approval and disapproval from leaders in both political parties. The divide between Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — both possible competitors for the Republican presidential nomination — is one example. On the Democratic side, the fiercest critic is Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and a key defender is the current front-runner for the nomination of her party, Hillary Clinton.

Among conservative pundits, the most eloquent defense of the new policy was written by Peggy Noonan, who, in her Wall Street Journal column, argues that Obama’s steps towards normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba were done in the belief that “breaking the status quo” might yield rewards.” She disagrees with Rubio that Obama’s actions give the Castro regime “legitimacy.”  As Noonan sees it, everyone knows Cuba’s system is bankrupt and that the small island is a totalitarian state. But, her argument goes, Castro is already a “defeated foe,” and the Castro brothers’ desire for normalization is an admission on their part that “they’ve run out their string.” Acknowledging that they have in no way given up their stodgy ideology, she, like others, believe that once American tourists flood the country, American businesses set up shop, and our technology, business acumen and our money play their part, it “will likely in time have a freeing effect.”

The case she presents is essentially made by all other supporters of the Obama action. The Cold War is over, they proclaim, the Soviet Union no longer exists and therefore Cuba is no longer a threat. Besides, it has been decades since they have used their armed forces and security apparatus to try to foment revolution elsewhere in our hemisphere as well as in Africa. A lot of these arguments are fallacious. Cuba has aligned itself with Iran, North Korea,  and China, as well as with groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. They have recently agreed with Vladimir Putin to allow the Russians to reopen the old Soviet spy base on the island, and they were caught only a few weeks ago trying to smuggle weapons into North Korea by ship.

Noonan writes that increased engagement will make the Cuban government be on its best behavior, not wanting to be embarrassed  by oppressing its people as they are now. Moreover, once Cuban army officers find out what salaries people make at the Hilton and other new hotels, they will quickly run from the service and seek jobs in the tourist sector. All very nice, but Noonan seems not to realize that the salaries paid by foreign hotels are paid to the state, and the Cuban regime gives the tourist industry workers a small amount of the salary. Nor does she realize that most of the new hotels and businesses to come to Cuba are also owned by the state, and no foreign chain currently there, like the Spanish Melia Hotels, is allowed to have a majority interest in the properties they built.

Walter Russell Mead points out that what the Castros want now is simply  “more Yanqui tourist dollars and a carefully hedged and limited uptick in trade [that] will help stave off the worst” for at least a few years. They seek to buy some time, and not to allow any thorough or meaningful democratization.

They certainly do not want any reform, or to permit democracy advocates to organize, speak, and write freely. That is why the regime’s state security murdered Oswaldo Paya – the organizer of the Varela Project, a petition of thousands demanding free elections — because they obviously feared he was making too much headway.

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