• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 6

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Israeli government sharply critical of Pres. Obama’s role in pushing for UN Resolution against Israel

    The Israeli government released a severe rebuke to the Obama Administration, issued by P.M. Netanyahu at the start of a cabinet meeting. The heart of the Israeli statement is this:

    From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed. This is, of course, in complete contradiction of the traditional American policy that was committed to not trying to dictate terms for a permanent agreement, like any issue related to them in the Security Council, and, of course, the explicit commitment of President Obama himself, in 2011, to refrain from such steps.  –Statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at start of Cabinet meeting, Dec. 25, 2016 

    The Obama Administration has denied any active involvement in the UN Resolution, but the Israelis have said they have “ironclad” proof to the contrary.

    UPDATEThe Ukrainians have now said they were personally lobbied by VP Joe Biden to vote for the anti-Israel resolution. Again, this is directly contrary to what the Obama administration has said publicly. It is interesting for a second reason: the US was apparently pushing other countries to vote against Israel but lacked the political conviction to do anything other than “abstain” itself.

    The Washington Post, reflecting on the US move at the United Nations, editorialized that it would inhibit a future people settlement: “The Obama Administration fires a dangerous parting shot“:

    It will encourage Palestinians to pursue more international sanctions against Israel rather than seriously consider the concessions necessary for statehood. –Washington Post editorial board

    CommentI think the Post’s assessment is correct but I doubt there will be movement toward a peace settlement in the foreseeable future, whatever the US does.

    For a superb, thoughtful evaluation of the Obama Administration’s vexed relationship with Israel, see Ron Radosh’s essay at PJ Media. 

    I have also written (in this post at ZipDialog) that Pres. Obama’s action will accelerate the movement of traditional Jews away from their historic attachment to the Democratic Party. Other than black voters, Jews are the most reliable ethnic/racial/religious group of Democratic voters. Secular Jews will remain Democrats, but more religious Jews have already shifted significantly and the movement will continue.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     ♥ Hat tip to Clarice Feldman for the update about Joe Biden’s pressure on Ukraine. You can read “Clarice’s Pieces” every Sunday at the American Thinker blog.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Saturday, Dec. 24

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆Pres. Obama reversed decades of US policy and allowed a Palestinian-initiated, Arab-backed initiative attacking Israel to pass the UN Security Council without a US veto. Obama’s parting stab at Israel is facing backlash from all Republicans and some Democrats, says The Hill.

    A characteristic comment on the Republican side is that of Paul Ryan, who calls Obama’s move “absolutely shameful.”

    CommentMy initial judgment is that Pres. Obama’s move will have a major impact on the political alignment of Jews. It will reinforcement the movement, which began under Obama, of the Democratic Party siding with the anti-Israeli left in the US and Europe, and that, in turn, will accelerate the movement of non-secular US Jews away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans.

    The fact that Democrats are even considering Rep. Keith Ellison, a former follower of Louis Farrakhan and still a speaker at events aimed at delegitimating Israel, is another blow to the decades-long connection between Jews and the Democratic Party.

    Obama’s move will also deepen the division among Jews, pitting the secular, social-justice left, which has little interest in Israel and is deeply critical of its security and settlement policies, and the more traditional, observant community, which sees a rising global threat to Jews and believes Israel is a Jewish homeland under threat from radical Islam and a hostile global left, centered in Europe and US universities.

    Bottom Line: Obama’s move harms Israel and harms the Democratic Party. Like so many of Obama’s policies over the past eight years, it is a political mistake that will cost his party for years to come.

    ◆ The latest Jihadi attack in Berlin will change German policies in two major ways, writes Joseph Joffe in The Guardian

    1. Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy has failed dramatically and will end; and
    2. Germany’s long-standing reluctance to permit more intensive surveillance will change.

    Joffe notes that the surveillance policies were already under pressure from Putin’s spying, but the need for change is more compelling now.

    ◆ Another politically-connected religious leader scamming the public; this time it is a Hasidic rabbi. (NY Daily News)

    ◆ How can the Inuit survive cold temperatures so well? The answer, according to a new study, may lie in some genetic inheritance from a now-extinct variant of humans, gone for 500,000 years. (NYT; link corrected)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Friday, Dec. 23

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Utter failure in Berlin: They blame it on incompetence but political correctness also played a major role, say Rachel Ehrenfeld and Stephen Bryen (American Center for Democracy)

    German security agencies failed to arrest/deport Anis Amri, the Tunisian criminal, asylum seeker with known ties to radical Islamists groups, who was overheard volunteering as a suicide bomber. Apparently, their political correctness, enforced by government policies and decades-long pressure from rapidly growing Muslim communities yielded the Islamists’ desired results. Videos from ISIS instructing jihad-by tracks attacks, especially during the Christian holidays were ignored, as were last month’s U.S. warning. Incredibly, no efforts were made to even secure open Christmas markets. –Rachel Ehrenfeld and Stephen Bryen

    ◆ A serious inquiry into the relationship between radical Islam and the western nation-state. (Daniel Johnson in The New Criterion)

    The present confrontation between Islam and the West is thus not, strictly speaking, a clash of civilizations, but the attempt to impose a theocratic religion upon a secular civilization, if necessary by force. This is asymmetrical warfare in the widest possible sense . . . . It is all the more acute because the secular West is reluctant to face the fact that it is faced by a holy war for which it is almost entirely unprepared. –Daniel Johnson in The New Criterion

    ◆ Not since Nixon has a President faced such a tough China challenge, says Evan A. Feigenbaum of the Carnegie Endowment (National Interest) The major change, he says, is that for four decades the US has assumed a “successful” China would be good for the U.S.  Not anymore.

    ◆ An amazing behind-the-scenes story about Obama + Palestinians versus Israel + Egypt + Trump. The Times of Israel reports that Pres. Obama was about to change long-standing US policy toward Israel at the UN and was working with the Palestinians to do it. The Israelis, they say, blocked it by going to Trump, who worked with the Egyptians to block it.

    CommentThis action by a president-elect is extremely rare, but then, so was Obama’s plan to flip US policy.

    ◆ The Iran Deal Pres. Obama negotiated is the lynchpin of his foreign policy. But, says Lee Smith, it is fundamental mainly because it reorients US alignment in the region, much closer to Iran and away from the Saudis and Israel. Trump will face hard decisions in dealing with Iran, but he will begin with a very different approach. Obama gave significant carrots to Iran, just to keep them negotiating. Trump thinks that’s the opposite of smart negotiations. (Tablet)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Lasky
     for two stories, one on the Iran Deal, the other on the UN, Obama and Israel