Theresa May: The UK’s Hillary Clinton

by Cinzia Croce

What began as a sure bet is turning out to be a white knuckles experience for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. After ruling it out as “self-serving” and sure to lead to uncertainty, Prime Minister Theresa May stunned the British political scene by changing her mind and calling for a snap election. Initially, her surprising move was regarded as brilliant, and Tories rejoiced at the prospect of increasing their majority in Parliament. The main opposition party, Labour, was deeply divided, stuck at historic lows in the polls, and led by Jeremy Corbyn, who was widely viewed as an unacceptable alternative by the chattering classes, including Blairites. All the ingredients were in place for a Tory landslide not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher — initially, there were even attempts to portray May as the new Maggie. But it seems that Tory political strategists are afflicted by the same lack of imagination as their Republican cousins who try to market every GOP candidate as the new Reagan.

If the Tories believed they had a modern day Thatcher leading their party, they soon learned that they are saddled with their own Hillary Clinton. To be fair, unlike Hillary, who is drenched in the stench of scandal and corruption, there is not a tinge of impropriety about May. Where she draws parallels with Hillary is in her dull, uninspiring campaign: she is a candidate unable to connect with voters and totally lacking a substantive record on which she can run. There are no parallels between May and Thatcher other than sharing the same gender and political party. Thatcher was energetic, passionate, and confident in her views. Above all, Thatcher was able to withstand political heat, while May melts away at the first hint of controversy. Continue reading

Marine Le Pen Should Get Tips From the Democrats

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as it was clear that Emmanuel Macron would be facing Marine Le Pen in the final round of the French presidential election, the other major candidates immediately closed rank behind Macron in an effort to keep Le Pen from reaching the Élysée. The only exception was Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the far left candidate – who initially said he wanted to see the official results before conceding, but eventually declined to endorse either candidate, deeming them both unacceptable. The reason offered for supporting Macron – who has never held elected office and founded his political party only a year ago – has little to do with Marine Le Pen as a candidate, or even her particular political program. Rather, it has everything to do with a negative consensus about her political party, the National Front.

Marine’s party was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972, to unite various nationalist and reactionary movements on the political right. The party attracted monarchists, Vichy nostalgists, ultra-conservative Catholics, and other fringe elements. Jean Marie Le Pen added to the toxicity of his party by repeatedly trying to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust. Consequently, for most of its history, the National Front was deemed an untouchable party, and operated at the margins of French politics.

In 2011, Marine took over the party leadership from her father and began the process of reforming the National Front and bringing it into the mainstream. She purged many of the unsavory elements within the party, even going so far as to expel her own father. Despite all of her efforts, Marine is being held accountable for what François Fillon – the defeated presidential candidate for the French Republican Party – described as the National Front’s “history of violence and intolerance” — and Marine herself indirectly acknowledged the anchor weight that is her party on her political aspirations by resigning as its leader a day after reaching the runoff.  Continue reading

The Trump Train Enters Rocky Terrain

by Cinzia Croce

The Trump Train charged out of the station in January with vigor and determination — and for about three weeks, it was barreling down the tracks at an impressive pace. Between a flurry of executive orders and a Supreme Court nomination applauded by all factions of the Republican Party, Trump delighted both his supporters and those who had been very skeptical of him during the campaign.

And then the train began to slow down.

The first victory Trump’s opponents scored was halting his temporary travel ban. It was a setback in terms of implementing his agenda but, politically speaking, Trump came out in a very strong position. He delivered on his promise to halt immigration from countries that are havens for Islamists, his opponents were shown to put the interests of foreign nationals above the security concerns of Americans, and if — God forbid — another terrorist attack were to take place, Trump could credibly claim that he tried to protect Americans but the Democrats and their simpatico judges stopped him. Continue reading

Notes on Disengagement From the Middle East

by Alex Knepper

What do we lose when we start disengaging from the Middle East? I think we lose a sense of national honor. I think we lose a sense of our moral distinctiveness. I think we lose some of the legitimacy behind our claim that we possess a willingness as Americans to look hard truths in the eye and confront hard choices others want to ignore. I think we will be more likely to allow ourselves to forget about the outside world. I think engagement abroad can also be a healthy reminder of what unites us as Americans — of what we have in common, and what makes us different from the rest of the world: whether we are from Maryland or Montana, we have infinitely more in common with each other than with our enemies abroad. Nowadays we lose sight of that seemingly-obvious fact with relative frequency. I also believe well-coordinated interventions can be an effective way to do a lot of good for a lot of deserving and suffering people, if we check the right boxes — see: Hillary Clinton’s reasonable and limited proposal for a No-Fly Zone in Syria. I think this is a loftier and more ennobling enterprise than just constantly trying to run down the price of everything and fatten our paychecks.

Americans hate foreign policy. They do not pay attention to it unless it seems immediately relevant to their own lives and values. For the overwhelming majority for Americans, the rest of the world is something they see on TV: something an ocean away. And furthermore, in campaigns, this irritant, foreign policy, insists on diverting our attention away from programs and institutions at home that have become totally dysfunctional. When we are dysfunctional at home — witness the price tag attached to college and health care, rent in major cities, and diminished job opportunities — we will be far less likely to be able to rally our people to a grand mission abroad. My colleague Cinzia has a point, in that regard. Someone who is staring down a life-altering medical bill or six-figure student loan debt is a lot less likely to find room in his political consciousness for the spirit of military virtue.

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More to the point, America’s big-picture mission in the Middle East no longer makes sense to the average voter — it has become incoherent. Voters last year seemed to have little idea what America was trying to accomplish in Syria in the first place, and many were convinced outright that we had no interest there at all and that the attention we paid to its civil war was misguided or a waste of time. Many simply find the topic overwhelmingly complicated and confusing and do not understand why they cannot be provided with a simple-enough explanation for why we should be involved. A real threat can be explained succinctly and quickly, right? The old canard that we have an obligation to fight evil dictators is no longer convincing, and it is wrong. besides. So what is the point of our intervention? What is the explicit, bottom line goal that the average voter can weigh and measure?

Proponents of intervention since the Iraq War are hopelessly divided and no longer speak with one voice about what we hope to accomplish in the Middle East. I have a lot of very serious disagreements, for instance, with many neoconservatives and liberal hawks alike about the viability, necessity, and logic of Islamic government in the Middle East. I have come to believe that most governments in the Middle East should have an Islamic character. But many, who — for good reason — are suspicious of conservative variants of Islam and think they are all incompatible with liberalism — want to side against the crazy Islamists every time, even if a particular variant of secular authoritarianism is just as bad or even worse than what the religious fanatics are offering. These include many of the followers of Donald Trump. Islamists are obviously a cancer on the planet, and the world would be better off if they all dropped off tomorrow. But the same is true of Assad: he is a despicable, cruel, liberty-hating tyrant, and by no means “our bastard.” What is the long-term strategy and goal against which the results of the proposed short-term intervention in Syria could have been judged? Americans did not know how to answer that question, and that is why they rejected further intervention in the Middle East. Those of us who believe in continued American engagement abroad must come up with better answers, or we will lose the policy battle.

Kerry and the Two-State Solution Hallucination

by Alex Knepper

John Kerry has let loose against Israel, hot on the heels of American abstention from a United Nations vote condemning its settlements:

The US secretary of state sounded the warning on Wednesday in a final plea outlining the outgoing Obama administration’s vision for peace between Israel and Palestine.

“The settler agenda is defining the future in Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state: Greater Israel,” Kerry said.

“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace,” he added.

It is as if the events of the last 25 years never occurred. From the days of the original UN partition, Israel has tried again and again to meet the Arabs halfway — two-thirds of the way — and constantly receives nothing but blame in return, ostensibly for not trying hard enough; for not being really serious about peace. The Arabs, meanwhile, are met with the soft bigotry of low expectations — as if everyone just knows that we cannot expect them to be reasonable; that Israel is the adult in the room who has to maturely hold its tongue so as not to inflame the child constantly on the verge of a tantrum.

Let us remember that at the 2000 Camp David summit, Israel variously offered the overwhelming majority of the West Bank and Gaza, the dismantling of existing settlements, a shared capital in Jerusalem, and tens of billions of dollars in aid money to what would be the nascent Palestinian state — and was repeatedly turned down by Yasser Arafat, who refused to put forward a single counter-offer, and launched a new intifada just months later. Today, Gaza is run by a literal jihadist organization — but Netanyahu is held to be the extremist right-winger.

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Peace with people who hold your annihilation as an indispensable goal is neither possible nor desirable — and even those Americans most craving peace must face up to the utter futility of all past attempts at brokering a deal. We really cannot be all that surprised that Israel should finally grow impatient with thousand-times-disproved Western fantasies that it holds the power to make jihadists stop hating Jews so much, if only they would swallow their pride and be magnanimous: nobody wants to forever play Charlie Brown to Lucy with the football. The Jews are hated for who they are, not the particulars of what they do. It is no wonder so many Israelis have come to believe that, since they are going to be hated and held to impossible double-standards anyway, they might as well pursue their own interests with little regard to what the rest of the world might think.

Nothing has changed: it is always easier to blame the Jews — a tiny minority — for their inconvenience than it is to face the depravity of their numerous, relentless antagonists who were equally devoted to the destruction of Israel before, during, and after the rise of the new settler movement. Arab rejection of the legitimacy of any Jewish state is the essential problem, and there will be no chance at peace until this changes.

Farage Laughs; Cameron and Obama Frown After Britain’s Populist Triumph

by Cinzia Croce

As the evening began on Friday, Nigel Farage was staring at another defeat. His old chums at The City told him that polls conducted on behalf of financial firms showed that Remain would win the night and his dream of seeing the United Kingdom leave the European Union would be shattered.

Then, the results from Sunderland were announced, showing Leave outperforming expectations. It was the first indication that Farage’s gloom was premature — and soon, it became clear that the polls were wrong, yet again, and that the Leave vote would prevail, and not just by a squeaker, either. As dawn broke, a triumphant Farage delivered a rollicking victory speech full of the passion of a man who has been vindicated. Some were critical of his tone, deeming it inappropriate for a deeply divided country that must find a way to come together. But no one could reproach him for it: for over a quarter of a century, Farage toiled in the obscure corners of British politics, enduring indifference –- at first –- followed by ridicule, which then escalated to a sustained media campaign to portray him as a racist, a bigot, and a xenophobe. But without Farage, there would never have been a referendum in the first place. It was his night, and everyone knew it. Continue reading

Lessons from the Brexit Debate

by Cinzia Croce

By the time Margaret Thatcher realized that the European Common Market she supported had become a backdoor through which Labour could undo Thatcherism, her political fortunes were on the wane while the forces for greater European integration were gathering steam even within her own political party.  On Thursday, British voters will have an opportunity to achieve what Thatcher could not as they head to polls to decide whether the UK will leave or remain a part of the European Union. Until the tragic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, the Leave campaign had pulled ahead in the polls and was gaining momentum. Some of the Remain supporters were quick to pounce on reports that the alleged killer shouted “Britain First” while committing his heinous crime — and began insinuating that somehow the Leave camp’s rhetoric was responsible for the crime. Whether this naked attempt to exploit the death of Ms. Cox — an avid supporter of the EU — will succeed in garnering more support for the Remain camp will become clear in the next few days. Continue reading