Be Very Careful Before Beating the War Drums in Syria Russia’s involvement in the conflict raises the stakes of any U.S. action. By David French

War has consequences. Callous incompetence has consequences. The world is watching those consequences unfold in Syria today. No one can look at images of children dead from gas attacks and not be moved.

Let’s stipulate two things: First, there were never any easy American choices in Syria. Second, the Obama administration got virtually every hard choice wrong. Or, to be more precise, the choices it did make did nothing to either stop the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the new century or block our enemies and rivals, Iran and Russia, from exerting their will in Syria.

The result is the Syria we have today, a patchwork quilt of competing zones of control that in some ways looks more complicated than it is. Let’s make sense of the map below:
syria-battle-map.jpg

The red, government-controlled areas represent the most populated and economically consequential sections of the country. This is where Russia and Iran have asserted their will, and this is where Assad is spilling the blood of innocents to expand and maintain his grip on power. Yes, he’s still opposed by rebel groups, but they’ve been decimated, and many of the groups that remain are dominated by jihadists.

In the north, our Kurdish allies are on the move, but not against the regime — against ISIS. In other words, Assad has beaten his main foe and is leaving the United States, the Kurds, and assorted other allies to deal with our main foe, ISIS. After the battle for Raqqa, Syria is likely to be effectively partitioned, with American-backed forces controlling the north, the Russian-backed regime controlling the west, and some small forces still battling it out on the borders.

As we confront the Assad regime’s gas attack — which is just one of its countless violations of the law of war, and hardly its most deadly — we also have to confront this core reality: Our leading geopolitical rival — a traditional great power and a nuclear superpower — has quite obviously decided that the survival of a friendly regime in Damascus is a core national interest. It acted decisively while we dithered, and it has boots on the ground.

Thus, we now face a quandary. Retaliate against Syria so strongly that it truly punishes and weakens Assad, and you risk threatening Russia’s vital interests. Respond with a pinprick strike that Russia effectively “permits,” and you do nothing important. Assad has demonstrated that he cares little about his own casualties and may (like many other American enemies before him) actually feel emboldened after “surviving” an American strike.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Told-You-So Moment The Israeli leader could be opportunistic and vulgar in pressing his case against the Iran deal. He was also right. By Sohrab Ahmari

Benjamin Netanyahu will never be popular in America’s major newsrooms. Or among most of the think-tankers who set the tone and parameters of foreign-policy debate. His name is a curse on college campuses. So it’s worth asking whose vision of the Middle East has held up better under the press of recent events.

His or theirs?

The question comes to mind as Western governments confront this week’s chemical atrocity in Syria, and as footage of children’s bodies convulsing in agony once more unsettles the world’s conscience. Even President Trump, who generally lacks a moral language, was moved, though whether he will act remains to be seen.

His predecessor had a rich moral vocabulary and a coterie of award-winning moralizers like Samantha Power on staff. But President Obama refused to act when Bashar Assad crossed his chemical red line. He wanted to extricate Washington from the region, and he saw a nuclear deal with Mr. Assad’s Iranian patrons as the exit ramp.

Such a deal came within grasp when Hassan Rouhani launched his presidential campaign in Iran four years ago this month. The smiling, self-proclaimed “moderate” was the Iranian interlocutor the Obamaians had been waiting for. Mr. Netanyahu posed the main obstacle.

The Israeli prime minister warned that Mr. Rouhani didn’t have the power to moderate the regime even if he had the will. He reminded the world of Mr. Rouhani’s role in Iran’s repressive apparatus and his history of anti-American rhetoric. He insisted that Iranian regional aggression wouldn’t relent if sanctions were removed. Iran, he predicted, would pocket the financial concessions, then press ahead in Syria and elsewhere.

The Israeli could be opportunistic, given to hyperbole and not a little vulgar in pressing his case. He was also right.

It’s instructive now to compare his account of the regime with the baseless euphoria in the Western media that greeted Mr. Rouhani’s election in June 2013 and marked coverage of the nuclear deal over the next four years.

Start with Iran’s role in Syria. Writing in September 2013, the New York Times editorial board suggested that Iran’s intentions “could be tested by inviting its new government to join the United States and Russia in carrying out the recent agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons. It seems like a natural convergence: Iranians know well the scourge of poison gas.”

Well, apparently they didn’t know the scourge well enough to restrain their chief Arab client from systematically gassing his own people, even after the Russian-brokered chemical deal. CONTINUE AT SITE

Senate Eliminates Filibuster for Supreme Court Nominees GOP-led effort paves way for Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed Friday By Byron Tau and Siobhan Hughes

WASHINGTON—Senate Republicans voted to end the filibuster of Supreme Court nominations Thursday, setting the stage for the rapid elevation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the high court and removing a pillar of the minority party’s power to exert influence in the chamber.

Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation by the Senate, expected Friday, would return the Supreme Court to full strength for the first time in 14 months, since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February of last year. It means Judge Gorsuch could be a key vote on coming cases, including the high court’s possible consideration of President Donald Trump’s latest executive order on immigration and visas.
The confirmation would also give the president a much-needed win, after setbacks in recent weeks on a health-care bill and the immigration order, as well as shake-ups and dissension among the White House staff. It would allow Mr. Trump to quickly put his stamp on the high court, replacing one conservative justice with another and keeping a promise to conservative activists that he made during the presidential campaign.

The battle’s aftermath appears less positive for the Senate, where it became unusually personal.

The Nunes Takedown His real offense was trying to do both sides of the Russia intelligence probe.

Democrats successfully pressured House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes on Thursday to recuse himself from that committee’s Russia probe. This is how today’s Washington thanks Members who do their jobs.

Officially, Mr. Nunes stepped aside after the House Committee on Ethics said he was under investigation for accusations that he disclosed classified information. This followed complaints filed by progressive groups to the separate Office of Congressional Ethics (a Nancy Pelosi creation) claiming Mr. Nunes broke the law when he announced he’d seen reports proving the Obama White House received intelligence about Trump transition officials and unmasked at least one identity.

Mr. Nunes’s real offense is believing he should investigate both sides of the Russia story—whether the Trump team colluded with the Russians, and the equally important question of whether Obama officials were snooping on their political opponents. Mr. Nunes had brought the role of Mr. Obama’s former National Security Adviser Susan Rice into the light.

It is ironic that Mr. Nunes’s carefully worded press briefing was done in part to root out the real scandal of who in the Obama Administration gave the media the unmasked name and classified conversations of Donald Trump’s first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn.

The House Ethics Committee will make the final call on whether Mr. Nunes inappropriately discussed classified information. Democrats failed in their primary goal of stripping Mr. Nunes of his chairmanship. While he retains the rest of his Intelligence Committee duties, the Russia probe is now taken over by Michael Conaway (Texas), Trey Gowdy (South Carolina) and Tom Rooney (Florida).

This trio has a duty to finish what Mr. Nunes started. That means getting to the bottom of both internal snooping on U.S. citizens and any Trump-Russia ties.

More Bump from Trump Small businesses report solid March job growth and higher wages.

The Trump trade isn’t dead yet. While the wheels of legislation turn slowly in Washington, the real economy continues to send encouraging signals about the potential for robust growth. And workers are enjoying higher wages. The National Federation of Independent Business report on hiring at small firms, due out later today, will show an average seasonally adjusted increase of 0.16 workers per firm. NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg calls this “a solid showing.”

The report contains more good news for workers at small businesses. Not only are more of them employed, but they’re making more money. Mr. Dunkelberg writes in a draft of today’s release: “The net percent of owners reporting that they raised worker compensation remained at the highest levels observed since when 64.7 percent of the adult population was working (compared to about 60 percent today after being stuck in the 58 percent range from 2009 to 2014). Owners then and now are increasing compensation to attract and/or hold critical employees.”

Let’s hope that this demand from employers pulls more discouraged Americans back into the workforce. Small businesses will be needing them, according to another NFIB finding. A seasonally adjusted net 16% of small businesses plan to create new jobs, “up 1 point and a very strong reading,” writes Mr. Dunkelberg.

Based on these encouraging data, Mr. Dunkelberg expects an increase of more than 200,000 jobs when the U.S. Department of Labor issues its March employment report for the whole economy on Friday morning.

This is solid but not spectacular job growth. Such a monthly reading was cause for celebration during the dreary Obama era, and the “secular stagnation” crowd figures this is about as good as it gets. But it’s not. While today’s NFIB report is encouraging, it’s also a reminder that if Mr. Trump and U.S. workers want Reagan-style growth, the economy still needs Reagan-style tax cuts.

EDWARD CLINE: AN UNNECESSARY DICHOTOMY

Even for someone who has experienced – nay, endured the rigors and brutality of Islamic “culture,” such as Ayaan HIrsi Ali – it may be difficult for that person to condemn the ideology-cum-religion of Islam and disown it as thoroughly and finally as one can Nazism or Communism, regardless of how Islam affected that person’s life, publicly and personally. However, one can “disown” Islam yet some emotional connection to it may linger, like a virus that may lay dormant for decades and then begin to affect one’s thinking and actions.

That state of lingering belief is utterly alien to me; I have been a committed, conscious atheist since my mid-teens. I dismiss all religious systems, dogmas, and tracts. Having been raised in the Catholic religion, I have never been tempted to find a replacement or substitute for it. Paraphrasing the American patriotEthan Allen, reason, then and now, has been to and for me the only “Oracle of Man,” not Christ or Moses, and certainly not Mohammad. Allen’s arguments against superstition are not mine; I rejected God and other ethereal deities, regardless of their names, for two reasons: their metaphysical impossibility, and for moral reasons of rejecting the power and influence of a “higher” authority over my existence and mind.

The lingering need of a person for a “higher” authority will cause him to sooner or later embark on a project of reclamation of, say, Islam, that will be at dramatic odds with a past record and stature as a critic of Islam, failing to realize that to criticize Islam is not enough. It must be repudiated wholesale; as in Nazism and Communism, there are no “redeeming” features in Islam.

I have said it many times before, in past columns over the years; Islam must be refuted and repudiated “root, branch, and twig.” There is no middle, reconciliatory ground to be advanced, argued, and promoted; the whole ideology must be tossed onto an intellectual bonfire with no regrets or personal recriminations or sense of loss. As an active “religion,” it must be reduced to ashes.

It doesn’t matter that, as an ideology, Islam is somewhat schizophrenic, exhibiting on one hand a “nice,” laid-back, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly persona among the rank-and-file, non-jihadist Muslims, and on the other a mean, vile, vindictive, homicidal, and consistently destructive persona in actions dedicated to conquest and destruction for the sake of destruction among the “fundamentalists.”

Granted, that religion, as a measure of moral guidance, has had a grip on man since the dawn of history, and even before when man first began carving or painting symbols and ideograms on stone tablets or on cave walls. Religion, as author/philosopher Ayn Rand has put it, is a primitive form of philosophy. She wrote that religion demands:

“…blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy.

A clinging fealty to or respect for some religious belief, then, in spite of the outrages to which Ayaan Hirsi Ali was subjected by Islam in her life, including a perpetual death fatwa on her, drew her to attempt to salvage Islam in a Hoover Institution paper published in March 2017, “The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam Ideology and Movement and How to Counter.” It is in three versions: a printable, closely packed version; a longer PDF of it; and a shorter, excerpted version published on March 20th in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Islam Needs a Reformation.” A byline at the end of the Wall Street Journal article reads:

The Gorsuch Confirmation Approaches Democrats are out of obstruction strategies. Joseph Klein

President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court is heading for a final showdown Friday, in what is emerging as likely the most high-stakes partisan battle yet during the first 100 days of the Trump administration.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the selection by a party-line vote of 11-9, and sent the nomination to the full Senate floor for final action. The Democrats have decided to launch a filibuster in an effort to block the Gorsuch nomination from receiving an up-or-down vote. Democrat Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) declared Sunday, “We call it the 60 vote standard,” to ensure that “you get a mainstream justice.” Of course, there is no such “standard.” Justices who received less than 60 votes in the past were still confirmed. And the fact that Judge Gorsuch voted 99 percent of the time with the other judges on his federal appeals court means nothing to the ideologues who oppose him. For the Left, “mainstream” means only a judge’s willingness to bend the Constitution to suit the progressives’ social justice agenda.

The Democrats appear to have lined up enough votes to make their filibuster stick, placing them on a collision clause with the Republican majority. If the Democrats do not budge, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is on course to lead his party majority to adopt the so-called “nuclear option” and change the Senate rules, eliminating the 60 vote filibuster barrier for Supreme Court nominations. A simple majority can then proceed on an up-or-down vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch. In addition to the 52 Republicans voting in favor, 3 Democrats so far have also indicated their intention to vote for Judge Gorsuch – Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. A fourth Democrat, Michael Bennet of Colorado, said he would not vote to support the filibuster.

The Democrats’ desperate gambit will not succeed. “What I’m telling you is that Judge Gorsuch is going to be confirmed,” said Senator McConnell on Sunday. “The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority.”

The Democrats conveniently ignore the fact that Republicans did not stand in the way of former President Barack Obama’s first two choices for Supreme Court seats – Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Instead, like spoiled brats, the Democrats are still sore that the Republicans would not consider Obama’s choice of Judge Merrick Garland during Obama’s last year in office, with a presidential election looming. They wanted to preemptively change the ideological balance of the Supreme Court by giving the seat of conservative originalist Scalia to a liberal replacement, without giving the voters a chance to weigh in first. More than a year later, they are taking out their wrath on President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, justifying their obstructionism with the bogus claim that the seat Judge Gorsuch would be filling was “stolen” from them.

CBS’s Undisclosed Links to Communist Agents and Terrorists Who’s really “bad for America”? April 6, 2017 Humberto Fontova

In a recent interview CBS’s Ted Koppel denounced Sean Hannity as “bad for America” because “You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts.”

Well, CBS proudly claims Julia Sweig as a “CBS News Analyst.” And back in 2008 the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuba spycatcher Lieut. Col. Chris Simmons (now retired), identified this very Julia Sweig as a full-fledged “agent of influence” for the Castro regime.

Any chance that an agent-of-influence for a totalitarian regime might “put ideology over facts?”

Any chance that an agent-of-influence for a mass-murdering, terror-sponsoring regime that came within a whisker of nuking America, whose agents managed the most damaging espionage against America in recent history, and whose dictator (only last year) declared America the “main enemy!”—any chance employing such a “news analyst” might be “bad for America?”

Important background: Sweig’s identifier Lieut. Col. Simmons helped end the operations of 80 enemy agents against America, some are today behind bars. One of these had managed the deepest penetration of the U.S. Department of Defense in recent U.S. history. The spy’s name is Ana Belen Montes, known as “Castro’s Queen Jewel” in the intelligence community. “Montes passed some of our most sensitive information about Cuba back to Havana,” revealed then-undersecretary for International Security John Bolton.

Today she serves a 25-year sentence in federal prison. She was convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, the same charge leveled against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, carrying the same potential death sentence for what is widely considered the most damaging espionage case since the “end” of the Cold War. Two years later, in 2003, Chris Simmons helped root out 14 Cuban spies who were promptly booted from the U.S.

In brief, retired Lt. Col. Chris Simmons knows what he’s talking about.

When Ted Koppel’s current CBS colleague Julia Sweig visited Cuba in 2010 accompanied by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, something caught Goldberg’s eye: “We shook hands,” he writes about the meeting with Fidel Castro. “Then he (Fidel Castro) greeted Julia warmly. They (Castro and Sweig) have known each other for more than 20 years.”

On Susan Rice, the Issue Is Abuse of Power, Not Criminality At her direction, the Obama White House violated the public trust. By Andrew C. McCarthy

On Tuesday, in a National Review Online column, I contended that the reported involvement of former national-security adviser Susan Rice in the unmasking of Trump officials appears to be a major scandal — it suggests that the Obama White House, of which she was a high-ranking staffer, abused the power to collect intelligence on foreign targets, by using it to spy on the opposition party and its presidential candidate.

It should come as no surprise that the defense Ms. Rice and Obama apologists are mounting is heavily reliant on a fact that is not in dispute: viz., that the intelligence collection at issue was legal.

I anticipated that line of argument a week ago. The issue is not technical legality, it is monumental abuse of power.

To analogize, if a judge imposed a 20-year jail term on a man for passing a marijuana cigarette to a second man, the sentence would be perfectly legal — a distribution of a Schedule I narcotic drug controlled substance calls for a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, see 21 U.S.C. §841(b)(1)(C). Nevertheless, the sentence would also be an outrageous abuse of judicial power. A judge who did such a thing would be unfit — worthy of condemnation, if not impeachment.

Abuses of power are offenses against the public trust. They often overlap with a criminal offense, but they are not the same thing as a criminal offense. For example, a politician who accepts money in exchange for political favors commits both the crime of bribery and an impeachable offense of corruption. The jurors in the bribery case need not find that the politician breached his public trust; they need only find an intentional quid pro quo — payoff in exchange for favor. By contrast, the breach of public trust is central to the impeachment case: To remove the pol from office, there would be no need to prove the legal elements of a criminal bribery charge beyond a reasonable doubt, but it would have to be demonstrated that the politician is unfit for office. If it is a petty bribe, a prosecutor might ignore it, but the public should want to throw the bum out.

This is why a “high crime and misdemeanor” — the constitutional standard for impeachment — need not be an indictable criminal offense. It may be a chargeable crime, but it need not be one.

A famous example (though one not much remarked on during the last several years) is the second article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. It alleged (my italics):

Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purpose[s] of these agencies.

Ancient Laws, Modern Wars After eight years of withdrawal, what rules should the U.S. follow to effectively reassert itself in world affairs? By Victor Davis Hanson

The most dangerous moments in foreign affairs often come after a major power seeks to reassert its lost deterrence.

The United States may be entering just such a perilous transitional period.

Rightly or wrongly, China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Middle East-based terrorists concluded after 2009 that the U.S. saw itself in decline and preferred a recession from world affairs.

In that void, rival states were emboldened, assuming that America thought it could not — or should not — any longer exercise the sort of political and military leadership it had demonstrated in the past.

Enemies thought the U.S. was more focused on climate change, United Nations initiatives, resets, goodwill gestures to enemies such as Iran and Cuba, and soft-power race, class, and gender agendas than on protecting and upholding longtime U.S. alliances and global rules.

In reaction, North Korea increased its missile launches and loudly promised nuclear destruction of the West and its allies.

Russia violated its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and absorbed borderlands of former Soviet republics.

Iran harassed American ships in the Persian Gulf and issued serial threats against the U.S.

China built artificial island bases in the South China Sea to send a message about its imminent management of Asian commerce.

In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State killed thousands in medieval fashion and sponsored terrorist attacks inside Western countries.