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October 12, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson



We are in a bizarre moment. 

If the U.S. government were operating within its normal parameters, my first story tonight would be about new federal charges that Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was acting as an agent of Egypt while chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democratic rules in the Senate required Menendez to step down from that chair when he was charged with bribery in late September. 

The new charges are serious indeed. As Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) said today, calling for Menendez to be expelled from the Senate: “We cannot have an alleged foreign agent in the United States Senate. This is not a close call.” 

If the government were working as usual, I would also be writing about Congress’s response to the crisis in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine, as well as the jockeying over the appropriations bills necessary to fund the government for 2024. But the House was in session for just two minutes today as the Republicans continued to struggle to get behind a new speaker, leaving Congress paralyzed.

That paralysis means that the House is not addressing these crises.  

The crisis in Israel is uppermost in the United States. The news has been plagued with disinformation as the algorithms on social media have promoted fake stories, but President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been crystal clear in their condemnation of the attack on Israel by Hamas last Saturday and in their promise that the U.S. will stand with Israel. 

They have also made it clear that Israel must operate according to the rules of war in order to avoid civilian casualties. Hamas does not observe those rules, and various U.S. officials have compared Hamas’s brutality to that of the terrorist group ISIS, while nonetheless reinforcing the importance of the rule of law. Israeli officials say that 1,300 people were killed and more than 3,000 wounded in the initial attack; officials in Gaza say that Israeli airstrikes since have killed more than 1,500 people and wounded more than 6,600. 

The airstrikes, consisting of 6,000 munitions in six days, have forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes, and Israel has cut food, fuel, and electricity to Gaza, saying the siege will not end until all the hostages Hamas took are returned.  

Talks with Egypt about constructing humanitarian corridors out of Gaza have broken down, but talks about rushing humanitarian aid into Gaza from Egypt continue. 

Secretary Blinken is in Israel and has expanded his trip to the troubled region, visiting not only Israel and Jordan, as originally announced, but also Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, where he will meet with senior officials. There, the State Department said, he will “reiterate his condemnation of the terrorist attacks in Israel in the strongest terms,” “reaffirm the United States’ solidarity with the government and people of Israel,” and “engage regional partners on efforts to help prevent the conflict from spreading, secure the immediate and safe release of hostages, and identify mechanisms for the protection of civilians.”

Meanwhile, a former Hamas leader has called for protests across the Muslim world tomorrow and for Israel’s neighbors to join the fight against Israel. 

Starting tomorrow, the U.S. government will begin running charter flights to enable U.S. citizens and their immediate family members who have not been able to book commercial flights to leave Israel. Twenty-seven American citizens have been confirmed dead in the attack, and fourteen are unaccounted for. 

Tonight the Israeli military told the United Nations that the 1.1 million people in northern Gaza must evacuate into the southern part within 24 hours as it prepares to go into Gaza, at least in part to target the extensive network of tunnels Hamas has constructed for its operations. U.N. officials said the U.N. “considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences.” 

The crisis in Ukraine has not ended while all eyes are on the crisis in the Middle East. The Institute for the Study of War concluded that Russian forces have launched “a significant and ongoing offensive effort” in the past two days but “have not secured any major breakthroughs,” as Ukraine’s forces are “inflicting relatively heavy losses.” Like Israel, Ukraine needs additional funding.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are further from reorganizing the House tonight than they were even a day ago. House majority leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), who won the conference’s secret ballot over Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) yesterday, has given up hope of turning that victory into a win on the House floor and has withdrawn from the race. Former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) broke the secrecy of the conference to tell reporters that Scalise didn’t have the votes, a signal that McCarthy is not intending to fade into the background of this struggle.

Aaron Fritschner, the chief of staff for Representative Don Beyer (D-VA), noted today that since it’s mid-session, no new candidate for speaker has prime positions to offer in exchange for votes. Leadership positions have already been handed out, and legislative promises have already been made. That leaves a potential speaker with relatively little leverage to consolidate power.

Representative David Joyce (R-OH) revealed how badly the negotiations are going when he told Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News that he’s talking to Republicans and Democrats about giving acting speaker Patrick McHenry (R-NC) more power for 30 to 60 days so that the House can pass a funding bill while the Republicans try to get their act together. 

The Republican chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike McCaul of Texas, today told reporters, “Every day that goes by, it gets more dangerous.” He continued:  “I see a lot of threats out there, but one of the biggest threats I see is in that room [pointing to where the Republicans were meeting], because we can’t unify as a conference and put a speaker in the chair together.” 

House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) today said it is “urgently necessary” for the Republicans to “get their act together and elect a Speaker from within their own ranks, as it is the responsibility of the majority party to do, or have traditional Republicans break with the extremists within the House Republican Conference and partner with Democrats on a bipartisan path forward. We are ready, willing, and able to do so. I know there are traditional Republicans who are good women and men who want to see government function, but they are unable to do it within the ranks of their own conference, which is dominated by the extremist wing, and that’s why we continue to extend the hand of bipartisanship to them.”

Journalist Brian Tyler Cohen, who hosts the podcast No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen, summed up the day when he wrote: “The fact that ALL Republicans would rather fight over Scalise (who attended a neo-Nazi event) or Jordan (who allegedly covered up rampant sexual abuse) rather than simply work with Democrats to elect a Speaker says it all.”

















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Iran Comes Out of the Shadows Bari Weiss




Iranians celebrate Iran’s attack against Israel in downtown Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over the past 24 hours, the war that has raged in the Middle East since October 7 took on a new dimension.

In a historic first, Iran directly attacked Israel from its own territory—launching more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel.

As Free Press columnist Matti Friedman writes today from Jerusalem: “Like a flash going off in a dark room, the attack has finally given the world something valuable: a glimpse of the real war in the Middle East.”

Tehran’s strike on Israel—who thankfully had defensive help from the U.S., Britain, France, Jordan, and reportedly Saudi Arabia—should make clear, for those still in doubt, that this war is not about Gaza, or even about Israel and a single Iranian proxy in Hamas. It is about Iran.

“The importance of last night’s barrage was that for the first time, the full Iranian alliance gave us a practical demonstration of its scope, orchestration, and intentions,” Matti writes. “If you’d been watching from space, you probably could have seen the lines of this new Middle East etched in orange and red across the map of the region.”


Some Americans understand that clearly—and aren’t condemning it, but cheering it on. Our Olivia Reingold found herself at a conference of anti-war activists in Chicago on Saturday. Activists were taught how to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in Farsi. Watch:

And, when news of the attack broke, the crowd cheered and burst into chants of “Hands off Iran.” 


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April 13, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson





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Michael Oren: How Did the War Begin? With Iran’s Appeasers in Washington Michael Oren




Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. As Iranian provocations have mounted, the Biden administration has refrained from holding Tehran accountable. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Historians writing years from now about the Middle East conflagration of 2024 will undoubtedly ask, “When did it all begin?” Some will point to the Bush administration which, demoralized by its inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rejected Israel’s entreaties to take out Iran’s then-inchoate nuclear program in 2008.

Others might cite Israel’s willingness to play by the mullahs’ rules, retaliating against their Hezbollah and Hamas proxies rather than against Iran itself, enabling it to emerge from each round of fighting utterly unscathed. 

But the bulk of the blame, fair historians will likely agree, will have to fall on the policies of those in Washington who sought to appease Iran at almost any price and ignore its serial aggressions.

Those policies began in the week after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. In one of the forty-fourth president’s first acts of foreign diplomacy, Obama sent an offer of reconciliation to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That June, in his historic Cairo speech, Obama became the first president to refer to Tehran’s regime as the Islamic Republic of Iran—legitimizing the oppressive theocracy—and stood aside while that republic’s thugs beat and shot hundreds of Iranian citizens protesting for their freedom.

Over the next four years, the White House ignored a relentless spate of Iranian aggressions—attacks against U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf; backing for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dedicated to America’s destruction; and barely disguised efforts to undermine pro-Western Middle Eastern governments.

At the same time, Iran supported Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s mass slaughter—often with poison gas—of his own countrymen. Obama had declared Syria’s use of chemical weapons as “a red line” that would have “enormous consequences” on America’s involvement in the war. It didn’t.

In Washington, the administration overlooked an Iranian attempt to assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors (including me) and ended a federal investigation of a billion-dollar Hezbollah drug and arms trafficking ring in the United States. Most egregiously, Iran constructed secret underground nuclear facilities and developed an intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system that threatened the entire Middle East and much of Europe.

Why would any White House, even one devoted to rebuilding America’s relationship with the Islamic world, seek rapprochement with such a regime? 

At the time, there were multiple reasons. First, there was the desire of the United States, tired of Middle Eastern wars and no longer dependent on Arab oil, to withdraw from the region and focus on the Far East. Next, there was the belief that the U.S. had traditionally relied on its Sunni and Israeli allies only to discover that Sunnis perpetrated 9/11 and Israelis defied American policy in the West Bank. The Iranians, stronger, modern, and open to the West—so many American policymakers concluded—offered a better alternative if only their leadership were assuaged. Lastly, and ultimately most decisively, was the Iranian nuclear program, a burgeoning strategic threat that the White House refused to interdict by military means.

The nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, and Iran—euphemistically called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—had three major objectives: to block Iran’s path to the bomb, ensure that Iran became what Obama called “a responsible regional power,” and, failing that, to kick the “nuclear can” down the road. The first two goals proved illusory. 

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei adjusts his eyeglasses after casting his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Rather than block Iran’s path to the bomb, the agreement solidly paved it by allowing Iran to retain most of its nuclear infrastructure and to continue producing ever more advanced centrifuges capable of reducing Iran’s breakout time to mere weeks. The deal put no meaningful restrictions on Iran’s missile delivery systems or its clandestine weapons programs. And even then, the largely cosmetic limitations were set to expire in less than a decade. Well before that time, though, Iran harnessed the deal’s financial and strategic rewards to expand its sphere of influence across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. So much for the responsible regional power.

In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, reinstated punishing sanctions on Iran, and retaliated for Iranian attacks against Americans, indicating a different approach to the issue, but that policy proved short-lived. A centerpiece of Joe Biden’s 2019 presidential campaign was his pledge to restore America’s adherence to the JCPOA. No sooner had the Democrats regained the White House than the Iranians began to violate the agreement on a massive scale, gradually achieving military nuclear threshold capacity.

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Obama’s singular foreign policy achievement.

As the Iranian centrifuges spun, the Biden administration entered into intense negotiations to renew the JCPOA. The talks were headed by Robert Malley, who was evicted from the Obama campaign in 2008 for meeting with Hamas. Under Biden, Malley became America’s special envoy to Iran, but he was recently ousted for mishandling sensitive information. Though the initiative to reinstate the deal eventually failed, the U.S. still provided Iran with at least $10 billion in funds that had been frozen, and reportedly much more than that in quiet sanction relief. 

Meanwhile, the Iranian provocations mounted. An ally of Russia, Iran provided thousands of offensive drones and long-range missiles used to kill America’s allies in Ukraine. Since the start of the war against Hamas, Iranian proxies have launched more than 170 attacks against U.S. military bases in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, and all but blocked international shipping through the strategically crucial Bab al-Mandeb Strait. 

Still, the U.S. refrained from retaliating against Iran directly, or even holding it publicly responsible. When, in January, three American soldiers were killed by a drone strike by an Iranian-backed militia, the U.S. struck back at the militia and not at the country—or even the factory—that produced the bomb. 

Then, on Sunday, a historic first: Tehran directly attacked Israel from its territory with hundreds of drones and missiles.

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran to repeatedly assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one. 

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. Press reports about President Biden’s refusal to support an Israeli counterattack against Iran indicate, sadly, that nothing substantial in the U.S. position has changed. He has reportedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see the coordinated response to the attack as a “win.”

The Iranians, though, will not see things that way. Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity. If Israel follows Biden’s advice it will send one message to the ayatollahs: “You can launch another 350 missiles and drones at Israel or try to kill Israelis by other means. Either way, the United States won’t stop you.” 

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

The story of America can end only one of two ways: either it stands up boldly against Iran and joins Israel in deterring it, or Iran emerges from this conflict once again unpunished, undiminished, and ready to inflict yet more devastating damage.

Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Knesset member, and deputy minister for diplomacy in the Israeli prime minister’s office, is the author of the Substack publication Clarity.

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