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TGIF: Down with Democracy! Nellie Bowles



Yemen’s Houthi loyalists lift their weapons on December 20, 2023. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud via Getty Images)

Happy holidays from my mom’s house. I converted to Judaism years ago, which I try to use to get out of doing a lot of obligatory activities around this time of year, but my religious freedom has been largely ignored by my parents who insist I still “help cook” and “come on the hike.” But Christmastime will not curtail this column. Let’s get into it. 

→ Ukraine wants to mobilize 500,000 more soldiers: The war in Ukraine is dragging on, nearing its two-year mark, and the Ukrainian soldiers that are being drafted to the front are getting older. Like, I don’t want to say a 50-year-old is an old man because I know I’ll get selfies of sinewy readers doing CrossFit, but let’s be real here. President Zelensky says Ukraine needs to recruit 500,000 more fighters, and this week The Wall Street Journal brings us a harrowing story of middle-aged men being yanked from their normal activities (hanging out, getting haircuts) and forced into heavy battle. One 47-year-old was detained in a draft room for two days before signing up: “Physically, I can’t handle this. I’m deeply disappointed that I’m no longer 20.” To get a lighter job, he’d have to pay a bribe but couldn’t afford it. I’m not a military expert, but if you’re detaining old men (again, nothing but respect, don’t yell at me) and forcing them into battle and saying you need 500,000 more of them. . . maybe it’s time to make a deal? I was shouted down at dinner the other day for saying this. I don’t want Europe to fall. But just. Feels like we’re losing a lot here? And we should keep some elderly Ukrainian men alive?

One other question: If Trump was a Russian asset, as I was told and truly believed for years, how do people explain Putin waiting until Trump was out of office to do his territory expansion plans? Doesn’t that sort of undermine that one? Too soon?

→ Speaking of expansion plans: The world has decided it’s remodeling season! China’s Xi told Biden that he’s planning on taking Taiwan pretty soon, just FYI. According to NBC News: “Xi told Biden in a group meeting attended by a dozen American and Chinese officials that China’s preference is to take Taiwan peacefully, not by force, the officials said.” Oh, they prefer to take the country peacefully. When I invade a nicer house down the block, I say the exact same thing. I come in peace to this ensuite master bath, no sudden movements. You bring war only if you say no.

My theory is that Trump was not a fearsome military thinker but just an erratic one, and world leaders could never be sure how he would respond to something, just as we could never be sure if it was “ten White House tweets about Roseanne day.” Anyway, Biden’s administration is more like *wink wink* China, you’re so naughty, bad boy! So everyone is announcing their land grabs before the election. Because if China takes Taiwan under a Trump presidency, he honestly could send them a bottle of champagne. Or he could announce nuclear war. We literally have no idea. Anyone who says they do is lying. 

→ Global shipping disrupted by beloved freedom fighters: More than one hundred massive container ships have been rerouted to avoid sailing by Yemen, where Houthi militants are doing their best to destroy everything that passes through. It’s expensive for the U.S. to fight: naval missiles can cost $2 million, while Houthi drones cost a few thousand each, so the math gets weird fast. Now, I’ve noticed this before but it’s growing: Western Intelligentsia, or at least the Instagram Story Commandos, have come out strongly pro-Houthi, a take that is growing more confident this week. Here’s the chief executive of Flexport, a big supply chain logistics company that’s obviously impacted:

To understand why we’re all #StandWithHouthis, you can read this Houthi explainer in The New York Times: “People have hailed the Houthis as one of the few regional forces willing to challenge Israel with more than harsh words.” The first quote in the news story: “What they did has given us dignity, because they did this in a time when everyone was watching idly.” So beautiful. How I learned to stop worrying and love the Houthis! 

In another piece, the Times calls the IDF the “Israeli occupation forces.” Once enough people noticed, they changed it online, without adding any note or correction. (H/t to journalist Lahav Harkov for noticing this one.)

The language and politics of fringe postcolonial studies seminars is now mainstream. They want to convince you that Israel is just a bad idea, a colonial concept, not a real country with millions of real people. Millions of Jews, if we’re going to get specific.

There’s a lot more TGIF behind the paywall you are about to hit. But good news for you: this week only, we’re offering a 25 percent discount on a yearlong subscription to The Free Press. And why stop at just one? Skip the scented candles and get your loved ones something much more stimulating this Christmas. Click here to take advantage of the offer. And now more TGIF . . .

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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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